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Accounting for violence when information is scarce: the case of Nigeria’s ‘blank’ spots

Enzo Fasquelle, Nigeria Watch Project Officer, writes exclusively for Every Casualty Counts

Most of the literature on violence in Nigeria is qualitative. It rarely relies on quantitative data for a simple reason: lack of available statistics. Nigeria Watch database was created in 2006 to address this challenge.

It is a database that monitors lethal violence, conflicts and human security in Nigeria. The data produced are based on a thorough analysis of ten national daily newspapers. This is complemented by reports from human rights organisations and the police whenever they are available. 

This database has already helped to dispel myths regarding the causes and types of violence in the country. For instance, our research has revealed that in the so-called Boko Haram conflict, the military and their auxiliaries were responsible for a greater proportion of fatalities than the groups labelled as terrorists.

The database, which is used by various organisations, researchers and companies alike, is valuable particularly as we approach elections later this year.

Nigeria Watch includes as many sources as it can to cross-check information since the number of casualties varies frequently from one report to another. It would be unrealistic to claim to be exhaustive in the Nigerian context, but the system is designed to keep the same margin of error from one region and one period to another. 

The data collected is used for analysis and also to draw up maps. These maps provide a graphic summary of hot spots. Equally, they help locate ‘blank’ Local Government Areas with no data on fatalities resulting from lethal conflicts. We assume that in such cases, these regions are not as peaceful as they seem to be and that we are rather dealing with information gaps.

Indeed, the press in Nigeria is based primarily in the South and does not adequately cover rural areas, especially in the North. The Nigerian Police, on the other hand, frequently underreports crime.

Yet our research gaps help to highlight ‘invisible violence’ and identify new areas of inquiry. To address current challenges, we have trained young researchers to do fieldwork in these identified ‘blank’ Local Government Areas, conduct interviews with key informants, and investigate security arrangements on ground.

The monographs they eventually produced complemented available statistics. They also assisted in offering a new perspective on “invisible violence” and may stimulate other researchers to investigate remote areas.

This is consistent with Nigeria Watch’s approach, which aims to combine quantitative and qualitative methodologies in social sciences. We believe statistics need to be enriched by fieldwork studies. It is the qualitative understanding of violence that helps to build a coherent database, and develop reliable analysis.

Nigeria Watch is a member of Every Casualty Count’s global Casualty Recorders Network. Follow them on Twitter @NigeriaWatch1 for up-to-date information on violence in Nigeria.

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