Nigeria is crisscrossed with political and social fault lines that threaten the security of its people.  While the country manages incidents of low-level conflict in various parts of Nigeria, perhaps most urgently is the continuance of Boko Haram’s violent extremism in the NorthEast. Boko Haram has fueled violence in the Northeast of the country since 2009 and has by some estimates, claimed over 20,000 lives and displaced millions. The scale of violence against civilians by Boko Haram is among the highest of any armed group in Africa.

While ensuring security is admittedly difficult in such an asymmetric environment, the response to the Boko Haram threat from the Nigerian armed forces, regional militaries, and allied non-state armed groups has been heavy-handed. In fact, counterinsurgency operations often do more to harm the civilian population than to keep it safe. Furthermore, the government and military’s joint handling of the crisis has had a significant impact on the behavior of Boko Haram, and affected communities across the region. Many argue that Boko Haram’s brutality has actually intensified as a result of the increasingly brutal and repressive actions of the Nigerian military.

CIVIC initiated its work in Nigeria in 2015 and released its report, When We Can’t See the Enemy, Civilians Become the Enemy: Living Through Nigeria’s Six-year Insurgency, examining the impact of the ongoing conflict on civilians. The report offered critical insight into 1) patterns of civilian harm as a result of the ongoing conflict; 2) civilians and security forces’ views on root causes of harm and the role of security actors; and 3) gaps in civilian protection efforts.

As a follow up to the 2015 report, CIVIC continues to work with the Nigeria military to identify and provide best practices and recommendations on civilian protection and civil harm mitigation. In 2016, CIVIC co-led a high-level national dialogue with the Nigerian Government which led to the drafting of a national policy on protection of civilian. CIVIC furthered their outreach, in Borno and Adamawa State, to provide workshops and dialogues with the military and affected communities with a deeper focus on vulnerable populations in the conflict, and to deliver additional instruction on ham mitigation and amends to national security forces on the front lines.

CIVIC is implementing a robust advocacy strategy that, in collaboration with local groups, encourages and helps the Nigerian government and the regional military force (MNJTF) to better inculcate civilian protection and harm mitigation training, tools, and policies.

Photo by Ed Kashi

Nigeria Publications

"When We Can’t See the Enemy, Civilians Become the Enemy": Living Through Nigeria’s Six-Year Insurgency
07 October 2015  |  Research Report

This report explores the experiences of civilians and armed actors living through the conflict in northeastern Nigeria. The ultimate goal is to better understand the gaps in protection from all sides, how civilians perceive security actors, and what communities expect from those who are supposed to protect them from harm. With this understanding, we analyze the structural impediments to protecting civilians, and propose practical—and locally informed—solutions to improve civilian protection and response to the harm caused by all armed actors in this conflict. 

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