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.
Elections-related tensions continued while ethnic and herder-farmer violence flared in north centre, banditry continued in north west and Boko Haram (BH) continued attacks in north east. Violence tainted 9 March governorship and state legislative elections; at least 27 killed on election day and four others during supplementary elections 23 March. President Buhari’s ruling party won in fifteen states, main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won in thirteen; election suspended in Rivers state following disruptions. PDP’s presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar 18 March lodged legal challenge against Feb presidential result. In north centre, intercommunal and herder-farmer violence left at least 86 killed in Kaduna state and 26 in Benue. In intercommunal violence in Kaduna state, at least seven killed 2 March in Sabon Sara; seventeen killed 10 March in Ungwan Barde; 52 reportedly killed 11 March in Kajuru area; at least ten killed 16 March in Nandu-Gbok. In Benue state, armed attacks on farming villages left at least sixteen killed 2 March at Agagbe and ten killed 19 March in Tser Uorayev. In north east, BH continued attacks in Borno and Adamawa states, with Abubakar Shekau-led faction seemingly using more landmines and female suicide bombers. In Borno state, farmers’ vehicle 6 March detonated landmine outside state capital Maiduguri, at least five killed; BH 19 March killed four farmers near Lassa; landmines around Warabe village in Gwoza area 18 March killed eight; military truck 25 March detonated landmine in Gwoza area, at least thirteen soldiers killed; military mid-March caught 13-year-old girl in Maiduguri who said she was one of four female suicide bombers. In Adamawa state, female suicide bomber 10 March blew herself up in Madagali area. Military 8 and 11 March reportedly killed scores of BH fighters. In north west, banditry-related violence killed at least 95 people, notably in Anka and Shinkafi local govt areas (LGAs), Zamfara state 2 and 30 March; Isa LGA, Sokoto state 8 March; and Birnin Gwari LGA, Kaduna state 11-12 March.
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.