ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s government has lifted a ban on the operations of two prominent international aid groups after accusing them of providing food and medicines to Boko Haram extremists, which the groups denied.
The United Nations humanitarian office replied Wednesday that humanitarian groups are “relieved” that Nigeria’s has suspended the ban on Mercy Corps and Action Against Hunger. More than 350,000 people now can receive food assistance that had been put on hold, the U.N. said.
Nigeria’s announcement eased the latest tensions between local authorities and aid organizations that are trying to address one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Millions of people in northeastern Nigeria have been displaced by Boko Haram’s decade-old insurgency, and widespread hunger has followed.
Nigeria’s government in its statement also appeared to tighten controls, saying all non-governmental groups must be vetted and registered before they can offer humanitarian aid. The government said it also will screen all vendors working with aid groups.
A statement by the Nigerian INGO Forum said its collection of 50 international aid groups welcomed the lifting of the ban, even though Nigeria has called it temporary. “This will ensure that life-saving activities can soon resume,” the forum said.
More than 7 million people in northeastern Nigeria need assistance, its statement said. More than 187,000 severely malnourished children this year alone have been treated in facilities supported by Nigeria’s government and aid groups and more than 2 million people have received food assistance, it added.
The statement said members are registered with the government and remain committed to upholding both Nigerian law and humanitarian values that include impartiality and neutrality.
Aid groups operating in the region risk being attacked, kidnapped or killed. In September, Action Against Hunger said extremists killed one of six people it had been holding hostage since July.
It said the six people abducted included a staffer, two drivers and three health ministry personnel.
Both the Boko Haram extremist group and a local affiliate of the Islamic State group are active in northeastern Nigeria.