The drivers of displacement in Nigeria are multi-faceted, complex, and often overlapping. Boko Haram and other Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) have triggered significant displacement in the north-east of the country since 2014. Crime, cattle rustling, land disputes, armed violence and tensions between pastoralists and farmers escalated in the central, north central, and north-west regions in 2020, following the trend of the past three years. Longstanding violence between Fulani pastoralists and Hausa farmers in the north-western states of Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara states has become more frequent, and rural banditry and criminal violence is on the rise. Communal violence was also reported in the southern states of the country, though data on displacement is scarcer. Flooding also continues to displace hundreds of thousands of people every year during the rainy season.
Conflict and violence led to 169,000 new displacements in 2020 and about 2.7 million people were living in displacement as of the end of the year, an increase from 2019. Flooding triggered most of the 279,000 new displacements recorded, many resulting in secondary movements of IDPs previously displaced by violence, especially in the north of the country.
Average expected number of displacements per year – for sudden-onset hazards:
Livelihoods and access to water and grazing have been under strain for decades in the north-east of the country, as the surface area of Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 per cent over the last 45 years as a result of climate change and other anthropogenic factors including the damming of tributaries, unsustainable water management and overgrazing.
People have increasingly migrated south along the perimeter of the Lake Chad basin, which has caused around 70 ethnic groups to converge, contributing to an increase in competition, tensions and conflict over resources. This combination of political, social, economic and environmental factors has created fertile ground for the emergence of militant armed groups , but not limited to, Boko Haram.
Founded in 2002, the group has launched attacks since mid-2014, leading to an unprecedented displacement crisis in north-eastern Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad basin. Its indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including bombings, mass shootings, suicide attacks, kidnappings and the destruction of property, have prompted millions of people to flee both within Nigeria and across borders to neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
While international attention tends to focus on the crimes committed by Boko Haram and other NSAGs in the northeast, intercommunal clashes fuelled by ethnic and religious tensions and criminal violence also flare regularly throughout the country. In the past year, the violence in the north-central and north-west regions left 586,000 people internally displaced, many of whom were newly displaced in 2020.
Nigeria is also highly exposed to natural hazards and is affected by a number of disasters that trigger displacement each year. The most common are floods that occur in lowlands and river basins where people live in densely populated informal settlements. The floods also particularly impact IDPs hosted in sub-standard shelters that repeatedly get destroyed and damaged from the heavy rains, resulting in tens of thousands of new and secondary displacements each year.
People internally displaced by the conflict in the north-east are spread across six states, the vast majority in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe where active conflict is still ongoing. Borno alone accounted for 1.6 million of the 2.7 million IDPs recorded in Nigeria at the end of 2020.
Violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and other armed groups in Nigeria and counteroffensives by the country’s military triggered 86,000 new displacements in the north-eastern states of Adamawa and Borno in 2020, accounting for just over half of the total for the country. As the insurgency entered its 11th year, the government undertook efforts to relocate IDPs in Borno, but the process has been challenged by insecurity and the threats of future attacks..
Over half of the total number of IDPs in Nigeria have found refuge with host communities. In the northeast state of Borno, which hosts 81% of the total number of IDPs in the country, over half (54%) live in overcrowded IDP camps.
Ongoing insecurity in much of northern Nigeria has made prospects for durable solutions farfetched. In the northeast, IDPs returning to their homes are often unable to safely access farmland, which has an impact on the durability and sustainability of their return, as well as food insecurity. Of the 1.9 million IDPs in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe state, only 323,000 or 17% have been displaced just once; 51% have been displaced twice, 27% three times, and 5% more than three times.
The state, which has long been affected by conflict and hosts the largest population of IDPs in the country, was also particularly affected by the heavy rains and flash floods in 2020, rendering tens of thousands of people homeless. Floods in the Niger river basin destroyed homes and key infrastructure between August and September. Disasters triggered around 279,000 new displacements across the country as a whole and were thought to have left about 143,000 people living in internal displacement as of the end of the year.
IDPs’ main concerns relate to food, health, and shelter. The disruption of agriculture, markets and trade routes caused by violence and the presence of unexploded ordnance has contributed to widespread food insecurity in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, where around 4.5 million people are severely food insecure and many depend on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic food needs. Cholera outbreaks are common, and cases of malaria have increased in areas with inadequate shelters and water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities. About 867,000 people in Borno live in areas inaccessible to humanitarian workers.
IDPs hosted in northeast Nigeria continue to be targeted by non-state armed groups and often suffer from long-lasting health impacts of the protracted conflict. Humanitarian organizations have set up response programs, such as psychological services for people who have suffered trauma and abuse during the conflict, including thousands of survivors of abductions, forced recruitment and sexual violence.
IDP camps and informal settlements in north-eastern Nigeria are often in close proximity to military bases, for protection reasons, but this also makes them more vulnerable to recurring attacks targeting military forces. According to International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) data, IDP camps are more prone to attacks which often results in secondary and tertiary displacements of vulnerable populations.
Since ratifying the Kampala Convention in 2012, Nigeria has developed a national policy on IDPs that would enshrine the protections granted by the convention into domestic law and facilitate a coordinated response to IDPs' needs. The policy, however, is still under discussion and several consultations with stakeholders have taken place in 2019 and 2020.
UNDP and UNHCR have collaborated with the government in efforts to implement a joint protection, return and recovery strategy for the north-east. The strategy builds on other national and international policy instruments including the government’s 2016 Buhari Plan. UNHCR coordinated the development of a return strategy which is intended to set minimum conditions for IDPs’ safe, dignified, informed and voluntary return.
Nigeria published its national disaster management framework in 2010, and a national emergency management system (NEMA) was established as a result. It has also produced a first and second national communication under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which outline the country’s adaptation strategies.
The government established the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in August 2019, aiming at improving the coordination and mobilisation of resources to prevent and respond to humanitarian and displacement crises.