Explosive violence trends and patterns in Nigeria (2011-2019)

  • Between 2011-2019 Nigeria has seen 11,352 deaths and injuries from explosive violence
  • Of these, 85% (9,658) were civilians
  • When explosive violence was used in a populated area, 94% of the deaths and injuries were civilians
  • IEDs caused, by far, the most harm in this period, with 93% of civilian deaths and injuries caused by such weapons
  • 2015 was the worst year in this period for civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Nigeria

Since AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor began in 2011, our data has shown that Nigeria has been plagued by high incidences of explosive violence. This has been primarily the result of the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency, which has continually created an environment of insecurity for the West African nation. The first Explosive Violence Monitor ranked Nigeria as the eighth worst-affected country, recording 769 civilian deaths and injuries resulting from incidences of explosive violence. The following year the situation in Nigeria worsened and, having recorded 1,017 civilian casualties that year, AOAV ranked it as the fifth worst-affected country by explosive violence in the 2012 Monitor.

In 2013, Nigeria’s security situation appeared to be improving. Military setbacks to the Boko Haram insurgency meant that civilian casualties from explosive violence fell drastically from the previous year. As a result, the 2013 Explosive Violence Monitor, did not cite Nigeria amongst the fifteen worst-affected states, having recorded 140 civilian casualties over the course of the year. However, falls in the levels of violence were short-lived and 2013 would remain the only year in which Nigeria was not ranked amongst the most-affected countries by explosive violence.

Despite the relative improvements in 2013, Nigeria witnessed a radical increase in the incidences of explosive violence in 2014. The 2014 Monitor recorded 2,477 total casualties from explosive violence in Nigeria, 97% (2,407) of which were civilians. As such, Nigeria was ranked by AOAV as the fourth most dangerous country in which to be a civilian in 2014, a position it would continue to hold in 2015. Due to the significant setbacks to military capabilities faced by Boko Haram in 2013, there was a marked shift in the group’s tactics towards the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), with 97% of all recorded civilian casualties caused by this form of weaponry in 2014. Furthermore, three of the five deadliest IED attacks recorded globally in that year took place in Nigeria. The country also saw the single worst incidence of explosive violence recorded by AOAV, when 390 people were killed or injured by multiple coordinated explosions in the city of Kano.

2015 saw the security situation in Nigeria deteriorate further with a 22% rise in the number of civilian casualties from the previous year. IED use remained particularly widespread, with AOAV placing Nigeria second only to Iraq in the number of civilian casualties caused by this type of explosive. 2015 also saw a marked increase in suicide attacks. Although this type of violence had begun to rise rapidly in 2014, with Nigeria recorded as the third worst-affected country by suicide attacks; in 2015, Nigeria became the worst-affected country by suicide bombings, with a quarter of all attacks recorded globally taking place in this one country. There were also growing signs that violence in Nigeria was beginning to spill over into neighbouring states. In particular, Chad and Cameroon – whose northernmost regions lie alongside Boko Haram’s heartland in the Borno and Adamawa provinces of Nigeria – saw incidences of suicide bombings in 2015. This was particularly shocking given that neither country had experienced a single incidence of explosive violence in 2014, but both entered on to AOAV’s list of the 15 worst-affected countries in 2015 as a result of attacks most probably orchestrated by Boko Haram.

Since 2015, Nigeria’s worst year for explosive violence over the nine-year course of the AOAV Monitor, there has been a marked improvement in levels of security in the country. 2016 saw an 83% decrease in civilian casualties from explosive violence from the previous year, with Nigeria dropping out of AOAV’s list of the five worst-affected countries. This was partly the result of the Multinational Joint Task Force, formed by Nigeria alongside Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger, which had success in counteracting the Boko Haram insurgency. In 2017, however, recorded civilian casualties rose to 977. Although this figure reflected much lower levels of violence from those recorded in 2014 and 2015, it did highlight how Boko Haram’s threat, particularly in their use of suicide attacks and IEDs, remained notably present in Nigeria. 

In recent years, levels of violence in Nigeria have been falling, with the 2018 Explosive Violence Monitor recording 726 civilian casualties in the country, representing a small decrease from the previous year.

In 2019, AOAV recorded much lower levels of explosive harm, logging 19 incidences of violence, resulting in 211 civilian deaths and injuries. Despite a falling trend in civilian casualties from explosive violence, Nigeria remained the country sixth worst-affected by IEDs and the third worst-affected by suicide attacks; in 2019 its position fell slightly to seventh and fourth respectively.

Decreasing levels of explosive violence in the past several years suggests a steady improvement in Nigeria’s security situation following the extreme levels of violence inflicted on civilians in 2015. This being said, Boko Haram remains an ever-present threat in the country, despite the claim from the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, that the group was “technically defeated”.

Over the nine-year course of the Explosive Violence Monitor, Nigerian civilians have witnessed extreme levels of insecurity, primarily as a result of the actions of Boko Haram. Calculating the exact damage done by this group has been difficult, due to their general unwillingness to claim responsibility for attacks. However, it is likely that the majority of incidences of explosive violence, and the civilian casualties they have brought about, were orchestrated by this organization. Over the past nine years, 9,658 civilians have been killed and injured by explosives in Nigeria, overwhelmingly this has been the result of IEDs, which caused 93% of all civilian deaths.


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