This is a guest post by Emily Mellgard, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.
Over the past month, international policy makers have started to recognize the complex roots of the crisis, which the Nigerian government and media labels “Boko Haram.” Their new attention is due in large part to the kidnapping of some 270 girls from Chibok, Borno State, despite there having been a multitude of atrocities perpetrated by both Boko Haram and the security services since 2009.
There has been an escalation of the frequency and scale of attacks across the board since the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) began recording the violence. Boko Haram activity remains centered in Borno state where over ten thousand people have died in politically motivated violence since President Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration at the end of May 2011.
In April, the NST recorded fifty-seven incidents nationwide, resulting in 910 people killed. Three hundred and thirty of those were killed in the sixteen incidents involving Boko Haram, including the police officer and soldier who were shot during the abduction of the school girls. This Boko Haram violence accounts for 36 percent of the deaths in April. It is important to note that the kidnapping itself is not recorded as the NST tracks deaths only. Sectarian violence, which continues unabated largely under the radar despite the spotlight currently on Boko Haram, resulted in over 390 deaths in April, 44 percent of the month’s total death toll. There were only two incidents in April where the security services and Boko Haram clashed. The vast majority of the dead were killed in single perpetrator incidents.
The weekly incidents–as highlighted in the recent Atlantic article on the NST–drill down the data to show that during the week of May 3-8, the most deadly attack was again in Borno state where on May 5 Boko Haram members attacked a village and killed an estimated 336 people. In total, the NST weekly graphs show that Boko Haram has been solely responsible for the deaths of over 5,000 people between May 2011 and May 2014. The security forces have killed over 4,900 in the same period. In addition, during incidents where the two forces have fought each other, over 4,600 people have been killed in three years.
The total death toll for incidents involving only these two perpetrators is therefore over 14,500. Nationwide since the end of May 2011, the NST reports that 19,542 people have been killed. We caution that these numbers are based on the Nigerian media and official announcements. Credible human rights organizations tell us that these figures should be multiplied by a factor of four or five to accord with on-the-ground reality. However, even if the absolute numbers provided by the NST are almost certainly low, the trend lines illustrated by the NST are accurate.