The security landscape within Nigeria is blemished by violence, crime, and other crises that threaten the fabric of Nigerian society and represent a threat to the country’s statehood.
The growing insecurity isn’t emanating from one cause, rather a kaleidoscope of political violence is coalescing to destabilize the country. This piece will briefly surveil the landscape and provide a portrait of some of Nigeria’s greatest security threats. Firstly, it is worth noting that youth unemployment currently sits at 32.5% and the country is experiencing its worst economic downturn in 27 years, in no small part due to COVID-19. Naturally, this has been linked by some to exacerbating insecurity within the country.
Jihadist violence is spreading across the northeast of the country and continues to be Nigeria’s most pressing security threat. Violent attacks linked to Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), have almost doubled since 2015 when the government launched operations to oust the groups from their territory. According to the United Nations (UN), by the end of 2020 jihadist violence had caused 350,000 deaths and forcefully displaced millions from their homes. The rise of both groups and their expanding influence attest to the poverty across the region, providing fertile ground for extremist ideologies.
The groups have since retreated from urban centres and have primarily operated in the more desolate regions of Borno State, including the rugged Sambisa Forest, Cameroon’s northwest mountains, and the wetlands around Lake Chad in the southwest. From their secluded positions, both groups have waged guerrilla warfare on towns and villages with a strategy to isolate and cut off the state capital, Maiduguri. Through sabotaging power grids, planting landmines, attacking highway travellers, and establishing permanent checkpoints, Boko Haram and ISWA have effectively sealed Borno off from the rest of Nigeria. Attacks have also inhibited food production and disrupted trade routes, which have contributed to a spike in food prices by over 50 percent across Borno. Both groups have proven impervious to Nigerian security forces operations, although accusations surrounding the methods of the military operations have generated concern. Civilians have alleged that Nigeria’s armed forces are razing instead of protecting villages, and are corroborating with militant groups.
Herder-farmer conflicts, also known as Fulani herdsman terrorism, refers to the often violent disputes over land resources between Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian farmers across Nigeria, although most acutely in the north-central. The violence encapsulates many of the growing challenges that climate change poses and is symptomatic of the increasing strain it places on food and water security. As the Sahara Desert spreads and desertification encroaches on greater swathes of land, herders are forced to travel further south to find pasture, invariably flaring disputes over precious resources with their landowners. Although the violence is largely motivated by economic and environmental factors, the attacks have also acquired ethnic and religious motivations, with attacks occurring in northwest Nigeria against farmers who are mostly Hausa people. On July 1st, gunmen killed seven herders in Jos South, Plateau after the June 26th occurrence where herders killed one person and kidnapped another in Offa, Kwara.
Thousands of people have died since these attacks began. Sedentary rural farming communities are often the target of attacks. There are fears that this conflict will spill over into other West African countries, destabilizing an already precarious region further.
The kidnappings of schoolchildren from classrooms in northern Nigeria have repeatedly drawn global condemnation and galvanized public outrage and protest. However, by every indication, the lucrative kidnapping industry continues to thrive irrespectively, as regions previously unscathed by the attacks become increasingly vulnerable. The crisis exemplifies an overarching commonality. The limited capacity and capability of the Nigerian armed forces to quell instability and ameliorate a deteriorating security situation.
More than 1000 students have been abducted from their schools since December 2020. Many are only released after thousands of dollars are paid as ransom. These attackers raid villages, kidnap civilians, and burn down houses. Attacks by bandits, as they are commonly known, have forced thousands of internal refugees to seek shelter elsewhere across the country. The northwest remains the focal point for these attacks. In Zamfara alone, over 3000 people have been killed since 2012. Hundreds of schools were closed down following abductions at schools in Zamfara and Niger states, where children as young as three years old were taken.
Another threat to Nigeria’s security crisis is the burgeoning secessionist movements sprouting across Nigeria, most notably the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). IPOB wants a collection of states in the southeast, mainly comprising people from the Igbo ethnic group, to secede and form the independent nation of Biafra. The group was founded in 2014 by Nnamdi Kanu, who was recently arrested and is set to face trial on terrorism and treason charges. His arrest has left the group in disarray and severely dampened the impetus for Biafran independence.
Biafran secessionist activities have been escalating in recent years, often leading to violent clashes between Nigeria’s security forces and militia groups. The Eastern Security Network (the armed wing of IPOB) has been accused of killing at least 60 people in recent months, mostly police officers. The group, however, denies these allegations.
President Buhari has sought to quell IPOB and dishearten any aspirations for a Biafran state. Last month, he tweeted that “those misbehaving today” would be dealt with in “the language they will understand.” The post was removed by Twitter for violating its rules after Mr. Buhari received backlash online. This also resulted in the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.
The list above is in no sense exhaustive of all the contours that comprise Nigeria’s security landscape. Organized criminal gangs, piracy, and oil militants, as well as security sector (police and military) violence against civilians, further fracture the situation and impedes progress towards peace. The multitude and diversity of threats present will demand a multi-dimensional response that is tailored to each context.
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