Populations at Risk
Inter-communal violence in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region, as well as sporadic attacks by Boko Haram, constitute an ongoing threat to civilians.
Clashes between semi-nomadic herdsmen and settled farming communities continue to plague Nigeria's "Middle Belt." According to the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, during the first six months of 2018 the conflict increased "in frequency, intensity, complexity and geographic scope" across the Sahel region, but especially in Nigeria. From January-June 2018 an estimated 300,000 people were displaced and more than 1,300 killed in Nigeria due to violence between nomadic herders and farmers, according to International Crisis Group. Since July an additional 100 people have been killed in herder-farmer related violence.
Recurring conflict in Nigeria's Middle Belt region is often rooted in historical grievances over land use and resource allocation. These disputes have been exacerbated by growing desertification in the north of Nigeria, which 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 tensions.
Inter-communal and inter-religious dynamics have also triggered violence in other parts of Nigeria. Following the death of 55 people in violence between Hausa Muslim and Adara Christian youths in Kaduna State, on 21 October the government deployed a special security force and imposed a curfew. Between 27-30 October at least 40 members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), a Shia political group, were shot and killed by the security forces after a march by IMN members turned violent. Shias make up approximately three percent of Nigeria's population and the IMN has a long history of conflict with the secular federal state.
Meanwhile, although Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) have been seriously weakened by the government's counter-insurgency campaign, attacks on security personnel and civilians continue in Nigeria's northeast. On 18-19 August 67 people were killed in two separate attacks in Borno State. The first took place near Ali Goshe village outside of Maiduguri and the second in the Guzamala region. 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 ongoing insecurity caused by Boko Haram.
Large-scale displacement and insecurity have increased unemployment and poverty, affecting millions of people, particularly in northeast Nigeria. The effects of climate change, including drought and desertification, will likely increase the competition for resources between nomadic and settled communities, putting civilians at ongoing risk of inter-communal violence.
Nigerian security forces have often failed to provide sufficient protection to civilians and have been widely accused of committing human rights abuses during the government's fight against Boko Haram. The latest deadly crackdown on the IMN and ongoing human rights abuses demonstrate the need for security sector reform.
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.
A regional Multinational Joint Task Force has been leading efforts to combat Boko Haram since 2015. On 19 August the UN Secretary-General condemned Boko Haram violence and killings 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."
On 1 November the United States Embassy in Nigeria urged the government to investigate the shooting of IMN protesters.
It is essential that the government of Nigeria address 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 help identify and ameliorate long-standing grievances between herding and settled communities.
The government should also 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 sporadic Boko Haram attacks continue. Such efforts should include comprehensive security sector reform.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018
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.