Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa as well as the biggest economy, is facing a severe crisis in its nation-building process. Virtually every part of Nigeria is facing security issues. When a country’s institutions are weak, its security forces are not trusted and its borders are not strong, as is the case in Nigeria, giving terrorist organizations room to flourish. A key starting point should be to understand the causes of insecurity as well as to investigate their sources of social disorder and instability. It is necessary to distinguish between different causes as each may require different remedies.
Insecurity is defined as “the state of fear or anxiety, stemming from a concrete or alleged lack of protection.” It refers to a lack or inadequate freedom from danger. This definition reflects physical insecurity which is the most visible form of insecurity, and it feeds into many other forms of insecurity such as economic security and social security. Our gravest security challenge, now claiming far more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency. It has displaced hundreds of thousands and sharpened ethnic, regional, and religious polarisation. It threatens to become even deadlier and could undermine national stability.
The administration has also failed in its mandate to ensure security, and this has economic implications and an intersection with poverty. Despite government claims to the contrary, insecurity across the country appears to be spreading. The narrative that Boko Haram insurgents in the North East have been ‘technically defeated’ now appears to be propaganda as fatalities continue to be recorded from recent attacks. In addition, other bandits continue to cause mayhem through countless kidnappings and massacres in several parts of the country. An independent researcher, Dr. Jose Luis Bazan, reported that an estimated 2,539 persons have been killed from 654 attacks between 2017 and 2020. In 2019, Nigeria was ranked 3rd below Afghanistan and Iraq out of 138 countries in the Global Terrorism Index. Nigeria is also the 14th most fragile country in the world and the 9th in Africa, according to the Fragile States Index. Unsurprisingly, in the same year, the country was also ranked 148th out of 163 countries in the Global Peace Index, far below former war-ravaged countries like Sierra Leone (52), Liberia (59), and Rwanda (79).
Attacks and reprisal attacks have continued in states like Kaduna with accusations of ethnic cleansing and mismanagement of religious and cultural diversity. Part of the reasons for the spread of insecurity that has allowed these groups to operate with impunity is due to what has been described by Scot Bower, Chief Operating Officer of the UK-based organization, CSW, as ‘the failure or unwillingness of those in authority to address these and other non-state actors and to secure ungoverned spaces, thus not only allowing the violence to mutate but also creating an environment in which Boko Haram can extend its operations’. The heightening insecurity continues to impact negatively on the business environment and economic flows into the country. Recently, many stakeholders including civil society groups and the National Assembly have asked the President to sack the country’s security chiefs or force them to resign due to their ineptitude and an escalation in insecurity. On 26th January the President through his special adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina announced the appointment of new security service chiefs. Nigerians urge them and the presidency to show even more dedication and discharge their responsibilities effectively to deal with the following:
Banditry is on the increase in northern Nigeria/ Farmer-herder clashes
The farmer-herder conflict has arguably become the greatest threat to Nigeria’s peace and security. Recurring violence between herdsmen and farmers, as well as related cattle theft and banditry in many northern states, poses serious threats to peace and security. Although the violence is increasingly described in religious terms, competing claims to land and other resources are at its core. The Middle Belt region of Nigeria has faced prolonged violent clashes between the predominantly Christian farmers and the mostly Muslim cattle herders. At the core of the conflicts are disputes over access and rights to land and water resources and rapid desertification which has changed the grazing patterns of cattle. These clashes are not necessarily new, but since 2015, the disputes have become more frequent and violent. In 2018 alone, more than 2,000 people were killed in such clashes – more than the number killed in the past two years combined. The conflict now claims an estimated six times more than the Boko Haram crisis. Sadly, the dispute is being politicized and is stirring ethnic and religious tensions, which is very dangerous in a deeply divided country like Nigeria. The president must find inclusive and creative ways of addressing and de-escalating this complex conflict.
One major immediate factor which has encouraged insecurity in Nigeria is the porous frontiers of the country, where individual movements are largely untracked. The porosity of Nigeria’s borders has serious security implications for the country. Given the porous borders as well as the weak security system, weapons come easily into Nigeria from other countries. Small arms and light weapons proliferation and the availability of these weapons have enabled militant groups and criminal groups to have easy access to arms.
As a result of the high level of unemployment and poverty among Nigerians, especially the youths, they are adversely attracted to violent crime. Failure of successive administrations in Nigeria to address challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequitable distribution of wealth among ethnic nationalities is one of the major causes of insecurity in the country. Nigeria has the resources to provide for the needs of its people, but corruption in public offices at all levels has made it impossible for officeholders to focus on the provision of basic needs for the people. This is manifested by the incapacity of the government to deliver public services and to provide basic needs for the masses. The lack of necessities by the people in Nigeria has created a pool of frustrated people with the potential to be easily triggered into violence.
This situation is made worse by the absence of effective community policing mechanisms capable of addressing the peculiar security challenges in the hinterlands. The government cannot hope to defeat Boko Haram if it does not change its counter-insurgency strategy. The way forward, then, is the development of grassroots policing, enriched by local personnel and intelligence. Herder-farmer dialogues local peace initiatives should be encouraged. Federal and state governments should foster dialogue between herders and farmers by strengthening mechanisms already existing at state and local levels, and particularly by supporting peace initiatives at the local level.
The federal government also should order the investigation of all recent major incidents of farmer-herder violence. It may need to expedite the trials of individuals or organizations found to have participated, sponsored, or been complicit in any such violence. More security units should be deployed to volatile and vulnerable areas; perpetrators of violence prosecuted; ethnic militias and local vigilantes disarmed; long-term plans for comprehensive livestock sector reform should be executed.