Breaking cycles of violence in Nigeria’s northeast region

Nigeria should be Africa’s leading emerging economic light. Rich in natural resources, and home to Africa’s largest consumer market, its potential as a regional continental economic engine is vast. 

Instead, it remains a perpetual underperformer; a volatile behemoth, synonymous with poor economic governance and political instability, hurtling from one crisis to another. In a recent research paper, produced by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Inclusive Economies Project, the author’s find failure to arrest these trends that entrench human insecurity within Nigeria now also threatens regional security. 

As it compromises livelihoods, capital and other critical resources,  a strained fiscus and a thinly spread national security force has paralysed the government’s ability to secure the northeast, let alone address the root causes of the conflict. Because of this, grievances continue to give credence to armed groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province. This has created a vicious cycle that continually forces the economically vulnerable deeper into the margins.  

This sustained reinforcing cycle in the north has also had a far-reaching ripple effect, from a humanitarian and economic crisis to simultaneously creating new security problems. 

Agriculture, for example, which provides a source of livelihood and employment for 80% of local populations, has been especially affected by attacks and dwindling government support. Large areas of land remain uncultivated as farmers have abandoned them for fear of being attacked or kidnapped. The confluence of these circumstances have resulted in growing food insecurity. A civil servant in Borno State consulted for this research summed up the severity of the problem:

“We used to go far and wide to farm but now we cannot go outside the immediate vicinity to farm and help ourselves because Boko Haram operates in those areas. Where we even go and farm, the fear is that in the end, our crops would be stolen and some people will be killed in the process.”

These disruptions have set off a string of harmful effects, starting with the impoverishment of farmers and herders and resulting in food price hikes that have aggravated malnutrition, particularly among children in vulnerable communities. Local trade routes for agricultural and non-food products have also become unsafe due to the activities of bandits and other criminal groups. This has resulted in the closing of businesses and plunging business confidence in the region. 

All of this contributes to the entrenchment of the conflict that is not only detrimental to livelihoods but also creates permanent psychological scars that could fuel future conflicts. 

How then can this cycle be broken? The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation research considers how investments in human, social and economic development might create pathways to transform volatile communities into peaceful ones.

It finds that greater attention must be paid to the integration of macro- and microeconomic strategies to cement a positive feedback loop between development and local peace. This, it argues, can only be achieved if these strategies are inclusive and cognisant of local challenges.

Low levels of human development, coupled with high levels of material and social deprivation sustains conflict in the northeast. This underscores the critical need to alleviate these deficits by ensuring that national wealth is invested in people, programmes and infrastructure which is allocated on a needs basis. 

However, economic development in isolation cannot achieve peace and stability, because peace is not just the absence of violence or conflict. Rather, it is when people anticipate and manage their conflicts and differences without violence, while making equitable progress in their lives. Economic development strategies must, therefore, embrace democratic, transparent and accountable systems of governance; a vibrant and empowered civil society; rule of law that incorporates the protection of human rights for all and equal access to opportunities, services and support.

Without this, breaking the vicious and worsening cycle of exclusion, violence, and a further deterioration of economic agency, will remain an elusive dream. 

You can read the full research publication here

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Jaynisha Patel
Jaynisha Patel is a project leader for inclusive economies at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. She is the recent co-author of an Afrobarometer paper on how South Africans perceive the cash grants systems, and holds a master’s in politics, philosophy and economics from the University of Cape Town
Emmanuel Bosah
Emmanuel Bosah is the executive director of Adika Development Foundation, a research organisation based in Nigeria, focused on interrogating issues related to climate change, food security and sustainable agriculture, and good governance.

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