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Non-International Armed Conflicts in Nigeria

Conflict type: Non-international armed conflict

Nigeria is involved in two parallel non-international armed conflicts against the non-state armed groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). Since 2014, the Multinational Joint Task Force – which includes troops from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin, and Nigeria – has intervened in the conflict in support of the Nigerian Government, thus leaving unchanged the qualification of the situation as non-international.

A non-international armed conflict is taking place in Nigeria, involving different actors.

  • The Nigerian Government has been involved in two parallels non-international armed conflicts against respectively Boko Haram, a non-state armed group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2015, and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
  • Since January 2015, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has been supporting the Nigerian Government in the fight against Boko Haram. The MNJTF is composed of units from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin. See Communiqué of the 484th Meeting of the PSC on the Boko Haram Terrorist Group, 29 January 2015 [PSC/AHG/COMM. 2(CDLXXXIV)], which authorized the deployment of the MNJTF.

Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question of whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict:

  • First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
  • Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side in the conflict must be a non-state armed group that exhibits a certain level of organization in order to qualify as a party to the non-international armed conflict. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria for organization. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict' in our Classification section.

Intensity of violence

Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – intensity of violence’ in our Classification section.

Boko Haram

The first armed confrontations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Government took place in July 2009 and resulted in five days of intense fighting. Between 2011 and 2014, the attacks conducted by the armed group increased in terms of number, intensity and duration. S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights,  2018, p 102. Specifically, Boko Haram has staged suicide bombings against governmental armed forces, civilians and United Nations headquarters alike. C. K. Ekeke, ‘Suicide Bomb Blast at Abuja Police Headquarters – Our Nation’s Moral Dilemma’, Sahara Reporters, 23 June 2011; S. Murray and A. Nossiter, ‘Suicide Bomber Attacks U.N. Building in Nigeria’, The New York Times, 26 August 2011. Thanks to the success of these attacks, the group extended its military control over significant parts of Northeastern Nigeria. S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 103.

As a reaction, in June 2011 the Government of Nigeria established a Joint Task Force (JTF) to ‘restore law and order’ in the regions affected by Boko Haram.  P. Mbah and C. Nwangwu, ‘The Counter-Insurgence Operations of the Joint Task Force and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Nigeria, 2011–2013’, 4 Journal of Educational and Social Research 5 (2014), 73. With the civilian population being the most affected by the armed conflict, vigilante groups started emerging in 2013. Soon after their inception, the government realized their potential in terms of local knowledge, intelligence and manpower. Accordingly, it put them under the supervision of the JTF. Since then, they have been known as the Civilian Joint Task Force and have played a significant role in the fight against Boko Haram. International Crisis Group, ‘Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram’, Africa Report no 244, 23 February 2017.

In light of the worsening of the conflict and the increasing strength of Boko Haram, and following spillover attacks conducted by the armed group in neighbouring countries, a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was created in January 2015, which includes military units from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin. For further information, see the section on ‘International interventions’ below. The international intervention succeeded in weakening the group and regaining substantial parts of the territory under its control. International Crisis Group, ‘Cameroon: Confronting Boko Haram’, Africa Report no 241, 16 November 2016, p 28; W. Assanvo, J. E. A. Abatan and W. A. Sawadogo, ‘Assessing the Multinational Joint Task Force Against Boko Haram’, Institute for Security Studies, West Africa Report 19, September 2016, p 2. Specifically, by the end of 2015 Boko Haram remained present in limited areas, such as the Sambisa Forest, the Mandara Mountains and a number of islands in the Lake Chad. R. Carayol, ‘Terrorisme: Boko Haram, monstre blessé’, Jeune Afrique, 22 June 2015.

Since then, the attacks conducted by the armed group have changed in nature, relying predominantly on guerrilla warfare strategies and suicide bombings. Yet, its strikes still constitute a significant challenge for the Government of Nigeria and have had devastating effects on civilians. S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 108. In 2017, suicide bombers targeted markets, universities and displacement camps. Most notably, on 25 July 2017 the group ambushed an oil exploration team from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in Magumeri (Borno State), killing at least 69 people. Human Rights Watch, ‘Nigeria: Events of 2017’, World Report 2018.

Suicide bombings and attacks continued in 2018, targeting both Nigerian armed forces and civilians. In north-eastern Nigeria, there were thirty suicide bombings in the first half of 2018, accounting for nearly a third of all casualties. Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Boko Haram’s Deadly Impact’, 20 August 2018. For instance, on 1 May 2018 coordinated suicide bomb attacks at a mosque and a market in the northeast city of Mubi resulted in the death of dozens of people. ‘Dozens Killed in Nigeria Suicide Bomb Attack’, The Guardian, 1 May 2018. Towards the end of 2018, Boko Haram’s insurgency has gained intensity. While the Government of Nigeria affirmed that it has destroyed several Boko Haram camps, armed attacks by the group have not decreased. Notably, it has been reported that Boko Haram ‘launched a series of attacks, including on military targets in Borno.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Averting Violence around Nigeria’s 2019 Elections’, Commentary / Africa, 25 October 2018.

As of 2019, Boko Haram remains active in northern Nigeria, particularly Borno state with some activity in the neighbouring states, including Adamawa and Yobe. Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Nigeria Security Tracker’, 1 December 2019. Specifically, before the February 2019 elections there was an increase in attacks by Boko Haram.  In January 2019, there was a total of 73 attacks, with 406 associated fatalities.  These events were primarily directed towards the Nigerian military, with 71% of the attacks involving Boko Haram and the country’s military.  This included at least five attacks on military bases in North East Nigeria and the overtaking of military posts in Yobe and three other areas in Borno state. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), ‘The New Normal: Continuity and Boko haram’s Violence in North East Nigeria’, 11 February 2019. In January 2019, the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) withdrew from the north-eastern town of Rann, thus leaving the Nigerian military responsible for ensuring security in the area. On 28 January 2019, Boko Haram launched an attack in Rann, which resulted in the burning of civilian structures and the killing of those attempting to escape; 60 individuals were killed and over 30,000 people were displaced. Recent similar attacks highlight the key role played by MNJTF in coutering the insurgency. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), ‘The New Normal: Continuity and Boko haram’s Violence in North East Nigeria’, 11 February 2019. Violence between members of Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces has remained elevated through 2019. At the beginning of 2020, armed confrontations between the parties have increased in the north east and have remained sustained through the years. In 2021, the intensity further increased. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Nigeria.

The Nigerian Government has purchased a significant amount of military equipment in order to fight Boko Haram. Specifically, in July 2017 it purchased $593 million worth of military equipment from the United States, such as Super Tucano A-29 surveillance and attack planes. Y. Kazeem, ‘The US Just Sold Half a Billion Dollars Worth of Military Gear to Nigeria’, Quarts Africa, 29 August 2017. More recently, on 4 April 2018 the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, approved the purchase of $1 billion worth of weapons in order to fight the armed group. E. Bala-Gbogbo, ‘Nigeria’s Buhari Approves $1 Billion for Weapons Purchase’, Bloomberg, 4 April 2018. On the other hand, Boko Haram’s military equipment and weaponry includes AK47s, improvised explosive devices, grenades, mortars, petrol bombs and Hilux vehicles. See T. McCoy ‘Paying for Terrorism: Where Does Boko Haram Get Its Money From?’, The Independent, 6 June 2014; Human Rights Watch, ‘Nigeria – Events of 2019’‘Boko Haram attack: More than a dozen dead in Maiduguri’, BBC News, 2 April 2018. Furthermore, it has been reported that Boko Haram also uses rocket-propelled grenades and may have the capacity to manufacture weapons. ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram Reveals Rocket-Making Factory’, BBC, 2 November 2015.

The intensity of the conflict is further illustrated by the number of casualties and displaced  individuals. Since 2009, Boko Haram has killed more than 30,000 people. O. Lanre, ‘About 20 Nigerian Soldiers Missing After Boko Haram Clash: Sources’, Reuters, 16 July 2018. Between May 2011 and December 2019, the Council on Foreign Relations reported the total of 36.222 deaths related to Boko Haram in Nigeria and it is estimated that there are a total of 15.953 civilian conflict-related casualties. Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Nigeria Security Tracker’, 01 December 2019; Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), ‘The New Normal: Continuity and Boko haram’s Violence in North East Nigeria’, 11 February 2019. Furthermore, thousands of women and girls have been abducted. See Amnesty International, ‘‘Our Job Is to Shoot, Slaughter and Kill’: Boko Haram’s Reign of Terror in North-East Nigeria’, Amnesty international, 14 April 2015. Currently, 1.7 million people are internally displaced and nearly 240.400 refugees are in neigbouring states such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger; almost 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the northern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ‘About OCHA Nigeria’; Human Rights Watch, ‘Nigeria: Events of 2017’, World Report 2018.

The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)

ISWAP is a splinter of Boko Haram. It operates in north-eastern Nigeria and along Lake Chad. Since it left Boko Haram in 2016, ISWAP has engaged in protracted armed violence against the government. For instance, on July 2018 ISWAP conducted an attack against a Nigerian military camp in Jilli, Yobe state, where approximately 700 soldiers were based. On 7 September 2018, it seized the town of Gudumbali, base of the local government’s headquarters. On 26 December 2018, it seized the towns of Baga and Doro Gowon, where it took over ‘major army and navy bases.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019.

In 2019, armed confrontations between ISWAP and Nigerian armed forces took place consistently over the year. For instance, on the night between 21 and 22 March ISWAP fighters attacked a military position at Dangdala; the clashes resulted in the death of 23 Nigerian soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, March 2019. May 2019 was particularly deadly for Nigerian armed forces, where a number of armed confrontations resulted in the death of reportedly 49 members of Nigerian soldiers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2019. While at first ISWAP limited its military actions along the shores of Lake Chad, recently it has been expanding its reach. Notably, on 23 February 2019, the day of elections in Nigeria, ISWAP launched its first attack in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. The armed group fired rocket-propelled grenades and the attack resulted in the death of one Nigerian soldier, while other 20 soldiers were wounded, ‘Boko Haram attacks reported across northern Nigeria on polling day’, Defense Post, 23 February 2019.

At the beginning of 2020, ISWAP has conducted a number of deadly attacks against the Nigerian army. Notably, on 7 January clashes between ISWAP and the governmental forces resulted in the death of 8 soldiers in Monguno town; on 12 January the Nigerian army killed 4 ISWAP commanders in the Lake Chad area; on 24-25 January the Nigerian air force killed a number of ISWAP fighters in the same area. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020. Armed confrontations have continued in 2020 and have remained sustained through the year. In 2021, the intensity further increased. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: Nigeria

Clashes between Boko Haram and ISWAP

In 2016, immediately after ISWAP left Boko Haram and became an independent group, intense fighting took place between the two insurgent groups. For instance, in July 2016 a battle between ISWAP and Boko Haram killed dozens of ISWAP fighters near Chukungudu. Since then, armed confrontations between the two groups have substantially decreased. It has been reported that the two groups have reached a ceasefire and that the “Islamic State” armed group might have pushed for its conclusion. International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019. While occasional fighting still takes place, the intensity was never high enough to conclude that there is a non-international armed conflict between ISWAP and Boko Haram. However, that fighting clearly demonstrates that Boko Haram and ISWAP are distinct armed groups involved in distinct armed conflicts against the government.

Ansaru

Ansaru is an armed group also known as the Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa and al-Qaeda in the Lands Beyond the Sahel. It is a Jiadist splinter group of Boko Haram and is based in the notheastern part of Nigeria. F. Chothia, ‘Profile: Who are Nigeria's Ansaru Islamists?’, BBC News, 11 March 2013. Following intense fighting in 2012 and 2013, armed confrontations between Ansaru and the government have substantially decreased. Furthermore, in 2016 Ansaru’s leader was arrested by Nigerian armed forces. Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), ‘The New Normal: Continuity and Boko haram’s Violence in North East Nigeria’, 11 February 2019. Since January 2020, Ansaru has started operating again and has claimed armed attacks for the first time since 2013. Specifically, on 14-15 January 2020 Ansaru ‘killed at least six people and destroyed several vehicles during an ambush along the Kaduna-Zaira highway in Kaduna State.’ UK Government, Nigeria. On 5 February 2019, Nigerian police forces raided a camp of Asaru in Kuduru forest, Kaduna state; the operation resulted in the death of over 250 militants and of 2 officers. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2020. While the intensity of violence is not enough to conclude that there is a non-international armed conflict between the government of Nigeria and Ansaru, it is worth mentioning this development and monitoring the evolution of the situation.

Organization

A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organization, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms; the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms; the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations; the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. ceasefire or peace agreements. If the minimum criterion for organization of the armed groups is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict – Organization’ in our Classification section.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram (Hausa for ‘Western education/civilisation is forbidden’), also known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), is a non-state armed group which operates in Nigeria in particular and in the Lake Chad Basin region in general, notably in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. See International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), ‘Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)’, Armed Conflict Database; International Criminal Court, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2013, November 2013. In 2015, it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. ‘Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist Group?’BBC, 24 November 2016. Furthermore, it has strong links with other Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamist groups fighting in Mali and al-Shabab. International Crisis Group, ‘Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency’, Africa Report no 216, 3 April 2014, p i.

The leader of Boko Haram, the Amir, is the head of the Shura, namely the council of elders. The council has seven members, and each one of them leads a ministry across the administration of the group. Commanders have executive powers and sub-commanders direct and lead foot-soldier operations, called maaskars. See Amnesty International, ‘‘Our Job Is to Shoot, Slaughter and Kill’. Boko Haram’s Reign of Terror in North-East Nigeria’, 14 April 2015.

After the death of its founding leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in July 2009, Boko Haram started splintering into different factions. In 2014, International Crisis Group reported that there were six different factions of the group. International Crisis Group, ‘Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency’, Africa Report no 216,  3 April 2014, p 22; S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 107. Following the crucial loss of territories, there was a further leadership split  within Boko Haram. In March 2015, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” and renamed the group Islamic State (IS) in West Africa Province (ISWAP). In 2016, when the Islamic State group claimed Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the leader, Abubakar Shekau refused to acknowledge the change and claimed that this was an attempted coup against him. One year later, a number of senior leaders left the group, retaining the name ISWAP and obtaining recognition from the “Islamic State”. While the group led by Abubakar Shekau retained the name Boko Haram, it is also known under the name Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS). It has been reported that the two factions engaged in  military confrontations between each other in the following months. See A. Withnall, ‘Boko Haram descends into in-fighting as reports emerge of deadly clashes between rival Islamist factions’, Independent, 8 September 2016;  ‘Boko Haram in Nigeria: Split Emerges Over Leadership’, BBC, 4 August 2016; International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019. Nevertheless, these episodes of violence remained sporadic and there is no record of further fighting within the armed group. As of 2018, the two main factions are led by Shekau, on the one hand, and by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, on the other. See ‘Boko Haram’, Counter Extremism Project. While there is no sufficiently clear and reliable information on Boko Haram fractions to conclude that it can still be considered as one armed group, arguably the conflict remains a single non-international armed conflict in light of the absence of fighting between Boko Haram’s factions and the nexus between the hostilities each of them wages against the government.

Over the years, Boko Haram established control of a significant amount of territory in northeastern Nigeria. This area was declared to be a caliphate, and was used to launch military operations against targets in Nigeria as well as in neighbouring countries. ‘Who Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist Group?’, BBC, 24 November 2016. Although the group has suffered crucial losses in terms of territorial control, it still retains control over a small portion of Nigerian territory, notably the Sambisa Forest, the Mandara Mountains and the islands of Lake Chad. Human Rights Watch, ‘Nigeria: Events of 2017’, World Report 2018; S. Arraf, ‘Nigeria: A Focus on the Boko Haram Insurgency’, A. Bellal (ed), The War Report: Armed Conflicts in 2017, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, 2018, p 107.

The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)

The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) is a Boko Haram splinter group. Following a rapid rise in the early 2010s, in 2015 the Nigerian army and its allies started to put Boko Haram under pressure, which exacerbated internal tensions. In March 2015, one of the leading figures of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” (IS) and renamed the group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). One year later, a number of senior leaders left the group, retaining the name ISWAP and obtaining recognition from IS, while the group led by Abubakar Shekau retained the name Boko Haram. Between 2018 and 2019, internal disputes led to a change of leadership: Nur was allegedly executed, while Abu Abdallah took the place of Abu Musab. International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019. While there are not precise figures regarding the number of members of ISWAP, it has been reported that it is composed of 18.000–20.000 fighters, while other sources report that ISWAP has 3.500-5.000 fighters. International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019.

ISWAP exercises effective control over banks and islands of Lake Chad, where it controls also the civilian settlements and has established a ‘proto-state.’ In the areas surrounding its core territory, ISWAP ensures control thanks to ‘patrols, emissaries and sympathisers.’ In areas under its direct control, ISWAP has been able to build close ties with the population. In order to survive economically, it collects taxes that are considered fair by the local population, as ISWAP provides public safety in return. The close ties  with civilians are also crucial to ‘to buy food, fuel and medicine as well as sell its produce, which includes charcoal, cattle, hides and fish.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019; ‘2019 in Review: Militancy in Africa’, The New Humanitarian, 26 December 2019.

ISWAP’s success might be due to its tactics, different from those of Boko Haram. While the latter targets civilians and rural communities, International Crisis Group reports that ISWAP focuses ‘primarily on military targets as well as, to a lesser extent, civilian targets associated in one way or another with the state – eg, local officials, chiefs, vigilantes and suspected informers. … ISWAP’s tactics seem to have contributed to a notable drop in civilian casualties in north-eastern Nigeria since 2016, and a rise in military casualties in 2018.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’, Report no. 273, 16 May 2019.

Ansaru

Ansaru is an armed group also know as the Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa and al-Qaeda in the Lands Beyond the Sahel. It is a Jiadist splinter group of Boko Haram and is based in the notheastern part of Nigeria. F. Chothia, ‘Profile: Who are Nigeria's Ansaru Islamists?’, BBC News, 11 March 2013. On 26 January 2012, the group announced its formation and proclaimed itself as a ‘“humane” alternative to Boko Haram that would only target the Nigerian government and Christians in “self-defense.”’ J. Zenn, ‘Leadership Analysis of Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria’, African Special Issue, vol. 7, no. 2, February 2014. Its leadership structure is unclear. Similarly, the total number of its members is unknown. ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 - Foreign Terrorist Organizations: Jama'atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis-Sudan (Ansaru)’, United States Department of State, 19 September 2018. Due to lack of reliable information, it is not possible to conclude with a certain degree of certainty that Ansaru meets the organization requirement.

International interventions

Since January 2015, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has been supporting the Nigerian Government in the fight against Boko Haram. The MNJTF is composed of units from countries of the Lake Chad Basin, notably Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin. See Communiqué of the 484th Meeting of the PSC on the Boko Haram Terrorist Group, 29 January 2015 [PSC/AHG/COMM. 2(CDLXXXIV)], which authorized the deployment of the MNJTF. The MNJTF operates under the authorized African Union Peace and Security Council mandate with the aim of eliminating Boko Haram, and is supported by the United Nations Security Council. See ‘Mandate of the Multinational Joint Task Force’; United Nations Security Council, S/RES/2349 (2017), 31 March 2017.

During an operation in 2019, the MNJTF and the Nigerian Government succeeded in rescuing  more than 1.000 Boko Haram captives, mainly women and children, together with a number of male individuals who had been forced to fight for Boko Haram. S. Busari, A. Cardovillis and B. Adebayo, ‘Nigerian Army Says It Has Freed 1,000 Boko Haram Captives’, CNN, 8 May 2018. In 2019, the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), together with the Nigerian military forces, has forced Boko Haram out of several provinces in north-eastern Nigeria. Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Boko Haram in Nigeria’, 10 December 2019. As the MNJTF has intervened in Nigeria with the consent of the Nigerian Government, its involvement does not affect the classification of the conflict. For further information, see ‘Non-international armed conflict' in our Classification section.

All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which provides for the minimum standards to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.

Nigeria is also a party to Additional Protocol II applicable to non-international armed conflicts. The ability of Boko Haram and ISWAP to exercise territorial control over parts of Nigeria suggests that they fulfil the required criterion for the applicability of Protocol II, namely the ability to carry out sustained and concerted military operations; impose discipline; and territorial control enabling them (if they were willing) to implement Protocol II. However, Protocol II does not apply between armed groups.

All parties are also bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflict. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database of customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.

State parties

Non-state parties

  • Boko Haram (Hausa for ‘Western education/civilisation is forbidden’), also known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad)
  • Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)
Last updated: Sunday 30th May 2021