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Boko Haram in Nigeria

Boko Haram Protest
Soldier in Nigeria in front of a group of civilians

“We are deeply concerned with the continued violations by Boko Haram, including killings, forceful use of children as suicide bombers, and sexual and gender-based violence against women and children. Perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

— Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for political affairs, September 13, 2017

2.1 The Issue

Since 2009, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, has waged an insurgency against the secular government of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands and leading to widespread displacement. Nigerian forces, with assistance from neighboring countries, have pushed Boko Haram out of several provinces in Nigeria, but have so far been unable to fully curtail the violence.

The Nigerian government has requested international assistance in the fight against Boko Haram, mainly in the form of military equipment. Some countries, including the United States, have provided limited support, but many are hesitant, in part because of the Nigerian government’s lack of response to human rights abuses by its security services. International humanitarian organizations and the international press have reported extensive human rights abuses by Nigerian forces, especially the military. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these abuses drive public support for Boko Haram. Observers estimate that during certain periods the security services have killed as many civilians as Boko Haram has. Even so, successive Nigerian governments have largely dismissed the charges and conducted few credible investigations.

The current Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, has said that he is restoring discipline within the military and, in September 2015, promised to issue new rules of engagement designed to protect civilians. Thus far, those steps appear to have had little practical consequence. As Boko Haram attacks continue to inflict death, displacement, and economic damage on Nigeria and its neighbors, many governments and international governing bodies face growing pressure to act on behalf of the lives, homes, and human rights of those facing both these conflicting forces.

Decision Point

UN Security Council Meeting


In the past, Boko Haram has been largely absent from Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital and one of the world’s largest cities. However, two suicide bombers from Boko Haram recently infiltrated a prominent five-star hotel in Lagos during an international conference. Their bombs killed 54 people and wounded 165. Foreign corporations, including several large oil companies, are now withdrawing their expatriate employees, and the Nigerian currency and Lagos stock exchange are in free fall. Popular criticism is mounting of President Buhari, who was elected on a promise to restore security by destroying Boko Haram. The Lagos attack has prompted several neighboring governments, alongside those with prominent economic ties with Nigeria, to express concern that Nigeria is increasingly unable to contain the crisis.

The UN secretary-general has called a meeting of the UN Security Council to address the unrest in Nigeria, with regard to both the presence of Boko Haram and the human rights violations committed by Nigerian armed forces. Nigeria is, on the one hand, a regional power and major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces. On the other hand, it is a fragile state facing a serious insurgency, and its forces are widely deemed responsible for significant violations of human rights. As they address the situation in Nigeria, member states will need to weigh the desire for a timely response to a crisis against the need to secure support from as many council members as possible, especially permanent members.

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