Populations at Risk
Mass atrocity crimes continue to be threatened by the extremist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Recurring violence in the "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions also constitutes a serious threat to civilians.
Attacks by the armed extremist group Boko Haram, as well recurring violence in Nigeria's "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions continue to put civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The situation in the country's northeast, where Boko Haram once held significant territory, remains particularly dire despite two years of military operations by the Nigerian army and the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Boko Haram continues to stage sporadic attacks in Nigeria and wider Lake Chad Basin region, where 11 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Nigerian government's seven-year conflict with Boko Haram has claimed more than 20,000 lives. Boko Haram perpetrated multiple attacks in Nigeria during January, as well as in Cameroon and Niger, including suicide bombings involving young women and children targeting mosques and IDP camps. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.3 million people displaced in the Lake Chad Basin, including over 1.64 million in Nigeria's Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of civilians during its insurgency, often targeting schools for attack, including the 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok and the 2015 abduction of 300 elementary students in Damasak. The vast majority of abducted children remain missing.
Recurring conflicts, rooted in long-standing grievances over land and resource allocation, continue in Nigeria's "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions where inter-communal clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities have recently escalated. Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed in Kaduna and other central states since September 2016. On 31 January clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers from the Mumuye ethnic group in Taraba state resulted in at least six people killed and dozens of houses being burned.
While large-scale attacks by Boko Haram have become less frequent, smaller attacks, particularly suicide bombings, continue. Destroyed infrastructure across the northeast and the ongoing threat posed by Boko Haram makes the return of displaced populations dangerous and continues to limit humanitarian operations.
Effects of climate change – such as lower rainfall and increased desertification – already impacting Nigeria, will likely worsen the competition for resources in the future between nomadic and settled communities, putting civilians at ongoing risk of inter-communal violence. Large-scale displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty in north-east Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin region.
Nigerian security forces have consistently been accused of failing to adequately protect vulnerable populations from Boko Haram and of committing human rights abuses against civilians. The scale and frequency of human rights abuses committed by the security forces reveal ongoing weaknesses in the training of the Nigerian army and police that the government has failed to adequately address.
The government of Nigeria continues to struggle to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.
On 29 November 2016 the AU Peace and Security Council renewed the mandate of the MNJTF until 31 January 2018.
On 20 January the UN Security Council issued a Presidential Statement, urging states involved in operations against Boko Haram to comply with international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law. The statement also emphasized deep concern over the humanitarian crisis and the importance of rebuilding areas liberated from Boko Haram.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to visit Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger from 2-7 March to assess the security and humanitarian situation in the region.
Governments involved in the MNJTF and ongoing military operations against Boko Haram need to mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for possible crimes against humanity in areas under their previous command and control.
It is essential that the government of Nigeria addresses the root causes of recurring inter-communal conflict, especially in the "middle belt" region, through socio-economic initiatives and political reforms that tackle land rights, corruption, and poor governance, as well as access to employment and educational opportunities. Compensation to victims and help with rebuilding livelihoods, destroyed in clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities, is necessary to prevent another humanitarian crisis and end recurring conflict.
The government needs to urgently undertake a comprehensive security sector reform to ensure that the army and police are trained to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities in a manner consistent with international law.
Last Updated: 15 February 2017