Populations at Risk Imminent Risk


Inter-communal violence in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region and increased attacks by Boko Haram leave civilians at imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes.
The Nigerian government continues to face difficulties in confronting multiple security threats that place civilians 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.

Recurring conflict in Nigeria's "Middle Belt" region, rooted in historical grievances between herders and farming communities, has escalated over the past year. 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 between farmers and semi-nomadic herders in Nassarawa and Adamawa states.

Since the beginning of this year there have also been growing concerns over the increase of armed banditry in Zamfara and Katsina states. During March and April at least 169 civilians were killed by bandits in Zamfara State. Nigerian security forces have tried to neutralize "bandits" and armed groups that continue to conduct large-scale attacks against civilians in the northwest since 2016 under the auspices of Operation Sharan Daji.

Despite claims by the government that it had militarily defeated Boko Haram, the 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). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1.4 million people remain internally displaced in Borno State and an additional 400,000 are displaced in Adamawa and Yobe states as a result of insecurity caused by Boko Haram.

Nigerian security forces have also been implicated in human rights abuses during operations against Boko Haram, ISWA and other armed groups, including during recent operations against bandits in Zamfara State.

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

Although the MNJTF has made significant progress in offensives against Boko Haram, the ongoing threat posed by Boko Haram and ISWA leaves civilians at risk of terrorist attacks and identity-based violence.

Ongoing human rights abuses by Nigeria's security forces demonstrate the need for security sector reform and human rights training.

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 the UN Secretary-General condemned attacks 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." During February 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. Utilizing the Early Warning System of the Economic Community of West African States, the Nigerian government should work with local civil society to ameliorate long-standing grievances between herding and settled communities. The government should also increase police and military deployments to vulnerable areas. The government should expand efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including by accelerating 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 and human rights law into all military and police train-ing. The government should also investigate all alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the security forces.

Last Updated: 15 May 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.