Security Challenges in Nigeria. The Imperativeness of Good Governance and the Role of Civil Society – Adedeji Ademola

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Our Take: Nigeria is without a doubt one of Africa’s current conflict zone. Apart from the intractable Boko-Haram insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives, the conflict between the Fulani herders and local farmers has also played a part in the rising security challenges in the country. Lack of good governance and poor leadership style could be blamed for the insecurity.
The role of civil society organizations in influencing the elimination of violent extremism and other security-related threats remains indispensable.


Nigeria undoubtedly is one of the hotbeds of conflict in Africa today. Apart from the intractable Boko-Haram insurgency which has claimed thousands of lives and condemned several others to Internal Displaced Person Camps scattered throughout the country; the Southern Kaduna conflict; violent clashes between the Fulani Herdsmen and Farmers all over the country, renewed surge in kidnapping in major cities and villages, agitations in the Niger Delta as well as calls for succession in the former Biafra Republic, among others, all deserve urgent intervention, a multifaceted approach from stakeholders. One fundamental cause of this dilemma is the absence of good governance in the polity. Recent studies however have shown that the interventions by Civil Society in peace and security areas have been largely dominated by foreign foundations and the civil society is still shy of participating actively in stemming this ugly trend for various reasons. The paper, drawing on academic and policy literature, as well as security and civil society reports attempts to interrogate the contributions of civil society in Nigeria to eliminating violent extremism and insecurity in the polity. Tracing the contributions of civil society in Nigeria on peace and security overtime, the paper also considers what incentives the national government can provide to encourage these strategic moves and how the civil society can work with national and international institutions to support the war against terror and insecurity of all kinds in the country.


In any civilized society, one of the primary responsibilities of government, if not the most important, is the safeguarding of the welfare and security of its people. This is so, as the state possesses military capacity and threat of force which other sections of the society are often incapable of. However, this ‘security monopoly’ trend is fast changing. In a globalised world, preventing violent conflict and building sustainable peace requires complex strategies which include cooperation with other stakeholders such as the civil society and staying true to good governance, transparency and accountability as we would argue in this paper. But it is not the case that the civil society in many countries of the world, especially Africa, which is conflict prone, has not been working to ensure peace in the society. In fact, as people become directly affected by armed conflict, civil society organisations (CSO) have developed interest in contributing to its resolution. The collapse of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries and the birth of ‘Third Wave’ democracies signaled a strong re-entry of the term civil society around the world. In Africa, the civil society has been consistently on the rise since the post-independence era.

Armed conflicts in Africa can be traced back to the post-independence era. As far back as 1967, the Igbo section of the Nigerian community, led by the unbreakable Biafra Warlord, Lt. Col Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, raised arms to secede from the Nigerian state. All over Africa from Lagos to Luanda, Mali to Maputo, conflicts were the order of the day. African countries experienced decades of devastating wars including the Congo war, Somali War, Rwandan Genocide, Northern Mali conflict, Angolan Civil War, Sudanese War, East African Campaign, to mention but a few and these wars crippled governance and development in several African States.

With the proliferation of armed conflicts which reached its peak in the 1990s and together with the burden of peace building on the shoulders of the international community, the attention of donors and peace building practitioners turned to the potential role to be played by civil society.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa and arguably its most economically advanced country, has been a theater of various conflicts recently and one of the most unstable environments in terms of insecurity to human lives and properties. The federating units making up the country are yet to truly recognise each unit as constituents of one nation and owing to other factors such as religious, economic, political, social, among others; the Nigerian environment is unnecessarily prone to conflict. Even government interventions and international support is proving inadequate in addressing this malaise.

The Boko Haram sect which started in the early 21st century Nigeria with the rejection of western education later metamorphosed to a deadly group that declared war on Nigeria and infidels, killing thousands of Nigerians in the process. The peak of their gruesome attacks was the abduction of around 276 school girls from their school in the hitherto unknown ancient town of Chibok. Women and children were regularly molested, tortured and killed. The present government of Muhammadu Buhari has been able to free some of their captives including many of the Chibok girls, and the activities of the sect have been curtailed to a large extent. However, the people living in the North-East region of Nigeria are still in danger of attacks from members of the sect as they are yet to be completely dealt with.

The deadly clash between indigenous farmers and herdsmen in many parts of Nigeria is another security challenge in Nigeria. In Benue State, Plateau, Nassarawa, Kaduna, Ekiti, Katsina, etc. many people had been killed, maimed, raped and suffered untold destruction of their properties to what has been generally termed cattle rustling. Violence has become a pastime between herders and host farmers leading to loss of lives, priorities and displacement of farmers and cattle thefts.

Piracy in the Nigeria waters, especially in the Gulf of Guinea coast off Nigeria, militancy in the Niger Delta for resource control; violent secessionist agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra in the South-East, kidnapping and high level robbery in South-East, South-South and South-West Nigeria; the call for restructuring by some segments of the Nigerian society, as well as pockets of ethnic conflicts in several parts of Nigeria, all certified Nigeria as one of the most volatile place to live.

Problem Statement

Several Nigerian governments in the past had spent billions of dollars to ensure peace and security in the country, thereby making the defense budgets of the country bigger than other vital sectors. While some of these monies ended in private pockets, the present government in Nigeria currently combating corruption, crime and economic despondency has shown improvement in addressing insecurity issues. However, their best efforts are grossly inadequate. Also, the civil societies, aided by indigenious philanthropists in the country are doing everything they can to ensure peace and stability of the country. However, in terms of peace, Nigeria was scored very low in the 2016 Global Peace Index and rated same with other countries such as Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, and other war torn countries.

The question here is how can civil society organisations show more bravery and increase its capacity to engage in lasting peace building in the age of violent extremism and guerilla warfare? How can they address the challenges incapacitating their activities? How best can they contribute to peacebuilding in Nigeria? How can government use the instrument of good governance to achieve peace and security in the country?

Research Objectives

Against the background of the problematique and research questions, the specific objectives of the study are to:

a. to identify the contribution and effectiveness of Civil Society Organisations to peace processes in Nigeria
b. to propose viable ways by which Civil Society groups can contribute to peace building in Nigeria
c. to examine the imperativeness of good governance as a viable tool for achieving lasting peace and security in Nigeria

Theoretical Framework

The Peacebuilding theory is quite prominent in the study of civil society intervention in conflicts. As argued by Paul Lederach, “civil society plays an important role in the process of reconciliation.” In The Role of the Civil Society in Peace Support Operations in South Sudan and Somalia: The Component of Peacebuilding, Radoslaw Malinowski corroborated Lederach’s assertion. He explained that he derived the argument from three points: first, peacebuilding must be undertaken simultaneously at numerous levels of the society, especially at the grassroots level; second, critical issues must find response while broader structural change is envisioned and set in motion; and finally, short term needs and long term vision must be linked. These three points are present at all levels of peacebuilding in the society. Lederach developed the first comprehensive transformation-oriented approach to conflict resolution and argued that a key element of this approach is to focus on peace constituencies by identifying mid-level individuals or groups and empowering them to build peace and support reconciliation.

Clarification of Key Concepts

This section will look at the definition of the key terms/concepts in this paper including civil society, good governance, peace and security and afterwards, the relationship between the three concepts, especially in the Nigerian case will be muted.

Civil Society

The concept of civil society has defied one universally acceptable definition. The definition of civil society range from short to more detailed proportions and as observed by the Democratic Progress Institute, the term ‘civil society’ is very difficult to define given “the diversity of the societal makeup in different nations.” Scholars such as Thomas Hobbes, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke, Charles de Montesquieu, Antonio Gramsci, etc. studied the early European context of the definition of civil society. However, for our purpose, a civil society can be defined as an arena in which people take common actions to pursue common objectives without reward of profit or political power. These organisations range from associations, unions, and mass organisations, networks, social organisations, to social movements.

Civil society can also be seen as the “arena of un-coerced collective action around shared interests, purposes and values.” In all, it is generally accepted that civil society is a ‘third sector’, distinct somewhat from government and business where citizens, on the whole, affiliate for neither power nor profit. Similarly, Gberevbie noted that “civil society is non-governmental and hence outside of the state and government.” and therefore submitted that civil society refers “to a group of non-governmental organisations, professionals and associations in any shape and size in a society formed purposely to engage the state of government on issues that affect the people with a view to finding acceptable solutions to the developmental challenges of the state-political, social and technological for the enhancement of the living standard of the people.

Temitope Songonuga observed that the literature on civil society is extensive and falls into three broad areas. First, as an alternative to the state; second, as a supporter to the state; and third, as a counterbalance to the state and its policies.

Thania Paffenholz mentioned the seven functions of civil society in peace building as follows:

1. Protection of citizens against violence of all forms.
2. Monitoring of human rights violations, the implementation of peace agreements, etc.;
3. Advocacy for peace and human rights;
4. Socialization to values of peace and democracy as well as to develop the in-group identity of marginalized groups;
5. Inter-group social cohesion by bringing people together from adversarial groups;
6. Facilitation of dialogue on the local and national level between all sorts of actors;
7. Service delivery to create entry points for peace building, i.e. for the above six functions.

In her work, Catherine Barnes was more explicit in the explanation of the role of civil society involvement in prevention and peacebuilding. Civil society address the causes of conflict including making governments and state structures more responsive through participation in political processes, policy dialogue, monitoring, advocacy campaigns, protests, etc. Civil society also play a role in early operational crisis response and during violent conflict by early warning of emergency crises, developing options and strategies for response, ensuring violence reduction and monitoring, humanitarian relief and support to war affected communities, etc. They are also relevant in preventing reoccurrence of conflict and post-settlement peacebuilding.

Good Governance

In simple terms, good governance is the exercise of political power in the management of a nation’s affairs. Odock in Genyi (2013) explained that good governance “ is a system of government based on good leadership, respect for the rule of law and due process, the accountability of the political leadership to the electorate as well as transparency in the operations of government.” This explanation demystifies the notion that good governance is about the ability of the government of the day to provide basic amenities for the people such as good roads, electricity, etc. as often misconstrued in this part of the world. There are even suggestions in the public arena that good governance is about giving of money by political leaders to electorates and making them happy. Thus, the slogan “share the money.”

As rightly noted by the chief of the Poverty Reduction Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Mr Yap Kioe Sheng, “Good governance has eight major characteristics: it is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in the society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.”

Peace and Security

The concept of peace and security essentially has to do with the sanctity of life and the absolute necessity to protect and safeguard lives and property. This simply connotes “the absence of threat to life, property and socio-economic well-being of the people.” Peace is a condition in which there is no social conflict and individuals and groups are able to meet their needs, aspirations and expectations while security is broadly viewed as freedom from danger or threats to an individual or nation.

The Nexus between the Civil Society, Peace and Security and Good Governance in Nigeria

There is a strong interface, nexus and interconnectedness between the key concepts we are looking at in this paper. To achieve any meaningful development, peace and security in the nation’s ecosystem, the government has to provide the template for good governance to thrive. This will in turn enhance peace and security in the society. However, the civil society as a partner in governance must not only constantly remind government of what she has to do but also provide services to complement government responsibilities. Without the active activation of good governance however, the society could be in chaos and the civil service in complete irrelevance.

Since the return to democratic rule in Nigeria, the country has experienced considerable erosion of domestic security arising from inherent deficit in governance. The primary motive of a civil society organisation and is to provide skills or services that will advance a particular cause. In other words, but their activities could be hampered by the absence of good governance and irresponsible leadership. Civil society organisations functions effectively only when they are able to muster the right resources or relationships.

Civil Society and Peace Building in Nigeria

There are incredible numbers of civil society organisations working on conflict prevention/management and general peacebuilding in Nigeria. Essentially however, civil society in Nigeria are involved in a number of areas, economic empowerment, anti-corruption and good governance, constitutional reform, girl child education, human rights and health issues, and so on. Most of them are funded through membership dues, internal and external donations/support, and grants from international bodies, among others.

Civil society is not only important in providing services to many whom the government has been unwilling or unable to take care of , but also are helping to give voice to the marginalized and vulnerable people, including victims of terrorism, as well as serve as a constructive outlet for the ventilation of grievances. James Forest noted, “Civil societies have important roles to play in activism, education, research, oversight, and even as potential assistance and service providers.” In Nigeria, there are three categories of civil society organisations that help reduce the likelihood of violent extremism: religious groups, traditional and tribal groups and community organisations. Faith based organisations such as the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), among others contribute immensely to peacebuilding in Nigeria. For instance, since 1999 when democracy was restored in Nigeria, JDPC has been working assiduously by expanding its peacebuilding initiatives to heavily emphasize conflict prevention and post conflict reconciliation efforts. They initiated training peace councils and regularly engage Muslims and Christians alike, organizing peace workshops, emergency response training programs and so on. CAN is also an active faith based organisation working in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Nigeria. CAN have used dialogue and a technique called ‘progressive religious dialogue’ to ensure peaceful coexistence with other religious bodies through which they have engaged other religious leaders and bodies.[26]

There are several civil society organisations working to ensure conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding all over Nigeria. Some are here represented in a table below:

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Figure 1: Some civil society organisations working on ensuring peace and security in Nigeria (Author’s compilation)

There are several other non-governmental organisations that also play a significant role in conflict prevention, mediation and resolution especially in rural areas. John Forest gave a list of some of these community organisations in a tabular form:

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Figure 2: Examples of Community Organisations in Nigeria

In conflict resolution, NGOs in Nigeria have embarked on problem solving workshops and seminars aimed at addressing internal conflicts like religious crises in Kano and Kaduna States, Bauchi and Plateau States. In the February – May 2002 Sharia mayhem in Kaduna State, Nigeria, civil society organisations such as SEMA, Inter-faith Mediation Centres (IMC) organised conflict management workshops and worked hard to return peace back to the state.

Similarly, indigenious philanthropists have been very supportive in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency or other security crisis in Nigeria. West Africa is home to a number of wealthy individuals including Africa’s wealthiest man, Nigeria Aliko Dangote. Dangote have been involved in a lot of donations to charities, foundations and governments and recently made the single largest donation of about 2 billion naira to persons who have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State, Nigeria. Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, the Chairman of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Limited, built and donated an IVM G 12 series, a special purpose range of off-road light trucks for the use of the military in the war against Boko Haram. In the Niger Delta, a number of foundations/trusts which represents formal philanthropy model as well as office of First Ladies have been giving to help people affected in conflicts and in other areas.

Nigeria is also home to several wealthy individuals. In fact, the 2014 New World Wealth report indicated that Nigeria has 200 Ultra-High –Net-Worth individuals, 50 centa-millionaires and four billionaires. Eleven of the High Net Work Individuals (HNWIs) appeared in the Forbes “Africa’s 40 Richest People” in 2012 were Nigerian. When the former president of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan launched the Victims Support Fund, an initiative established to help victims of war as a result of the Boko Hara insurgency, although an initial N50 billion was set; the philanthropists invited for the fundraising donated in excess of N8.5 billion, totaling N58.5 billion.

But indigenious philanthropy is not limited to HNNWs; it also involves communal, corporate, religious and foreign donations. Since philanthropy is not only the giving of money, several people, gave out foods, cloths, relief materials, and so on to Internally displaced persons (IDPs), in the wake and aftermath of Boko Haram attacks.

Case Studies: Applying the Framework

The role of civil society in conflict situations is significant and here we would look at two or three interventions from civil society groups in Africa and how effective they were. In Rwanda, churches have worked to construct a viable and hospitable post-conflict environment through humanitarian intervention during and after the Rwanda genocide. They were also centrally involved in promoting integration. In Burundi, women’s groups participated in the reintegration of former combatants in Burundi and spoke against gender based violence. The Burundi’s Women Refugee Network and The coalition of Women’s Organisations and NGO’s are shining examples of civil society groups that worked to effect this change. In Uganda, civil society organisations were at the forefront of exposing human rights violations and advocating for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the North. Through their lobbying, government offered amnesty to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leaders in 1998 and 1999.


In spite of the tremendous role civil society groups have played in peacebuilding in Nigeria, their activities are hampered by a number of factors. First, civil society membership is still elitist in Nigeria, making it a business for only the educated and privileged member of the society. Although the Nigerian Constitution guarantees freedom of association, assembly and movement, the requirements for registration of CSOs in Nigeria is still very stringent for the poor and the illiterate making it impossible for interested but underprivileged member of the society interested in peacebuilding to contribute their quota especially in the rural areas in Nigeria where peace has been elusive in recent times. For instance, the requirements for the registration of a CSO include paying various fees to the Corporate Affairs Commission charged with CSOs registration and hiring a lawyer.

Second, while the civil society can be an agent of peace and stability; they can also be a destructive force. Intellectuals, traditional authorities and religious leaders may provide the rationale and moral justification for violence; civic associations and political parties may mobilise their members for war effort.

Furthermore, civil society organisations in Nigeria are often faced with lack of capacity in terms of knowledge, skills and methods of advocacy and mediation. Also, many have seen the role of CSO’s in many quarters have been seen as irrelevant by some or a threat to the sovereign prerogative of states.

Another observation is that many of the best hands in the civil society groups, once they become popular through advocacy and fight for human rights; they joined politics and often left the organisations in the hands of people who were neither interested or lack the capacity to take the organisations further. And, these actors in politics become disinterested afterwards in making effective representations on behalf of the poor people and victims of conflicts and wars.

Moreover, corruptions, personal aggrandizement, lack of funding, lack of geographical spread, lack of administrative capacity, all are hindrances to the workings of civil society organisations in Nigeria.


The civil society in Nigeria played a key role in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence and in the return of the country back to democracy and disengagement from military rule. Important civil societies during these periods, Campaign for Democracy (CD), National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), etc. played significant role in this process. This can be replicated today in Nigeria to arrest the ugly trend of conflict and violence in the polity. However, some far reaching steps need to be taken to position them civil society as the effective ‘third sector’ in Nigeria and to strategically galvanize them to make more effective contributions to peacebuilding in Nigeria.

First, the leadership in Nigeria must ensure good governance, respect for rule of law and equality before the law. Poverty, injustice and discrimination are some of the causes of conflict in Nigeria. Civil society organisations and philanthropists are better organised under a peaceful, just and equitable atmosphere. Threat to security is a threat to the workings and functioning of civil society organisations.

Second, an association of civil society organisations whose major mandates were in peacebuilding, conflict management and advocacy can be formed wholly and principally to deal with issues of violent extremism and conflictual situations in the society. They can pool resources and manpower together to make them more effective. For instance, the West Africa Civil Society Forum was formed to bring all civil society organisations under one umbrella; this can be done in Nigeria but only for organisations and philanthropists interested in peacebuilding.

Third, the requirements for the registration of a civil society organisation should be made simpler and could be digitalized. Registrations could be done online and technology deplored to increase citizens participation in civil society organisations and functions. Membership to civil society must accommodate the poor and the illiterate who are passionate about peace and conflict management. Although created for non-profit purpose, civil society organisations must be properly monitored in a way to checkmate corruption and ineptitude as well as determine when they are security risk. The social media can be used in a way to address threat to peace and security.

In the same vein, the diaspora (and Nigeria has a lot of citizens outside her shores) should be mobilised through effective data capturing through Nigerian embassies worldwide for philanthropic gestures. This is a strategy the government should seriously consider to shore up funds that can be used to rebuild the North East in particular and other parts of the country destroyed by insurgents and militants. Giving in the society especially for peacebuilding purposes should be encouraged more by the government and other sectors of the society through recognition of donors and having a sort of ‘bonus’ such as tax holiday for donors properly catered for in the corporate social responsibility law.

The Imperativeness of Good Governance

A cursory look at the various conflicts in Nigeria today reveals an ugly trend which could be disastrous for the country if not tamed and this essentially is the lack of good governance. Every section of the Nigerian society is so corrupt and badly governed such that executive recklessness and gross mismanagement has become the order of the day. Promoting development, reducing poverty, strengthening national institutions and good governances practices are essential traits which the country must imbibe to move forward. The tendency whereby some portions of the Nigerian society are seen as the minorities and thus, their welfare are not catered for should be a thing of the past. This particularly was the remote cause of the Niger Delta imbroglio. Poverty and illiteracy is so pervasive in the North especially such that insurgency cannot but be easily spread among them. Good governance involves the strengthening of the institutions, the elevation of rule of law, enforcement of law, and respect for the constitution.


In all, to fully reaped the benefit of civil society and good governance in Nigeria requires the government, citizens – young and old, especially youths and women to be alive to their responsibilities and ensure that Nigeria moved from being a ‘pariah’ in Global Peace Index and moved to a safe, strong and united nation. Success requires the full participation of every section of the Nigerian state and active inclusiveness of the people.


• To address security challenges, Nigeria’s leadership must ensure good governance, respect for rule of law, and equality before the law.
• A coalition of civil society organizations with relevant stakeholders in peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and advocacy might be formed to combat the threats of violent extremism and conflict.
• The government is encouraged to reach out to international, and local humanitarian organizations to secure funds for the rehabilitation of the North East, as well as other sections of the country that have been devastated.

About the Author(s):

Adedeji Ademola – is a PhD student at the department of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He can be reached via

Source: Grin

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