BACKGROUND: Over the past year armed attacks by Boko Haram have increased in scale and scope in Nigeria. With over 10,000 people reportedly killed in Boko Haram-related violence during 2014, parts of the country's northeast have been rendered ungovernable. According to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, as of 15 January there were over 1.2 million IDPs in Nigeria, more than 90 percent of whom are in the northeast, while UNHCR 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. 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 throughout the country. Since January Boko Haram has increased its use of suicide bombings, including sending girls reportedly as young as seven-years-old to carry out attacks on densely populated civilian areas.
Cross-border raids into neighboring countries have also intensified in recent months. In Cameroon 80 civilians were kidnapped during January and an estimated 90 civilians were killed in Fotokol on 4 February. Boko Haram also conducted multiple attacks in Niger during February and March and its first attack in Chad on 13 February.
Neighboring countries have increased efforts to assist in combating the group. On 9 February Niger approved sending troops to Nigeria as part of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a regional initiative aimed at defeating Boko Haram. On 8 March Chad and Niger launched a joint operation against Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram began seizing and holding territory during July 2014. 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. According to the EU, as of 13 February the estimated size of the Boko Haram controlled area was 30,000 square kilometers.
Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has vowed to kill all Muslims who "follow democracy" and said that Boko Haram is at war "against Christians and democracy." Long-awaited presidential and parliamentary elections initially scheduled for 14 February have been postponed until 28 March because of security concerns relating to seizure of much of the northeast. Gubernatorial and state elections were shifted to 11 April.
On 17 February Boko Haram released a video in which Shekau vowed to destroy Nigeria's electoral process.
Nigerian security forces have consistently failed to provide sufficient protection from Boko Haram and there have been reports of soldiers deserting their posts during attacks. Security forces have also been accused of committing war crimes, including extrajudicial killings of suspected Boko Haram members.
The "Civilian Joint Task Force," a collection of vigilante groups formed in response to Boko Haram, has also been implicated in grave human rights abuses. Cameroonian security forces have also been accused of torture and extrajudicial killings of civilians as they fight Boko Haram.
ANALYSIS: Although the elections have been postponed, it is unlikely that the 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. The potential disenfranchisement of a significant portion of the population, including more than a million refugees and IDPs, endangers the legitimacy of the entire electoral process.
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. In addition to large parts of northern Nigeria being rendered ungovernable by ongoing violence, the Boko Haram insurgency is now a regional security threat, imperiling the lives of civilians in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram attacks exacerbate existing social, ethnic and religious tensions, heightening the possibility of renewed inter-communal violence. 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 adequately investigate allegations of the security forces' arbitrary detention, torture and extra-judicial killing of suspected Boko Haram members. The government is also unable to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable communities in northeast Nigeria.
The government of Nigeria is struggling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and needs ongoing support from the international community.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: Nigeria is currently an elected member of UNSC. On 19 January the UNSC issued a Presidential Statement condemning the escalation in Boko Haram attacks, expressing concern over the humanitarian crisis and reiterating "the primary responsibility of Member States to protect civilian populations on their territories." The UNSC also issued Press Statements on 2, 5 and 13 February regarding Boko Haram atrocities.
On 20 January the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense of 13 countries and representatives of international and regional organizations met in Niamey, Niger to address the "Fight against Boko Haram." Participants decided to establish MNJTF headquarters in N'Djamena, Chad. On 29 January the AU Peace and Security Council authorized the MNJTF's deployment for an initial period of 12 months. The mandate of the force includes "the protection of civilians under immediate threat."
From 5 to 7 February regional governments and other stakeholders met in Cameroon and produced a draft concept of operations (CONOPS) for the MNJTF. Regional governments announced contributions of 8,700 military, police and civilian personnel. The CONOPS was further developed at a follow-up meeting held from 23 to 27 February.
During the 20 January Niamey meeting the Ministers also requested that the ICC expedite "the ongoing process relating to crimes against humanity committed by Boko Haram." On the same day the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC reminded Nigeria of its obligation to prosecute all persons responsible for war crimes or crimes against humanity.
On 16 February members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) pledged to create an $87 million emergency fund to fight Boko Haram.
On 27 February UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "multi-dimensional approach" in fighting Boko Haram that would address "legitimate grievances, past and current human rights violations, and root causes of the conflict."
NECESSARY ACTION: Politicians from all parties should refrain from inflammatory statements that could deepen religious, ethnic and intercommunal divisions during the electoral campaign. Nigerian authorities must ensure that security forces are able to adequately protect all Nigerians and enable them to participate in the democratic process.
Regional and international cooperation is crucial to defeating Boko Haram and holding perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable. Governments involved in the MNJTF need to fully operationalize the force as soon as possible and ensure it implements protective measures to mitigate the risk to civilians during anti-Boko Haram operations.
The UNSC should actively support regional efforts to defeat Boko Haram, including through supporting the MNJTF. The AU, Economic Community for West African States, ECCAS and states with significant bilateral ties to Nigeria should assist the 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, including extrajudicial killings committed by the military.
Last Updated: 15 March 2015