Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the ninth most populous country in the world. The country has one of the highest population growth rates. The United Nations estimates Nigeria will contribute significantly to the total increase in the world’s population by 2050. The country is Africa’s major oil producer with the largest natural gas reserves in the continent, the sixth largest producer (and eighth largest exporter) of petroleum in the world, and has the tenth largest proven reserves. However, Nigeria faces several socioeconomic problems. Some of the most critical challenges to development in Nigeria are deeply entrenched poverty and unemployment, hunger, and burden of disease.
Currently, Nigeria has over 186,988,000 people (UNdata, 2016) to feed. The population is growing, and an estimated 122 million people now live on less than US $1.25 per day. Nigeria accounts for 23% of arable land across all of West Africa with an arable land potential of 98 million hectares of which 84 million hectares are cultivatable. However, Nigeria’s agricultural potential is largely untapped with only 34 million hectares being cultivated. Nigeria’s health indicators remain among the poorest in the world. Nigeria has the second-largest number of people living with HIV globally and accounts for 9% of the global HIV burden. Millions of children have been orphaned and made vulnerable as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Nigeria continues to have the highest burden of malaria in the world, which remains a top cause of maternal and childhood illness and death.
Nigeria is also besieged by violent conflict which has resulted in displacement and large-scale loss of life and property. The Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in a highly insecure environment in Northeastern Nigeria. In north central Nigeria, land use disputes between pastoralists and herders have increasingly resulted in the death of community members. These and other conflicts have led to an increasing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). At present, Nigeria has the highest number of IDPs in Africa with an estimated 2.1 million persons displaced in 13 states (OCHA 2016), many of whom live in host communities and/or informal satellite settlements. Immediate challenges include food security; water, sanitation and hygiene; shelter; health services; and psychosocial support for displaced people and the communities that host them. Attacks on health facilities in the Northeast have forced health workers to either flee or shut down clinics and hospitals. This has led to a shortage of capable healthcare workers, has limited availability of healthcare services and supplies, and has restricted communities’ access to healthcare facilities. These conflicts and displacements have also disrupted agricultural production and trade, significantly impacting livelihoods for rural communities who depend predominantly on agriculture for household nutrition and livelihoods. There are several far-reaching social consequences of violent conflict as well, including the deterioration of the social fabric of communities along with trauma and mistrust.
Catholic Relief Services began working in Nigeria in the 1960s and was active during the 1967 civil war in the area of emergency response. After the war, the Nigerian Government asked CRS and other international development agencies to leave the country. Thirty years later, with the return of democracy after years of military rule, CRS returned to Nigeria in 2000 at the invitation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria.
CRS has a history of health programming in Nigeria that spans over ten years. In partnership with the Catholic Church, other faith-based and community-based organizations, and government institutions, CRS implements a range of complex programs with support from a variety of donors and private funds.