Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Inter-communal violence in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region, attacks by Boko Haram, and human rights abuses committed by the Nigerian security forces all constitute an ongoing threat to civilians.
On 23 February Nigerian voters elected President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term. Following the election at least 53 people were killed in 11 different states, including at least 17 people in an attack by the armed extremist group the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA). The new Nigerian government will have to confront multiple security threats that place civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes, including recurring inter-communal violence in the "Middle Belt" region and ongoing attacks by the armed extremist group Boko Haram.

According to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, during 2018 outbreaks of violence between farmers and semi-nomadic herders were recorded across Nigeria, particularly in the "Middle Belt" and Adamawa and Taraba states. According to Amnesty International, 3,641 people were killed in clashes between herders and farming communities between January 2016 and October 2018, with 57 percent of deaths occurring during 2018. Such violence continues to escalate with at least 98 people, including 22 children, killed in attacks in Kajuru, Kaduna State, during February.

The north-east is also experiencing an intensification of violence by Boko Haram and ISWA. Since December Boko Haram has temporarily seized several towns and attacked military bases, including the headquarters of the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). On 28 January at least 60 people were killed during an attack on the town of Rann, Borno State. 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 insecurity caused by Boko Haram since 2009. The International Organization for Migration reported an additional 60,000 people have fled violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and other armed extremists since December.

Nigerian security forces have also been implicated in human rights abuses during operations against Boko Haram, ISWA and other groups.

Recurring conflict in Nigeria's Middle Belt region is rooted in historical grievances over land use and resource allocation. Growing desertification and the loss of grazing land 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.

Ongoing human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate the need for security sector reform and human rights training. 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 led efforts to combat Boko Haram since 2015. On 19 August the UN Secretary-General condemned 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." During February the MNJTF launched a new offensive against Boko Haram.

It is essential that the new government of Nigeria addresses 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 increase police and military deployments to vulnerable areas. The government should 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 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 March 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.