As Africa’s most populous country, largest economy, and biggest democracy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent. National and state elections in 2019 were deeply competitive, with scattered instances of violence amid a mostly peaceful process. However, historically low voter turnout signals a deepening distrust in government and institutions. Overall, Nigeria has made major strides in its democratic development, but still has significant work to do in improving national, state, and local governance.


Nigeria’s federal system gives governors great responsibilities in addressing the issues that are driving conflict and the Boko Haram insurgency. USIP brings together state governors and civic leaders to design and implement inclusive policies that mitigate violence and strengthen community-oriented security. The Institute engages a variety of influential figures, empowers citizens, and uses its expertise and convening power to inform Nigeria policy in the U.S., the region, and around the world. Recent work includes:

Nigeria Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance

The Working Group fosters relationships between citizens, governors, and national and international figures to ensure a diverse array of voices impact decision-making processes. These relationships allow the Working Group to turn expert analysis—such as a recent Special Report that examines changes in political and conflict conditions since 2015—into tangible, actionable recommendations. The analysis from our recent Special Report informed key stakeholders’ strategies for preventing violence throughout the 2019 election season.

Strengthening Local Security

USIP’s Justice and Security Dialogue project in Nigeria improves local, state, and national-level institutions’ ability to manage local conflict through supporting dialogues and activities that bring security and justice providers together with communities impacted by violence. The approach promotes mutual understanding, knowledge-sharing, and trust among participants, and results in better informed decision-makers, more effective and accountable security forces, and citizens who are active in the safety of their own community.

Network of Nigerian Facilitators

Community facilitators trained by USIP are holding dialogues in six states throughout the country. Dialogues focused on preventing election-related violence—including during the post-election transition period—as well as strengthening community-security relationships and other conflicts that facilitators identify as having the potential to lead to violence.

Working with State Governments and Peacebuilding Institutions

USIP helps governors and state peacebuilding institutions leverage their influence and networks to establish inclusive, cooperative strategies that prevent and resolve violent conflict, ensure policies focus on citizens’ needs, and stem the potential for electoral violence as well as play meaningful roles in the transition process.

Civilian-led Security and Governance

USIP conducted research on the transition to civilian-led security and governance in northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin in the aftermath of the Boko Haram insurgency. USIP experts suggested replacing military forces with police officers—increasing both the size and capacity of the police as part of the process—and creating a formal interagency cooperation mechanism dedicated to community stabilization. In 2019, USIP will convene newly elected and re-elected politicians to discuss the findings and incorporate the recommendations in their security plans.

Researching Community Resilience to Violence

With USIP’s support, the Centre for Information Technology and Development examined the factors that make certain communities in northeast Nigeria more resistant to violence. The research showed that resilience thrives when there is a robust community platform for active citizen participation and democratic decision-making.

Convening Power

  • In 2015, USIP hosted President Muhammadu Buhari in his first visit to the U.S. after his election. During his address, he stressed zero tolerance for corruption and pledged to restore trust in the country’s governance.
  • Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke at USIP just weeks after that historic 2015 election, discussing Africa’s potential to overcome its leadership challenges.
  • USIP hosted 11 state governors in 2016 for a symposium on developing inclusive strategies to address the drivers of violent extremism in Nigeria.
  • In 2017, USIP brought together a gathering of eminent Nigerian civic leaders in Washington, D.C. for discussions with U.S. policymakers, including former Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon, about the prospects for durable peace in Nigeria and the broader Lake Chad Basin area.
  • USIP convenes government officials, stakeholders, and organizations in both Washington and Nigeria to develop insights and collaborate on projects such as the premiere of “Boko Haram: Journey From Evil,” a documentary on resilience and hope in northeast Nigeria as the region faced the insurgency.

Related Publications

As Africa Battles Sexual Violence, a Nigerian City Shows How

As Africa Battles Sexual Violence, a Nigerian City Shows How

Thursday, August 8, 2019

By: Isioma Kemakolam

When civic leaders and officials in Jos, Nigeria, launched an initiative in 2017 to calm repeated bloodshed in the city, a series of dialogue forums with residents revealed a chilling pattern of hidden violence in their midst: sexual assault. Girls and women recounted rapes and attacks for which justice was impossible, often because authorities were unresponsive. The women faced a problem common to their sisters across Africa: national laws against sexual violence were having little effect on the ground. But the dialogues have wrought a change. In May, police in Jos opened the city’s first unit dedicated to investigating sexual and gender crimes.

Justice, Security & Rule of Law

Amid Rising Sahel Violence, Burkina Faso Builds a Response

Amid Rising Sahel Violence, Burkina Faso Builds a Response

Thursday, May 16, 2019

By: James Rupert

A perfect storm of violence is breaking upon Africa’s Sahel. Since late 2018, communal conflicts—many over access to food, water or productive land—have produced thousands of deadly attacks. Across the region, nearly 4,800 people died in conflicts from November to March, according to the violence-monitoring group ACLED. The greatest surge in bloodshed is in Burkina Faso, where communal militias or religious extremists killed 500 people over five months. But amid the dire headlines, governments and civic groups in Burkina Faso and other Sahel countries cite progress in stabilizing communities with a basic step that simply has seldom been undertaken: broad, local dialogues among community groups, police forces and officials. Community leaders and government officials say they are now expanding those dialogues to improve national security policies to help counter the tide of violence.

Fragility & Resilience; Justice, Security & Rule of Law

Nigerians Head to the Polls Again for State Elections

Nigerians Head to the Polls Again for State Elections

Thursday, March 7, 2019

By: Aly Verjee; Chris Kwaja

On March 9, Nigerians return to the polls to elect governors and state legislators. The balloting follows the presidential elections held February 23, which saw the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected for another four-year term. USIP’s Chris Kwaja and Aly Verjee discuss how Buhari’s victory may impact the state elections, Nigerians’ seeming disenchantment with voting, and how to avert potential violence.

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence

What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s 2019 Elections?

What’s at Stake in Nigeria’s 2019 Elections?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

By: Oge Onubogu ; Chris Kwaja; Aly Verjee

On Saturday, over 84 million eligible Nigerian voters are set to go to the polls to elect their next president and members of the National Assembly, with state-level elections to be held on March 2. Among the 73 presidential candidates, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are the top two contenders. As Africa’s most populous country with its biggest economy and democracy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent and these elections will be widely watched by the region and international community. USIP’s Oge Onubogu, Chris Kwaja and Aly Verjee look at why these elections matter, security challenges surrounding the polls, and how the U.S. can support Nigeria beyond the elections.

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence

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