Afghanistan seems to live up to its nickname as the ‘graveyard of empires.’ But who will be next? Will Nigeria succeed in its war against killer herdsmen, bandits, and finally the Boko Haram and their allies? Nigeria has been ranked third on the latest global terrorism index, a report that measured the impact of terrorism on countries across the world.
Only Afghanistan and Iraq were adjudged to have been more badly affected by terrorism. What can the Afghanistan experiences teach us about the seeming incapacity of the Nigerian military to defeat Boko Haram – an evolution of a seemingly non-violent sect into a deadly jihadi force that has sustained a decade-long conflict which is a result of perspectives on the mission, corruption, morale of troops, bad military equipment and weapons, murder and suicide among troops, intelligence leaks, and relationships of troops with the Civilian Joint Task Force, an extralegal militia.
The security situation in large parts of northern Nigeria is worsening by the day. The militant group Boko Haram is expanding its operations beyond the northeast of the country. Armed attacks have skyrocketed in the northwest and herdsmen from Nigeria’s Fulani tribe, who has had a long-running battle with farmers in the north-central region, are believed to be behind the recent spate of killings in agrarian communities in significant parts of northern Nigeria. Violence is increasing against a backdrop of poor governance and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in northern Nigeria, further exacerbating instability across the region.
While a significant extent of the insecurity in northern Nigeria can be pinned on Boko Haram’s expansion in the region, disputes over land that have pitted herdsmen against farmers in parts of the northwest and north-central regions have contributed significantly to the instability of Africa’s most populated nation.
There is also an increase in kidnappings in the northwest and north-central regions by criminal gangs, often referred to as bandits; this has created an atmosphere of fear and underscored the high rate of insecurity. In the last six months, hundreds of students have been kidnapped in at least five separate incidents. In some cases, students have been killed by their kidnappers even after ransoms were paid.
Although organised crime has been common over the last decade, there are several reasons why it has been on the increase in recent months; the country’s northwest and north-central are gradually becoming safe havens for Boko Haram, which had previously operated solely in the northeast.
Though the Nigerian government maintains that bandits are responsible for kidnappings and most of the deadly attacks in the northwest and north-central, there is evidence of Boko Haram’s involvement either directly or by means of collaboration. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s poorly funded security agencies don’t have enough manpower and resources to deal with these bandits. There is very poor security at the country’s borders and this allows for the proliferation of small arms and light weapons amongst criminal groups.
To be fair to the Nigerian government, it has carried out a number of military campaigns, but the massively understaffed security agencies that are involved in a number of operations, particularly in the northeast, are overstretched and can’t cope with heavily equipped bandits.
As concerns grow across the country, those with firsthand knowledge about the spread of criminal operations in the north have warned that if the Nigerian government fails to act quickly to deal with increased insurgent and bandit operations, which are boosted by huge ransom payments that end up encouraging more kidnappings, even the seat of power could become a potential target for armed groups.
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