If one told Nigerians about a country that has experienced terrorist attacks or large scale insecurity in over 60% of its states in the past decade, they would probably think the country in question is Afghanistan or Iraq rather than their own.
Yet every single one of Nigeria’s six geo-political zones has experienced serious violence and insecurity in the past 20 years; from the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east, clashes between farmers and cattle herders in the middle belt and south, ethnic, communal, and religious violence in the middle belt between the Tiv and Jukun, and the Fulani and Birom, the Niger Delta insurgency in the south-south, kidnapping and extortion in the south-east, to political violence, and clashes between Hausas and Yorubas in the south-west. Even Nigeria’s offshore waters are not safe and have experienced piracy. What is the cause of all this? Let us examine each in turn…
The Boko Haram insurgency has received more attention than any other conflict in Nigeria’s history, so I will not dwell on it here. Instead I will focus on two other conflicts that have not got as much attention. These are the spate of kidnappings around the country, and the conflict between nomadic cattle herders and farmers has killed more than 3600 people in the last three years.
A POLICING PROBLEM
This security issues to some extent reflect a failure of Nigeria’s police system. Although Nigeria has approximately 380,000 police officers, about 150,000 of them are engaged as escorts or on guard duty for VIPs (AKA nearly 40% of the NPF are not actually protecting the public, but instead are protecting VIPs FROM the public).
Secondly, Nigeria is under-policed. It has a ratio of one police officer to every 526 civilians. That is well below the United Nations’ recommended ratio of one police officer per 400 citizens. Training and equipment is also sub-optimal. 11 years ago, a presidential committee report on police reform bluntly stated that the police is “saddled with a very large number of unqualified, under-trained and ill-equipped officers and men many of whose suitability to wear the respected uniform of the Force is in doubt”.
Recently the BBC streamed an interesting video documentary about kidnapping in Nigeria. Kidnapping for ransom has become a serious security issue in Nigeria with kidnapping gangs making huge sums of money by kidnapping people, and releasing them only after large ransoms have been paid. Prominent victims who have been kidnapped include Michael Obi: the father of the captain of the Nigerian football team John Obi Mikel, and Kamene Okonjo – the mother of Nigeria’s (then) Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Norum Yobo, the brother of Nigeria’s former football captain Joseph Yobo.
In response the police has set up an anti-kidnapping unit called the Intelligence Response Team under Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari. This BBC documentary is an excellent expose of how serious the kidnapping issue has become in Nigeria. Recently there was a long Twitter thread where kidnapping victims and their families shared stories of how well organised the kidnapping gangs are, the huge sums of money they demand as ransom, and how the families of hostages have to borrow or crowd-source money from friends, family, employers, and their community to pay ransoms to get their family members released. After the release the money they raised is then converted into a loan which they must repay. This sends them into a spiral of economic vulnerability where they are simultaneously financially burdened by debts they have to pay, and also vulnerable to more kidnaps since the kidnappers are now aware that they can and have paid.
How and why did the kidnappings start? In 2009 Nigeria’s government ended an insurgency in the oil producing Niger Delta area in the south by doing what Nigeria normally does: use money to solve problems. What originally started as a protest against economic exploitation and pollution in Nigeria’s oil industry also included a campaign of kidnapping oil industry workers. The workers were usually released after their companies or families paid ransoms. 10 years ago I asked on this website, whether the amnesty programme would reward violence by setting a “Cash for guns” precedent by paying militants to not be violent. Not everyone supported the amnesty. The former Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi said of the militants: “80% of them are criminals”. That amnesty programme has set a precedent of paying ransoms for hostages that Nigeria has found free to break from.
THE FARMER VERSUS HERDER CONFLICT
This is a regional problem that has presented a growing trans-national security threat in West Africa (especially in Ghana, Nigeria, and Mali). In March 2016 herders attacked and killed 300 people in Agutu, Benue State in Nigeria. Then last month they killed over 40 people in Enugu State. They have also attacked the Agogo community in Ghana and shot several farmers dead. The herders state that they are acting in self defence and revenge against farmers who attack them and kill or steal their cattle.
The non-human catalyst for the conflict is ecology. The Sahara desert’s southward expansion at a rate of nearly 50km a year has dried up grazing areas; causing nomadic cattle herders to head further south and west in search of new grazing and water sources for their cattle. Desertification has simultaneously shrunk farmers’ crops and grazing sources for herders; thereby making green land more scarce and valuable to both.
Farmers have accused herders of cutting down trees, and allowing their cattle to eat their crops and destroy farmland. Farmers also bitterly complain about herders’ marauding attacks during which they murder farmers, and rape their wives and daughters. Herders contend that farmers plant crops on established grazing routes, steal, and kill their cattle. The fact that the herders are mostly Muslims of Fulani or Tuareg ethnicity, and that farmers in the areas they migrate to are mostly Christians of other ethnic groups, introduces a lethal sectarian context to the conflict.
To avoid the Boko Haram insecurity in Nigeria’s north-east, herders from Niger and Mali adopted new cattle grazing routes, migrated further to southern areas of Nigeria and to Ghana; which brought them into contact with communities that are not accustomed to their presence. Boko Haram and cattle rustlers are also acting as agent provocateurs in the conflict. Boko Haram get their meat from stolen cattle provided to them by bandit cattle rustlers. The rustlers often attack herders, kill them, and steal their cattle. Herding communities often assume that resentful farmers are responsible and take misdirected revenge against them. Although the Fulani and Tuareg are geographically dispersed across several west African countries such as Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, strong kinship networks and solidarity between them means that their revenge can be deadly.
So how can the conflict be stopped? Containing it by closing borders is not an option due to the herders’ nomadic nature and the open borders of the ECOWAS region. The Nigerian government’s proposed solution to the conflict threatens to pour fuel on the already burning fire. It proposes to set aside land as Rural Grazing Areas (RUGA) for herdsmen and their cattle. Already, many states in southern Nigeria have condemned the plan and announced they will not participate in it.
Insurgency, kidnapping, terrorism, and communal violence are now occupational hazards of daily life and Nigeria must plan accordingly by dedicating a special security force to these issues. Specialist units such as the Intelligence Response Team are likely to become more frequent.
Good programme called The Conversation by the BBC which highlights the work that Dr Fatima Akilu of Nigeria has done with Boko Haram members. Akilu is a psychologist, and was formerly the Director of Behavioural Analysis and Strategic Communication in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Dr Akilu used to work as a psychologist for the UK’s National Health Service until she was hired by Nigeria’s National Security Adviser to assist in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram. She counsels and deradicalises former Boko Haram members and women who were married to members of the group or kidnapped by them.
Two people claiming to be sons of the late Boko Haram founder and leader Mohammed Yusuf have written a history of the sect. You can read a full English translation of the history on the website of Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.
Although the text appears largely to be an anti-Shekau polemic, it contains interesting details about the early days and evolution of the sect. It confirms that prior to his leadership of Boko Haram, Yusuf (Sr) was affiliated with the Muslim Izala group and also the Islamic Movement of Nigeria led by led by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
- An eye raising revelation is the great sophistication that Boko Haram had even before they became violent. The history reveals that it was a multi-layered group with several departments with different administrative responsibilities. These included:
- Investigation Committee: which monitored the work of other departments;
- Da’wa Committee: which toured, proselytised, and gave sermons;
- Hisbah Committee: which was responsible for setting and implementing the sect’s rules;
- Economic Committee: concerned with the sect’s financing, donations, and agricultural output;
- Security: which was responsible of protecting the sect from outside elements, monitoring the sermons of sect members, and protecting the sect from infiltration; and
- Charity Commission: which helped the elderly, widows and orphans.
- The sect had a lot of contempt for other Muslim clerics such as Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmud Adam. However they denied being responsible for his murder in 2007, and instead blamed it on another radical group within the sect led by one Mohammed Ali.
- They also excuse Yusuf Sr from responsibility for the “Nigerian Taliban” group that clashed with Nigerian authorities in Kannamma, north-eastern Nigeria between 2003 and 2004. They claim this group was also led by the same Mohammed Ali.
Overall, this is a valuable addition to the information on Boko Haram. It reveals it to be (pre-insurgency) to have been a highly structured organisation.
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Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai had a BBC Hardtalk interview this week with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Sackur gave Buratai a very serious Jerexy Paxman style grilling on varied issues such as alleged human rights issues by the Nigerian army, corruption, the Nigerian army’s ongoing fight against Boko Haram, and allegations that Buratai owns properties in Dubai.
It was quite an uncomfortable interview and it got sticky and awkward for Buaratai and several points.
A very interesting review of the process and negotiations that led to the release of over 100 Chibok schoolgirls over the past year.
A Nigerian lawyer named Zannah Mustapha acted as an intermediary between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. Mustapha is trusted by Boko Haram. He has negotiated two prisoner releases with Boko Haram (the 21 girls that were released in October 2016 and the 82 that were released in early May 2017).
Apparently only 20 girls were supposed to be released in October 2016, but Boko Haram added a 21st as a “gift” to Mustapha in honour of their high regard for him. During both the 2016 and 2017 prisoner exchanges, Boko Haram made an elaborate show of reading out the names of all those released, and ostentatiously asked each one prior to their release “Throughout the time you were with us, did anyone rape you or touch you?” All of the girls denied being raped. One girl who was carrying a baby said that she had married and was pregnant at the time she was kidnapped, and that the father of her baby was her husband.
If this is true, then Boko Haram treated the girls with uncharacteristic restraint as other women abducted by Boko Haram have described being gang raped and forced into “marriages” with Boko Haram members.
One of the 82 girls released this week had an amputated limb (apparently sustained during a Nigerian air force strike against Boko Haram). When the released girls met Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja after their release, this wounded girl was sitting in a wheelchair. You can see the image of that meeting here.
Another interesting angle is that some of the Chibok girls actually refused to be released as part of the prisoner exchange that saw 82 girls released in exchange for 5 Boko Haram commanders that were in Nigerian military custody.
The inside story on the recent American sale of military aircraft to Nigeria for Nigeria’s ongoing war against Boko Haram. It seems that the sale is a gesture of goodwill (approved by the Obama administration, but being implemented by his successor Donald Trump). It seems to be “expensive toys” that probably should not be prioritised at this stage of the Boko Haram conflict.
Join us for a discussion with Nnamdi Obasi and Hans De Marie Heungoup of the International Crisis Group, authors of two recent ICG publications on the state of security and humanitarian responses to conflict in the Lake Chad basin. Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram traces the origins and evolution of vigilante groups in Nigeria and Cameroon and examines their role in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. The Humanitarian Fallout from Cameroon’s Struggle Against Boko Haram considers the plight of refugees and IDPs in Cameroon. The research will serve as the basis for a broader discussion on the challenges confronting the region as the fight against Boko Haram continues.
Challenges of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) vigilante group:
- CJTF membership is a status symbol. It empowers and gives authority to young men.
- What to do with them after their service against Boko Haram. Will the CJTF be demobilised?
- CJTF have a “sense of entitlement” and want the government to reward them by granting them scholarships to continue their education (many of them are young) or to employ them by incorporating them into state institutions.
- CJTF’s existence is not abnormal in the Nigerian context. There are vigilante groups all over Nigeria: many of them ethnically based.
- Anti Boko Haram vigilante groups exist in Nigeria and Cameroon. The Nigerian vigilantes (most of whom are aged 18-24) are younger than their Cameroon counterparts (most of whom are over 25 years old).
The Military and Civilians:
- The military and CJTF have been accused of human rights abuses. Civilians claim they are caught in the middle between Boko Haram and the military. After Boko Haram attacks, soldiers descend on and raid, communities that have been attacked and indiscriminately arrest all young men on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.
- This created a “push and pull” effect that both acted as a recruiting tool for Boko Haram, and pushed young men to join the CJTF as a means of making it clear that they have no allegiance to Boko Haram.
- Military launched “Operation Safe Corridor” which offers amnesty and rehabilitation for repentant Boko Haram members who surrender. The programme is deeply unpopular with civilians who have suffered Boko Haram atrocities. Such civilians demand punitive justice against Boko Haram members and argue that addressing their grievances should be prioritised above rehabilitating Boko Haram members. They feel that people who commit atrocities should not be treated so gently.
Boko Haram Evolution:
- Boko Haram offered socio-economic incentives to recruits such as money (up to 6 months salary), gifts of motorbikes, and offering wives. This latter category incentivised the kidnapping of women to give as “bride prizes” to Boko Haram members.
- Some others join Boko Haram for ideological reasons (Jihad, support for Salafi ideology).
- Boko Haram has factionalised into two groups: (a) one group in southern Borno State (close to the Cameroon border) led by Abubakar Shekau; and (b) a second faction in northern Borno State led by Abu-Musab Al-Barnawai (son of Boko Haram’s original leader Mohammed Yusuf).
- According to the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, Boko Haram destroyed 30% of residential houses, and 700 municipal buildings (police stations, courts, council buildings etc) in Borno State.
In January of this year the Nigerian army announced that is was going to create two new divisions. The two new divisions are 6 division which will be in the south-south region with its headquarters at Port Harcourt, and 8 division which will be based in the north-east (in northern Borno).
The army has already appointed a pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC) for the 6 division; Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim. 6 division will have responsibility for 2 Brigade in Akwa Ibom State, 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and 63 Brigade in Delta State. Before this appointment, Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim had been the GOC of the 2 division in Ibadan.
6 division’s responsibility will be primarily to tackle the security and insurgency challenges in the Niger Delta region. According to Abdulkarim, 6 division “will help to curtail activities of militants, banditry, inter-communal clashes, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, robberies, Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism prevalent in the area”.
Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.