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A Nigerian woman sits on a mattress with her infant child.
Nation of extremes


The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Nigerians struggling to overcome a daunting combination of poverty, corruption, natural disaster and terror to rebuild their livelihoods, respect and future.

Country facts
  • Population: 174 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 2.5 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 152 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Nigeria: 2012, in response to flooding; launched emergency response in 2014 to assist survivors of violence
  • People assisted in 2015: Over 1 million
  • People we hope to reach per year by 2020: 5 million

Nigeria crisis briefing

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has endured decades of political instability and economic inequality only to suffer more recently from horrific attacks by Boko Haram, the world’s deadliest terrorist group. The IRC provides displaced Nigerians and vulnerable host communities in the northeast region of the country, where Boko Haram has been most active, with emergency relief and humanitarian aid. 

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What caused the crisis in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a diverse country with areas of great wealth and profound poverty. Despite massive oil revenues, nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty, especially in the marginalised and underserved north and northeast regions. Nigeria’s vulnerability to drought, flooding and other forms of extreme weather also contributes to the chronic malnutrition and frequent outbreaks of disease that has affected more than 13.5 million people.

Although decades of military rule ended when Nigeria regained democracy in 1999, the country has been plagued by political, economic and social challenges that threaten the consolidation of gains made since its transition to civilian government. 

Since 2014, the world’s deadliest militant group, Boko Haram, has killed thousands, abducted at least 2,000 women and children, and uprooted over 2.5 million. Many Nigerians who fled to neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger have been forced to return because of deteriorating conditions in those nations.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Nigeria?

Although Nigeria is one of Africa's leading oil producers, more than half its population lives in poverty. In northeastern Nigeria, an estimated 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, with another 3 million in need of food assistance. (The IPC scale, an international measure of food security, lists this region at Level 4—humanitarian emergency.) Over 2 million displaced people are in acute need of shelter, food, clean water, health care and education.

A family in their thatch home in Yola.
A family in their thatch home in Yola. Photo: Bryan Anselm/IRC

A mere 8% of this displaced population lives in official camps and receives government support. Protection issues are significant, especially for children who have lost parents or have been separated from family. Women and girls are being subjected to sexual violence and enslavement and used as suicide bombers by Boko Haram. 

Funding to meet with the magnitude of the humanitarian situation in Nigeria is falling short. Humanitarian responders have been able to reach only a fraction of the populations in desperate need. 

How does the IRC help in Nigeria?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began assisting Nigerians in 2012, providing aid to over 800,000 people who lost their homes after a massive flood. In 2014, we launched an emergency response in the city of Yola, where we provided water, food and emergency shelters, health and nutrition, informal education and protection services for tens of thousands of desperate people. The IRC now has offices in Yola, Mubi, and Maiduguri, all in the northeast. 

As the country struggles to recover from relentless terror attacks, the IRC is focusing our efforts in northeastern Nigeria by:

  • working with local health care facilities to reduce malnutrition and improve water, sanitation and hygiene
  • constructing emergency shelters and latrines for people who are unable to live with a host family
  • distributing food vouchers, mosquito nets and essential household items
  • organising safe spaces where children can play and regain a sense of a normal childhood
  • providing classes for displaced children to advance their reading and maths skills
  • providing programmes for women and children who have suffered from violence and abuse

What still needs to be done?

Ensuring people are protected from violence and have access to enough food remains critical: a large percentage of the population suffers from malnutrition. Women, girls and other vulnerable groups are subject to exploitation and abuse, and children often have no access to education. 

Girls fetch water at an IRC-installed pump
Girls fetch water at an IRC-installed pump at the St. Theresa church compound in Yola. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC

The global humanitarian response to Nigeria has been inadequate to the challenges posed by the sheer number of people displaced by violence and natural disaster. Sustainable gains in Nigeria will require not only increased emergency response but new emphasis on helping people affected by crisis to earn enough income to meet their basic needs. Improving the economic wellbeing of women and girls will be a particular focus for the IRC over the next few years.   

Download the IRC's Nigeria strategy action plan to learn more about our programme priorities until 2020.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organisations in Nigeria provided:


people with access to primary and reproductive health care.

We’re providing access to clean water and quality health services as well as promoting good hygiene to curb the spread of disease.

Learn more about our humanitarian response.

children and youth with IRC-supported schools and educational programmes.

We provide reading and maths classes as well as safe spaces where children in crisis areas can learn, play and heal.

Explore our education work.

men and women with information on preventing and responding to human rights abuses.

We work to foster good governance and a respect for human rights law.

Explore our empowerment work.

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