Assessing Humanitarian Demining Operations In North East Nigeria

Sola Tayo is a BBC journalist, a Senior Associate Fellow at the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation, and an Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs/Chatham House. Sola tweets via @tayos02.

Murtala Abdullahi is a Junior Associate Researcher with the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project at The Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation. His areas of focus are on Nigeria’s military, local conflict drivers across Nigeria, conflict prevention, and effects of climate change on national security. He tweets via @murtalaibin.

Conflict Studies And Analysis Project’s content does not contain information of a classified or otherwise official nature, neither does the content represent the position of any governmental or non governmental entity.

 

Summary:

 

The Lake Chad conflict, now in its tenth year, is responsible for several thousand civilian deaths.  The overwhelming majority have been in north east Nigeria which is the base for Boko Haram and groups linked to the Islamic State.  The threat to civilians lies not only in direct attack by militants but in the form of the remnants of unexploded bombs, grenades, rockets and other military grade ammunition.

As more areas are liberated from the control of the militants by the Nigerian Army, people living in camps for internally displaced persons are being encouraged to return home.  But they are confronted by the threat of unexploded mines while others are prohibited from returning because some areas remain too dangerous.

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As the conflict in the north east continues, the focus is very much on that region, but humanitarian mine clearance operations are not new to Nigeria.  South eastern Nigeria is still contaminated with explosives left behind from the 1967-1970 civil war and, more recently, Nigerian government agencies have destroyed explosive devices in civilian areas.

Between 2009 and 2012 the Nigeria Mine Action Center destroyed 17,683 bombs and 685 landmines[1] while the Nigerian Police Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD) destroyed other bombs and devices discovered in populated areas.

Unexploded landmines are not only a menace to civilians in the region; they are also hazardous to the delivery of humanitarian aid.  Specialist groups and agencies such as the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the Danish Demining Group (DDG) and the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) conduct humanitarian demining operations by surveying and clearing explosives to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance and the return of displaced people. The Nigerian Army and Police EOD conduct regular demining operations to support military and law enforcement operations.

In October 2015 the DDG began remnants of war risk education programmmes for persons living in camps and host communities in Adamawa state.  They also carried out further assessments in Adamawa and Borno states to gather data about the nature and scope of contamination[2].

The Mine Advisory Group claim that mines laid by Boko Haram killed 162 people in two years and wounded 277.  Casualties rose from 12 per month in 2016 to 19 per month in 2017 and 2018, making Nigeria’s death rate from mines the eighth highest in the world[3] . Most of the recorded mine related accidents occurred at IDP camps, on roads and fields where locals search for fuelwood or engage in crop production.

The ongoing conflict makes it difficult to access information and evaluate the scale of the threat.  The Mines Advisory Group International says the number of victims and the exact type and extent of contamination across the region is not known.   Borno, the most conflict affected state, is mostly inaccessible to humanitarian actors so little comprehensive information is available[4].

Although army engineers and police EOD engage in mine clearance operations in communities liberated from insurgents they are principally for the protection of their staff.   There is an economic and humanitarian need for a coordinated programme of mine clearance with the objective of allowing civilians to return home and resume the livelihoods they were forced to abandon because of the conflict.

A legal plan and legislation for humanitarian mine clearance action is needed and is currently lacking, to strengthen and coordinate efforts from all actors – governmental and non-governmental – to minimize the risks for people living in mine-affected communities and allow humanitarian workers to provide badly needed aid. The law should also make Nigeria more eligible for international assistance required to cover the expensive nature of mine clearance.  A nationally coordinated mine action system, which incorporates the military and other security services, humanitarian organisations and international nongovernmental entities specialising in post-conflict demining, will enable transparency, accountability and better priority setting.

A process  to fully integrate land mine surveys, removal, disposal, medical assistance and develop education materials and communication for civilians and humanitarian workers, does not currently exist and this hampers demining efforts in the region.

While the Civilian Joint Task Force (a militia group that supports the Nigerian security forces in their war against Boko Haram and related organisations), has been identified by experts and programmes focusing on this issue, as being potentially utilisable in a coordinated demining campaign, it lacks the capacity to properly deal with the identification and disposal of explosives and incident recording for a national database.

A new approach to humanitarian mine clearance operations in north east Nigeria will provide a comprehensive response to not only support the victims of the crisis but to fully capture the extent and nature of the explosive contamination in the region.  This will enable demining activities to reduce the threat of landmines for both present and future generations.

 

 

[1] Nigerian demining expert talks about clearing the landmines and UXO from the Biafra War https://t.co/yek6KdFPMP

[2] Boko Haram landmines in Nigeria killed at least 162 in two years – study https://t.co/xFWi5kD8yP

[3] Inside the HQ of BokoHaram https://t.co/TwWt0gcMlZ

[4] Danish demining group,Nigeria https://danishdemininggroup.dk/danish-demining-group/where-we-work/nigeria

 

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