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.
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.
Election-related violence rose around delayed polls raising risk of further escalation around governorship polls set for 9 March, ethnic violence spiked in north centre and Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in north east. Election-related violence rose in run-up to and on day of presidential and federal legislative elections 23 Feb. Clashes involving thugs and supporters of political parties, especially President Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main challenger Atiku Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), escalated; over 40 killed in election-related violence, including about twenty in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states in south east on election day. Electoral commission 27 Feb said Buhari had won presidential poll with 56% of vote; Atiku rejected result. In north centre, ethnic violence flared in Kaduna state. Governor 19 Feb said attacks on mainly Fulani hamlets in Kajuru area left 130 dead; ethnic Adara said governor, a Fulani, had inflated figures to trigger Fulani attacks on Adara or lower voter turnout; gunmen 26 Feb stormed four villages of ethnic Adara in same area, killing 29. In Benue state, gunmen killed seventeen in Agatu area 20 Feb. In north east, both Boko Haram (BH) factions continued to attack military and civilians in Borno and Yobe states. Notably, in Yobe state, army 4 Feb repelled attempt by BH faction known as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) to enter Kanama town, several insurgents reportedly killed. Three BH suicide bombers 16 Feb attacked mosque in Borno state capital Maiduguri, killing eleven people including themselves. Suspected members of Shekau’s BH faction 18 Feb killed at least fourteen in Koshebe forest near Maiduguri. Air force strike 24 Feb killed several ISWAP fighters at hideout in Kolloram near Lake Chad, northern Borno state. In north west, banditry and intercommunal violence continued, mostly in Zamfara state, but also Sokoto, Katsina and Niger leaving at least 90 dead. Notably, bandits 19 Feb stormed Danjibga village, Zamfara state, clashed with civilian vigilantes, seven residents and at least 59 bandits reportedly killed; bandits 25 Feb attacked three villages in Sokoto state, sixteen reportedly killed.
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.
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.
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.
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.