Constraints and Complexities of Information and Analysis in Humanitarian Emergencies: Evidence from Nigeria


Since the mid-2000s, an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the three northeastern states of Nigeria has spread to the greater Lake Chad basin. The Boko Haram conflict turned into a major security problem that led to widespread displacement and a major humanitarian catastrophe. UNOCHA estimates that more than 20,0000 people have been killed, 1.6 million are internally displaces, and 200,000 are living as refugees in neighboring countries.

Nigeria uses the Cadre Harmonisé to identify and classify the severity of food security situations. This report examines this system to better understand the technical and political constraints to analyzing famines and extreme emergencies.

This report was jointly written by researchers from the Feinstein International Center and the Centre for Humanitarian Change in Nairobi.

Read the briefing paper here.

1. Brief introduction to Nigeria

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with more than 190 million residents. It is diverse in language, ethnicity, and religion. Though English is the official national language, Hausa and Fulani are spoken widely in the northeast; Yoruba, Igbo, and other languages are spoken elsewhere. The country is almost evenly split between Islam (50 percent) and Christianity (40 percent). The north is predominantly Muslim while the south is predominantly Christian, though this common disaggregation obscures complex ethnic, linguistic, and class unions and divisions throughout the country (Ogunlesi, 2015). The population is young: 42.5 percent of residents are under the age of 15 and 19.61 percent are aged 15–24 years.

Of these youth, approximately 7.7 percent are unemployed; the total unemployment rate is 13.9 percent.

With 5.07 children born per woman, Nigeria has the thirteenth highest fertility rate in the world. The oil and gas sector contributes approximately 35 percent of the country’s GDP, and petroleum accounts for 90 percent of exports (OPEC, 2017). The GDP per capita in 2016 was $5,900, though recent growth rates show a decline of 1.5 percent due to decreased oil prices. Some 70 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2010 (OPEC, 2017).

The country is divided into 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). States are grouped into six zones and each state is subdivided into three senatorial zones and further into local government areas (LGAs), which are further subdivided into districts, wards, and villages. The zone of northeast Nigeria consists of six states: Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe (see map in Section 6). The latter three are nestled into the far northeast corner of the country. Yobe (capital: Damaturu) borders Niger to the north. Adamawa (capital: Yola) borders Cameroon to the east. Borno (capital: Maiduguri) borders Niger to the northwest, Chad to the northeast, and Cameroon to the southeast.

The original Borno Empire stretched across several current countries. Borno was a trade hub and the center of Islamic knowledge in Nigeria. Northern Nigeria has long been one of the most neglected, marginalized areas in the country. This was at least partially a result of the colonization process, but issues were not addressed after independence.

Historically, the northeast and the northwest had the lowest social welfare indicators and high levels of inequality—both internally and vis-à-vis the rest of the country. These factors, among others, gave rise to the Boko Haram insurgency