Populations at Risk Imminent Risk


The extremist Islamist group Boko Haram continues to pose an imminent threat to populations in northeast Nigeria. Excessive use of force by the security forces also contributes to the threat of further atrocities.
BACKGROUND: Despite recent military defeats, attacks by Boko Haram against civilians in Nigeria and neighboring countries continue. Many areas previously held by the group across northeast Nigeria remain unsafe for the return of refugees and IDPs.

The recent military offensive against Boko Haram by a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger followed significant territorial seizures by Boko Haram beginning in July 2014. By January 2015 Boko Haram had expanded its control to include most of Borno state as well as significant territories in Adamawa and Yobe states and had begun perpetrating cross-border attacks. According to the Nigerian military, most of this territory has now been recaptured.

Muhammadu Buhari, who was inaugurated as Nigeria's president on 29 May, pledged to eradicate Boko Haram and traveled to Niger and Chad on 3 and 4 June to discuss a regional strategy to defeat the group. Multiple attacks have been carried out since then, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. There were at least 27 suicide bombings during the first five months of 2015, mostly carried out by women and children, compared with 26 attacks during 2014. On 1 July suspected Boko Haram militants killed up to 150 people in attacks on four mosques in Kukawa and two attacks on villages near Monguno, Borno state. On 5 June six people were killed in a church bombing in Potiskum, Yobe state, and an additional 44 were killed in a mosque bombing in Jos, Plateau state.

Boko Haram has increased its attacks in neighboring countries, killing civilians in Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Boko Haram killed at least 27 people in two attacks in N'Djamena, Chad, on 15 June. They claimed responsibility for another attack in N'Djamena on 11 July, which killed at least 15 people. On 17 June the group was suspected of killing an estimated 38 people in the Diffa region of Niger. Five civilians were killed in Dagaya village, Niger, on 9 July. At least 12 civilians were killed in twin suicide bombings in Fotokol, Cameroon, on 12 July.

Over 10,000 people were reportedly killed in Boko Haram-related violence during 2014. According to OCHA, there are now 1.4 million IDPs in Nigeria, with the majority in the northeast. Niger, Cameroon and Chad host an estimated 200,000 Nigerian refugees and thousands of people in their own countries have also been displaced by Boko Haram. OCHA has also reported an estimated 775,000 children have been displaced by the conflict. On 12 June the World Food Programme stated that nearly half a million people "face an acute food security and livelihood crisis" due to the situation in northeastern Nigeria.

Amnesty International has reported that at least 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram since the beginning of 2014. According to the Nigerian military, it rescued hundreds of women and girls during April and May, many of whom had been raped while in captivity. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, called upon the Nigerian government as well as local and international organizations to provide necessary support to those rescued from what she called a "war on women's physical, sexual and reproductive autonomy and rights."

Nigerian security forces have often failed to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram and there have been extensive reports of soldiers deserting during attacks. Security forces have also been accused of committing extrajudicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members. Civilian vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram have also been implicated in human rights abuses. On 3 June Amnesty International reported that more than 7,000 men and boys died in military detention and 1,200 had been extra-judicially executed by the Nigerian military since 2011. On 19 June the Nigerian military announced that it will investigate these allegations.

ANALYSIS: Although Boko Haram has been significantly weakened by combined military operations, it remains a regional security threat, imperiling the lives of civilians in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While the recent offensives have reportedly driven Boko Haram out of previously occupied towns and villages, continued attacks demonstrate the group's resilience and enduring threat.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram attacks exacerbate pre-existing social, ethnic and religious tensions. Displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Africa's largest economy. Destroyed civilian infrastructure across the northeast also makes it difficult for the return of refugees and IDPs, aggravating the humanitarian crisis.

The government's Soft Approach to Countering Violent Extremism program and reforms addressing poor governance and corruption are crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict. President Buhari has promised to defeat Boko Haram and tackle endemic corruption, but the new government's capacity to engage in structural reform of the security forces and government institutions remains unclear.

Nigerian authorities have previously failed to adequately investigate allegations of the security forces' torture and extrajudicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members. The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Nigeria is currently an elected member of the UNSC. On 19 January the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning the escalation in Boko Haram attacks, expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and reiterating "the primary responsibility of Member States to protect civilian populations on their territories." The UNSC has also issued four Press Statements since February regarding Boko Haram atrocities.

On 29 January the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) authorized deployment of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), comprised of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, for an initial period of 12 months. The mandate of the force includes "the protection of civilians under immediate threat" of attack from Boko Haram. During a high-level meeting in Cameroon convened between 5 and 7 February, the five governments produced a Concept of Operations for the MNJTF and announced contributions of 8,700 military, police and civilian personnel, which was later increased to 10,000. The MNJTF headquarters in N'Djamena were inaugurated on 25 May. On 11 June the five governments agreed to operationalize the MNJTF by 30 July. On 25 June the AU PSC reiterated its appeal to the international community to provide assistance for the operationalization of the MNJTF.

On 16 February members of Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) pledged to create an $87 million emergency fund to fight Boko Haram.

On 1 April the Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution requesting OHCHR "document human rights violations and atrocities committed by Boko Haram, with a view towards accountability." On 1 July the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Nigeria to ease abortion restrictions for women and girls sexually abused by Boko Haram.

NECESSARY ACTION: Regional and international cooperation is crucial to defeating Boko Haram and holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Governments involved in military operations against Boko Haram need to ensure they mitigate the risk to civilians during anti-Boko Haram operations and strictly adhere to IHL and international human rights law. Families of Boko Haram members, as well as captives living in Boko Haram camps and child soldiers, need to be adequately protected and carefully reintegrated into Nigerian society.

The UN, AU, Economic Community of West African States, ECCAS and states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should assist the government in meeting humanitarian needs of affected communities and provide technical and military expertise. Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in areas under the group's command and control.

With international support, the government needs to urgently undertake security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities while respecting human rights. The government should conduct thorough investigations into all abuses, including alleged extrajudicial killings committed by the military.

Last Updated: 15 July 2015