Nigeria is confronted by multiple security challenges, notably the resilient Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the north east, long-running discontent and militancy in the Niger Delta, increasing violence between herders and farming communities spreading from the central belt southward, and separatist Biafra agitation in the Igbo south east. Violence, particularly by the Boko Haram insurgency, has displaced more than two million people, created a massive humanitarian crisis, and prompted the rise of civilian vigilante self-defence groups that pose new policy dilemmas and possible security risks. Crisis Group seeks to help the Nigerian government by shedding new light on the country’s security challenges, de-escalating risks and tension, and encouraging regional and gender-specific approaches toward ending the violence durably.
Vigilante groups have been successful in providing local security. But subcontracting security functions to vigilante groups for counter-insurgency purposes is a dangerous option for fragile African states. African leaders should set clear objectives and mandates when enlisting vigilantes and invest in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programs.
Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in Borno state, killing at least 68 civilians: BH killed 21 farmers 31 Aug-2 Sept in villages near Damboa; stabbed to death eleven people in displaced persons’ camp in Banki 1 Sept; killed at least seven with grenade in displaced persons’ camp in Ngala 8 Sept; killed four people 17 Sept in Kurumari village, Magumeri Local Govt Area (LGA); three suicide bombers 18 Sept in Mashalari village killed at least sixteen; killed at least nine 20 Sept in Daima village, Kala Balge LGA. Security forces continued operations: army 19 Sept reportedly repelled BH attack at Pulka and Bitta, killing eighteen militants; air force reported killing “hundreds of insurgents” in airstrikes around Garin Maloma area of Sambisa forest 1 Sept; army 6 Sept said it killed two deputies of Abubakar Shekau at Alafa, Borno state; domestic intelligence agency 9 Sept reported it thwarted gun and suicide attacks in Abuja and northern states. Military cracked down on Biafra separatists in south east, deepening concerns over army’s human rights abuses. Army 14 Sept stormed residence of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), in Umuahia, Abia state capital; no word from Kanu since and military 29 Sept denied holding him. Court 20 Sept declared IPOB terrorist organisation. In Niger Delta, militant Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators 3 Sept demanded President Buhari’s resignation over non-performance and threatened regionwide protests and attacks on oil facilities; threats not carried through. Gunmen 4 Sept attacked police post in Kolo, Bayelsa state, killing one officer; pirates 18 Sept abducted five sailors from ship near Parrot Island, Cross River state. Police said Fulani herders in reprisal for death of Fulani boy killed at least nineteen 7 Sept in Ancha village, Plateau state; army 11 Sept reportedly killed five men as it battled suspected perpetrators of assault on Ancha, one soldier also killed. Eight people 13 Sept died in intercommunal fight in Ugboju district, Benue state.
Propelled by desertification, insecurity and the loss of grazing land to expanding settlements, the southward migration of Nigeria’s herders is causing violent competition over land with local farmers. To prevent the crisis from escalating, the government should strengthen security for herders and farmers, implement conflict resolution mechanisms and establish grazing reserves.
Five million people are hit by the humanitarian fallout of the Boko Haram insurgency. Beyond ending the war, this briefing, the last of four examining famine threats in Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, urges donors to fund their UN aid pledges in full and the Nigerian government to step up relief for its citizens.
Regional armies in the Lake Chad basin deploy vigilantes to sharpen campaigns against Boko Haram insurgents. But using these militias creates risks as combatants turn to communal violence and organised crime. Over the long term they must be disbanded or regulated.
Women have suffered violence and abuse by Boko Haram, but they are not only victims: some joined the jihadists voluntarily, others fight the insurgency, or work in relief and reconciliation. Women’s experiences should inform policies to tackle the insurgency, and facilitate their contribution to peace.
Nigeria’s military is in distress. President Muhammadu Buhari’s over-due reforms aren’t yet enough to turn an under-resourced, over-stretched and corrupt army back into a professional force. A complete overhaul is needed, including accountability for human rights abuses, if Nigerians are not to be left at the mercy of Boko Haram and other armed groups.
The decision to start the trials [in Nigeria of more than 1,600 people suspected of ties with Boko Haram] is a response to persistent complaints by local and international human rights groups over thousands of [detained] persons.
[The borderlands between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are] becoming a new permanent hotbed of violence. This shows the level of organisation of these [insurgent] groups and also their confidence.
[The Nigerian government] needs to reverse the bad governance, economic desperation and social hopelessness that push so many youths to radical ideologues.
[The youth in Nigeria's Maiduguri] formed vigilante groups so they could isolate and eliminate Boko Haram members and also demonstrate they were not complicit in the group's attacks and atrocities.
The biggest challenge [for President Buhari] would be to calm nerves and curb divisions, to rally Nigerians around a common vision for the country and bring some urgency towards pursuing that vision.
Having been Boko Haram’s best known public face over the years, [Abubakar Shekau] is, in a sense, the defining figure of both the group and the insurgency.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2017 includes entries on Nigeria, Qatar, Thailand and Venezuela. These early-warning publications identify conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
While Nigeria confronts the humanitarian fallout of the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency and simmering separatism in the South East, crucial reforms have been stalled. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to encourage the government to prioritise engagement with regional leaders and other stakeholders.
Many Igbo feel politically and economically marginalised, and the government’s hardline stance is not helping.
Originally published in African Arguments
Despite suffering significant blows in Syria and Iraq, jihadist movements across the Middle East, North Africa and Lake Chad regions continue to pose significant challenges. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to prioritise conflict prevention at the heart of their counter-terrorism policy and continue investment in vulnerable states.
For the first time in three decades, four countries, driven by war, verge on famine. Over coming weeks, Crisis Group will publish special briefings on Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Each conflict requires tailored response; all need increased aid and efforts to end the violence.