The Resilience of Nigerians, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Over the past two days, the Centre for Information Technology and Development, CITAD, has been organising a national conference on community resilience to the Boko Haram insurgency. The conference is considering the results of a research project conducted in the issue. Two things stand out. The thirteen states of the North East and North West zones of Nigeria have experienced a murderous and devastating insurgency by Boko Haram since 2009. The insurgency has not only dislocated social and economic activities in many of these states but also resulted in at least 20,000 deaths, the enslavement of thousands of girls and women, the forced conscription of thousands of boys and young men into the insurgency and the flight of at least 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The humanitarian costs of this conflict are tremendous not only to Nigeria but also to the three neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroun.

The second thing that stands out is the remarkable capacity of the people to develop resilience and move on with their lives in spite of adversity. Community resilience is the capacity of communities to adapt when faced with hazards or shocks by taking the required actions to maintain an acceptable level of function and structure. What the research shows is that resilient communities have robust social networks and systems that support recovery after adversity. Communities affected by the insurgency have shown a remarkable capacity to absorb and adapt or recover from the effects of the calamity they find themselves in.


The research results show that resiliency is present in all communities. This means that no community can be said to have no resilience. However community resilience can be dormant and often has to be activated. Equally important is the fact that community resilience can be either enhanced or be inhibited. The study covered seventeen different communities spread in six States in the North East and North West. These communities include cities, towns and quarters thereof, settlements of internally displaced persons and educational institutions. These communities presented different responses to the Boko Haram insurgency. A mapping of the communities revealed that some have strong resilience while others were moderate or weak.

The study shows that the key variable in determining the resilience of communities was what we call community competence. Community strength grows when effective organisations exist and networks of action develop. Some communities have effective leadership that work with community members to analyse problems and seek solutions while in other communities their leaders run off to capital cities and there is no one to organise resistance or to build resilience that is latent in all societies. The most important cause of low community competence is the lack of social cohesion. When a section of the community feels excluded, there is a breakdown of trust and it becomes difficult to work together to improve the life of the community. It is the lack of social cohesion that makes some community members to align with a third force to undermine the rest of the community. In this way, the collective resilience of the community as a whole is undermined. The experience of both Bama in Borno State, where the ‘settler’ felt excluded, and in Mubi, where Christians felt a sense of isolation, illustrates this, as, in both cases, the insurgents easily overran the communities and rebuilding has been difficult.

The research also shows that communities that are inclusive in their social and economic activities tend to cohere better than those that manifest exclusion. For example, although both Gombi and Biu, two of the most highly resilient communities with respect to the Boko Haram insurgency, are multi-ethnic and multi-religious, both were able to sustain stakeholder consultative processes that allowed all to be part of the security management of the community, which made it difficult for the insurgents to operate in these communities.

The research also looked at the gender dimensions of resilience and the evidence that was produced show that women are the most vulnerable group within communities in the North East. Women, we found, suffered proportionally more than men from the insurgency and had to work incredibly hard to bounce back to normality. In terms of the conflict, very many of them are victims of sexual violence, transactional sex, forced marriage and even slavery. In spite of these, they have huge responsibilities for childcare and sustaining the family. Resilience in practice relies so much on what women do to ensure that their families survive and progress. It is worthy of note however that the research also draws attention to the edifying stories of some women who play a key role as liberation fighters battling to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency and protect their communities from attack. Some of these heroines are only now emerging as the actors who give meaning to the term resilience.

We found out that in general, mass unemployment creates a pool of disaffected people in the community. Without social security support, these disaffected people are left on their own, while the better section of the community carries on. The result is that this disaffected group becomes a recruiting ground for discontents. The rise and growth of the Boko Haram insurgency in particular demonstrate this very aptly. Boko Haram capitalised on this and drew many unemployed people to its ranks through economic programming that provided support and means of livelihood for unemployed youth.

A credible and accepted leadership is another boost to community resilience. It is able to mobilise the energy and endowments of the community to confront the danger it faces. On the other hand, members of the community are willing to be mobilised because they have trust in the leadership. This is what the situation in Gombi and even in Maiduguri where the community leaders gave tacit support for the CJTF. This is also illustrative of the experience in Ningi, Bauchi State where the local leadership was at the head of communal mobilization.

Trust is another critical factor in the maintenance of community cohesion. The history of the insurgency shows that at the beginning when the insurgents targeted police and other security personnel, because there was no trust between the police and the communities, some members of the communities were jubilation and not willing to provide information to the law enforcement agencies. By the time the insurgents moved to also include ordinary citizens as their targets, it became impossible for even members of some of the communities to trust each other. The police then treated virtually every member of the perceived hostile communities as a suspect and the result was that many innocent people were killed. This lack of trust was most obvious in Potiskum and Damaturu, both in Yobe State where security used excessive force against civilians. The consequence was that it was not possible to replicate the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) model.

The key to preparedness is the ability of a community to anticipate adversity. This ability to anticipate danger is made possible through the early capture and analysis of information that can allow the community to evaluate the possibility or otherwise of a grave situation occurring. The research shows that communities that were able to bounce back or resisted the Boko Haram take over deployed various mechanisms for information gathering. These included the use of sentries and the interrogation of visitors to ascertain who they were and what their missions were, etc.  These were also deployed in educational institutions in Jigawa State, for example, where virtually no attack was recorded unlike in Yobe and Kano States where educational institutions were serially attacked.

Community resilience prospers when there is inclusivity and a robust community platform for active citizen participation and democratic decision-making. The absence of such platform in many communities led to their quick and brutal destruction by Boko Haram.

The policy of Community Policing has been adopted nearly a decade ago, but is yet to be vigorously implemented. In the present circumstance where the security agencies are overstretched, this is the time to make the implementation of community policing a most urgent national priority.Rather than duplicating security agencies or even licensing informal community security groups (known as vigilantes and hunters’ Associations), budgetary support needs to be provided for the Nigeria Police Force to commence implementing the community policing policy. Thousands of traditional rulers and religious leaders are ready partners for the policy.

Boko Haram exploited the existence of ungoverned spaces in our communities to incubate and cultivate its extremist religious ideology, because Local government was too far away from the problem, local elites were too unconcerned or complicit to intervene and local police officials were too intimidated by religious authority to challenge them. The country, the North East region and its citizens have paid dearly for these levels of neglect and lack of care. Were it not for the resilience of the people, the story would have been worse than the bad situation we have been enduring.