Shoring Up Stability: Addressing Climate and Fragility Risks in the Lake Chad Region

I’ve been working with adelphi on uncovering the links between changing climate and security in the Lake Chad region since October 2017. We launched the report in mid May and it’s great to be able to share it now.

Since 2009, the parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon bordering Lake Chad—which are home to more than 17.4 million people—have been locked into multiple and overlapping crises. Climate change is having profound adverse impacts on the conflict, intensifying existing dynamics and creating new risks. Communities in this region are thus vulnerable to both the impacts of climate change and the ongoing conflict. If the region is to break free of the conflict trap, we must tackle the impacts of climate change as part of peacebuilding efforts. Communities are vulnerable to both the rising impacts of climate change and the ongoing conflict. This creates its own feedback loop: violence undercuts communities’ capacity to adapt to climate change, but climate change undermines efforts to escape the conflict trap. While the situation varies significantly between and within countries, we identify four key climate-conflict risks.

1. Climate and conflict dynamics undermine livelihoods

2. Increased competition for natural resources

3. Recruitment into armed opposition groups

4. Heavy-handed military response

Have less than a minute but want to know more? Read this comic strip to find out Mohamed’s story.
Have just over 3 minutes? Watch this video.
If that’s whetted your appetite, you can find the full report and its executive summary here.

Apathy reigns supreme in Nigeria’s fledgling democracy

My latest, published last week, in the New Internationalist on Nigeria’s elections.

After a one-week delay, it finally happened. Despite murmurings of further postponements, Nigeria’s presidential and national assembly elections were held on Saturday 23 February with one of the worst turnouts in the country’s history. The results were announced in the early hours of this morning.

The winner? Seventy-six-year-old incumbent Muhammadu Buhari of the All People’s Congress remains President, elected by a healthy margin of almost four million votes or 57.4 per cent of votes cast. His party also swept the national legislative elections, winning 47 Senate and 75 House of Representatives seats out of a total 73 and 105 seats up for election.

Within hours, his main opponent Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party rejected the result, alleging widespread electoral malpractice.

Buhari had previously served as Nigeria’s head of state, taking power in a December 1983 military coup before being overthrown himself by another coup in August 1985.

After running for the presidency in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections, he succeeded in the fourth attempt and was swept into power by a margin of over 2.5 million votes.

His campaign spurred a tide of confidence that Buhari could bring back peace and security, address corruption and create jobs and economic prospects. The 2015 elections were the first time power had changed hands non-violently since Nigeria’s transition to democracy in 1999.

But this initial optimism waned considerably over Buhari’s four-year term, months of which he spent abroad seeking medical treatment. While the Nigerian military made considerable gains in recovering territory from armed opposition groups in the country’s northeast, attacks and violence continue until the present day.

Since late last December, fighters have been launching a number of attacks on military bases, seizing weaponry and medical supplies which has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people to neighbouring towns, state capitals and even across international borders in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The convoy of Kashim Shettima, one of Nigeria’s state governors, was attacked two weeks ago as he was on his way back from an election rally. As many as 100 people are estimated to have died and between 100 and 200 people taken captive.

Hours before polls were due to open, blasts and gunfire were heard in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. Hundreds of people fled Geidam, another town in northeast Nigeria, after a reported attack.

Buhari’s first term also saw insecurity across the country due to rural banditry and inter-communal violence between farmers and pastoralists. There were also protests calling for an independent Biafra and violence against the Shi’a Islamic Movement of Nigeria, with unarmed protesters being shot by soldiers in the nation’s capital Abuja. The presidency set up a commission to investigate military human rights violations but its report has yet to be made publicly available.

Buhari’s administration made some progress in ensuring a social safety net for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. He also focused on fighting corruption with high-profile investigations and systems put in to place to encourage whistle blowers. Yet his critics noted that key allies suspected of corruption remained unpunished.

But, fundamentally, Buhari has not been able to live up to the high expectations his election campaign stirred. As a result, this time around, hopes were dimmer than in 2015.

This change was reflected in voter turnout. While numbers of those registered to vote rose from 67 million in 2015 to 84 million voters in 2019, turnout dropped from 44 per cent to 35.6 per cent. Many of those who had travelled home to vote last weekend were unable to do so again given the last-minute postponement of elections.US election observers said this delay had probably reduced turnout.

But turnout, along with trust in the political system, has been steadily declining from nearly 70 per cent since 2003.

Across the country, elections this weekend were marred by reports of vote buying, intimidation, failures of card readers which accredit voters and late opening of many polling stations – all leading to voting continuing on Sunday. Civil society monitors reported that more than 260 people had been killed since the start of campaigning in October, with 47 people killed during and after voting this weekend.

Against this backdrop came runner-up Atiku’s response to the results. Before voting had even taken place, he was widely expected to challenge any declaration of Buhari’s victory.

Producing documentary evidence, he alleged that ‘there were manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states, which negate the results announced’. He claimed suppressed and disrupted voting in his strongholds and announced his intention to challenge the results in court.

Any such challenge brings into relief a decision made by President Buhari weeks before the elections. He suspended Chief Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, the head of the judiciary, less than 24 hours before he was to swear in members of election tribunals.

Of course, Atiku himself is hardly a beacon of hope. A former vice president from 1999 to 2007, this election was his fourth time running for the presidency. His candidacy has been marred by accusations of financial impropriety and widespread corruption.

Although these charges have never been tried in court, and Atiku rejects them as being politically motivated, many voters remember allegations from his previous time in office of diversion of public funds into personal business interests and bank accounts.

These memories were reinforced during the campaign when he stated he would enrich his friends if elected and committed to privatizing the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, an easy way of gaining personal income by selling off a national asset in an oil-reliant economy.

Faced with unenviable choices in this election, it is not surprising many Nigerians chose to stay at home.

Politicians who switch parties for personal gain and run campaigns based on slogans rather than credible political platforms make it difficult to vote on the basis of anything other than personality, ethnic, religious or regional loyalties.

But, the process of democratic consolidation is not smooth and only 20 years in, Nigeria is still a fledgling democracy.

Nigerian hopes for democracy on hold

My latest, published on Monday, for the New Internationalist on the postponement of Nigeria’s elections.

In an alternate world, we would now be waiting for results to start coming in. Nigerians should have voted in national elections on Saturday and we should be seeing, 20 years since the transition from military dictatorship, a further consolidation of Nigeria’s democracy. Yet, elections were rescheduled just five hours before polls were set to open. Around 8pm on Friday night, the first indications appeared that all was not well. Nigerian newspapers reported that Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the agency in charge of running elections, was meeting. The agenda? To see if all necessary preparations were in place for voting to open at 8am or if a postponement would be needed.

Many Nigerians went to sleep not knowing if elections would take place the following day. Others stayed awake until the early hours of the morning waiting for INEC to make an announcement. In the end, INEC made its statement at 2.45am. Voting would now take place on 23rd February for the Presidential and National Assembly elections and 9th March for the elections to elect state Governors and Houses of Assembly members, a week later than originally planned. Some people only found out about these changes in the morning when waiting for polling stations to open.

We have been here before. The last two elections were rescheduled. In 2011, INEC, while voting was actually underway, announced that elections would be stopped due to unavailability of election materials. The most recent elections in 2015 were postponed by six weeks, this time six days beforehand. The official reason given was that security agencies needed extra time to make progress in the fight against Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS), also known as Boko Haram, to enable the security required for elections to proceed. However, many Nigerians believed the government, fearing they would lose, were buying more time to do the work required to win elections. Nonetheless, the presidency passed from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party, the party which had ruled Nigeria since its transition to democracy in 1999, to Muhammadu Buhari of the All People’s Congress.

As the first time power had changed hands non-violently, the 2015 elections were rightly lauded as another milestone in Nigeria’s democratization. Nigerians were hoping the 2019 elections would prove another stepping stone paving the way for improved governance. So far, these hopes have yet to be fulfilled. Alarm bells started ringing weeks beforehand with the suspension of the head of Nigeria’s judiciary by President Buhari. The official reason provided was Chief Justice Onnoghen’s failure to declare his assets but, according to Nigeria’s constitution, the President lacks the power to remove the Chief Justice. Besides, the timing raised suspicions of political motivations as the suspension came less than 24 hours before Judge Onnoghen was to swear in members of election tribunals who would rule in post elections court cases.

Recent weeks have also seen a number of attacks by armed opposition groups and increasing insecurity in the northeast. At least 60,000 people have had to flee from their homes as a result of violence. There are reports that those with permanent voters’ cards allowing them to vote get preferential treatment in IDP camps and settlements. While voting is important, what matters to those displaced is that access to shelter, water, food and security is not forthcoming. There have been two protests in the last two weeks by those displaced due to recent violence, complaining of not receiving any food. They say politicians care more about winning elections than actually doing their job and providing for the people of Nigeria.

Then came the date change. It is undoubtedly better to reschedule an election than to have one take place that is badly run and leads to uncertainty, chaos, court challenges and repeated elections. All indications show that logistical arrangements necessary for voting had actually not taken place. In some states, elections materials were far away from polling stations and volunteers from the National Youth Service Corps who run elections had yet to be deployed. But, given Nigeria has elections every four years and dates were confirmed months in advance, why had we come to this stage at all? Indeed, INEC had insisted in the months, weeks and even days beforehand that it was ready and elections would continue as scheduled.

Many Nigerians feel this last-minute change showed a lack of respect for voters. Those who had planned weddings, funerals and other events on the new dates will have to reschedule with very little notice. Schools, universities and businesses which had already declared two or three days of holidays due to elections will have to do so again. Elections in Nigeria also mean movement of people. Some people, learning from past experience, move from areas where tensions are high to escape potential election related violence. Others move to their towns and villages where they are registered to vote, traveling long distances, taking time off work and putting their businesses on hold to do so. If they want to vote, they will have to either return home and travel back for the new dates or extend their stay at locations near their polling stations, incurring costs in terms of travel or work missed. Alternatively, they may choose not to vote at all, with even lower voter turnout than usual (only 33.53 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2015 presidential election) impacting the elections’ legitimacy.

Trust in democratic institutions is severely dented by how elections and governance play out. Over the past twenty years of Nigeria’s democracy, people have been complaining they see politicians only during electoral campaigning with electoral promises made not coming to fruition once they are elected. Indeed, for many youth gangs, getting money from politicians in the run-up to elections is described as the ‘dividend of democracy.’ If things continue in the same vein over the next 20 years, we risk ever further violence, alienation and frustration among Nigerians. While 20 years of democracy in Nigeria is a landmark, for this to be meaningful for Nigeria’s people, democracy needs to be about more than the check box exercise of holding elections.

Culture/ Religion/ Tradition vs Modern/ Secular/ Foreign: Implications for Women’s Rights in Nigeria

The latest issue of Feminist Dissent, on challenging religious vs secular binaries to promote women’s equality is out! It has beautiful artwork, poetry, fiction and, of course, articles on Bangladesh, Egypt, Pakistan, Tunisia…. and one by me on Nigeria.

This is the abstract:

This article examines the binary of culture/religion/tradition and modern/secular/foreign and its impact on women’s human rights struggles in particular in northern Nigeria. This binary is commonly perpetuated by state and non-state actors, including politicians, community leaders and religious leaders, who weaponise culture, religion and tradition to resist the struggle for gender equality. It highlights how progress around some concerns, such as rape of young girls, has occurred concurrently with attacks on other rights, particularly sexual and reproductive rights including abortion and sex outside marriage, and of those with non- normative sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions. This hardening of attitudes and narrowing of what is seen as permissible not only obscures the diversity of how people lived and thought in the past but is also far from the reality of how people live their lives presently. It further reflects the increased influence of religious fundamentalism and conservatism in northern Nigeria.

You can download and read the article here and the whole of the excellent issue here.

“We Were Changing the World”: radicalization and empowerment in northeast Nigeria

“We Were Changing the World”: Radicalization and Empowerment in northeast Nigeria, my latest research study is finally out! Here’s a description:

The conflict in northeast Nigeria has evolved in complexity and intensity since 2009, now extending beyond the country’s borders into the Lake Chad Basin. While many associated with armed opposition groups (AOGs) have done so against their will, these groups have demonstrated the ability to mobilise support and offer a sense of belonging, purpose and community. This study contributes to understanding the relationship between empowerment and radicalisation through interviews with young people who were ideologically aligned with AOGs in northeast Nigeria. Integrating analyses of gender, age and power dynamics throughout, it traces their journeys to association, their experiences while in the groups, journeys to disassociation and reintegration.

You can download and read it here.

Lake Chad Climate Fragility Profile

One of the research studies in which I’ve been involved for adelphi is looking at the interaction between climate change and conflict in the Lake Chad area. The first step of this was drafting a Lake Chad Climate Fragility Profile. This profile was written by me, Benjamin Pohl, Lukas Rüttinger, Florence Sylvestre, Janani Vivekananda, Martin Wall and Susanne Wolfmaier.

We are now conducting in depth research work in the four Lake Chad countries. We just finished the research in Nigeria – 90 in depth qualitative interviews – and are about to start the research in Chad. I’ll also be going to Niger and Cameroon over the next few months. The aim is to identify climate fragility risks in the region and provide recommendations for those engaged in the region on policy and programming. For more about the project, please see here.

Here’s the description of the profile:

Climate change is increasingly recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’ that interacts with and compounds existing risks and pressures. When climate change converges and interacts with other environmental, economic, social, and political shocks and pressures, it can increase the likelihood of instability or conflict. This threat is particularly virulent in fragile and conflict-affected situations where governments and societal institutions already struggle to achieve security and equitable development. At the same time, conflicts and fragility often contribute to environmental degradation and undermine the ability to adapt to climate change, thus creating a vicious circle of increasing vulnerability and fragility. The Lake Chad Basin region is currently experiencing one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises. More than 10 million people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance and 3.7 million people are expected to face severe food insecurity in north-east Nigeria during the upcoming lean season. The crisis was triggered by violence linked to armed opposition groups, such as ‘Boko Haram’ and ‘Islamic State West Africa’. But the underlying causes for the insecurity go beyond the current violence and are rooted in the region’s historical context. In addition, an increasingly changing climate exacerbates the challenges already faced by the predominantly rural population around Lake Chad, most of whom rely on farming, fishing, and raising livestock. This Climate-Fragility profile summarises the key challenges the Lake Chad region is experiencing as a consequence of the interplay between climate change and fragility.

You can read the profile here.


Conflict Analysis of Northeast States – Biu, Bursari, Gombi, Hawul, Hong, Jakusko, Jere and Kaga LGAs

I finally have the approval to share this conflict analysis that I worked on last year. Here’s the description of the study:

The violent conflict in northeast Nigeria has not only led to widespread displacement and reduction in livelihoods but affected community tensions and conflicts. Humanitarian and development programming have potential to bring communities together across lines of division, promote social cohesion and address causes of conflict if designed and implemented with conflict sensitivity in mind. Conversely, programmes can instead create tension and exacerbate already existing conflict. This study, integrating gender perspectives, examines conflict dynamics in 8 northeast local government areas (Gombi and Hong in Adamawa State; Biu, Hawul, Jere and Kaga in Borno State; and Bursari and Jakusko in Yobe State) with focus on their implications for programming. It first analyses political, economic, social and security factors that contribute to conflict, violence and instability or enable peace and social cohesion looking at context, key actors, conflict dynamics (grievances and resilience) and possible trajectories for each LGA. It then outlines conflict sensitivity action plans i.e. ways to mitigate, manage or prevent conflict based on the analysis presented.

You can download and read it here.

Lack of proper contextual understanding and conflict analysis is one of the key barriers to ensuring good, effective, sustainable interventions in northeast Nigeria. This conflict analysis is one of the only such studies to be publicly available and the first (as far as I know) to look at local government level dynamics. I am very happy to be able to share this and hope it helps improve understanding and programming.

You can read other research of mine here.