The conflict in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin continues to be one of the world’s deadliest. Since May 2011, an estimated 38,070 people have been killed, and about 2.5 million are reported as internally displaced, while an estimated 10 million persons are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Lake Chad Basin according to the UN. Many more civilians have fled the country in a desperate attempt to reach safety. Since establishing operations in Nigeria in 2016, CIVIC has witnessed important strides in the Nigerian government’s and military’s ability and willingness to protect civilians; yet much work remains to be done.
To address the evolution of the conflict in Nigeria and ongoing civilian protection challenges, CIVIC is mobilizing champions within the government, military, and civil society to advance policies and practices that minimize civilian harm. For the past two years, we have worked with the Nigerian government to develop a national civilian protection policy that would put civilians at the heart of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. In the conflict-ridden northeast, CIVIC is deeply engaged with communities in numerous LGAs to support civilians in developing self-protection strategies.
At the same time, CIVIC is mentoring senior military and community militia leaders to institutionalize civilian protection practices within their respective institutions. The goal is to build the capacity of the Nigerian military and community militias to protect civilians and avoid civilian harm in the course of their activities. In the conflict-ridden northeast, CIVIC is deeply engaged with communities to support civilians in developing self-protection strategies and bringing their protection concerns to armed actors in the area. We also bring together local communities and security forces to discuss protection concerns and improve civilian protection. For example, communities in two local government areas raised concerns to the military that armed opposition groups would increase attacks and kidnappings of civilians during firewood collection and food gathering – a common occurrence in the region. Upon hearing these concerns, the commanders agreed to provide security and have since done so for over 5,500 community members in two local government areas.
This strategy is undergirded by in-depth research on civilian protection challenges and opportunities, which will be disseminated widely using films and other interactive means of amplifying civilians’ voices. In 2018, for example, CIVIC released a research report on community militias in the northeast – one of the few studies of its kind. This research formed the foundation of our direct engagement, advocacy, and training with community militias to improve their efforts to protect civilians and minimize harm to civilians during their activities.