As the summer continues, working with the Justice and Security Dialogue team has been an incredibly eye-opening experience into the world of international affairs and peacebuilding. JSD works in several African countries to facilitate trust between a community, its security sector, and government institutions. I am fascinated by all the information I am learning about the team’s ongoing operations in northeast Nigeria through the work I have been assigned.
Before starting my journey on understanding the northeast Nigerian security situation, I kicked off the summer by doing some research on Sierra Leone to aid my supervisor on a publication she was working on. The aim of this project was to determine how security sector performance could be strengthened to maintain order during public health emergencies in fragile states. A state’s security sector is made up of forces like the police or army, tasked with ensuring safety in the region. During the Ebola crisis, for example, the Sierra Leonean government’s regulations in response to the pandemic were met with a very negative reaction from the public, characterized by denial, rioting, and a refusal of services. This kind of response is indicative of public distrust in a state’s institutions and has major implications for the maintenance of future public health emergencies.
Through my research, I assessed the history of security sector reform in Sierra Leone as well as the public’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I found that ongoing security sector reform that centered civilian involvement or oversight was a factor that strengthened public trust in security forces. The Sierra Leonean government had also acted quickly in response to COVID-19, and while public compliance with this protocol was generally acceptable, the economic toll these regulations placed on society considerably increased tensions, oftentimes leading to moments of unrest.
I would soon learn that this theme of widespread public trust was key to the context of security in northeast Nigeria as well. I started my plunge into this region by sifting through dozens of transcribed interviews from focus group discussions involving different community members and leaders from the Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY) states of northeast Nigeria. I was tasked with summarizing key trends about these figures’ perception on peace in the area. I read about the hopes and fears they had for their communities. Corruption among security forces and government officials was a very pressing concern, and many participants worried about poverty, unemployment, and the younger generation.
During a time when insurgent activity has considerably affected this society, social cohesion is a crucial element to ensure safety and to influence public trust. And while there have been reports that the security situation has somewhat improved over the past three years, more systemic injustices (like poor governance) will take even longer to address.