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Nigeria: Beyond the Hashtag Debates

AfricaFocus Bulletin
June 9, 2014 (140609)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"As is often the case in situations of widespread insecurity and violence, the displacement caused by Boko Haram and the [Nigerian] army's operations against it has reduced people's ability to feed themselves both directly and indirectly. Not only have IDPs exhausted their own supplies, making them dependent on their hosts' resources, but over 60 per cent of the region's farmers have been displaced just before the start of the planting season, making food crops scarcer and setting the scene for protracted shortages." - Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

The debates on #BringBackOurGirls, a hashtag initiated by Nigerian protesters and picked up around the world, have ranged widely, without any clear consensus on answers to the complex questions of what should be done and by whom. It is easy to say that the longerterm response to Boko Haram must address broader causes, and that the Nigerian military must shift from a policy that adds to the violence rather than protecting people. But whether the outside world can find useful ways to assist such a change in Nigeria remains doubtful (a $6 million counter-terrorism satellite channel, just reported in the New York Times, seems a particularly clear example of what not to do).

Meanwhile, Boko Haram attacks continue unchecked in northeastern Nigeria, killing hundreds in recent weeks. While the debates on the big questions should continue, the immediate needs of the people of the area are pressing, as stressed in a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes excerpts from that report, as well as a press release on ways to address these needs and an op-ed on practical steps that could be taken now, by American University professor Carl LeVan and Nigerian civil society activist Priscilla Achakpa.

Also of interest:

Ron Nixon, "Nigerian Television Becomes Front for U.S. in Terrorism Fight: State Department Ramps Up Efforts Against Boko Haram" New York Times June 6, 2014

Johnnie Carson, "Nigeria: Worsening Security Demands New Strategy," guest column, June 5, 2014

John Campbell, "A Boko Haram Enclave in Northeastern Nigeria?," Council on Foreign Relations, June 6, 2014

"Brainstorming with #BringBackOurGirls," Carl LeVan, May 9, 2014

Boston University African Studies Outreach, "Boko Haram: Behind the Headlines"

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Putting Communities at the Center of Crisis Response in Nigeria

Mercy Corps / Friends Committee on National Legislation / Search for Common Ground / /

direct URL for press release:

June 04, 2014

The mobilization of interest, energy and resources to respond to the crisis in northeastern Nigeria presents an opportunity for both Nigerians and international partners to bring much-needed assistance to victims of conflict and address the root causes of Nigeria's crises. This new wave of violence and displacement exacerbates existing tensions, including between farmers and pastoralists, in advance of the 2015 elections. Nigeria already had one of the highest rates of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Yet in just the first three months of 2014, violence by Boko Haram has left more than 290,000 persons internally displaced and has negatively impacted the lives of as many as four million people in northeastern Nigeria. As organizations dedicated to preventing violent conflict and supporting communities to achieve more inclusive, resilient and empowered futures, we urge the United States government to work with the Nigerian government, civil society, and other actors to mitigate and respond to conflict by providing rapid and robust assistance to violence-affected communities. In particular, the following is needed:

1. Mitigate harm from insecurity in northern Nigeria by providing rapid and robust assistance to violence-affected communities.

a. Increase support to meet emergency material needs of communities affected by the conflict. Basic services should be provided to IDPs, refugees, and host communities in Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger. Priorities include: shelter, food and non-food items, and water/sanitation. Reinforcing coordination mechanisms will be critical to ensure an effective humanitarian scale up.

b. Prioritize protection and psychosocial support. To address the psychological scars of conflict, protection and psychosocial support should be integrated within the humanitarian response for IDPs and refugees. There is a need for both clinical and community-based trauma healing support. Protection initiatives should particularly address the needs of women and children.

c. Support livelihoods restoration efforts to create opportunities and reduce vulnerabilities. As a result of the conflict, most IDPs have lost critical livelihoods assets such as livestock, tools, seeds, and other items used for income generation. Support should prioritize helping people regain their ability to earn incomes, thereby enabling them meet their basic needs. Response mechanisms should be flexible and long term so that planning the transition from relief to development begins now.

2. Work with all actors to bring the current crisis to a swift close.

a. Promote locally-led non-violent solutions. Local civil society groups, including elders, religious groups, and women's organizations are the frontline crisis responders. International efforts should empower and support community-level efforts to respond to the effects of insecurity and conflict. Particular emphasis should focus on supporting community projects, raising local voices through community radio, and efforts to reduce the risk of recruitment.

b. Consolidate peacebuilding and development gains in the Middle Belt and Niger Delta, particularly in advance of the elections. Sustaining these gains will be critical to achieving stability during the preelection period, when tensions are anticipated to rise.

c. Ensure a regional approach, working with local leaders, civil society, media, and governments in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon to address transnational root causes of the crisis, identify mutually shared benefits of peace, and decrease the risk of this becoming a regional crisis.

3. Invest in medium and long-term solutions to address the underlying factors of the crisis

a. Work with the government, civil society and international partners to address structural underpinnings of the current crises. The crisis in the north is not isolated and reflects many of the same structural issues that have long fueled conflict in the Middle Belt, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere. Lack of access to basic services, nontransparent use of resources, and perceived inequality are among the many underlying drivers of conflict that must be addressed over a prolonged period in order to achieve sustainable change.

b. Ensure that community protection and human rights remain at the forefront of all crisis response efforts. Any increase in diplomatic, political and development resources to Nigeria must be channeled in a way that respects human rights, prevents and documents abuses, and works to build the trust of Nigerian citizens.

c. Support programs to help Nigerian children and youth, particularly girls and adolescents, reach their full potential. Supporting opportunities for the next generation of leaders to address their perceived marginalization and unlock the human potential of this region is critical. This should include initiatives supporting girls education, practical training for people outside the formal education system, and working with youth champions for peace.

Six ways to #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria

The Christian Science Monitor -

By A. Carl LeVan, Op-ed contributor, Priscilla Achakpa, Op-ed contributor

May 20, 2014

[A. Carl LeVan is a professor at American University and the author of the forthcoming "Dictators, Democracy and Development in Africa: the Political Economy of Good Governance in Nigeria." Priscilla Achakpa is executive director of Women Environmental Programme (WEP) and helped organize the #BringBackOurGirls protests in Nigeria.]

When Nigerian Islamic militant group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibok, it galvanized world opinion and inspired one of the biggest social media campaigns ever - #BringBackOurGirls. While medium- and long-term strategies to end the Boko Haram insurgency have yet to be devised, the Nigerian government and those supporting it in the international community could do more in the short term to act on some practical and urgent ideas sprouting up from the grass roots.

It is time to prioritize Nigeria's pressing humanitarian needs and put into play practical ideas that would promote greater participation, deepen democracy, and build on Nigeria's bonds across the Atlantic. Most of these ideas could be implemented immediately, without major policy debates or costs. But they would make a huge difference for Chibok's girls - and all the others who deserve an education.

These six steps could immediately help address urgent humanitarian needs and contribute to democracy and rule of law in Nigeria.

1. Establish 'solidarity schools' in the north

Families in the predominantly poor and Muslim northeast undertake huge risks and sacrifices to educate girls. Because the security services there have been unable to protect the schools in the region, thousands of children are being kept out of school - denied an education in a region of the country where the adult literacy rate is an abysmal 27 percent.

If existing public schools in nearby states could temporarily absorb some students, these schools and communities would be making a statement of national solidarity while also building trust across regional and ethnic lines. Kano State, for example, is well suited to do this, since its curriculum already accommodates Islam.

Private organizations such as the Federation of Muslim Women's Associations in Nigeria or Women Environmental Programme could lead the effort to defray costs, manage logistics, and buffer against politicization.

2. Reform citizenship laws

Rather than protecting the rights of all citizens equally, the Nigerian Constitution permits discrimination against people who migrate from one state to another. Even if these Nigerians have lived in a state nearly their entire lives, the law considers them "settlers" who have a second-tier citizenship status compared with the local "indigenes."

This distinction has given rise to conflicts over land, political representation, and resources in the Middle Belt region, nestled between the north and the south. Thousands of people have been killed by violence that often has religious overtones, yet is rooted in these deeper constitutional flaws.

As a step toward broader federal citizenship law reform and as a way to help ensure just treatment for girls who attend "solidarity schools," the government could declare that the girls in solidarity schools will be treated as full Nigerian citizens, no matter which state they are from.

3. Officially acknowledge the problem of internally displaced persons and refugees

As they say in Africa, "When the elephants fight, the grass suffers." Boko Haram's terror and the Nigerian military's heavy-handed response to it have led to massive displacement. Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency recently declared that at least 3 million civilians are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The agency should work with the National Commission for Refugees to outline the scale of the problem without assigning blame.

The government should then formally ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and humanitarian organizations for assistance in addressing the problem. And the military should secure a humanitarian corridor to facilitate the safe travel of refugees and humanitarian aid. The fact that there are barely 610 miles of paved roads in Borno State, where Boko Haram has been most active, means that controlling and securing such a corridor in that territory is feasible.

To prevent corruption, the effort would need to be monitored by the National Human Rights Commission and the Transition Monitoring Group, which has experience fighting corruption and also deploying thousands of monitors for elections. It could set up a similar network to prevent diversions of aid.

4. Invite more women to run for political office

By some estimates, men hold up to 90 percent of the elected and appointed government positions in Nigeria. Since 2007, when 26 women held position in the House of Representatives, the number of women has fallen to just 12 in 2011. Gender disparity is even worse in state-level assemblies. Parties such as the ruling People's Democratic Party, the All Progressives Congress, and others should urge women to run for office and invite voters to participate in transparent, competitive primaries before the 2015 elections.

This will help keep access to education and other challenges facing girls high on the political agenda, and it will send a clear signal that Boko Haram's message about women is very far from the mainstream.

5. Hold a press conference every day

Earlier, Ministry of Defense officials said that Chibok's girls had been rescued when, in fact, they had not. This created a credibility gap between citizens and government. Reliable information in any crisis is critical. Providing a reliable means to convey factual information forces the government to justify official narratives. The national security adviser should host a daily press briefing on the situation, streamed live on the Internet with accredited local and international journalists allowed to ask tough questions.

6. The missing girls' families must receive government and legal support

The families of the missing girls must be given the support they deserve. President Goodluck Jonathan should meet with them in private - without the media. He must hear their concerns, feel their frustration, and earn their trust. It's not just good politics; it's responsive leadership.

Groups such as the Nigerian Bar Association or the Federation of Women Lawyers could offer pro bono representation to the families as they negotiate the crisis and the government and media attention that come as a result. Since some girls escaped and they need to be debriefed, such assistance could help ensure that their privacy and civil rights are protected.

Nigeria: Fleeing Boko Haram's relentless terror

Briefing Paper

5 June 2014 / direct URL:

As the world's attention has focused on Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, other aspects of the Islamist group's terror have been largely overlooked. Not least among them, its brutal violence has caused significant forced displacement in the north-east of the country and beyond.

Nigeria's National Commission for Refugees (NCFR) recently made data available to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) showing that as many as 3.3 million people have been internally displaced in the country by violence, including at least 250,000 people who have fled armed conflict perpetrated by Boko Haram. IDMC's Global Overview, published on 14 May, reported that Nigeria had the largest displaced population in Africa and the third largest in the world behind Syria and Colombia.

The mass abduction of the schoolgirls and unrelenting attacks on civilians have served to highlight the security and geopolitical threat Boko Haram poses to Nigeria and the wider region. The scale of the internal displacement it has provoked should also be cause for the most serious concern.

Nigeria has ratified the African Union Convention for the Assistance and Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention. It has also been developing a national policy on internal displacement, but the process has lost momentum at the final stage. Such a framework is crucial to guide the response to the displacement crisis Nigeria faces. It should be adopted and implemented as a matter of urgent priority.

What is Boko Haram, and what threat does it pose?

Boko Haram took up arms against Nigeria's government in 2002, with the aim of establishing an independent Islamic state. It initially targeted government and religious facilities in the north-eastern states of Bauchi, Borno, Kano and Yobe, but it has since expanded its activities to other areas, carrying out increasingly frequent and sophisticated attacks against the civilian population.

The group's use of suicide attacks, bombings and raids have spread to most northern states and south towards Abuja, and its targets have become almost exclusively civilians. It has looted villages, killed and kidnapped residents, used forced conscription and abducted women and girls.


The government's strategy to combat Boko Haram has been narrow and short-sighted from the outset. ...

The government's counterinsurgency operations and use of force have increased since 2013, exacerbating violence and displacement in the region. The declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in May 2013, and the creation of civilian self-defence groups known as civilian joint task forces (CJTF), have also aggravated the spiral of violence and pushed this formerly urban group into isolated rural areas.

Boko Haram's attacks have continued in the north-east since the state of emergency was imposed, and they have escalated in frequency and impact since the beginning of 2014, resulting in the death of at least 3,000 people. In a region the size of Greece, nearly 50 per cent of the population has been affected by the conflict.

Patterns and scale of internal displacement linked to Boko Haram

Insecurity, poor roads and the insurgents' destruction of communications infrastructure hamper the collection of data on internal displacement. Despite the limited capacity, however, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), NCFR, and international agencies are making increasing amounts of information available.

This has led to a better understanding of displacement patterns, three of which emerge. The first is of internally displaced people (IDPs) fleeing to the south of the country in the footsteps of economic migrants. The second is of people fleeing from rural to urban areas within their states, and the third is of the secondary displacement of both IDPs and host communities who move once again when their resources have been depleted.

The level of destruction undermining physical security and livelihoods has instilled deep fears in the affected populations, significantly reducing the possibility of returns. This is likely lead to protracted displacement, unless people can integrate successfully in their places of displacement or find other safe haven within Nigeria or abroad. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many IDPs aspire to integrate locally in their places of refuge, whether in the north-east or the south.

According to NEMA figures, Boko Haram's recent surge in violent attacks on civilians and the army's response forced at least 250,000 people to flee their homes between May 2013, when the state of emergency was imposed, and March 2014. Borno has been the worstaffected affected state with 111,000 IDPs, followed by Yobe with 76,000 and Adamawa with 67,000.

This is a decrease of 40,000 since the end of 2013, when NEMA reported 290 000 IDPs in this region, but it is believed to be result of secondary displacement to neighbouring states such as Bauchi and Gombe rather than IDPs returning to their homes. Estimates rarely capture secondary displacement and return movement are equally unaccounted for in the context of scarce data collection on IDPs.

Suffering amid the violence

There are no agencies on the ground focused on documenting human rights violations in north-eastern Nigeria, but reports have emerged of the killing and maiming of civilians; forced recruitment and abduction; rape and sexual violence; and forced marriage. Many children have been orphaned or separated from their families during displacement. There is a pressing and growing need for systematic protection monitoring and the documentation of such abuses.

Displacement and humanitarian needs are mounting, but assistance is not, leaving both IDPs and their host communities without access to the basic necessities of life. IDPs' access to food in Borno and Yobe states is dire.

As is often the case in situations of widespread insecurity and violence, the displacement caused by Boko Haram and the army's operations against it has reduced people's ability to feed themselves both directly and indirectly. Not only have IDPs exhausted their own supplies, making them dependent on their hosts' resources, but over 60 per cent of the region's farmers have been displaced just before the start of the planting season, making food crops scarcer and setting the scene for protracted shortages. Both IDPs and host families have increasingly resorted to negative and unsustainable coping strategies as a result. Some have reduced their food intake from three meals to one a day, and host communities have resorted to eating grain set aside for sowing.

At least 37 per cent of primary health facilities in areas under the state of emergency have shut as a result of the violence, and in the worst-affected areas none at all are thought to be open. Boko Haram has stolen medical supplies and reportedly displaced, kidnapped and killed health workers. Those facilities still open are overwhelmed, leaving both IDPs and host communities with little or no access to health care. Aside from its impact on physical health, the extreme violence has also taken a heavy psychological toll, leaving many people in need of trauma counselling and psychosocial support.

Populations affected by the conflict lack access to water and sanitation facilities across the north-east, with IDPs living in settlements in Borno and Adamawa, and those sheltering in schools particularly affected.

Property, be it homes, shops, businesses or public infrastructure, has suffered extensive damage and destruction. Many IDPs do not have a home to go back to, and with host communities also hit, spontaneous displacement sites have started to spring up in Adamawa and Borno states. NEMA has set up 11 camps in southern Benue state, but it is unclear if they are hosting people fleeing Boko Haram's violence in the north or those displaced by more local inter-communal violence.

Boko Haram attacks on schools have forced the government to close many institutions and have led to significant reductions in enrolment. The number of classrooms available has reportedly been further reduced as they are occupied by IDPs. Few displaced children attend school, with some being taken out of education to help their families in the struggle to make ends meet.

Mixed migration and an increasingly divided country

Nigeria is broadly split between its Christian south and Muslim north, separated by a mixed central region known as the Middle Belt. The predominantly Muslim north-eastern states have historically been estranged from the rest of the country and have received little or no government support, leaving them relatively underdeveloped. Scarce resources, energy shortages and desertification have made poverty and exclusion worse still, leading to significant population frustrations and movements southwards.

Many of those fleeing Boko Haram's violence have made for the bustling cities of the south, mirroring the migration of others seeking economic opportunities there. IDPs have joined economic migrants in the slums and satellite towns around large cities, most notably Abuja. As experience elsewhere has shown, IDPs who migrate to large urban centres tend to become invisible and rarely receive support as they struggle to integrate in new and often hostile environments.


In this uncertain and volatile context, Nigeria's IDPs are in urgent need of protection and assistance, the provision of which requires the concerted engagement of both national authorities and the international community. The adoption and implementation of a policy on internal displacement would be a significant step in the right direction, establishing a solid framework for this to take place. It would clearly define roles and responsibilities, and it would provide a degree of predictability for IDPs who are likely to remain in limbo in a country suffering increasing violence and division. It would also ensure that they remain on the radar as they seek durable solutions to their plight, and it would contribute to preparing for and preventing future displacement.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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