Nigeria grappling with security challenges for over a decade

Besides notorious Boko Haram, armed gangs, kidnappers, and separatist groups exacerbated security situation in country of over 200M people

Adam Abu-bashal   | 22.06.2022
Nigeria grappling with security challenges for over a decade

ABUJA, Nigeria

Nigeria has been grappling with security challenges for over a decade, with the emergence of the Boko Haram terror group and rising crime rates in the country. 

Nigeria’s security challenges began in 2009 with the emergence of the Boko Haram terror group in the country’s northeast regions, and it has since spread across other regions.

Besides Boko Haram, which has been misusing religion for subversive activities, armed gangs, kidnappers, and separatist groups have exacerbated the security situation in the Western African country of over 200 million people.

The conflict between cattle herders and farmers, the presence of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in central Nigeria, the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDA) and the IPOB in the southeast, the Boko Haram, or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the northeast all disrupt the peace in one of Africa's most populous countries.

Despite several operations to prevent terror group attacks on civilians, kidnappings for ransom, and school attacks, the Nigerian government has yet to find a genuine solution to the country's security dilemma.  

Boko Haram/ISWAP 

Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa language, was founded in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno in the early 2000s by Mohammed Yusuf.

Mohammed Yusuf and his followers, who established religious education schools in Maiduguri, Borno state's capital, as an alternative to Western education, are called "Boko Haram" by locals.

The terror group tries to recruit illiterate youth in particular, offering poor youth high wages in exchange for joining the terror group.

After Muhammed Yusuf died in police custody, Abu Bakr Shekau took over the terror group in 2009. Boko Haram began to commit mass violence under Shekau's leadership.

As of 2015, members of Boko Haram, which began operating in Nigeria's Adamawa and Yobe states after Borno, had shifted their attacks to neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Benin, Chad, and Niger.

The leadership crisis that erupted within Boko Haram in 2016 caused the group to split into two factions led by the founder's son, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, and Abu Bakr Shekau. Shekau now controls Boko Haram, while Barnawi established the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Many people are still baffled as to how the group grew into a large militant organization. Boko Haram has never revealed the number of its members because it lacks a clear organizational structure.

In contrast, the Nigerian government recently announced that over 51,000 Boko Haram and ISWAP members had surrendered due to food shortages. 

Islamic Movement of Nigeria 

Operating in the central part of Nigeria, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) created another security threat as the clashes broke out between Nigerian security forces and IMN members in 2014.

Headquartered in the city of Zaria in Kaduna state, IMN operatives are also active in the country's Sokoto and Kano states.

The tension between the IMN and the Nigerian military began in 2014 with the Jerusalem march. After the security forces intervened in the Jerusalem march in Zaria, at least 35 people, including the three sons of the leader of the organization, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaki, were killed.

Events flared up again in Zaria after Shiites blocked the passage of the country’s General Tukur Buratai's convoy in 2015.

The operation, which targeted Zakzaki and his supporters, resulted in the killing of seven people, according to the military. But Human Rights Watch reported 300 deaths while the IMN claimed that at least 700 of its members were killed.

In 2019, the government designated the IMN as an unconstitutional and illegal organization and prohibited all of its activities throughout the country.  

Niger Delta Vigilante

The Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) armed militia group emerged in the Niger Delta region of the country's oil production area in 2016, coming to the fore with attacks on oil lines in the region.

While Delta state is believed to be the NDV terror group's main base, it currently operates in Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers states in southeast Nigeria.

As a result of armed group attacks, oil production could only reach 1 million barrels in the year 2016, against the projected output of 2.2 million barrels.

The Pirates, a branch of the terror group, attack oil ships from the Niger Delta region to the Gulf of Guinea and kidnap people for ransom. 

Biafrans aims to establish a state 

Millions were killed in the civil war that erupted in 1967 when the people of Biafra revolted against the country, demanding an independent state in the country's south.

The Biafra Republic, which was established in 1967 in the states of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo, and Abia in the country's southeast, came under Nigerian dominance at the end of the civil war.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a nationalist separatist group aiming to restore the Republic of Biafra, was founded in 2012 by Nigerian political activist Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen.

The government designated the IPOB as a terrorist organization in 2017, and the organization's leader, Kanu, was arrested.

While Kanu is on trial for 15 different crimes, including terrorism and treason, members of the organization continue to carry out attacks in southern states.  

Armed gangs take advantage 

The long-running conflict between cattle herders and farmers in Taraba, Benue, and Plateau states has reached a new level in the last five years.

As of 2018, violent clashes between the Fulani and some farming tribes had escalated into kidnapping and robbery attempts, which had spread to various states.

Armed gangs formed in the Nigerian states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Jigawa, Kebbi, and Sokoto exploit these conflicts and carry out attacks.

Since 2018, hundreds of people have been killed in gunman attacks, and thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

Although motorcycle use is prohibited in these states due to an increase in attacks and crimes, gang members continue to attack people on bikes.

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