Populations at Risk Imminent Risk


Mass atrocity crimes continue to be perpetrated by the extremist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Excessive use of force by security forces, recurring inter-communal violence and increasing attacks in the Niger Delta region also constitute a serious threat to civilians.
BACKGROUND: Despite more than a year of military operations against Boko Haram by the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), attacks by the extremist group against civilians continue in Nigeria as well as neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More than 20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria since Boko Haram launched its armed offensive in 2009. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.2 million IDPs in Nigeria and 177,000 Nigerian refugees in neighboring countries.

Following a trip to Nigeria and Niger, on 24 May the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, referred to the situation in the Lake Chad basin as "the most under reported, the most underfunded and the least addressed" humanitarian crisis in the world. An estimated 7 million people in northeast Nigeria remain food insecure, with 2.5 million in urgent need of assistance. The UN World Food Programme warned on 23 May that the current humanitarian situation in northeastern Nigeria could lead to a "famine-like situation" if aid is not urgently provided.

On 12 April UNICEF reported on the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency on children, who have been killed, recruited as fighters and exposed to sexual violence. Since April 2014 at least 1.3 million children have been uprooted by Boko Haram violence in Nigeria and neighboring countries, while one of every five suicide bombers used by Boko Haram in 2015 was a child. The group has particularly targeted 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.

As the government addresses the Boko Haram insurgency, several other localized conflicts, rooted in long-standing grievances over land and resource allocation, have escalated in Nigeria's "middle belt" and Niger Delta regions. Inter-communal clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities continue in Zamfara, Taraba, and Benue states, resulting in hundreds of deaths so far this year. Meanwhile, at least 10 people were killed on 30 May in Anambra and Delta states during clashes between police and protesters at rallies marking the 49th anniversary of the declaration of an independent Republic of Biafra, which was followed by a devastating civil war and famine from 1967 to 1970.

Newly-formed militant groups in the Niger Delta, including the Niger Delta Avengers and Joint Niger Delta Liberation force, have also been increasing attacks on oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta. On 29 May President Buhari said he would hold talks with militants and on 2 June Vice President Yemi Osinbajo committed to work with local leaders to put an end to armed attacks while launching a program to address oil-pollution.

Nigerian security forces have been consistently accused of failing to protect populations and committing human rights abuses against civilians, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings, as well as of concealing evidence of such crimes. At least 347 civilians were killed during the clashes between security forces and a Shia group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), in Kaduna state during December 2015.

ANALYSIS: Nigeria currently lacks the capacity to adequately protect various vulnerable populations throughout the country.

The reemergence of armed groups in the Niger Delta region and continued attacks on oil and gas installations puts increasing strain on a government that is already struggling to address the Boko Haram insurgency. Although much of the government's attention has been directed towards defeating Boko Haram, other conflicts also threaten the stability of the state and have the potential to fracture Nigerian society along communal lines.

While large-scale attacks by Boko Haram have become less frequent, the group continues to target civilians and security personnel in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Large-scale displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, which is already experiencing a severe decrease in government revenue due to depressed oil prices and reduced oil production. Destroyed civilian infrastructure across the northeast and ongoing threat of Boko Haram attacks makes the return of displaced populations dangerous and severely limits humanitarian operations.

Ongoing human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate an urgent need for comprehensive security sector reform, while impunity for past abuses could further destabilize affected communities if not addressed urgently and impartially by the judicial system.

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

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: During February the United States announced that it will provide training to approximately 750 soldiers from selected units of the Nigerian army and deploy special operations advisers to enhance military capacity to defeat Boko Haram. During her April visit to the region, United States Ambassador Samantha Power announced $40 million in humanitarian assistance to the Lake Chad countries. On 11 April the EU allocated 67 million Euros for the rehabilitation and re-integration of captured Boko Haram members.

On 12 April a group of UN Special Procedures urged the Nigerian government to escalate efforts to release all persons abducted by Boko Haram.

On 14 May representatives from the four Lake Chad Basin states, together with international partners, including the EU, France, United Kingdom and United States, met in Abuja for the second Regional Security Summit on efforts to defeat Boko Haram. Ahead of the Summit, the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement on 13 May, recognizing that some acts perpetrated by Boko Haram "may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes" and stressing that those responsible must be held accountable.

NECESSARY ACTION: As Nigeria faces multiple security crisis it is essential for the government to prioritize the protection of vulnerable civilians throughout the country. The government should continue to employ a multifaceted response, addressing root causes of conflict through social initiatives and political reforms that tackle corruption, poor governance, land rights, access to employment and educational opportunities. The government must urgently address local grievances in the Niger Delta, including serious environmental degradation and disputes over resource allocation.

Coordination between the security forces of the four Boko Haram-affected countries needs to be sustained. Governments involved in the MNJTF and ongoing military operations against Boko Haram need to mitigate the risk to civilians and strictly adhere to IHL and IHRL. Captured Boko Haram leaders should be held accountable for crimes against humanity committed in areas under the group's command and control.

Greater steps have to be taken to rescue civilians abducted by Boko Haram. State governments should actively work with local communities to promote re-integration of victims returning from Boko Haram captivity. The return of refugees and IDPs should be conducted on a strictly voluntary basis. The UN, AU and other regional organizations, as well as individual governments, should urgently assist Nigeria in meeting the humanitarian needs of affected communities and continue to provide technical and military expertise to help combat Boko Haram.

The government should also conduct thorough investigations into alleged abuses by the security forces, including for crimes committed during counter-insurgency operations and clashes with the IMN. The Nigerian government needs to urgently undertake 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 June 2016