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.
Women are streaming home from Boko Haram’s domain in north-eastern Nigeria, some having escaped captivity and others having left jihadist husbands behind. The state should safeguard these women from abuse, so that they stay in government-held areas and encourage men to come back as well.
Boko Haram (BH) increased attacks in north east, deadly bandit violence continued in north west, govt forces cracked down on Shiite Muslim protesters in capital Abuja, while herder-farmer tensions rose in centre and south. In north east, both BH factions continued insurgency: in Borno state, insurgents 17 July killed at least six farmers near state capital Maiduguri; 18 July ambushed humanitarian convoy near Damasak, killed driver, abducted six NGO staff; 25 July attacked displaced persons’ camp in Maiduguri, killing two; 27 July attacked villages near Maiduguri, killing at least 70. Also in Borno state, BH faction Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) 4 July ambushed troops in Damboa, killing five; 17 July attacked army vehicle in Jakana town, killing four; troops repelled insurgent attacks in Baga and Benishiek 29-30 July, killing ten. In north west, Zamfara state govt’s peace and reconciliation initiative led to bandits and vigilantes releasing over 100 captives. In Katsina state, over 300 bandits 13 July attacked Kirtawa, killing at least ten; over 200 bandits 21 July attacked Zango, killing at least ten. In Sokoto state, bandits 17 July attacked several villages in Goronyo area, killing 39. In capital Abuja, Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) protesters demanding release of their leader Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and his wife marched to parliament 9 July; security forces dispersed march killing two. Further clashes 22-23 July left about fifteen dead, including senior policeman; govt 30 July declared IMN “terrorist organisation” and banned it. IMN suspended protests, but said it would challenge ban in court. In centre and south, herder-farmer tensions rose: federal govt 31 June said it had begun creating temporary settlements for Fulani herders in twelve of 36 states, but suspended plan 3 July following protests by state govts and ethnic leaders in south and Middle Belt. In south west, unidentified gunmen killed daughter of pan-Yoruba group leader in Ondo state 12 July, group alleged gunmen were Fulani herders, heightening anti-Fulani sentiment across region.
Three years after Boko Haram broke apart, one faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province, is forming a proto-state in northern Nigeria. The state should press its military offensive against the jihadists but also try undercutting their appeal by improving governance and public services.
Nigerian elections are high-stakes affairs often marred by street clashes and worse. As the 2019 contests approach, the risk of disturbances is particularly high in six states. The government and its foreign partners can limit campaign-related violence by enhancing security and promoting dialogue among rivals.
Rising conflict between herders and farmers in Nigeria is already six times deadlier in 2018 than Boko Haram’s insurgency. To stop the bloodshed, the federal government should improve security; end impunity for assailants; and hasten livestock sector reform. State governments should freeze open grazing bans.
Four years after the abductions in Chibok, and months after more kidnappings in Dapchi, over 100 schoolgirls are still missing. Nigeria must act to make schools safe – beefing up security, learning from past mistakes and, ultimately, working to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
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.
Massive unemployment [in Nigeria] has created a growing army of unemployed youth, vulnerable to recruitment in the criminal industry.
Stakes are high for Nigeria and the region. A vote marred in controversy and violence inevitably would hinder efforts to address the country’s security and economic challenges.
While ending the insurgency and countering the militants’ appeal is obviously vital, it is also essential to recognise what precisely has guided women to join [Boko Haram] in the first place.
The fact that some of the recent attacks [in Nigeria] specifically targeted military bases shows they were deliberate, not opportunistic.
Jihadist groups present since the 2012 crisis in Mali exploited local unrest and the weak presence of the state in northern Mali to launch cross-border attacks against the Nigerien army... Despite direct support from Chadian troops since 2015 and closer collaboration with the Nigerian army, Nigerien forces have been unable to fully secure the border with Nigeria from attacks, including some linked to the Islamic State.
More people to feed means more agricultural settlement and less available land and water for herders. All of this tend to trigger more and more disputes [between farmers and semi-nomadic herders in Nigeria].
In late 2018 Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Gender Azadeh Moaveni went to north-east Nigeria, which has been the epicenter of the fight between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military, to explore how effectively women formerly associated with the group have been rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society.
In northeastern Nigeria, the militant group exploits a broken social system. There are lessons here for the rest of the world.
Originally published in The Guardian
Crisis Group’s third update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on economic reforms in Libya, preserving the fragile quiet in Syria’s Idlib province, addressing the plight of civilians in eastern Ukraine, supporting Colombia's uneasy peace process and averting violence in Nigeria's upcoming elections. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
As election preparations get underway in Nigeria, conflict and insecurity in many parts of the country risk exacerbating intercommunal tensions and preventing a peaceful transfer of power. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its members states to remain fully engaged during the election in order to curb violence and strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.