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The Violent Road: Violence in Nigeria

The issue of armed violence is becoming more and more noticed as a major problem in Nigeria.  The recent kidnapping of hundreds of girls has highlighted the deep rooted issues of violence in this West African power.

The truth is that Nigeria is, and has been for a long while, one of the African countries most severely affected by violence. It is ranked 148 out of 162 countries worldwide in the Global Peace Index, a multidimensional report of violence, security, and criminality.

Action on Armed Violence works extensively in West Africa and has been focusing on the violence that dominates there and in Nigeria in particular.

To this end we have worked closely with the Nigerian Working Group on Armed Violence to publish The Violent Road: an overview of armed violence in Nigeria.

Our report shows, clearly, that the actions by Boko Haram over recent weeks is just part of a much wider and deeper problem in Nigeria.  A 2012 survey of Nigerians on crime and victimization by the CLEEN Foundation found that, on average, 5% of respondents had personally been victims of armed violence. In 2011, Human Rights Watch estimated that over 15,700 people had been killed in intercommunal, political and sectarian violence in Nigeria since the country transitioned to civilian rule in 1999.

For tens of thousands of Nigerians armed violence is an ugly and daily truth.  As The Violent Road: an overview of armed violence in Nigeria shows, across the country, the most common forms of crime and victimisation are burglary, robbery, physical assault and domestic violence. Disproportionate use of force by government authorities in response to outbreaks of violence has also been reported across Nigeria.

It is, therefore, a painful truth that Nigeria’s recent economic growth cannot be easily reconciled with high levels of armed violence and insecurity nor with the reality that there still is widespread poverty and inequality across the country. While the civilian government has remained in power since the transition from military rule, elections have been marked by spikes in armed violence, huge casualty numbers, and subsequent population displacement.

The following sections are our attempt to understand some of the issues behind violence in Nigeria – and form the backbone of The Violent Road: an overview of armed violence in Nigeria.

Report methodology

Drivers of Armed Violence in Nigeria

Geography and Demography



Efforts to Tackle Violence

There are very distinct (and important) regional variations in Nigeria’s armed violence. These include discrete incidences of militant activity, violent criminality, gang-related violence, gender-based violence, religiously motivated conflict, and non-combatant targeting by armed groups. For instance, Nigeria Watch data indicates that crime is the second highest cause of violent death in Nigeria (after accidents), but this crime is heavily concentrated in the south and in urban areas like Lagos and Port Harcourt.

In the South South region the security situation is particularly bad. It is dominated by the presence of armed groups and organised violence (i.e. the presence of criminal gangs). Despite this, there have been some improvements. An amnesty implemented in 2009, which offered money and other incentives (such as skills training) to all militants who surrendered their weapons, reportedly helped reduce the number of attacks. Casualties reported by the media dropped from roughly 1300 in 2009 to about 700 in 2012. However, criminality is still high with a third of the population saying they were victims of crime in 2011.

Kidnappings and piracy off the coast of Nigeria continue to contribute to a climate of insecurity in the South East, the Niger Delta and the South West region, with the former becoming increasingly common in the northern states. Between 2008 and 2010, the Nigeria Police Force recorded 887 cases of kidnapping.

In the Northern states, the number of attacks and bombings by Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihadl, commonly called Boko Haram, and other groups have risen sharply since 2010. According to the Nigeria Police Forces’ Anti-bomb Squad, over 400 bomb explosions have taken place in Nigeria in the last three years. Boko Haram’s violent agitation has continued to destabilize the North East, while the government’s efforts to quell the insurgency have so far proven unsuccessful, including most recently with the declaration of a National State of Emergency in three states in May 2013. Human rights groups estimate over 3600 people have died in Boko Haram related violence from 2010 through mid-2013.

In the North West, religious and sectarian violence has risen since 2010. In Kano and Kaduna, religious violence between Muslims and Christians has flared up on several occasions, resulting in over 1500 casualties being reported by the media between 2011 and 2012. Inter-communal violence has also ravaged the country, especially in Nigeria’s Middle-belt region. Plateau state, and its capital Jos specifically, has suffered outbreaks of religious and ethnic violence killing thousands of people since 2001, and causing millions of Naira worth of damage.


This report, it is hoped, can form the backbone of a public call for Nigeria to support a stronger, better-trained and more coordinated civil society. Such a civil society could use their presence and legitimacy not only to respond to, but also to prevent violence. It is the belief of the National Working Group on Armed Violence that such a supported and enfranchised civil society could become a key interlocutor between grassroots and national authorities, and could assume a larger role in mediating between the international community and traditional Nigerian structures.

This report, it is hoped, goes some way towards highlighting the limitations faced by civil society as well as the deep challenges they face. It goes some way towards showing why the Nigerian Working Group on Armed Violence is a much needed entity. And, it goes some way towards helping Nigeria choose a less violent road ahead.

Please click here to download the full report. 

This article was updated on 9 April 2014.


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