Populations at Risk
Inter-communal violence in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region, sporadic attacks by Boko Haram, and human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian security forces all constitute an ongoing threat to civilians.
The Nigerian government is currently dealing with multiple security threats that place civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes, including inter-communal violence in the "Middle Belt" region and ongoing attacks by the armed extremist group Boko Haram.
Clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities continue to plague Nigeria's "Middle Belt." According to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, during the first six months of 2018 the conflict increased "in frequency, intensity, complexity and geographic scope" across the Sahel region, but especially in Nigeria. According to Amnesty International 3,641 people were killed in clashes between nomadic herders and farmers between January 2016 and October 2018, with 57 percent of deaths occurring during 2018.
Recurring conflict in Nigeria's Middle Belt region is often rooted in historical grievances over land use and resource allocation. Growing desertification in the north of Nigeria has driven many ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are mainly Muslim, southward into areas traditionally farmed by settled communities that are predominately Christian. The competition for resources has resulted in herder-farmer violence and has also exacerbated religious and ethnic divisions.
Although Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) have been seriously weakened by the government's counter-insurgency campaign, attacks on security personnel and civilians continue in the northeast. During December Boko Haram took over several towns, a naval base, and the military headquarters of the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1.8 million people remain internally displaced in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states as a result of ongoing insecurity caused by Boko Haram.
Nigerian security forces have previously been implicated in human rights abuses during their operations against Boko Haram. Between 27-30 October at least 40 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia political group, were also shot and killed by the security forces during a protest march. Shias make up approximately three percent of Nigeria's population and the IMN has a long history of conflict with the secular federal state.
Displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty, affecting millions of people, particularly in northeast Nigeria. The effects of climate change, including drought and desertification, will likely increase the competition for resources between nomadic and settled communities, leaving civilians at ongoing risk of inter-communal violence.
The latest deadly crackdown on the IMN and ongoing human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate the need for security sector reform and human rights training for the security forces. Meanwhile, the ongoing threat posed by Boko Haram and ISWA leaves civilians at continued risk of terrorist attacks and identity-based violence.
The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.
The regional MNJTF has been leading efforts to combat Boko Haram since 2015. On 19 August the UN Secretary-General condemned Boko Haram attacks in Borno State and called for "the international community to increase support to regional efforts in the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin." States involved with the MNJTF met on 28 November to discuss ways to end the surge in attacks.
It is essential that the government of Nigeria address the root causes of inter-communal violence in the "Middle Belt" through socio-economic initiatives and political reforms that tackle land rights and poor governance. Utilizing the Early Warning System of the Economic Community of West African States, the Nigerian government should work with local civil society to ameliorate long-standing grievances between herding and settled communities. The government should also expand efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including by accelerating regional initiatives aimed at restoring environments affected by drought and desertification.
The Nigerian government should continue to support programs that strengthen local security and bolster the rule of law in areas where sporadic Boko Haram attacks continue. Such efforts should address comprehensive security sector reform, including by incorporating International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law into all military and police training. The government should also investigate all alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces.
Last Updated: 15 January 2019
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Nigeria was previously featured in the R2P Monitor from July 2012 through January 2017.