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.
While in decline in the Levant, the Islamic State has claimed some gains in Africa. Testimonies from defectors who once waged jihad in the Lake Chad basin shed new light on the impact and workings of the “caliphate” south of the Sahara.
Jihadist and criminal violence continued in north east and north west, while authorities came under international scrutiny. Boko Haram (BH) factions continued to launch attacks in north-eastern Borno state despite ongoing military operations. BH combatants 7-30 Dec killed at least 24 security personnel, one civilian and abducted at least 38 people including two aid workers in Damboa, Konduga, Jakana, Mafa and Jere areas. Army 6-8 Dec killed 13 combatants apparently from BH faction led by Abubakar Shekau (JAS) in Magumeri, Bama and Gwoza areas; airstrikes 11 Dec killed “several” JAS combatants in Gwoza area; army next day repelled attack in Askira-Uba area by same faction, killing over 20 combatants. Suspected JAS suicide attack 19 Dec killed three civilians in Konduga town. BH 24 Dec killed 11 civilians in Pemi village. Armed group violence and abductions continued in north west, particularly Katsina state: gunmen 11 Dec stormed secondary school in Kankara town and abducted over 300 schoolboys; govt and local security officials immediately blamed attack on criminal groups but Shekau 15 Dec claimed responsibility; schoolboys released 17 Oct. Also in Katsina, armed group 17 Dec attacked convoy of traditional and religious ruler from Kaura Namoda town (Zamfara state), in Funtua area, killing eight guards; 19 Dec briefly kidnapped about 80 Islamic school students in Dandume area. In Niger state (Middle Belt), armed groups 8-15 Dec killed four and abducted around 30 civilians, prompting 5,000 others to flee. In Enugu state (south east), unidentified gunmen 26 Dec killed Oruku community’s traditional chief in Nkanu East area. Federal parliament 1 Dec summoned President Buhari over insecurity in north, reflecting rising discontent including within ruling party; Buhari rejected convocation, claiming lawmakers lack power to summon him on security matters. Meanwhile, govt suffered international setbacks. U.S. 7 Dec designated Nigeria as “country of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom, paving way for sanctions. Office of International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor 11 Dec said there is “reasonable basis to believe” that both BH and security forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nigeria, concluded ICC investigation is warranted.
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.
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.
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.
Only hours before polls were to open, Nigeria’s electoral commission postponed elections scheduled for 16 February by one week. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Nigeria expert Nnamdi Obasi says the commission and other authorities must act now to win back trust and reduce risks of violence.
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