Amidst the global chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, civil conflict persists. In particular, in the northwestern regions of Nigeria which has been rife with violence throughout the month of April. On April 19th, local authorities reported multiple raid attacks in the villages of Dan Musa, Dutsinma and Safana in the Katsina region. These attacks culminated in the death of 47 people. They were carried out on Saturday April 18th at around 12:30 A.M. by what the Katsina State police described as “armed bandits”. The assailants were reported to be travelling on bikes and carrying automatic weapons. In recent statements, President Muhammadu Buhari has denounced the attacks. He has vowed to take action against the rampant violence carried out against civilians in the northern regions. His statements were followed by a large scale deployment of ground and air security forces to the regions. This included the Nigerian Army (NA), Nigerian Air Force (NAF), detachments of police, civil defence and the State Security Service. The motive for the attack has not been confirmed. However, local news stations have stated that the bandits reportedly were seeking food and other commodities received by the government in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown in the area.
The attacks on Saturday April 18th reflect a larger trend of violence that has existed in Nigeria throughout the years. Such conflicts are often characterized by intercommunal violence amongst Fulani herdsmen and nearby sedentary groups. However, in recent years the conflicts appear to have evolved significantly. This has led to an intricate web of conflict and allegiance amongst different criminal organizations. In addition to the violent attacks by criminal gangs in the northwest region, operations against Boko Haram have captivated much of the security concerns of the Nigerian government. After the insurgency began in 2009, terrorist organization Boko Haram has proved to be one of the greatest threats to the security of Western African states. These include Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated Boko Haram to be an “affront to international law, humanity and to religious faith”. Ultimately, the presence of Boko Haram, intercommunal tensions, and a flurry of criminal gang organizations has led to a perplexing situation in Nigeria.
The large-scale violence in Nigeria cannot be neglected by the international community amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, there must be greater efforts to understand how the pandemic influences the nature of civil conflicts. Food and resource scarcity is becoming a reality in a wide variety of countries globally. This is leading to violent conflict with a more catastrophic potential, especially in the northwestern region of Nigeria. The global pandemic has caused nascent social, political, and economic landscapes. This has created new opportunities for violence. Moving forward, efforts must be put in place to track and understand the affiliation of these ever-evolving criminal organizations. This is imperative to understanding and responding to the conflict effectively. Measures to respond to the ongoing killing in northwestern regions of Nigeria must abide by international humanitarian law. Only then can the cycle of unjust violence be stopped.