Nigeria project aims to save records of victims of Boko Haram violence

Church of the Brethren Newsline
June 7, 2018

Stacks of records of Boko Haram victims. Photo by Pat Krabacher.

by Pat Krabacher

The Centre for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI) Humanitarian Analysis project tells many stories. Dr. Rebecca S. Dali started the non-governmental organization (NGO) 29 years ago, in 1989 before Boko Haram violence began to plague northern Nigeria. She started CCEPI because she herself experienced hunger, gender-based violence, and extreme poverty growing up. Her passion for those struggling to live in northeast Nigeria led Dali to provide livelihood, trauma healing, protection monitoring, as well as basic food, clothing, and shelter, and most recently re-integration of abducted women into society.

Each victim of violence and abuse has a story, and so Dali began collecting the stories that have formed the basis for her graduate work and particularly her doctoral research and writings. Some of her data records have been lost during the Boko Haram insurgency, and cannot be replaced. The Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service, led by executive director Jay Wittmeyer, believes it is important to protect CCEPI data to recognize the lives and preserve the stories it represents.

Dali has collected victim data through December 2017, focused on Boko Haram-inflicted deaths through accounts from survivors. Reports are collected firsthand and documented in individual victim files during aid distribution events and status monitoring trips throughout areas where displaced Nigerians are living. Many of these reports also contain demographic information about victims including gender, religion, number of dependents and their ages, etc. This kind of data enables more detailed analysis of Boko Haram victims and survivor realities. For example, the average widow has 7.1 dependent children.

Complementing the CCEPI efforts is a project at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, where professor Richard Newton and students in 2016 researched and compiled news media reports of over 11,000 Boko Haram killings up through April 2016. All CCEPI and news media reports were stringently compiled, sorted, and filtered to remove overlapping death reports to eliminate uncertainty as to whether such reports corresponded to different individuals or the same individual reported by multiple sources.

In January this year, I had the privilege of returning to Nigeria for the Michika #1 EYN church rebuilding workcamp sponsored by Brethren Disaster Ministries. EYN is short for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Because of how fragile the CCEPI data is, and how unique the CCEPI data cache is, I suggested to Dr. Dali and Dr. Justin North, who does much of the analysis work, that I take a paper scanner to Nigeria and create a digital file of the CCEPI records.

The CCEPI team on the last day of scanning. Photo by Kwala Tizhe.

North researched and donated the scanner, and I took it with me to Nigeria. The entire eight-person CCEPI team in the town of Bukuru helped with the data prep, which required unique identification numbers be written on the paper records before scanning. They also helped with the scanning work. Preparation of the records also meant all staples had to be removed and survivors’ pictures taped back onto the individual record before scanning. Some days the electricity was off, and we had to scan using a loud generator to provide power. It was tiring work, but CCEPI was able to scan 30,679 records.

Based on the analysis of the media reports and CCEPI data, Boko Haram violence has killed at least 56,000 individuals. It is clear that the Boko Haram violence peaked in January 2015, but Boko Haram attacks are still occurring, even into 2018. For the most part, the CCEPI data is from more rural areas and is usually not reported by the media who are based in large cities. Undeniably, the vast majority of the surviving family members of Boko Haram victims are widowed women with children or other dependents.

Other CCEPI records have not yet been scanned, but the digital database of over 30,000 records means the analysis team can begin to help CCEPI share aggregate information of the many victims, and extract other information to assist in communicating the needs of widows with on average seven or more children, no house, no husband, no work, and no financial support.

The scanning and data analysis goes on. These are stories and lives that must not be forgotten.

— Pat Krabacher is a volunteer with Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries. Find out more about the joint Nigeria Crisis Response effort of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria and the Church of the Brethren at

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