Violence in Nigeria’s North West: Rolling Back the Mayhem

Nigeria’s North West, one of the country’s six geopolitical zones, comprises seven of the country’s 36 states. These are Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara. It covers an area of 216,065 sq km or 25.75 per cent of the country’s total land mass – close to the size of the UK. Its major ethnic groups are the Hausa and Fulani, who historically share strong cultural ties and are very much intermixed, with other smaller groups especially in Kaduna state. The region’s estimated population of 33 million (based on figures from the contentious 2006 census) is predominantly Muslim (Sunni). Most of the population (about 80 per cent) are farmers, pastoralists, agro-pastoralists or small-scale entrepreneurs. The region has substantial solid mineral deposits, including gold exploited by artisanal miners in open pit mines. Despite its economic potential, the North West has the highest poverty rate in Nigeria. As of 2019, all seven states in the zone had poverty levels above the national average of 40.1 per cent, led by Sokoto (87.7 per cent), Jigawa (87 per cent) and Zamfara (74 per cent). Millions lack access to basic health care and clean water, and immunisation coverage is far below national goals. This report warns of the growing risks to Nigeria and its neighbours if Nigeria’s federal and state governments, supported by international partners, do not step up efforts to end violence in the country’s North West. The report analyses armed violence in this zone and details its humanitarian, socio-economic and security effects. It further appraises the responses by Nigeria’s federal government and the region’s state governments while highlighting emerging security risks. It also outlines strategies for ending the violence, preventing a new insurgency and building durable peace. The report is based largely on interviews with Nigerian government and security officials at the federal and state levels, community leaders and representatives of civil society organisations, former bandits and vigilantes, victims of violence and humanitarian workers. Interviews were conducted in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger states, and the federal capital, Abuja, during the period from June 2019 to May 2020.