Lessons from conducting a joint Strategic Conflict Assessment (SCA) in Nigeria


Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. The country still has a legacy of conflict — six successful and numerous failed military coups, a civil war that cost well over a million lives, three inconclusive transitions to democracy and recurrent factional violence. Widespread corruption and persistent electoral malpractice continue to undermine politics as a whole. Military rule has cast a long shadow, and Nigeria remains dangerously reliant on oil revenues and patron-client networks. New challenges have arisen, with inter-communal clashes across the country causing more than 14,000 deaths since 1999 and displacing more than 3 million people. Militias have sprung up, notably in the oil-rich Niger Delta, where growing tensions are a direct result of decades of environmental harm and political neglect.

Entry point

In May 2001 DFID, the World Bank, USAID and UNDP, supported by President Obasanjo, agreed that there was a need for a national strategic conflict assessment (SCA). This was the first time globally that a national conflict assessment had ever been supported by a group of donors — usually assessments are done by individual donors who often do not share findings because of their sensitive nature. The Nigeria assessment was also significant because it was led by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR). IPCR staff and consultants from Nigerian civil society and academia were responsible for leading research teams, conducting research and producing the assessment reports. The decision to conduct the SCA in this way was made in recognition of the considerable potential benefits of a shared and nationally owned assessment, and the constraints of acting without donor co-operation and without the participation and ownership of the Nigerian government.

Lessons learned

Effective donor co-ordination requires commitment and mechanisms — This type of multi-donor approach requires a high level of co-ordination and trust, which may take some time to establish. The assessment was jointly funded, and donors used their separate funding regulations and procedures. Co-ordinating and accounting for the various sums through different donor mechanisms was a complex undertaking. Harmonising disbursement, accounting and reporting requirements is a challenge for more effective co-ordination.

Accept that working together may take longer — The task of managing and co-ordinating the process was a very big undertaking that should not be underestimated. The numbers of partners involved and the complexity of the study often meant that much time was spent negotiating terms between partners. The ambitious nature of the assessment meant that considerable time had to go into designing and planning each stage of the assessment. This often ran counter to a demand for quick results. Such an assessment is labour-intensive and often takes longer than anticipated.

International actors need to leave room for local ownership — Committed donor engagement was important to the process, but the experience showed the need to leave room for ownership by in-country partners. There should have been a longer process of negotiation with the government partner, including a capacity assessment of the lead organisation, at the start of the endeavour. Technical assistance from donors in conducting assessments can carry the process forward and build the capacity of partner organisations, but this assistance needs to support rather than lead the process. The superior knowledge that national partners have of the country context should be recognised. Local protocol must be respected and donors should take care to offer support and advice rather than imposing externally conceived structures and models.


The assessment was successful in terms of developing donor co-ordination and encouraging government ownership and direction. The assessment process was therefore valuable in itself. Conflict and instability are still significant threats in Nigeria though, and more remains to be done to put a conflict-sensitive approach into practice in government and donor programmes.

*From the OECD DAC Handbook on Security System Reform: Supporting Security and Justice