Violence perpetrated by the militant armed group Boko Haram and military operations against the group continued to cause the bulk of new displacement in 2017, leading to 279,000 new displacements, bringing the total number of IDPs still displaced at the end of 2017 to 1,707,000. Due to access issues and other challenges, both of these figures are considered underestimates. Floods in urban centres were responsible for the bulk of disaster-induced displacement, causing a total of 122,000 new displacements, the majority due to widespread flooding in Benue state. 

The humanitarian situation deteriorated significantly in the first half of the year in Nigeria, as conflict intensified in the North East, while conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt grew increasingly violent. There were about 417,000 new displacements between January and June 2018. For more information see the Mid-Year Figures.  




Latest new displacements
Risk of future displacement

Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:

IDMC uses information about the probability of future hazard scenarios to model displacement risk based on probable housing destruction. Find out how we calculate our metrics here and explore the likelihood of future displacement around the world here.

What causes displacement? 

The drivers of displacement in Nigeria are multi-faceted, complex and often overlapping. Nigeria has one of the world’s fastest growing populations, and until recently, one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

In the North-East, livelihoods and access to water and grazing pastures have been under strain for decades, as the surface area of Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent over the last 45 years. This is a result of climate change and anthropogenic factors, including the damming of tributaries, a lack of sustainable water management policies, and overgrazing. The population living in this region has rapidly increased and people have increasingly migrated southwards along the perimeter of the Lake Chad basin. Over time, this movement has caused some 70 ethnic groups to converge and has contributed to increased competition, tension and conflict over resources.

In the marginalised North East, a combination of political, social, economic and environmental factors have created fertile ground for the emergence of militant armed groups such as Boko Haram. Founded in 2002, Boko Haram has launched increasingly violent attacks from mid-2014 onwards, leading to an unprecedented displacement crisis in north-eastern Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad basin. The group’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including bombings, mass shootings, suicide attacks, kidnappings and property destruction, have prompted millions to flee within Nigeria or across borders to neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad. These countries have also experienced insecurity and displacement by Boko Haram’s activities within their own territories.

The Nigerian army has stepped up its counter-terrorism efforts, leading to claims of extra-judicial killings, destruction of property, and physical abuse. These countermeasures are also considered to have pushed both civilians and militants into displacement within and across Nigeria’s international borders.

While international attention has tended to focus on Boko Haram’s brutality, inter-communal clashes regularly flare throughout the Middle Belt, the dividing line between the Muslim north and Christian south, comprising a group of 15 states. Tensions between pastoralists and farmers over land are contributing to intercommunal violence in this area, coinciding with ethno-religious differences. In addition, violence linked to Boko Haram in the north east has progressively pushed people further inland towards the Middle Belt, leading them to compete with the local population on land and livelihoods, adding to the crisis in this region.

Nigeria is highly exposed to natural hazards and is affected yearly by a number of disasters, the most common being floods occurring in lowlands and river basins where people live in densely-populated informal settlements. Displacement is caused not only by rains and overflowing watercourses, but has also occurred due to the release of water from dam reservoirs in Nigeria and in upstream countries.

Where and how do people move? 

Violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and military operations against the group continued to cause the bulk of internal displacement in 2017. There was a marked escalation in attacks, including a significant number of suicide attacks and others specifically targeting displacement camps.  Counter-insurgency operations by the Nigerian military and countries of the Multinational Joint Task Force, primarily Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, also increased. A total of 279,000 new conflict-induced displacements were recorded. There were a total of 1,707,000 people living in displacement across the country at the end of 2017.

People internally displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East are spread across at least 13 states. Of these, the vast majority of IDPs are currently located in the three states of Borno, Adama and Yobe, where active conflict is still ongoing, with Borno state alone accounting for 92% of the total identified IDP population currently displaced in Nigeria. In all affected states, the majority of IDPs stay with host families although IDP camps also exist. Despite government efforts to remove Boko Haram, those states remain unstable and living conditions are difficult, as services are still largely unrestored. 

At the same time, large numbers of people displaced within Nigeria or into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger have returned to their regions of origin, as resources in their respective areas of refuge have dwindled. After many years of Nigerians fleeing across the border into Cameroon, a Tripartite Agreement was signed in March 2017 between the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon together with UNHCR, to facilitate the return of Nigerian refugees. As of April 2018, there were more than 1.4 million reported returns in Nigeria consisting of about 1.33 million IDP returns and 114,597 refugee returns from abroad. The durability of these returns is questionable, as the majority of people face considerable humanitarian needs upon return, effectively remaining in a situation of internal displacement.

Floods in urban centres were responsible for the bulk of disaster-induced displacement, with three events causing a total of 122,000 new displacements. The most significant was widespread flooding in Benue state in September, which alone caused 110,000 new displacements. Several days of heavy rain caused the Benue river to overflow, leading to flooding in twelve local government areas, including within the state capital Makurdi. Around 4,000 houses were reported to have been damaged across Benue state. 

What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?

A total of 10.2 million people throughout the country have been estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance at the beginning of 2018. The main areas where humanitarian support is needed includes food, health, shelter, and protection concerns. Disruption of agriculture, road infrastructure and markets in conflict areas has contributed to widespread food insecurity, while cholera outbreaks and increased contraction of malaria are common occurrences in areas with inadequate shelters and water and sanitation facilities. Protection support is also crucial, including psychological assistance for people who have suffered trauma and abuse during the conflict, such as the thousands of survivors of abductions, forced recruitment into armed groups, and sexual violence. 

IDPs are a major target group for humanitarian assistance, with 1.7 million people in need of health, shelter and protection support, and 1.6 million people in need of food assistance. Host communities are also a major target group, as they already face depleted resources and may thus struggle to accommodate and share livelihoods with additional numbers of people arriving seeking refuge. A lack of humanitarian support can jeopardise security as competition and tensions over resources increase, triggering new and/or secondary displacement.  

Where does the data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges? 

IDMC’s data on conflict-induced displacement comes primarily from IOM’s monthly Displacement Tracking Matrix and Emergency Tracking Tool reports. The data landscape is complex for many reasons, including a lack of access, resources, rapidly evolving population movements and the political nature of the issue.

The ongoing nature of violence in the north east makes access to certain remote areas to speak to affected populations extremely difficult, leading to underestimates in the total new displacement and stock figures regarding conflict-induced displacement. In addition, no updated data is available for displacement linked to inter-communal violence in the Middle Belt region meaning that the impact of this crisis has been excluded from national displacement estimates.

Another main obstacle is that it can be difficult to correctly distinguish and account for different population groups in the context of rapidly evolving population movements, as is occurring in the North-East. In this region, there has been a large influx of refugee returns from neighbouring Cameroon, as a result of the Tripartite Agreement amongst other reasons. Many people have returned to their area of origin in Nigeria but are believed to have failed to reach durable solutions, effectively returning to a situation of internal displacement.  These cases can become mixed up with the separate category of IDP returns, people who were internally displaced but who have attempted to return to their former homes. 

To a lesser extent, another difficulty is that the link between armed attacks and new displacement flows has become more difficult to make. Perhaps due to a change in strategy of armed groups, the nature of attacks has changed, with an increase in suicide attacks occurring in market places and other public spaces, and not directly as raids on people’s homes. Therefore, although insecurity has increased, it is more difficult to determine that people have left their homes for precisely this reason, potentially contributing to underestimates in new displacement figures. Information on displacements due to natural hazards such as the frequent floods that Nigeria experiences every year is obtained primarily from international and national media reports, which usually bases its information on Nigeria’s National Emergency Management System (NEMA). It can be difficult to obtain data on small events, and in general, there are very few organisations collecting data specifically on disaster-induced displacement, which can make triangulation of data difficult.

Latest GRID confidence assessment
Displacement type IDPs (Stock) New Displacement (Flow)
Reporting units
Key informants
Media monitoring
Key informants
Media monitoring
Geographical disaggregation Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more
Geographical coverage Partial coverage Partial coverage
Frequency of reporting More than once a month More than once a month
Disaggregation on sex Yes Yes
Disaggregation on age Yes Yes
Data triangulation Some local triangulation Some local triangulation
Data on settlement elsewhere Partial Partial
Data on returns Partial Partial
Data on local integration No No
Data on deaths No No
Data on births No No

Latest figures analysis

IDMC's estimate is mainly based on IOM DTM reports, as well as caseloads identified through its Emergency Tracking Tool for which enough evidence exists to classify them as conflict displacement. The geographical coverage is lower this year, due to the absence of data on the Middle Belt States, which causes the 2017 Stock figure to be lower than the previous year. This change is therefore not believed to be due to a decrease in displacement-generating events linked to conflict and insurgency.

Download GRID extended figures analysis (PDF, 309 KB)

Latest GRID stock figure by year of data update

What are governments currently doing to prevent and respond to displacement? 

Since signing and ratifying the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (also known as the Kampala Convention), Nigeria has developed a National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), which will enshrine into domestic law the protections granted to IDPs in the Kampala Convention, and thus facilitate a coordinated response to IDP needs. This Policy is under discussion in the House of Representatives.  

As the conflict in the North-East has continued, the Government of Nigeria, with UNDP and UNHCR, have sought to implement a Strategy on protection, return and recovery for North-East Nigeria. This strategy builds on other national and international policy instruments including the Nigerian Government’s 2016 Buhari Plan, which outlines a strategy for humanitarian relief and socioeconomic stabilization of the North-East, as well as the return and resettlement of displaced people. 

Regarding disasters and climate change, Nigeria has a National Disaster Management Framework that was published in 2010.  Nigeria’s national emergency management system (NEMA) was created as a result of this. In addition, in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reporting requirements, it has produced a First and Second “National Communication on Climate”, which also outline adaptation strategies. The drafting for the Third Communication is currently in progress.

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