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.
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.
Jihadists continued to target civilians and military in north east, while criminal violence persisted in north west and centre, spreading closer to capital Abuja. In north-eastern Borno state, suspected jihadists 1 Sept attacked army post in Magumeri town, killing at least ten soldiers; 6, 15 and 17 Sept launched several attacks on civilians, killing at least 24; and 25 Sept attacked state governor’s convoy near Baga town, reportedly killing up to 30. Meanwhile, in continued fight against jihadists, army 14 and 18 Sept killed 20 insurgents near Borno state capital Maiduguri and in neighbouring Yobe state’s Bade village; 20 Sept killed “scores” of insurgents after they ambushed and killed army colonel near Damboa town same day; 24-25 Sept launched airstrikes in several areas of Borno, leaving unknown number of insurgents dead. In north west, bandits and other criminal groups continued attacks and kidnappings, killing eight civilians and two police officers and abducting at least 44 civilians in Katsina, Sokoto and Kaduna states 14-27 Sept. Military 13-17 Sept reportedly killed several armed group members in airstrikes in Zamfara state’s Birnin-Magaji area and Maru town; 24 Sept killed 21 unidentified gunmen in Faskari area, Katsina state, but lost three soldiers including army colonel. Insecurity persisted in Middle Belt in centre. In Niger state, unidentified gunmen 2-4 Sept killed at least 23 civilians and abducted 53 others in several villages in Rafi, Rijau and Shiroro areas. Security concerns increased around federal capital Abuja. Unidentified gunmen 10 Sept kidnapped at least ten residents in Tungan Maje village, Federal Capital Territory. In neighbouring Nasarawa state, unidentified gunmen 14 Sept ambushed federal road safety agency convoy on Mararaban-Udege axis, killing two officers and kidnapping ten.
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.
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.