11 June 2014 | Julia Blocher

As violence intensifies due to Boko Haram, Jan Egeland warns Nigeria is ‘spiralling into the abyss’

With twenty women abducted by Boko Haram from a Fulani community in northern Nigeria this weekend, concerns are mounting over the escalating geopolitical threat Boko Haram poses to the region. However, recent abductions of schoolgirls and unrelenting attacks on civilians may be just the tip of the iceberg.


Reports released this week say that  twenty women were abducted on Thursday from the pastoralist Garkin Fulani settlement in northern Nigeria by the country’s most notorious Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. Despite the government’s imposition of a state of emergency in May 2013 and an intensification of counterinsurgency operations in recent weeks, Boko Haram’s attacks have escalated in frequency and impact. The result has been the deaths of at least 3,000 people, and at least 250,000 people to flee their homes between May of last year and March. 

IDMC’s released a briefing paper last week which highlights the numerous acts of violence and abuses committed by Boko Haram and the scale of internal displacement provoked by its campaign of terror. According to government authorities,* a total of 3.3 million people have been internally displaced in the country due to violence, including by that caused by Boko Haram.

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), spoke to the BBC about the issue, saying, ‘This important, populous part of Nigeria is spiralling into the abyss - it has stop.’ Listen to his comments:

Questions mount over the future of regional stability

In addition to the daily horrors perpetrated by Boko Haram against civilians, IDMC’s briefing paper highlights concerns regarding the group’s apparent efforts to establish a transnational presence and acquire greater international visibility.

As the government has struggled to contain the group’s southward spread towards Abuja, questions to the future of regional stability have been raised which have weakened Nigeria’s relations with Cameroon, Niger and Chad. IDMC and NRC are concerned the group is growing in its ambition, capability and reach, creating fears that it will become a regional destabilising force, on par with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Central Africa.

As stated by Jan Egeland in a recent statement to the press: 'What we have learnt from past experiences of managing the humanitarian impact of armed groups, such as the LRA, is that speed is of the essence. The longer such groups are allowed to continue these horrific abuses, the more visibility and notoriety they gain, the harder it becomes to control their spread and impact - they must be stopped, and they must be stopped now.’ 

Suffering of civilians is the terrible dividend of this violent reality

IDMC has received reports of the brutal killings and maimings carried out by Boko Haram, forced recruitment and abduction of children, rape and sexual violence, forced marriage of young girls and children now orphaned as a result of being separated from their parents during flight. Civilian suffering is the terrible direct consequence of this violent reality, and women and children are intolerably on the front line. Restoring order is the first step towards ending the risks they face.

The future of Nigeria’s economy has also been seriously impacted. Over 60% of the region’s farmers were displaced just before the start of the planting season, sparking worries of severe food insecurity and escalating food prices. Displaced people, and the fellow citizens who are offering refuge to them, are among the worst affected. For example, many families have been forced to significantly reduce their food consumption in order to survive.

Nomadic people who may cross country borders such as the Fulani, who faced the most recent attack by Boko Haram, may face additional challenges in displacement. They confront particular struggles to maintaining and re-establishing their pastoralist livelihoods, as shown by IDMC in a recent report on pastoralists in the Horn of Africa. Nomadic people can fall through the cracks of humanitarian programming, making it even more difficult for them to rebuild their lives.

While Nigeria had made some steps towards developing solutions to displacement in the form of legal frameworks, many remain stalled in a country ever more divided. The adoption and implementation of a policy on internal displacement would be a significant step in the right direction, establishing a clear action plan to guide Nigeria’s response to this overwhelming displacement crisis.

The government must act to fulfill its responsibilities to protect its people in the face of Boko Haram, and establishing a strong rule of law on displacement is an important signal that it is taking this responsibility seriously.

For more information on the internal displacement situation in Nigeria, see IDMC's latest briefing paper, 'Nigeria: fleeing Boko Haram's relentless terror.'

*The total figure of 3.3 million people displaced in Nigeria was provided by the National Commission for Refugees (NCFR). The figure of 250,000 displaced by Boko Haram between May 2013 and March 2014 was provided by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)

Next: Can you prevent displacement? IDMC unveils new simulator to show how it's done
Previous: Central African Republic: can it get any worse?