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.
As U.S. leadership of the international order fades, more countries are seeking to bolster their influence by meddling in foreign conflicts. In this new era of limit testing, Crisis Group’s President Robert Malley lists the Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2019.
Campaigning stepped up ahead of Feb-March 2019 general elections, as Boko Haram (BH) kept up high rate of attacks in north east and criminal violence rose in north west. Political parties, including President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) and main challenger Atiku Abubakar’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 11-12 Dec committed to campaign peacefully, but political violence continued: gunmen 23 Dec killed local APC leader in Onne, Rivers state; 28 Dec killed councillor in Ado area, Ekiti state; thugs 29 Dec disrupted Buhari supporters’ meeting in Akoko Northeast area, Ondo state, injuring many. In north east, BH continued attacks in Lake Chad area in north of Borno state, and in neighbouring Yobe state to west. In Borno state, six attacks 7-16 Dec on civilians and military positions left at least one soldier dead; BH 26-28 Dec seized six towns in Kukawa area including HQ of Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and navy and marine police bases; air force 29 Dec bombed insurgents near Baga causing unknown number of casualties. In Yobe state, BH 1 Dec attacked Buni Gari, destroying army’s tank base and killing at least eight soldiers; 29 Dec attacked Buni Gari town again. In north west, bandits stepped up attacks in Zamfara state, prompting several calls for state of emergency. Attacks on at least ten villages across state 10-22 Dec left at least 97 civilians dead. Army 14 Dec said it killed eight bandits in Dumburum forest. Ten troops, five Nigerian and five Nigerien, killed 29 Dec in joint Nigeria-Niger operation against criminal gangs in Doubouroum area, Zamfara state near border with Niger. In Middle Belt, herder-farmer tensions persisted: in six attacks across Benue, Plateau and Kaduna states 15-30 Dec, gunmen killed at least 37 people. In Niger Delta, militant groups threatened to resume violence. New group, War Against Niger Delta Exploitation, 25 Dec threatened to disrupt 2019 elections if federal govt failed to meet demands for region’s development. Coalition of four militant groups 30 Dec announced termination of two-year ceasefire citing govt’s failure to meet Pan Niger Delta Forum’s Nov 2016 demands. Criminal and ethnic violence reported in several states; notably, gunmen 18 Dec killed immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, retired Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh near capital Abuja.
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.
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.
The Dapchi incident [in Nigeria] is a major setback for hopes and expectations for a conclusive release of the remaining Chibok girls and all others still held by Boko Haram.
Les forces armées tendent à employer la méthode forte et cela peut exacerber les conflits [au Nigeria] et créer de nouveaux problèmes de droits humains et de relation militaires/civils.
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.