For years, Christian Blind Mission (CBM) and Sight Savers International (SSI) have supported local partners in Nigeria to implement development and humanitarian projects in the disability sector. Owing to growing insecurity in Nigeria, one of our local partners, HANDS, approached us to discuss funding for recruiting a Security Officer. CBM & SSI agreed to fund two Security and Safeguarding (S&SG) Officers for HANDS.
Previously, CBM merely invested in the security and safeguarding of its own staff. Offices and vehicles needed to be protected. Staff required training. While CBM staff occasionally travel in insecure areas, partner staff face the brunt of security risks. Our partners have a high tolerance for risk. They are used to taking risks and fear losing funding opportunities if they emphasise risks that may hinder project implementation.
In contrast to the level of risk, partner-level preparedness was usually low. Thorough security risk assessments (SRAs) were rare. Many local partner staff had never received travel security training. Partners had minimal written security management plans, let alone ever partaking in crisis management training. Incidents were often not reported, and implementation of lessons learned was low. This contrast was deemed unacceptable. These unmitigated risks threaten the well-being of partner staff and hinder reaching project objectives and supporting persons with disabilities in the world’s poorest communities. Security incidents lead to sudden, unexpected, high costs, delays, and potentially damaging media exposure.
However, SSI and CBM’s security risk management (SRM) approaches are evolving. In many cases, we only transfer risks to partners once we have ensured their standards are sufficient. When doing so in particularly challenging and hostile environments such as Nigeria, a high level of residual risk can be difficult to manage effectively without dedicated security resources. For this reason, CBM and SSI decided to support HANDS by recruiting security staff.
Risk Sharing in Nigeria
CBM and SSI operations in Nigeria face several challenges. The security environment remains complex, with civil unrest, kidnappings, and banditry presenting potential threats to staff. The context is unpredictable, with areas prone to unexpected risk increases. Effective security management is therefore vital to ensure staff safety and operational continuity. We, therefore, deemed it beneficial to adopt a new approach, pooling resources and expertise to share the risk.
SSI and CBM operate in partnership through consortium arrangements in Nigeria, increasing our programming reach and effectiveness. However, this also poses specific challenges regarding security risk management (SRM). Local partner such as HANDS lead on much of the practical project implementation. Although we design our projects to maximise community acceptance, this still means that local partners face the bulk of the residual risk. Duty of care responsibilities in large consortium arrangements can also be ambiguous if not clarified at the outset.
Outcomes, benefits, challenges, and wider applications
While this model has proven successful on this project, several potential challenges remain.
Recruitment of high-quality security staff can be difficult. Hiring managers with limited security experience may struggle to identify suitable candidates with the right skills and backgrounds. Therefore, SSI and CBM security staff supported the organisation with recruitment processes.
It is also crucial that HANDS effectively supports staff, but SSI and CBM also provide ongoing support. In this case, staff from CBM and SSI provided inductions, technical coaching, and regular support for the new S&SG officers.
HANDS has committed to supporting the officers to promote a culture where security risks are minimised and mitigated. Although closely supported by CBM and SSI security staff, HANDS management is now taking full responsibility for the direct supervision of their security officers. We can already see the integration of improved security risk mitigation into HANDS’ daily processes.
We were fortunate to have a local INGO partner who saw this proposal’s value. Active buy-in from the local partner has been crucial, enabling full ownership of the security roles by HANDS. Although we can provide support, we must be careful not to overstep our boundaries when ‘sharing risk’, for example, by inadvertently making security management decisions for another organisation. This could create difficult legal and duty of care issues and likely generate tension in the relationship.
We were also fortunate to trial this approach in Nigeria. As a large country with significant security challenges, the Nigerian security industry is thriving, and there was no shortage of candidates. However, questions arise about sustainability and whether local organisations can induce security officers to stay for an extended period rather than using the role as a stepping stone to a security position at an international organisation.
The investment of time and resources from our security teams may also be a significant factor in the success of this model. Although a positive experience so far, the investment required to closely mentor a new security professional in an organisation that has not had a security position before should not be underestimated. This issue arises particularly in countries where an international organisation lacks dedicated, in-country staff.
In the short term, CBM & SSI will closely monitor the pros and cons of funding S&SG positions to see whether a fundamental change in mindset is evident. Examples of this would be to see S&SG well embedded in future project proposals, to experience that incidents are shared for learning purposes and to notice that S&SG become topics that are openly discussed when planning and evaluating project deliverables at management level. In the long-term, HANDS must be able to stand alone in areas of security and safeguarding and add the cost for such positions into its budget. While this is taking shape, we remain willing to provide technical support. If this concept works well, our agencies will consider such investments in other strategic partners.
You can read the full report from CBM and SSI here.
About the authors
Tom van Herwijnen is Global Security & Safeguarding Manager at CBM. Liam Strang is Global Head of Security and Crisis at Sightsavers.
Image credit: UNOCHA/Yasmina Guerda
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