Boko Haram in Nigeria (UNSC)

Educator Overview

Case Overview

Set in February, 2017. The Radical Islamist movement Boko Haram is waging an insurgency in northeast Nigeria estimated to have killed at least twenty thousand people in recent years. The insurgency threatens the stability of Nigeria, a major oil producer and Africa’s most populous country. Nigerian security forces have made some progress against Boko Haram, but humanitarian and media organizations have reported extensive human rights abuses by these forces, including the killing of civilians. The UN secretary-general has called a meeting of the UN Security Council to address the unrest in Nigeria, with regard to both the presence of Boko Haram and the human rights violations committed by the Nigerian armed forces. The response will entail balancing a variety of considerations, including Nigeria’s role as a regional power and major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces, the threat posed by Boko Haram’s insurgency, and the significant violations of human rights committed by Nigerian forces.

Decision Point

Reports have recently emerged from Northeast Nigeria of a suicide bombing by Boko Haram This bombing has killed at least 50 people and wounded many others. The attack has inflamed popular criticism of President Buhari, who was elected on a promise to restore security by destroying Boko Haram. It has prompted several neighboring governments, alongside those with prominent economic ties with Nigeria, to express concern that Nigeria appears unable to contain the crisis.

The UN Secretary-General has called a meeting of the UN Security Council. The hope is to address the unrest in Nigeria, with regard to both the presence of Boko Haram and the human rights violations committed by Nigerian armed forces. Nigeria is a regional power and major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces. On the other hand, it is a fragile state facing a serious insurgency.  Likewise, its forces are widely deemed responsible for significant violations of human rights. As they address the situation in Nigeria, member states will need to weigh the desire for a timely response to a crisis against the need to secure support from as many council members as possible, especially permanent members.

Learning Goals

CFR Education simulations use a variety of pedagogical tools to create an effective, meaningful, and memorable learning experience for students that builds their global literacy. Students will develop crucial skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Students will complete authentic assessments that feel relevant: instead of five-paragraph essays and book reports, students will write policy memos and participate in a role-play of a meeting of a foreign policy–making body. There are no right or wrong answers in actual policy deliberations, and there are none here, either; students will walk away from this experience with an appreciation for the complexity of policy questions.

In this simulation, students will learn about the UN Security Council, as well as meeting these learning outcomes specific to this simulation:

  • Students will understand the threat Boko Haram poses to Nigeria, the surrounding region, and international peace and security.
  • Students will consider how the UN Security Council should support the fight against Boko Haram while safeguarding civilians from human rights violations perpetrated by Nigerian forces.
  • Students will evaluate options available for the UN Security Council to address the present situation in Nigeria.


Concepts and Issues



  • Nigerian political and religious dynamics 
  • Promotion of human rights, democratization, and the rule of law
  • Regional security in West Africa

Policy Options: Educator's Guide

This section presents context, potential benefits and drawbacks, and other information about the policy options outlined in the case that you may find helpful as you guide the role-play and assess students. 

Nigeria plays an important regional role, not just for its democratic governance but also because of Nigeria’s size, diversity, and potential to be a positive model for other African states. Democratic failure in Nigeria could be a setback to the development and maintenance of democratic norms that have facilitated increased diplomatic, economic, and security cooperation among many African countries. As the continent’s biggest oil producer, stability in Nigeria is important to both regional and international economic interests. The United Nations’ interests in Nigeria include supporting democratic governance and ensuring the government follows international laws and respects human rights. The United Nations also seeks to promote the acceleration of economic development in Nigeria, which would likely promote political stability both in Nigeria and the larger region.

Yet the United Nations’ most urgent interests in Nigeria are humanitarian. Past UN actions concerning the crisis have stressed the need to protect both displaced civilians and host communities affected by Boko Haram. The United Nations prioritizes preventing conflict and thwarting terrorist groups worldwide, as they present a severe threat to international peace and security. The UN Security Council has strongly condemned Boko Haram’s activities and called on countries to support Nigeria and its neighbors in their efforts to combat the group. However, the Security Council has also expressed concern about Nigerian forces’ continued human rights violations. It has also urged greater respect for international human rights standards. As Security Council members consider how to mount a response to the present situation in Nigeria, they will need to consider and prioritize how to counter Boko Haram, how to improve conditions and protections for Nigerian civilians, and how to address human rights violations by Nigerian security forces. UN Security Council members could consider several options:

Commission a report on human rights abuses in Nigeria

Security Council members could adopt a resolution commissioning a report from the UN secretary-general on the human rights practices of Nigeria’s military. The Security Council could then request that Nigeria implement certain recommendations to improve these practices and address violations. Nigeria has signed several major UN human rights treaties, including the UN Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A report on Nigerian human rights practices could urge Nigeria to uphold the agreements that it has entered. If the Nigerian government complies, governments could be more willing to provide increased assistance. They might also consider selling Nigerian military equipment that they previously denied on human rights grounds. If Nigeria declined to implement the report’s recommendations, the Security Council could threaten to impose economic sanctions on Nigerian government officials or adopt a resolution blocking arms sales to Nigeria until certain conditions are met.

Commissioning a report would be the least demanding option that the UN Security Council could pursue, as it would require few resource contributions from member states and is unlikely to be controversial among permanent, veto-wielding members. If successful, it could improve human rights practices in Nigeria and potentially pave the way for increased assistance against Boko Haram. However, the Nigerian government would not be guaranteed to implement the report’s recommendations. Furthermore, sanctions to enforce compliance could harm Nigeria’s ability to combat Boko Haram. Such a report also would not guarantee actions against Boko Haram, and individual states would have to determine whether to rethink their provision of assistance if the report’s recommendations were met. Moreover, such a report would take time to complete, during which conflict, displacement, and human rights abuses could potentially worsen.

Deploy peacekeeping forces to Nigeria

The Security Council could seek to adopt a resolution establishing a peacekeeping mission in Nigeria.  This mission would support the efforts of Nigerian troops and those of neighboring countries. This mission’s mandate could include ensuring access to humanitarian assistance, protecting civilians, assisting with the return of displaced individuals. It would also provide monitoring and training of Nigerian forces to prevent human rights abuses. A more robust peacekeeping plan could involve authorizing a peacekeeping mission to take offensive action or provide tactical support to Nigerian forces.

A peacekeeping mission could ease the humanitarian crisis caused by Boko Haram’s activities. It could also reduce human rights abuses, and potentially provide Nigeria the assistance necessary to defeat Boko Haram. Gaining the support of the permanent members to establish such a mission could be difficult. Nigerian forces have been resistant to monitoring by human rights groups in the past and could be reluctant to agree to monitoring by peacekeepers. 

If a resolution did pass, a peacekeeping mission would be expensive. The Security Council would need to request contributions of troops and supplies from UN member states. Member states could be hesitant to put their troops at risk. Security Council members will also need to consider how long the mission would stay in Nigeria, how local communities would respond to its presence. Finally, it would have to decide what measures it could adopt to ensure that Boko Haram does not reemerge.

Authorize an intervention by UN member states

Security Council members could adopt a resolution declaring a cease-fire. This resolution would also call on member states to use all necessary means to enforce peace in Nigeria if Boko Haram failed to comply. This option would authorize countries to mount interventions, either by regional organizations such as the African Union or individual member states. These forces would bolster existing efforts to combat Boko Haram and improve stability in Nigeria and its neighbors. 

Authorizing an intervention could have the greatest effect against Boko Haram. Intervening states would likely have better supplied and better trained militaries. However, a military intervention would be the most difficult option to implement. First, a resolution calling for intervention could be difficult to pass. Many states, including the United States, do not see Boko Haram as a direct threat and could thus be reluctant to put their military personnel at risk. Moreover, a resolution calling for intervention may not address human rights abuses committed by Nigerian forces. States that have been reluctant to supply arms to Nigeria over human rights concerns in the past could be far more hesitant to provide the resources and personnel that a full intervention would entail. Even if the resolution passed, success could not be guaranteed. Boko Haram’s decentralized structure would make achieving victory difficult. It could also intensify the conflict for civilians. Moreover, past UN Security Council–authorized interventions have been criticized for having poorly defined mandates and ineffective command structures. For an intervention to be effective, UN Security Council members would need to consider how to define the mission’s mandate, how long forces should remain in Nigeria to ensure a safe transition and lasting peace. Finally, they would have to consider what measures they can take to bolster political stability and protect human rights in Nigeria.