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.

she called me woman: Nigeria’s queer women speak

It’s been years in the making and, finally, it will be published this time next month (26th April) by Cassava Republic Press.

She Called Me Woman: Nigeria's Queer Women Speak

Here is some information about the book:

“We decided to put together this collection of narratives to correct the invisibility, the confusion, the caricaturising and the writing out of history.”

This stirring and intimate collection brings together 25 unique narratives to paint a vivid portrait of what it means to be a queer Nigerian woman. Covering an array of experiences – the joy and excitement of first love, the agony of lost love and betrayal, the sometimes-fraught relationship between sexuality and spirituality, addiction and suicide, childhood games and laughter – She Called Me Woman sheds light on how Nigerian queer women, despite their differences, attempt to build a life together in a climate of fear.

Through first-hand accounts, She Called Me Woman challenges us to rethink what it means to be a Nigerian ‘woman’, negotiating relationships, money, sexuality and freedom, identifying outside the gender binary, and the difficulties of achieving hopes and dreams under the constraints of societal expectations and legal terrorism.

She Called Me Woman is full of beautifully told stories of resistance and resilience, joy and laughter, heartbreaks and victories, collecting the realities of a community that will no longer be invisible.

Azeenarh, Rafeeat and I spent years of our lives interviewing narrators, working with them to develop their narratives, analysing themes and finalising this book and I am so happy that it will be out in the world very soon.

You can read an overview of a Twitter chat that the three of us had with Y Naija about the erasure of queer women in Nigerian society here. It talks about how the book came to be, the origin of its title and memorable experiences putting the book together as well as how queer people are treated in Nigeria, Western influence on discussions around sexuality, the historical existence of queer people in Nigeria, what it means to be out and ways the book explores the Nigerian female experience.

We also have our first review! Brittle Paper’s Cisi Eze said that She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak ‘transcends beautiful. This history-making opus will shake the tables our collective homophobia – internalised and externalised – sits on. Its daringness will embolden us to take off the heavy, dark, velvety silence that has draped talks of Other sexualities.’ You can read the whole review here.

After so many years, I can’t believe that our book will be out and shared with the world in just one month’s time. You can pre-order it here and keep updated by following  on Twitter.

briefing the Security Council: preventing conflict dynamics becoming root causes of future conflicts in the Lake Chad area

UPDATE 23/03/2018: They posted a video of the debate. My intervention starts at 22’54 and lasts for around 13 minutes. I also recommend that you watch the interventions of Amina Mohammed and Mohammed Bila before me.

Earlier on today, I briefed the Security Council on current conflict dynamics in the Lake Chad region as root causes of future conflicts. This session was organised by the Netherlands as part of their presidency of the Security Council (March 2018). What follows is the text of my briefing. I had only ten minutes so had to, unfortunately, leave a lot out (the original draft was double this length) but conflict analysis that I worked on last year (soon to be published) will give more depth. I’ll post it under research and publications as soon as I can.

This year marks 15 years since the start of the violence we identify with armed groups in the Lake Chad region. I will focus my briefing on current conflict dynamics, potential trajectories and the need to prevent root causes of future conflicts. I was born and live in Maiduguri and have been working on conflict analysis, human rights, peacebuilding and protection for 12 years. I will talk about the region as a whole but, given my background, will draw a great deal from Nigeria.

I will talk about 4 sets of dynamics.

The first dynamic revolves around environmental and climate factors. The problem is not the alleged shrinking of Lake Chad but increased variability. Lake Chad has been fluctuating throughout history. Communities adapt to changes although coping mechanisms have been tested. The issue is rather governance of and access to natural resources, the impact of insecurity and increased climatic variability. Farmers complain of impacts of changing lake levels and increasing rainfall variability, inability to plan properly, lower or no crop yields and insects that do not die. Pastoralists have to change grazing routes. Fisher folk talk of changing amounts of fish in water bodies. We are seeing:

  1. Decreased resilience due to climate and conflict: One Nigerian farmer told me how he would farm in rainy season, use irrigation from a stream and by the lake in a year, saying that if rains, the stream or the lake did not come, that was okay as “all three disasters would not befall you in the same year.” He said now, “Due to the crisis, every avenue to develop yourself economically has been destroyed. You do not have the money and even if you do and one fails, which is likely because of rainfall, security restrictions and Boko Haram, you cannot do others. Virtually all economic activities have collapsed.”
  2. Tensions between and within occupational groups: Conflict between and within farmers, pastoralists, fisher folk and hunters has been exacerbated by decrease in arable land, planting of crops on grazing routes and areas, changing pastoralists’ movements, changing rainfall patterns affecting crop yields and cattle health, military restrictions, security concerns and insufficiency of land and water given increased population density due to displacement. Moreover, the conflict has led to increased ethnic and social tensions – in all 4 countries.
  3. Firewood collection by civilians and cutting of trees by the military increasing deforestation, as well as agricultural burning across the region has an impact on protection and security now but also impact on soil degradation, desertification, agricultural livelihoods, and availability of wood for smoking fish in future.

There has been no clear empirical link made between these changes and recruitment into AOGs but these impacts on livelihoods, increasing inequality and financial incentives to join are happening in the same space so they may well be a link.

The second dynamic is the gendered nature of violence. Men and older boys are often the first to flee insecure areas, are deliberately targeted, killed and forcibly recruited by armed groups, viewed with suspicion, arrested and detained by security agencies and involved in fighting, leaving women – of all ages – as well as girls, younger boys and older men struggling to cope. High levels of violence against women and girls include: abductions from schools; use to detonate explosives, the so-called suicide bombers; higher levels of early and forced marriage, either to fighters or to reduce pressure on resources; sexual exploitation, abuse and violence, including by those whose job is to protect not exploit; and survival sex. People with disabilities are disproportionately affected: unable to escape violence and struggling to cope when displaced. Unknown numbers have also acquired disabilities due to violence. Their experiences have left many struggling to cope with trauma. What does this mean in the long term when so many men are missing leaving women to cope? When so many have experienced violence and trauma? When all children and young people have taken part in and/ or experienced violence?

Thirdly, tensions between IDPs, refugees, returnees and host communities. The people of the region have been extraordinarily generous, sheltering and assisting those displaced. With time, this dynamic has given rise to tensions. For example, I was in Baga Sola in Chad two weeks ago. There, Nigerian fishermen feel discriminated against when it came to access to information and services as they cannot speak local languages. These tensions are exacerbated by humanitarian assistance, seen as only benefitting IDPs despite violence affecting everyone.

Fourthly, governance and security provision. The region has long suffered from weak or absent governance and state services. This has been heightened by the conflict. There is dissatisfaction with community leaders too, sometimes viewed as corrupt and politicised before, and now often seen as diverting aid for themselves and their families. We know corruption and inequality are root causes of the conflict. People say these have worsened. Security provision is also problematic. Military action or inaction has caused civilian harm through: failure to protect communities from violence; failure to prevent collateral damage during operations; and directly targeting civilians with human rights abuses. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenges facing the militaries of the region and we have seen some positive developments. For example, in Nigeria, a national policy on civilian protection is awaiting President Buhari’s signature and the military is trying to further institutionalise civilian protection and harm mitigation in training. However, civilian harm continues, increasing unhappiness and frustration with the state. There are also issues with community militias. In Nigeria, there are growing concerns about the yan gora – or Civilian Joint Taskforce – in particular. Civilians say they intimidate, settle scores, trade drugs, extort and steal, divert aid and sexually harass, exploit and abuse. People worry about increasing politicisation, electoral mobilisation, criminality and gangs and this developing into a new conflict phase.

While we hope peace will soon return, here are three ways the conflict may develop further:

  1. JAS, the group headed by Shekau, is defeated but ISWA, the group headed by al Barnawi, grows stronger and more difficult to combat as its policy of avoiding the targeting civilians means it both retains fighters and has more strategic relations with local populations.
  2. Community militias, due to incomplete and ineffective processes of disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation, form the next phase of the conflict, engaging in criminality that escalates into sustained violence against civilian populations – and perhaps the state.
  3. Intercommunal tensions coupled with reprisal attacks and decreased access to resources as people are living in more crowded spaces leads to formation of community militias that are identity based, leading to clashes and violence.

Let’s also remember we have elections coming up in Cameroon in October 2018 and Nigeria in February 2019. It is important that political contestations do not affect and are not affected by these dynamics.

So, what is the way forward?

First of all, the crisis is not over. Humanitarian needs continue. Funding and support for humanitarian action is essential. We also must pay attention to current conflict dynamics and trajectories. The Lake Chad Basin region needs to be on the Council’s agenda. The Council needs more systematic reports that are conflict, climate and gender sensitive from the Secretariat, including on root causes and conflict drivers, as well as more regular situational awareness briefings to ensure the Council is attuned to changing conflict dynamics in a volatile region.

Secondly, we need proper analysis on which to base policy and programming decisions. There may be humanitarian needs assessments out there but proper integrated analysis that looks at conflict, climate, gender and social inclusion is lacking. Of course, we should not do nothing while waiting for analysis but we do need to ensure interventions are meaningful, do no harm and are responsive to the situation.

Which brings to me to my third and final point. The UN, donors and affected states need to ensure every CFA, naira, euro, pound and dollar spent in the region from now on is context – climate, conflict, gender, social inclusion – sensitive – and that impacts of interventions against these factors is monitored. For example, a livelihoods programme must look at future rainfall trajectories to see which crops will still be viable. If it supports the polder system in Chad, it must consider who will have access to increased areas of fertile land this will bring about, who will not and how this plays into existing tensions. Otherwise interventions will not lead to sustainable change and improvement. Even worse than a bad situation is hoping for change only for this optimism to turn to ashes.

A few weeks ago, I met a young former JAS member. She joined to transform society for the better. She told me: “I thought society would have improved while I was away but, when I came back, I saw society has gotten worse.” Looking back 15 to 20 years ago, we can see the genesis of where we are today. Circumstances have gravely deteriorated for most people. The question is: if the situation before led to this conflict and the reality now is worse than it was then, what does this mean for the future?

I urge you to take action now geared at preventing current conflict dynamics from becoming the root causes of future conflicts.

focusing on schoolgirl abductions distorts the view of life in Nigeria

For The Guardian on the abductions of the Dapchi girls. You can read about and download my gender assessment of dynamics in northeast Nigeria here.

Once again, abducted Nigerian schoolgirls are making international headlines. Last Monday, 110 girls were taken from the Government Girls Science and Technical School in the town of Dapchi in Nigeria’s north-eastern Yobe state. Fighters belonging to one of the armed opposition groups (commonly known as Boko Haram) operating in the area attacked the town and took the girls who were unable to escape.

The attack came shortly after the military withdrew troops from the town. Then came a pattern that is familiar to anyone following events in north-east Nigeria, where the abduction of girls from Chibok in April 2014 brought the region to national and global attention. First, there was silence from government officials, followed by disputes in the media about the number of girls missing. Then an announcement that girls had been rescued by the army, which was later retracted.

The abductions from Chibok were neither the first nor the last in north-east Nigeria (at least 2,000 women and girls were kidnapped between January 2014 to April 2015, and large numbers of men and boys have also been taken). But, the Chibok case captured international imagination. This focus on abductions shows the kinds of stories that media pick up but it also means we have a partial picture of what is actually going on.

Yes, this was greatly due to the hard work of women’s activists in Maiduguri and the phenomenon that was #BringBackOurGirls. It also made a compelling media story and offered the chance for those involved – from journalists to those who tweeted using the hashtag – to take action and feel good about themselves. Those of us working in north-east Nigeria at the time were at the epicentre of an international media circus. Hordes of journalists descended on Abuja, Maiduguri and Chibok, asking the same questions of the same people, often retraumatising family members of the abducted girls in the process.

That, almost four years later, we see them in one of the first scenes of Black Panther, the global cultural phenomenon of 2018 so far is telling; Nakia, an intelligence officer played by Lupita Nyong’o is seen undercover in north-east Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest with dozens of girls being transported by armed fighters. It was the obvious choice for film-makers looking for something topical about the African continent that could symbolise the nascent Wakandan saviour complex – in contrast to the reality of women’s activism in north-east Nigeria. All we know or care about when it comes to north-east Nigeria seems to be either abducted schoolgirls or female “suicide bombers”.

This level of attention has resulted in differential treatment for those abducted from Chibok compared with everyone else, with high-level negotiations conducted to free them. Every time abducted women and girls are released, the first question asked is whether Chibok girls are among them.

Of course we should care about and campaign for action to be taken when it comes to the girls of Dapchi. However, what happened around the Chibok abductions serves as a salutary warning of how media coverage can inadvertently lead to a hierarchy of humanity – some people being valued above others.

I have been working on peacebuilding and human rights in north-east Nigeria for almost five years. Last year, I spent weeks interviewing women and men for a gender assessment of the region. I found stories of women and girls choosing to join armed opposition groups. They have taken part in attacks on villages and towns, recruited members, made bombs and recruited others. Women and girls have also been part of militias set up to protect communities. They screen women and girls at checkpoints, fight alongside the men, patrol towns and villages and, in some cases, command groups of fighters, including men. Moreover, women have saved men from being killed, in many cases hiding them in their homes, dressing them in women’s clothing and smuggling them to safety.

Indeed, men “of fighting age” – roughly 14 to 50 – are often the first to be killed or detained, leaving women to take on new roles and decision-making power. Even if husbands and fathers are present, men are no longer able to provide for families, meaning women have to find ways of earning incomes, including through “survival sex”. In some cases, this changed dynamic has caused problems in households where men, fearing a loss to their power, try to prove they are the ones still in charge. In other cases, women say they have more power at home and their husbands have to adjust. After all, if he divorces her to marry another, the dynamics with the new wife will be the same.

Of course, women suffer greatly during conflict. They are displaced, disabled, killed, lose family and friends, and experience higher levels of gender-based violence. But they are not just victims. Conflict is also a time where women have greater agency – whether they want it or not. This focus on women as victims also means we lose sight of what happens to men and boys. We all know about the Chibok girls but how many of us know about the Buni Yadi boys? A few weeks before the abductions from Chibok, an estimated 59 boys were lined up in the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, had knives drawn across their throat, were gunned down or burned alive. Seeing only women and girls as victims plays into gendered stereotypes that we must move away from. It also presents a highly distorted version of reality.

assessing gender dynamics in northeast Nigeria

Last year, I conducted an assessment  focusing on gender dynamics in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in northeast Nigeria, a region affected by conflict between armed opposition groups (commonly grouped together in the umbrella ‘Boko Haram’) and the Nigeria state. I am very happy to be able to share it now.

After an overview of trends across the three states, the assessment turns to examining Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in detail. Each state section starts by providing context, highlighting key conflict dynamics in the state and outlining relevant legal frameworks. It then goes on to cover involvement in conflict, physical harm caused by armed actors, dynamics around displacement, economic and psychological impacts. The state sections finish with examination of women’s participation and voice (or lack thereof) in governance and peacebuilding and discussion of VAWG through an overview of incidence and trends and analysis as to prevention and response mechanisms. The assessment ends with recommendations for action.

It was written in June 2017 (it took a while before I could share it) so the landscape of violence against women and girls services may have changed but the rest of the information in the assessment still holds true.

You can download and read it here. I hope you find it useful.

integrating civilian protection into Nigerian military policy and practice

The latest issue of Humanitarian Exchange is entitled The Lake Chad Basin: An Overlooked Crisis? It focuses on the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin and has articles looking at areas from the evolution of armed opposition groups and the failure of the humanitarian system to ensure effective response to sexual violence and abuse and mental health and psychosocial needs. In it, I have an article about the military and civilian protection in northeast Nigeria looking at work I was involved in with the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

When Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lida’awati wal Jihad (JAS, commonly known as Boko Haram) came to Khadija’s town, she was seven months’ pregnant with her eighth child. Her husband was one of the first to be killed as fighters went from house to house killing every man over the age of eight. After hiding them in the ceiling of her home, Khadija dressed 18 men in women’s clothing and smuggled them to safety. They escaped over the mountains into Cameroon (and still call her, years afterwards, to thank her for her help). The following month, after warnings from a neighbour that fighters were taking away children, Khadija escaped, walking with her seven children for two days until they reached safety, where she gave birth. The family moved and were moved four more times. Her brother-in-law gave Khadija a place to stay, but told her she was not allowed to leave the house. Without enough food to feed her children and with no means to earn money to buy more, she moved her family again, and is now living in an unofficial IDP settlement on land donated by a host community. ‘At least here I have freedom,’ she told me.

I was talking with Khadija (not her real name) to find out the harm civilians had experienced in north-eastern Nigeria, and the actions Nigerian security forces had taken to mitigate causing harm themselves, and to protect civilians from harm caused by others. What was striking about Khadija’s story was the complete absence of the military from it. Indeed, soldiers stationed nearby had run away when they heard JAS fighters were approaching, leaving the civilians in the area to fend for themselves. Such failure to protect communities from violence is one of three major ways that military action or inaction has led to civilian harm. The others are failure to prevent collateral damage during military operations, thereby causing direct and indirect harm, and direct targeting of civilians, with unlawful detention, harassment, the destruction of property, sexual violence against women and girls, indiscriminate targeting of certain groups, such as young men, torture and excessive use of force.

Changing these dynamics requires fundamental shifts in mindsets, policies, training and the conduct of operations. There have been important and welcome steps in this direction. President Buhari committed to taking action on human rights violations by the military at his inauguration in May 2015, and the army has created a human rights desk to investigate alleged abuses. Although not always publicised, there have been investigations, court martials and punishments as a result. Nigeria has revised its rules of engagement and code of conduct to reflect international humanitarian and human rights standards, and a protocol is being drafted on handing over children encountered during operations to civilian child protection actors. In October 2016, the Chief of Defence Staff committed to drafting and implementing a civilian protection policy.

The Nigerian government has taken these steps in part in response to international pressure to improve the military’s record on human rights, including the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the situation in north-east Nigeria, as well as media coverage of particular incidents of civilian harm. Beyond this, however, there is increasing realisation among political and military decision-makers that a sole focus on ‘defeating the enemy’ is not enough to win this particular war: it also means winning the support of civilians. In some locations, we have seen changes in the way the military is engaging, with civilians telling us that ‘soldiers are not like they were before’. This is far from uniform across the region, but it does provide an entry point for building commitment to civilian protection and providing concrete tools to operationalise it.

CIVIC in Nigeria

CIVIC aims to improve protection for civilians caught in conflict, advising international organisations, governments, militaries and armed non-state actors on adopting and implementing policies to prevent civilian harm. We have been working in Nigeria since 2015 to improve protection for civilians caught in conflict, engaging with government, the military, civil society and communities themselves. We conduct workshops and training sessions on topics including civilian protection, children in conflict, tracking civilian harm, making amends and sexual exploitation and abuse. We have also been asked to help develop a curriculum and content for military schools and colleges to ensure that civilian protection is integrated into the training soldiers and officers receive. Workshops with civilians explore ways they can protect themselves, encouraging them to learn from previous experiences of attacks to plan and strategise. Finally, we bring civilians and security personnel together to discuss local security threats and plan ways forward, including, crucially, honest discussion about soldiers’ behaviour.

In Borno State in the north-east we have been engaging with security personnel and civilian communities in the state capital Maiduguri, as well as in local government headquarters in locations such as Dikwa. These workshops have gleaned the following lessons.

  1. Military personnel are keen to improve how they approach civilian protection, but often do not know what it means. They welcome engagement and, if they see CIVIC facilitators as open and non-judgemental, are honest and reflective in raising the difficulties they come across in their operations. For example, one question asked in every workshop is what to do when coming across children associated with armed conflict.
  2. Finding ways to build empathy with civilians is key to shifting attitudes and behaviour. Some military personnel can have low levels of understanding of the power dynamics between themselves and civilians and of basic human rights, resulting in defensive attitudes, particularly around the use of force in crowd control and sexual exploitation and abuse. CIVIC’s first substantive exercise focuses on building empathy, drawing on and adapting the ‘In Her Shoes’ methodology. Workshop participants reflect on a range of issues, including the reasons why civilians choose to stay in their homes rather than flee, the lack of options they have to escape violence and find help, the different forms of harm suffered by women and men and by able-bodied and disabled people and the impact of sexual exploitation and abuse.
  3. It is important to consider power dynamics within the military. Military personnel are more likely to take civilian protection seriously if they see commitment by commanding officers. However, this needs to be balanced by the need for honest conversation and reflection in more discursive sessions. Military hierarchy is particularly strong in Nigeria, and junior officers will often not speak in front of senior officers. As a result, while we ask commanding officers to be present during the start and end of workshops, they are not there during exercises and discussion.
  4. Sustained effort is needed to ensure women’s voice and participation in engagement with security forces, particularly given low levels of female representation among security, particularly military, personnel. We proactively seek to include female security personnel in our work, and ask field commanders to include all the women from their unit or brigade in activities. We also bring civilians together to articulate a common platform of issues they wish to bring to security forces. Although these are mixed sessions, women make up between 60% and 75% of participants. CIVIC has found that women are more likely to discuss what is actually happening than their male counterparts, as men are more likely to be careful of what they say and can find it difficult to be critical of security agencies. One significant gap concerns the participation of people with disabilities, and CIVIC is considering holding separate sessions for women and men with disabilities to address this.
  5. For dialogues between civilians and security forces to be meaningful, it is useful to:
  • engage intensively with security forces and civilians separately beforehand, building on modules and role-plays on community engagement;
  • bring civilians together with military personnel who are most likely to interact with civilians i.e. those at more junior ranks, rather than leaders;
  • keep speeches to a minimum and break into small groups almost immediately to build personal relations and empathy. Participants are asked to introduce themselves and their life histories
    before talking about their protection and security concerns. Groups debrief in plenary, a list of issues is developed and participants come up with suggestions for action to address them. These suggestions are then taken to a debriefing discussion with the field commander;
  • ensure that civilians are in a majority in small groups so they are more likely to be prepared to speak, and have a 3:1 ratio between women and men;
  • give groups as much time as they need for discussion, being flexible with timings if necessary;
  • combine military personnel of different ranks during group exercises as junior soldiers may panic when confronted with civilians and their stories, may be unsure how to respond and may do so defensively. Having mixed ranks not only ensures more meaningful engagement but also has an important demonstration effect as junior soldiers learn from senior counterparts how to respond to civilians and their concerns;
  • involve members of civil society if possible, so that they can follow up with security agencies afterwards; and
  • facilitate the closing session carefully to ensure that the conversation is forward thinking and conducted in a way that minimises the risk of military personnel responding defensively.

6. Long tours of duty affect concentration, interest and morale. Some military personnel have spent between three and five years in the theatre, and admit that this amount of time away from their families can make them act more harshly towards civilians. CIVIC has also noticed reduced interest in civilian protection among this cohort than among soldiers who have spent less time in the theatre. The precise links between tours of duty, trauma and ability and interest in protecting civilians in north-eastern Nigeria are unknown, and represent an important area for future research.

Progress – but much more yet to do

Although we have seen some positive progress during our time in the north-east, there is a long way yet to go. To be meaningful, commitments and policies on paper need to be translated into action. Unfortunately, civilians are continuing to be harmed in at least five main ways. First, there is a lack of clarity around how to translate the distinction between combatants and civilians into practice. This is not surprising given the challenges of this particular type of conflict, but the idea, widespread among many military personnel, that all people in a particular area are ‘on the other side’ has grave consequences when it comes to levels of civilian harm. As one senior military official told us: ‘When we can’t see the enemy, civilians become the enemy’. Second, the use of schools and hospitals by the military, sometimes with the military on one side of the compound and civilians on the other, is of concern. Not only is this in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions, but it also means that services for civilians are reduced, and they can become targets.

Third, restrictions on the movement of food and goods, designed to deprive the enemy of essential supplies, exacerbate civilian harm. Fourth, widespread sexual exploitation and abuse continues. Although this is expressly prohibited under Nigerian law, institutional culture is uneven. While some commanders take a zero-tolerance attitude and initiate investigations into allegations, others have made excuses, pointing to time away from wives and girlfriends and that soldiers do not physically force the women and girls concerned. Fifth, mistrust and suspicion between the military and civilians persist. For civilians, actions that damage trust include harassment and abuse, restrictions on economic activity that seriously damage livelihoods, perceptions of collusion between armed opposition groups and some members of the military and soldiers engaging in businesses such as cattle rearing and trading. Many civilians believe that soldiers have little interest in the conflict ending due to the money they are making from it.

The picture is one of uneven progress, and many people like Khadija continue to suffer harm in north-eastern Nigeria. Changes are needed at five levels: in concepts, policies, operations, training and accountability. Conceptually, the military needs to ensure the protection of civilians, and not assume that the elimination of non-state armed opposition groups equals effective security or even victory. In terms of policy, Nigeria needs to develop an overarching, government wide policy or Executive Order on civilian harm mitigation that is validated by and applicable to all ministries, agencies and departments involved in the delivery of security. When it comes to operations, the tactical directives issued to commanders must emphasise the protection of civilians in all operations, and all operational orders must have an annex detailing specific guidance on protection of civilians, whether issued by the armed forces or security agencies. Military and security agencies also need to establish focused, iterative and graduated training models on protection of civilians for operational headquarters, units and commanding officers in selected training schools, throughout the professional military education system and when it comes to unit training at the operational level. The final step is the implementation and enforcement of a system to hold senior leaders accountable for failures to protect civilians, as well as to address allegations of misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse, by military personnel. Although institutional change can take decades, the initial steps the Nigerian military has made can be cemented into a solid foundation for civilian protection and built upon with immediate effect by taking action at these five levels.

Last week, I took part in a discussion at the Overseas Development Institute about topics raised in the issue. You can watch the panel discussion and Q&A sessions in the videos below.