Nigeria, it’s time to strengthen security engagements at local level, by Imrana Buba

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Nigeria, it’s time to strengthen security engagements at local level, by Imrana Buba

Imrana Buba

Nigeria is experiencing a surge of diverse and overlapping security issues, with violence and crime affecting nearly every region of the country.

Boko Haram terrorist group and its faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), continue to pose serious security challenges in Nigeria’s north-east, while tensions in the south-east rise due to increased attacks of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

There are also historically rooted communal conflicts related to farmer-herder clashes throughout the country. Some of these communal conflicts have transformed into organized crime in north-western Nigeria. The criminal gangs lay siege in rural communities, rustle cattle, loot farm produce, kidnap and kill civilians with lethal weapons such as assault rifles and submachine guns.

In its current form, it is even competing with the Boko Haram insurgency in terms of mortality and humanitarian consequences, prompting numerous calls for the Nigerian president to declare them terrorists.

Despite the deployment of more security personnel (including special forces) in conflict-affected communities and restrictions such as disconnecting telephone networks to prevent armed groups from communicating with one another, low levels of public trust inhibit the necessary cooperation to combat the security threats.

Trapped between armed groups and untrusted security personnel, were millions of civilians whose livelihoods were being destroyed. Many civilians form vigilante groups to confront and arrest terrorists, armed primarily with rudimentary weapons such as clubs, machetes, and, in some cases, local magic. These vigilante and community militia groups continue to thrive all over the country, and some State Governments have even supported or formalized them.

While some of these civilian self-defence efforts may have prevented violence in some communities, they have also had unintended consequences.

Apart from numerous allegations of human rights violations and growing suspicions of links with terrorists, their activities have an impact on broader conflict dynamics, particularly by displacing violence against civilians in other communities. When vigilante groups target suspected terrorists, the terrorists retaliate by targeting other civilians.

This creates a vicious circle of violence (regular vigilante attacks and subsequent terrorist retaliation), gradually escalating the conflicts into a full-fledged civil war.

To address the current complex security challenges, the Nigerian government should step up counter-terrorism operations while also developing a people-centred security strategy aimed at re-establishing trust with local communities. To integrate communities into a larger security network, the new strategy should include the development of community-led early warning and response mechanisms.

In this regard, Nigeria can benefit from Kenya’s collaborative conflict prevention approach. Kenya, like Nigeria, has experienced high levels of communal violence, which has impacted many parts of the country and encouraged an increase in terrorist attacks, linked with the Somali-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

However, Kenya demonstrates how integrating informal traditional systems into mainstream formal governance structures can help reduce violent conflicts.

In the wake of widespread election violence and terrorism in recent years, the Kenyan government embarked on the devolution of capacities for ensuring security and peace to the local communities.

For example, they established two local institutions to support conflict prevention efforts throughout the country: Local Peace Committees (LPCs) and Nyumba Kumi Committees (NKCs). LPCs use arbitration to resolve local disputes, while NKCs focus on community violence prevention, especially local surveillance against terrorism. These local committees collaborate with the formal security sector to prevent violence by using local norms and values.

Residents in each community elect 7-10 trusted community members (including some existing traditional leaders) to the LPCs and NKCs, who are then tasked with organizing meetings to identify potential flashpoints for violence and anticipate and mitigate potential security threats in their communities.

For example, they established two local institutions to support conflict prevention efforts throughout the country: Local Peace Committees (LPCs) and Nyumba Kumi Committees (NKCs). LPCs use arbitration to resolve local disputes, while NKCs focus on community violence prevention, especially local surveillance against terrorism. These local committees collaborate with the formal security sector to prevent violence by using local norms and values.

Residents in each community elect 7-10 trusted community members (including some existing traditional leaders) to the LPCs and NKCs, who are then tasked with organizing meetings to identify potential flashpoints for violence and anticipate and mitigate potential security threats in their communities.

All members of the community are required to report any security concerns to their respective LPCs or NKCs, who are then tasked with either dealing with the alleged offenders (in simple cases) or sharing all information with government security agencies at the local level.

Unlike traditional vigilante groups, the committees concentrate on discreet non-violent violence prevention efforts rather than direct confrontation with armed groups.

To be effective, such committees must first improve the relationship between security agencies (especially police) and communities, so that the dominant narratives of fear and apathy as demonstrated by the recent #EndSARS protest can be transformed into more long-term citizen confidence and engagement.

Although deep security sector reforms are required to address Nigeria’s current cycle of violence and terrorism, one opportunity is to support and expand community violence prevention efforts and deepen security engagements at the local level.

Imrana Buba is a PhD Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, researching social resilience and local peace in Nigeria and can be reached via Twitter @BubaImrana.

Nigeria, it’s time to strengthen security engagements at local level, by Imrana Buba

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