What's In Blue

Briefing and Consultations on Boko Haram

On Monday (30 March), the Council will have a briefing followed by consultations on Boko Haram, covering the impact of the group on the security, political and humanitarian situations in Nigeria and the region. Special Representative Mohammed Ibn Chambas of the UN Office for West Africa or Department of Political Affairs Assistant-Secretary General Tayé-Brook Zerihoun will brief. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Assistant-Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang is also expected to brief. No outcome is expected but the briefing comes as the Council continues negotiations on a draft resolution on the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) that is being formed to combat Boko Haram by the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and the AU.

The US requested the briefing on Tuesday night. It seems that in making the request, the US noted that, as the Council is negotiating a draft resolution on the MNJTF, it would be useful to have a briefing on the situation before adopting it.

The briefing from Chambas or Zerihoun will likely update Council members on the efforts of the LCBC states and the AU to combat Boko Haram. The intervention of forces from Chad as well as Niger in northeast Nigeria over the past two months has led to the retaking of a number of towns that Boko Haram had seized beginning in mid-2014, and a series of victories against the group, reversing its previous momentum. Intensified efforts since January by the LCBC countries (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria), Benin, and the AU have resulted in progress in the formation of the MNJTF—including the finalisation of the MNJTF’s strategic concept of operations (CONOPS) (S/2015/198), and the AU Peace and Security Council’s 29 January decision to authorise the force and its 3 March decision endorsing the CONOPS, while increasing its authorised troop strength from 7,500 to 10,000 personnel.

In particular, following some of the questions that have been raised during negotiations on the current draft resolution, members may be interested in gaining greater clarity on the status of the MNJTF’s operationalisation, and the relationship of Chad and Niger’s forces currently active in Nigeria with the MNJTF. There appears to be some confusion among members over whether these units are operating as part of the MNJTF or through separate arrangements with Nigeria.

With Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary elections set to take place tomorrow (28 March), either Chambas or Zerihoun may update Council members on the ability of those in conflict-affected areas and of internally displaced people (IDPs) to participate in the elections. The elections were already postponed from their originally scheduled date of 14 February, according to Nigerian authorities, because they could not guarantee the security of polls in the northeast. There has also been concern that the disenfranchisement of a large number of citizens from Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states could lead to a lack of acceptance of the results. More broadly, there has been concern that the closely contested presidential race between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and challenger Muhammadu Buhari could lead to violence among their supporters on election-day or over the results. The meeting on Monday could therefore also be an opportunity to update the Council on any significant incidents or disputes, if any arise over the weekend, regarding the polls.

Regarding the humanitarian situation as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, according to the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) public figures from 16 March, there are 1,188,018 IDPs in northeast Nigeria and a total of 47,276 IDPs in Nigeria’s North Central States. Additionally, there are approximately 200,000 refugees and returnees, received by Cameroon (74,000), Chad (18,000) and Niger (more than 100,000). Reports on figures vary, however, with some estimates putting the numbers of refugees and IDPs higher. The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, launched by OCHA on 28 February, seeks $100 million. More recently, on 15 March, OCHA chief Valerie Amos announced a regional allocation of $28 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to address humanitarian needs related to the Boko Haram conflict, which will be dispersed to relief agencies operating in Nigeria ($10 million), Cameroon ($7 million), Niger ($7 million) and Chad ($4 million).

In addition to these issues, during the meeting, members may stress the importance of the MNJTF and security forces fighting Boko Haram to conduct their operations in compliance with human rights law, a concern a number of members have based on reports, in particular over the past year, of human rights violations by security forces in combating the group. Some members are also likely to stress the importance of a holistic approach to defeating Boko Haram. In this regard, they are likely to suggest an approach that not only involves a military response but also addresses problems that fuel radicalisation and support for extremist groups such as poor governance, lack of economic and education opportunities, and addressing the long standing feelings of marginalisation of Nigeria’s northeast. Council members such as Chad, Nigeria and the P3 that are involved in either the operations against Boko Haram or in providing bilateral support may use the session to further inform the Council on their activities.

Regarding the draft resolution, a text was circulated on 17 March by Chad on behalf of the three African Council members and LCBC member states. Since 18 March, there have been four expert level meetings. In addition, following an impasse over whether the resolution should be under Chapter VII, the Council discussed the draft under “any other business” (AOB) yesterday (26 March). Divisions emerged earlier in the week among the African countries on this issue with Nigeria no longer supporting a Chapter VII text, which Chad strongly favours. (While a Chapter VI resolution can be binding, pursuant to Article 25 of the UN Charter, which states that “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter”, only a Chapter VII resolution can specifically authorise force.)

Following the AOB meeting yesterday, it was decided that further negotiations will need to be done at a higher level, such as among permanent representatives or deputy permanent representatives. Despite initial reluctance expressed by some members on the appropriateness of a Chapter VII resolution since the MNJTF already has a legal basis to conduct its operations based on the host country’s consent and the decisions of the AU, it seemed that members had after their first meeting reached agreement to pursue a Chapter VII draft text in line with the preferences of the African members. Now that Nigeria has changed its position, members are waiting for the three African Council members to develop a consensus position. It seems that some members have noted that due to the primary role of Nigeria in addressing the conflict, it would be difficult for them to support a Chapter VII resolution if Nigeria is against it.

Other issues that still need to be worked out include how the Council should express its support for the mandate of the MNJTF (largely contingent on whether this will be a Chapter VII text or not), the MNJTF’s funding and reporting requirements to the Council.

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