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A goal worthy of Nigeria

Ahmed Musa has Nigeria’s full attention, following the exciting win over Iceland. But the World Cup is not the only field on which Nigeria has a chance to shine in 2018. While the Super Eagles take on the likes of Argentina and Croatia, there are Nigerian government officials, community leaders, and civil society groups pursuing a different type of goal: the protection of civilians who are trapped in conflict.

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Unlike the question of which teams to support in Russia, the need to minimize harm to civilians is easy to agree upon. As the world has seen, the impact when harm does occur can be devastating. While there are no red or yellow cards involved, international law is clear that those who live in areas where conflict erupts have established rights and require protection. 

Just like football, effective civilian protection requires four key elements: teamwork; training; smart strategy; and action. Nigeria has what it takes to reach that goal – but now must follow through.

Nigeria has the teamwork. Protection of civilians (POC) requires involvement of the government, military, other armed actors, civil society, and civilians themselves. As evidenced by the workshop our organizations are co-hosting on 28 June, Nigeria’s POC team members are working together to address the needs of civilians caught in conflict.

Nigeria is undertaking the training. The will to prevent harm isn’t enough: for security forces to uphold their duty to protect civilians, they must receive proper training. Here, too, Nigeria is putting its responsibility in the center of the pitch as an increasing number of military officials bring their soldiers to POC trainings provided by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), and other specialist organisations dedicated to promoting the well-being and safety of civilians. 

When it comes to smart strategy, Nigerians have further cause to cheer. A new national policy that the Nigerian government drafted has received global recognition, including by the UN Secretary-General in his recent annual report on POC. As Maj-Gen. Rogers Nicholas recently stated, respect by troops in the theatre of war for human rights and protection of civilians is “sacrosanct.” This pioneering policy – if adopted – would put Nigeria in the lead when it comes to national approaches safeguarding civilians. 

But Nigeria – and civilians within its borders – can win only if the national policy is now adopted and implemented. 

It is our shared hope that the upcoming workshop will galvanise the final key element: action. Civilians, military officials, and civil society all agree on the value of the national policy. If the dialogue can result in its adoption and implementation, Nigeria can reach the most important goal there is: protecting the lives and well-being of civilians so that they, in turn, can achieve their own life goals, whether that means simply enjoying a peaceful, productive life – or going on to be the next Gernot Rohr.

Fred Robarts, Nigeria Country Director (Interim), Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)  & Maj.-Gen Shehu Yusuf (Rtd), President ACSS Alumni, (Nigeria Chapter)

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