BRiE in Nigeria with Norwegian Refugee Council

Context

In July 2009, armed conflict started in Northern Nigeria (mostly affecting Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states) and it continues today. The humanitarian emergency was at its peak between 2011 and 2015, but as of June 2017 this protracted complex conflict had resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people and the displacement of over 2.1 million, with an estimated 1.9 million internally displaced and over 200,000 refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Thousands of women and girls have been abducted and children drafted as so-called “suicide bombers” into the insurgency.

In Borno state, prior to the emergency, birth registration was undertaken in all Local Government Areas (LGA). Registration rates stood at an estimated 45-50%, with an approximate birth rate of 10,000 births per month. Since the beginning of this protracted conflict, birth registration has reduced to less than 20%, with fewer than 2,000 births registered per month. Most LGAs are no longer accessible and movement in and around Borno state is restricted due to the volatile security situation.

Other humanitarian needs such as access to food, shelter and water sanitation and hygiene and livelihoods are prioritised by conflict-affected people. People who fled to neighbouring countries face many challenges in accessing birth registration services as refugees and there is a general lack of knowledge of the importance of birth registration and the risk of statelessness, also a concern in respect of Nigerian refugees born in neighbouring countries.   

BRiE intervention

Through its information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA) programme, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been working to improve access to birth registration in Northern Nigeria (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states). BRiE services could not be provided in some areas under government control such as Gowza, Mafa, Dikwa and Damasak, due to insecurity.

 Activities include:

1.       Raising the awareness of internally displaced people on the value of registering births, obtaining a birth certificate and how to engage in the process (from 2015).

-          ICLA staff conduct group information sessions on birth registration and follow-up with individual counselling services.

-          IEC visibility material is used in the form of t-shirts and pamphlets (in local languages and with pictures) to encourage birth registration.

-          Radio jingles are played on the local radio station in local languages to encourage birth registration.

2.       Birth registration and issuance of birth certificates (2017).

-          Working with the National Population Commission (NPC), the government agency responsible for birth registration, the intervention supports birth registration at NRC project sites.

-          The NPC has trained ICLA staff on how to fill out the documentation required for birth registration.

-          ICLA staff complete the documentation at accessible project sites and the NPC checks the information and issues birth certificates.

-          Boys and girls below the age of 17 years are targeted according to need.

Successes

The BRiE intervention increased the affected population’s understanding of both the relevance of registering births and getting a birth certificate and how to engage in the process. This resulted in an overall increase in birth registration and birth certification rates.

Challenges

1.       Crowd control is a challenge when people gather anticipating assistance. This presents a serious security risk in Northeast Nigeria as suicide bombers target crowded areas. Community leaders and youths can help control crowds and thereby ensure the safety of NRC staff and the people in need of birth registration assistance.

2.       Language barriers can limit effective communication with beneficiaries on birth registration issues. It is important to have local staff who can speak the languages spoken by IDPS, including Hausa and Kanuri. However, recruiting Kanuri-speaking staff was challenging as there are few available to support.

Key Recommendations

1.       A comprehensive needs assessment is essential to understand the needs/gaps and inform programme design.

2.       Engagement with the relevant government departments is essential for a BRiE response. Birth registration is a state responsibility; close collaboration will ensure acceptance of the intervention and a smooth exit.

3.       Awareness raising and sensitization are key to a BRiE response as they alert beneficiaries to the importance of birth registration and also to the procedures for registering a birth and obtaining a birth certificate.