Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Inter-communal violence in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region and increased attacks by Boko Haram leave civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes.
Multiple security threats continue to place civilians in Nigeria at risk of mass atrocity crimes, including recurring inter-communal violence in the "Middle Belt" region and increased attacks by the armed extremist group Boko Haram.

Conflict in Nigeria's "Middle Belt," rooted in historical grievances between herders and farming communities, has escalated over the past two years. According to Amnesty International, 3,641 people were killed in clashes between herders and farming communities between January 2016 and October 2018, with 57 percent of deaths occurring during 2018. During February 2019 at least 98 people, including 22 children, were killed in attacks in Kajuru, Kaduna State. Between 14-19 April at least 42 people were also killed during clashes in Nassarawa and Adamawa states.

Since the beginning of 2019 there has also been an increase in armed banditry in Zamfara and Katsina states despite efforts by the security forces to neutralize such groups since 2016. Between March and June more than 200 civilians were killed by bandits in attacks on villages in Zamfara State.

Despite claims by the government that it had defeated Boko Haram, the armed extremist group and the so-called Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) have intensified their attacks in the north-east of Nigeria since December 2018. Boko Haram has temporarily seized several towns and attacked military bases, including the headquarters of the regional Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). On 16 June at least 30 people were killed when three suicide bombers attacked a busy market outside Konduga, Borno State. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Borno State and an additional 400,000 IDPs in Adamawa and Yobe states as a result of insecurity caused by Boko Haram.

Although the "Middle Belt" region has experienced recurring inter-communal violence for many years, growing desertification has exacerbated competition for resources. The loss of grazing land in the north has driven many ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are mainly Muslim, southward into areas farmed by settled communities that are predominately Christian.

Although the MNJTF has made significant progress, the ongoing threat posed by Boko Haram and ISWA leaves civilians at risk of terrorist attacks and identity-based violence. Nigerian security forces have also been implicated in human rights abuses during operations against Boko Haram, ISWA and other armed groups.

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

The regional MNJTF has led efforts to combat Boko Haram since 2015. On 19 August 2018 the UN Secretary-General called for "the international community to increase support to regional efforts in the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin." During February 2019 the MNJTF launched a new offensive against Boko Haram.

It is essential that the government of Nigeria addresses 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. The government should work with local civil society to ameliorate long-standing grievances between herding and settled communities. Utilizing the Early Warning System of the Economic Community of West African States, the government should increase police and military deployments to vulnerable areas. The government should also implement the "National Policy on Climate Change and Response Strategy" and accelerate initiatives in regions 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 Boko Haram attacks continue. Such efforts should address comprehensive security sector reform, including by incorporating International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law into all mili-tary and police training. The government should also investigate all alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces.

Last Updated: 15 July 2019

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.