BACKGROUND: Long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections initially scheduled for 14 February, have been postponed until 28 March because of security concerns relating to the Boko Haram insurgency.
While Boko Haram has mainly perpetrated attacks in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, since April 2014 the group has widened the scope of its operations, carrying out attacks in Abuja as well as in Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Niger and Plateau states. In addition, cross-border raids into Cameroon have intensified in recent months, including the kidnapping of 80 Cameroonian villagers during January, the killing of an estimated 90 civilians in Fotokol on 4 February, and the hijacking of a bus full of passengers on 8 February. Boko Haram conducted at least three attacks in Niger during February and carried out its first attack in Chad on 13 February. In January, Chad sent troops to Cameroon to help fight Boko Haram incursions. On 9 February Niger's parliament unanimously approved sending troops to northern Nigeria as part of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
According to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, as of 15 January there are 981,416 internally displaced people in Nigeria, more than 90% of whom are in the northeast. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that 200,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries.
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."
Boko Haram began seizing and holding territory during July 2014, in addition to continuing its traditional "hit-and-run" attacks. The group has expanded its control to include most of Borno state as well as significant territories in Adamawa and Yobe state. While some previously captured towns have partially returned to government control, grave fears exist for civilians trapped in Boko Haram-run areas, most of whom remain cut off from humanitarian access. Boko Haram are now directly threatening Maiduguri, the Borno state capital with a population of 2 million people, which they attacked on 25 January and 1 February.
Nigerian security forces have been consistently accused of failing to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram and there have been numerous reports of soldiers deserting their posts during attacks. Nigerian 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," a collection of civilian vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram, has also been implicated in grave human rights abuses.
ANALYSIS: Although the presidential and parliamentary elections have been postponed until 28 March, it is unlikely that the six week delay will enable the military to provide adequate security to voters, particularly in the states worst affected by Boko Haram violence. Boko Haram's opposition to the democratic process and frequent attacks on public gatherings puts voters at a heightened risk.
Despite the "Abuja Accord," signed by all presidential candidates on 14 January, electoral violence also remains a threat, particularly if the legitimacy of the outcome is disputed. The potential disenfranchisement of a significant portion of the population, including more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons, remains highly problematic.
In addition to the large parts of northern Nigeria being rendered ungovernable by the ongoing violence, the Boko Haram insurgency is now a regional security threat, imperiling the lives of civilians in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Boko Haram attacks inside Nigeria exacerbate existing social, ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the possibility of renewed inter-communal violence. Civilian displacement and ongoing insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty within Africa's largest economy. In addition to military measures, the government's Soft Approach to Countering Violent Extremism Program and political reforms addressing poor governance and corruption are crucial to confronting the root causes of conflict.
Nigerian authorities have failed to investigate multiple allegations of the security forces' 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 government is also unable to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of displaced and vulnerable communities in northeast Nigeria.
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.
During the Paris Summit of 17 May and a London Ministerial meeting of 12 June, regional and international partners committed to increase coordinated action against Boko Haram. During subsequent meetings, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin pledged to mobilize the MNJTF, a regional initiative aimed at defeating Boko Haram, with each state contributing troops. On 25 November the African Union Peace and Security Council expressed "full support" for the MNJTF.
On 13 January the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reiterated its commitment to halt Boko Haram attacks that "continue to pose great threats to the peace, security and stability of the region."
The UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, visited Nigeria during January to assess the impact of the ongoing violence on children.
On 20 January the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence of 13 countries and representatives of seven international and regional organizations met in Niamey, Niger to address the situation in Nigeria and the "Fight against Boko Haram." It was decided to establish MNJTF headquarters in N'Djamena, Chad and to request that the International Criminal Court (ICC) to expedite "the ongoing process relating to crimes against humanity committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria."
On 20 January the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, reminded Nigeria of its obligation to prosecute those responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity and declaring the Court's intention to do so if necessary. On 2 February Ms. Bensouda urged presidential candidates and political leaders "to refrain from violence before, during and after [the] elections."
On 29 January the AU Peace and Security Council authorized the deployment of the MNJTF for an initial period of 12 months. The mandate of the MNJTF is to include "the protection of civilians under immediate threat." The PSC also urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) to "endorse the deployment of the MNJTF," and authorize the "establishment by the Secretary-General of a Trust Fund for the sustenance of the MNJTF operations."
From 5 to 7 February the experts of the four Member States of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria) and Benin, as well as other stakeholders, convened a meeting in Cameroon and produced a draft concept of operations. Regional governments announced contributions of 8,700 military, police and civilian personnel.
Nigeria is currently an elected member of UNSC. On 19 January the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning escalation in Boko Haram attacks, expressing concern over the growing humanitarian crisis and reiterating "the primary responsibility of Member States to protect civilian populations on their territories, in accordance with their obligations under international law." The UNSC also issued press statements on 2 and 5 February regarding ongoing Boko Haram activity.
NECESSARY ACTION: Regional and international cooperation is crucial to defeating Boko Haram and holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. The Nigerian government and regional governments involved in the MNJTF need to finalize the concept of operations and to fully operationalize MNJTF as soon as possible.
The UNSC should actively support regional efforts to defeat Boko Haram, including through supporting the MNJTF. The African Union, ECOWAS and states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria, should assist the Nigerian government in meeting humanitarian needs of affected communities and provide technical and military expertise.
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 alleged abuses committed by the military against civilians.
Last Updated: 13 February 2015