This report was the end result of a desire for an answer to the fundamental questions: How extensive is armed violence in Nigeria? What are the causes of armed violence in Nigeria? And what actions are being taken to address armed violence in Nigeria?
These are important questions, because it is easy to look at the spectre of armed violence in Nigeria and to come to the conclusion that Nigeria’s biggest challenge is insecurity, and that the best way to combat this insecurity is for a more rigorous state response. This conclusion, however, would be premature. Yes, insecurity is present in Nigeria in large part but – as this report has shown – it has to be seen as a symptom not a cause. The fundamental issues driving violence in Nigeria are multi-faceted. They include regional isolation and economic underdevelopment that fuel poverty and corruption. These issues in turn contribute to violence. And this violence, in turn, creates barriers to further development. It is a vicious cycle that begs the further question: what more could be done in Nigeria to address armed violence and to break the cycle of violence?
This report has identified a number of areas where the National Working Group on Armed Violence believes more could and should be done to combat armed violence in Nigeria.
Better casualty recording and greater transparency
One of the major barriers to addressing the problem of armed violence in Nigeria is the issue of transparency and casualty recording.
By and large, it has been found that armed violence in Nigeria is underreported, and that any data that does exist is infrequently shared and analysed.
To change this, this report recommends more independent mechanisms to be put in place to track casualties. Ideally, these mechanisms would involve state and non-state actors partnering in their implementation. Civilian deaths and injuries need to be recorded in a systematic, continuous and comprehensive way.
An independent casualty monitoring system would make perpetrators accountable for their misdeeds.
Keeping adequate records of casualties would also help government and the security forces to identify issues that need to be address: for instance, highlighting how most deaths and injuries – including within the security forces – occur, and where such resources should best be allocated.
Ideally, too, a single institution with a single approach to data collection should not be tasked with providing all armed violence data. Multiple sources should be combined into a single repository of information.
Tackling issues of impunity
As well as the issue of transparency, there is also the constant issue of impunity hovering over every violent death in Nigeria.
There are many documented cases, for instance, where armed violence perpetrators – particularly supporters or members of political parties – have been involved in violence with no consequences.
In order for armed violence to be properly addressed, the rule of law has to be seen to be both fair and impartial.
Tackling armed violence
It is tempting to see Nigeria as a country permanently teetering on the brink of collapse. A country that, despite the promise of economic development, prosperity and democracy, is forever pulled back by the violent realities of inequality, poverty, and political murder. Yet, as this report shows, despite the many challenges that Nigeria faces, the state as a whole and the Nigerian population have shown remarkable resilience in tackling armed violence.
This is most evidenced by the fact that, since establishing a democratic system, a diverse and vibrant civil society has emerged in Nigeria. This civil society maintains strong links with traditional structures and, in some cases, with government and international donors. And it is a society that continues to take the lead in understanding the problem of armed violence, testing possible solutions, and sharing examples of ground-breaking anti-armed violence initiatives throughout the country.
The Nigerian Government has also had some notable successes, improving security in Kano through multisectoral conflict prevention efforts and implementing a relatively successful amnesty programme in the Niger Delta. These successes should be applauded, learnt from and built upon to ensure the long term improvement in the security situation as well as sustainable, equitable economic and social development for all Nigerians.
Civil society and the National Working Group on Armed Violence
This report has highlighted that civil society organisations often provide valuable and much needed services where the state fails to do so. They use their close links with traditional rulers and informal governance systems to collect data at the grassroots level and feed it up to government and international actors. They campaign on behalf of communities and within communities, and translate for them information from media and government sources. They engage in dispute resolution where there is no functioning justice system, and in dialogue-building where there is no communication between conflicting parties.
At the same time, some of these organisations enjoy good relationships with national and international agencies, putting them in a key position to act as intermediaries between very local grassroots entities and formal national structures.
Particularly in the field of armed violence prevention and reduction, where relationships between government security providers and local actors are often strained and interactions are affected by a climate of fear and mistrust, civil society organisations also have the potential to build much-needed bridges.
They can help in situations where formal structures alone cannot provide the necessary responses to armed violence and they can support the Nigerian security forces in developing and implementing integrated approaches to responding to violence, which go beyond the conventional use of force only.
In many cases, however, civil society coordination, budgets, staff strength, geographical coverage and technical capacities are limited. Many NGOs and faith-based organisations lack strategic planning, and so respond to violence in an ad-hoc manner as it occurs. These limitations hamper their effectiveness.
To this end, 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.
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