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) continued attacks in north east, security forces ramped up operations against bandits in north west and herder-farmer violence flared in some north central and southern states. In north east, two BH factions kept up insurgency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states despite operations by military and troops from neighbouring countries in Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Notably, Islamic State West Africa Province 1 April claimed it had killed five soldiers and posted video of killing online; military said three of five killed in video were vigilantes. In Adamawa state, BH attacked village near Madagali 29 April, killing 26 people. In Yobe state, army 9 April repelled BH attack on Damaturu killing some twenty militants. Shekau faction continued suicide attacks in Borno state: two suicide bombers 6 April killed nine people in Jere near state capital Maiduguri; two suicide bombers 11 April killed themselves and two others in Monguno. Army early April reported MNJTF had killed sixteen BH in Borno state, including “high-ranking commander” Malloum Moussa. Army 13 April said joint Nigeria-Cameroon operation killed 27 insurgents in Borno state. In north west, security forces stepped up operations to counter banditry and other criminal violence; airstrikes and ground operations killed estimated 120 suspected bandits mainly in Zamfara state, but also some in Katsina and Kaduna states. Bandit attacks continued, particularly in Zamfara and Katsina states, killing over 50 people. Clashes between bandits and vigilantes 7 and 9 April in Katsina state left 44 people dead. Violence between herders and farming communities continued in north central zone – Nasarawa, Kaduna and Kogi states – leaving some 45 people dead; incidents also reported in Anambra and Delta states in south, leaving eleven people dead. Significant communal violence in Rivers, Taraba, Benue and Ebonyi states left at least 72 people dead, as kidnapping for ransom continued in several states. Buhari 25 April began 11-day “private visit” to UK, where he has spent several months since 2015 for medical treatment. Police 30 April reported over 1,000 people killed in crime-related violence and 685 kidnapped countrywide Jan-April 2019.
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.
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].
Given the [Nigerian] government’s continuing inability to impose its own solution to the conflict [with Boko Haram] ... the government’s exploration of dialogue [with] the insurgents is understandable.
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.