Addressing the Paradox: Counterinsurgency, Human Rights and Women in Northeast Nigeria


  • David Ibukun Obafemi Awolowo University



insurgency, counterinsurgency, human rights, Norteast Nigeria, Boko Haram, women, national security


Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations often result in widespread human rights violations because COIN operations are usually premised on the erroneous assumption of irreconcilable tension between human rights and national security. By reviewing narratives that frame official discourse on counterinsurgency and human rights in Nigeria as well as locating women at the heart of the debate, this essay argues that assumption of incompatibility between human rights and national security can explain the widespread rights violations associated with COIN operations against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria. A gender-sensitive-right-based approach to COIN is therefore recommended.


ACAPS, 2017 "Northeast Nigeria Conflict: Secondary Data Review", viewed 10 April 2019, from:>files>files.

African Charter of Human and Peoples' Rights (1986).

ALMQVIST, J, 2005 Rethinking Security and Human Rights in the Struggle against Terrorism, Paper Presented at the ESIL Forum in the Workshop on 'Human Rights under Threat' on 27 May 2005.

Amnesty International, (2017) Nigeria 2016/2017, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

Amnesty International, 24 May 2018 They betrayed us: women who Survived Boko Haram Raped, Starved and Detained in Nigeria, Amnesty International, London.

Amnesty International, March 2018 Nigeria: Still no Accountability for Human Rights Violations, Amnesty International Submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review, 31st Session of the UPR Working Group, November 2018.

Amnesty International, 14 April 2015, Nigeria: abducted women and girls forced to join Boko Haram attacks, viewed 10 April 2019, from:

ANDERLINI, SN, 2006 Mainstreaming Gender in Conflict Analysis: issues and Recommendations, Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit of the World Bank, Washington DC, Working Paper No. 33.

BLANCHARD, LP & CAVIGELLI, KT, 2018 Boko Haram and the Islamic State's West Africa Province, Congressional Reserve Service, In Focus.

BOUTA, T, FRERKS, G & BANNON, I, 2005 Gender, Conflict and Development, The World Bank, Washington DC.

BUCHANAN-CLARKE, S & KNOOPE, P, 2017 The Boko Haram insurgency: from Short Term Gains to Long Term Solutions, IJR, . Virginia, USA, Occasional Paper 23.

BURKE-WHITE, WW, 2004 Human Rights and National Security: the Strategic Correlation, Harvard Human Rights Journal, vol. 17, pp. 249-80.

BUVINIC, M, DAS GUPTA, M, CASABONNE, U & VERWIMP, P, 2012 Violent Conflict and Gender Inequality: an Overview, Households in Conflict Network (HiCN), Brighton, UK, Working Paper 129.

CARAMES, A (ed.) & FERNANDEZ, J, 2017 Without rights there is not security: human rights violations in the Euro-Mediterranean region as a consequence of anti-terrorist legislations. NOVACT.

CLOTTEY, P, 2015 Nigerian Military Rejects International Report: interview with Major General Chris Olukolade, spokesman for Nigeria military, 3 June 2015, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

DATE-BAH, E & WALSH, M. et. al. 2001 Gender and Armed Conflicts: Challenges for Decent Work, Gender Equity and Peace Building Agendas, ILO, Geneva, Working Paper 2. viewed 10 April 2019, from:

DHQ, 23 Feb. 2018 Re: Amnesty International Annual Report on Alleged Human Rights Abuse by the Nigerian Military, 23 February viewed 20 April 2020, from:

HANSEN, W, 2020 The ugly face of the state: Nigerian security forces, human rights and the search for Boko Haram, Canadian Journal of African Studies/Revue canadienne des études africaines. .

HARDERS, C, 2011 Gender Relations, Violence and Conflict Transformation. Berghof Foundation, Berlin, Germany.

HRW, 22 December 2015 Nigeria Army attack on Shia unjustified, viewed 15 October 2020, from:

HRW, 2016 Nigeria: officials Abusing Displaced Women, Girls: displaced by Boko Haram and Victims Twice Over, 31 October, viewed 10 April 2019, from:

IBRAHIM, M, August 2015 Counter-Insurgency: is human rights a distraction or sine qua non? Paper presented at the 55th session of the Nigerian Bar Association conference, Amnesty International Nigeria, 25 August, viewed 20 April, from:>pdfid.

LADBURY, S, ALAMIN, H, NAGARAJAN, C, FRANCIS, P & UKIWO, U, 2016 Jihadi groups and state-building: the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Stability: International Journal of Security & Development, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-19, .

LAVER, M, BENOIT, K, & GARRY, J, 2003 Extracting policy positions from political texts using words as data, American Political Science Review, vol. 97, pp. 311-331.

LOBER, J, 2008 'Constructing Gender: the Dancer and the Dance' in JA Holstein and JF Gubrium (eds.), Handbook of Constructionist Research, Guilford Press, New York, pp. 531-44.

LOIMEIER, R, 2012 'Boko Haram: the Development of a Militant Religious Movement', Africa Spectrum, vol. 47, pp. 137-155.

MONGUNO, AK & UMARA, I, 2014 Why Borno? History, geography and society in Islamic radicalization, NSRP Project on Radicalization, Counter-Radicalization and De-radicalization in northern Nigeria, Abuja.

MONNET, J & BIGO, D, 2018 Anti- & Counterterrorism and Human Rights in Europe: 5 Snapshots of Current Controversies, Queen Mary University School of Law, London.

National IDP Policy 2012 National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) in Nigeria.

NOSSITER, A, 2015 Abuses by Nigeria's Military Found to Be Rampant in War Against Boko Haram, The New York Times, 3 June, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

NSS 2019 National Security Strategy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

ODOMOVO, AS, 2014 'Insurgency, counter-insurgency and human rights violations', The Age of Human Rights Journal, vol. 3, pp. 46-62.

OHCHR, 2008 Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Fact Sheet No. 32.

OLONISAKIN, A, 2015 Counterinsurgency: Is the Quest for Human Rights a Distraction or Sine Qua Non?, viewed 20 April 2020, from:>.

PCVE 2017 Federal Republic of Nigeria Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

PLUMPER, T & Neumayer, E, 2006 'The unequal burden of war: The effect of armed conflict on the gender gap life expectancy', International Organization, Summer, pp. 723-54.

PREZELJ, I, 2015 'Relationship between security and human rights in counter-terrorism: a case of introducing body scanners in civil aviation', International Studies Interdisciplinary Political and Cultural Journal, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 145-158.

Premium Times, 8 March 2018, Amnesty International Report: Nigerian Army sets up committee to investigate rights violations, viewed 15 October 2020, from:

REHN, E & Sirleaf, EJ, 2002 Women, War and Peace: The Independent Expert's Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women's Role in Peace-Building, UNIFEM, New York.

Reliefweb, 29 April 2019 Nigeria: Children and women face sexual violence in Borno prisons, viewed 15 October 2020, from:

SCHINDLER, K, 2010 Who Does What in a Household after Genocide? Evidence from Rwanda, DIW, Berlin, Discussion Papers 1072.

Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act, 2013 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Buhari Plan 2016 for Rebuilding the North East.

The Maputo Protocol 2003 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

The Voice of Nigeria, 22 Nov 2018 Human Rights Violations Suits Against Nigerian Army Meant to Distract Her Constitutional Role… Buratai, viewed 15 October 2020, from:

Thurston, A, January 2016 The disease is unbelief: Boko Haram's religious and political worldview, The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World, Washington DC, Analysis Paper No. 22.

UNDP, 2017 Case Study: Famine Response and Prevention in North-East Nigeria, United Nations Development Program, New York.

UNHCR, 2017 Nigeria 2017 Regional Response Plan, January-February, viewed 10 April 2019, from:

United Nations, 2006 United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Resolution 60/288 adopted by the General Assembly at the 60th Session on 8 September, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

United Nations, 2008 Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, New York, Factsheet No.32,. viewed 20 April 2020, from:

United Nations (2011). Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism at the 66th Session of the General Assembly, New York, 20 October. Retrieved April 20, 2020 from:

United Nations, 2013 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, presented at the 68th Session of the General Assembly, 18 September, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

US Department of State, 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, viewed 20 April 2020, from:

VAN KEMPEN, PH, 2013 'Four Concepts of Security: A Human Rights Perspective', Human Rights Law Review, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 1-23.

WALKER, A, 2012 What is Boko Haram? United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC, Special Report.

WARBRICK, C, 2004 'The European Response to Terrorism in an Age of Human Rights', The European Journal of International Law, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 989-1018.

World Bank, 2011 World Development Report 2011: Conflict, Security and Development, The World Bank, Washington DC.



How to Cite

Ibukun, D. (2020). Addressing the Paradox: Counterinsurgency, Human Rights and Women in Northeast Nigeria. The Age of Human Rights Journal, (15), 203–223.