Populations at Risk Current Crisis


Mass atrocity crimes are being perpetrated in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram as it commits systematic attacks against civilians. Excessive use of force by the security forces and recurring inter-communal violence also contribute to the threat to civilians.
BACKGROUND: Boko Haram continues to carry out systematic attacks against civilians, including indiscriminate attacks on populated areas as well as targeted bombings of schools and religious institutions. Recent attacks include a 25 November suicide bombing at a market in Maiduguri, Borno state, which resulted in at least 78 people killed, and a 28 November attack on Kano's central mosque, which killed at least 120 people.

Since July Boko Haram has started seizing towns and villages in addition to its traditional "hit-and-run" attacks. The group has expanded its control to an estimated 20,000 square kilometers of territory covering more than 20 towns in the northeast. While some of the captured towns have since returned to government control, grave fears exist for civilians trapped in Boko Haram-run areas, most of whom are cut off from humanitarian access.

Boko Haram has been perpetrating attacks against civilians since 2009 and is committed to overthrowing Nigeria's secular government and establishing an Islamic state. Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has vowed to kill all Muslims who "follow democracy" and has said that Boko Haram is at war "against Christians and democracy."

While Boko Haram has primarily perpetrated attacks in three northern states – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – since April the group has widened the scope of its operations, carrying out attacks in Abuja as well as in Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Niger and Plateau states. Attacks on schools in November and December in Yobe and Niger states killed at least 50 people while 40 people were killed in Jos, Platuau state on 11 December after two bombs exploded. It has also carried out cross-border raids into Cameroon.

The state of emergency declared by President Goodluck Jonathan for Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May 2013 ended on 20 November 2014 when the parliament rejected his request for an extension. Despite the state of emergency, Boko Haram attacks escalated significantly, with more than 2,740 people killed during 2013 and more than 5,000 people killed during the first three quarters of 2014, according to the Nigeria Social Violence Project. The National Emergency Management Agency reported that more than 1.5 million people were displaced during the state of emergency, while the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that more than 150,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries.

Nigerian security forces have been accused of failing to provide sufficient protection to civilians from Boko Haram. There have been numerous reports of soldiers deserting their posts during Boko Haram attacks, including in seized towns in Borno and Adamawa states. The security forces have also been accused of committing grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, against suspected Boko Haram members. On 5 August Amnesty International reported evidence of "multiple war crimes" carried out by the Nigerian military. The "Civilian Joint Task Force" (CJTF), a collection of civilian vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram, has also been implicated in grave human rights abuses.

On 13 October the Nigerian government publicly launched its Soft Approach to Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program. The program aims to address the underlying causes of religious radicalization in Nigeria.

ANALYSIS: Despite the formal end of the state of emergency in the three northeastern states, Boko Haram attacks continue amid a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation. The government remains unable to adequately protect civilian populations.

Boko Haram attacks exacerbate existing social, ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the possibility of renewed inter-communal and election-related violence. Civilian displacement and ongoing insecurity has also increased unemployment and poverty within Africa's largest economy. Social initiatives proposed under the Soft Approach/CVE Program and political reforms addressing poor governance and corruption are crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict.

The security forces have failed to investigate multiple allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members, actions which violate international human rights law and may constitute crimes against humanity. The focus on counter-terrorism and sustained military operations against Boko Haram has also neglected the urgent humanitarian needs of displaced and vulnerable communities in northeast Nigeria.

General elections scheduled for 14 February 2015 present numerous challenges, including concerns regarding the ability of the government to implement registration and voting procedures in states affected by Boko Haram violence. Disenfranchisement of large portions of the population, including refugees, internally displaced persons and people living in Boko Haram-controlled territories, could endanger the legitimacy of the elections. In addition, Boko Haram's opposition to the democratic process and frequent attacks on public gatherings increases the threat to voters.

The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs the ongoing support of the international community.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:The April 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok drew unprecedented international attention to the threat posed by Boko Haram. The abduction was condemned by numerous governments and UN officials, while President Jonathan accepted offers from the United States, United Kingdom, France and China to provide assistance in freeing the schoolgirls.

During the Paris Summit of 17 May and the London Ministerial meeting of 12 June on the security situation in Nigeria regional and international partners committed to increase coordinated action against Boko Haram. On 23 July Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon pledged to mobilize a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram, with each state contributing 700 troops.

On 25 November the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) expressed "full support for the establishment and deployment of the MNJTF." As of mid-December, Niger, Chad and Benin have completed the deployment of troops along their respective borders. Cameroon and Niger expressed concerns about the proposed location of the MNJTF headquarters in Baga-Kawa, Nigeria, due to growing insecurity in the area.

Nigeria is currently an elected member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC has not directly addressed the threat posed by Boko Haram since 9 May, but has expressed concern over cross-border attacks in statements regarding the West African region on 9 July and 17 August.

NECESSARY ACTION: The security forces must intensify protection of vulnerable communities, especially in the northeast of the country. As Christmas approaches, the security forces must enhance the protection of churches and religious gatherings.

Authorities should immediately implement the Soft Approach/CVE Program. With international assistance, 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 also conduct investigations into alleged abuses committed by the military against civilians.

The UN, AU and Economic Community of West African States, along with states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should continue to assist the government in upholding its Responsibility to Protect its population. These actors should urge the authorities to strengthen the rule of law and ensure accountability for all grave human rights abuses. International actors should also assist and encourage the Nigerian government in meeting humanitarian needs of affected communities.

As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 general elections, politicians should refrain from inflammatory statements that could deepen religious, ethnic and inter-communal divisions. Nigerian authorities must ensure that security forces are able to adequately protect all Nigerians and enable them to participate in the democratic process.

Last Updated: 15 December 2014