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.
In 2016, Nigeria launched a program to help Boko Haram defectors reintegrate into civilian life. Rare interviews with the “deradicalisation” facility’s graduates reveal some encouraging signs but also troubling patterns that – if not addressed – could endanger the initiative’s future.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Jihadists mounted significant attacks in north east, criminal violence continued unabated in north west, and suspected Biafra secessionists’ attacks on security forces persisted in south east. In Borno state in north east, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) targeted major humanitarian hub and military base despite military operations. Insurgents 1-2 March attacked Dikwa town, setting UN office ablaze and forcing evacuation of aid workers from Dikwa, Monguno and Ngala towns. ISWAP 11 March ambushed military convoy near Gudumbali town, reportedly killing 15 soldiers and four Multinational Joint Task Force troops, and 14 March attacked army’s super camp in Damasak town, killing at least 12 soldiers. Special forces 15 March reportedly killed 41 jihadists in operations near Gamboru and Ngala towns; 27 March killed 48 members of Boko Haram faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) around Chibok and Askira towns. UN humanitarian office 16 March reported “worst [humanitarian] outlook in four years” in north east, with close to 2mn people internally displaced and up to 5.1mn facing hunger during lean season. In north west, armed group violence remained high. Notably, in Zamfara state, unidentified gunmen 16 March attacked Kabasa village, killing at least ten, including three soldiers; army said troops thwarted attack, killing scores. Also in Zamfara, 279 female students kidnapped late Feb released 2 March. In neighbouring Kaduna state, unidentified gunmen 11 March abducted 39 students in Afaka town; 15 March abducted several students and three teachers at primary school in Birnin Gwari area, later freed all children; 18 March killed 13 and burnt 56 houses in Zangon Kataf, Kauru and Chikun areas. Herder-farmer relations continued to deteriorate in south, with many incidents of violence, notably 27 people killed 28-29 March in attacks on four farming villages in Ebonyi state (south east) by suspected herders. Also in south east, attacks on police personnel and facilities by suspected members of Eastern Security Network (ESN), paramilitary wing of secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), continued; troops 24 March killed 16 ESN in Aba town, Abia state.
Insecurity is plaguing north-western Nigeria, due to persistent herder-farmer tensions, rising crime and infiltration by Islamist militants. Federal and state authorities should focus on resolving conflict between agrarian and pastoralist communities, through dialogue and resource-sharing agreements, while also stepping up law enforcement.
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.
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.
The [Nigerian] military [has] yet to achieve decisive results against the insurgents in the northeast and various armed groups in the northwest.
Les gouverneurs locaux [au Nigéria] insistent pour dire qu’aucune rançon n’a jamais été versée, mais c’est très difficile à croire.
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.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Nnamdi Obasi and Comfort Ero explain the significance of Nigeria’s police brutality crisis and the resulting #ENDSARS protests. Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood also examine the protracted process of the U.S. presidential election.
What began as an orderly demonstration against an abusive police squad has become a national crisis in Nigeria. To lower the temperature, the government needs to move quickly to investigate wrongdoing by security agencies, give victims the justice they deserve and initiate far-reaching police reforms.
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.