In Nigeria today, frequent conflicts, disappearances and mass violence, especially in the Northern region of the country, have led to large-scale destruction of human life and the displacement of large populations as unarmed civilians are caught in the crossfire. Government efforts at various levels, ranging from the creation of legal and policy frameworks to programs on-the-ground, have been inadequate to protect civilians. This project envisions an end to the cycle of violent conflict in states in Northern Nigeria through the empowerment of community members, including women, to serve as peacebuilders trained in early detection and early response to conflict, and through fostering their full participation as citizens in a more equitable economy and more tolerant religious and cultural landscape. Central to the project is the mobilization and training of and collaboration with local Nigerian constituencies to engage in and strengthen early warning and early response systems from the ground up. The project’s design. uses community-based evidence mobilization to address such widespread violence and unrest will strengthen and build on civil-security partnerships to leverage the largely untapped capacity of local communities, and in particular of women, to address violent attacks by fostering mutual understanding and collaborative change.
Existing responses to conflict and mass violence in Nigeria have been beset by challenges. Interventions by the Nigerian Federal Government have, at times, accelerated conflict, as with the passage of an anti-grazing law that has fueled controversy over implementation at state and local levels of government. Local civil society initiatives have continued to emerge to address problems between these levels of governmental intervention and attempts to mitigate ever-growing inequality and insecurity concerns in the region. Participation by key stakeholders from affected communities has remained low, however, leading to limited effectiveness of interventions. In particular, traditional male-dominated social norms have continued to exclude women from peace-building efforts despite the disproportionate burdens they bear as a consequence of ongoing violence. Moreover, the crises in Northern Nigeria continue to split communities along religious and geographic lines, a phenomenon that only foreshadows intensification of conflict over time. Key states, including Kaduna and Plateau, are divided into northern and southern regions, exacerbating breaks in communal and familial lines and fueling a climate of hate speech and religious misrepresentation that continues to frame narratives to justify and normalize violence. In the North West, North East and North Central states, violent conflicts primarily involve predominantly Christian farmers and informal policing groups (vigilantes) acting on their behalf to defend against predominantly Muslim nomadic Fulani herders.
The effects of climate change on the Lake Chad basin are key triggers of conflict as herders migrate to other parts of the region to find fodder and water for their cattle. The migration patterns of nomadic communities have begun to signal security concerns beyond the immediately impacted regions. In late 2017, state governments within the western and southern parts of the country began to set up community policing strategies to address growing security challenges around their states, including those relating to the (perceived) threats associated with the movement of cattle herders. Complicating this situation, the presence of large groups of cattle has incentivized “conflict entrepreneurship” as armed groups of young men across north central, north west and southern parts of the country engage in cattle rustling. The project builds upon and integrates the strengths of state and civil society responses to date, while also contributing vital resources and expertise. Local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and academic partners are working to contribute deep knowledge of the region, analysis of the factors underlying ongoing conflicts, and the existing on-the-ground networks that can be mobilized and trained to undertake successful violence prevention and mitigation activities. Given the inadequacy of existing early warning structures and the slow response by state security actors, mobilizing individual and collective civilian engagement is the best strategy for turning the tide on violent conflict in Northern Nigeria. Through the establishment of a widespread community of practice that involves the use of technology, such as geospatial imagery to detect potential attacks, the project seeks to analyze and alert on the ground early response teams in the relevant communities in order to mitigate attacks on civilians and enhance their protection in target communities.