Jare Olukotun with additional reports by Biliamin Ganiu and Awolagba Yinka.
Every day, hopes are dashed with heartrending stories in the media of bombings, banditry, herdsmen attacks in the north; killings, brutality, and kidnappings in the east and west, upsurge of militancy in the south and a government that seems confused on how to tackle these issues on our hands as a nation.
Terrorist attacks, killings by armed herdsmen and bandits, cult attacks and forced initiations of youths, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA activities are on the increase in recent months. Boko Haram has carried out kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, and attacks on civilian and military targets, resulting in thousands of deaths, injuries, and significant destruction of property. The Nigerian government in August 2019 confirmed about 1,460 deaths.
Some Nigerians have said the situation shows a total collapse of the security system and a need to rethink the security architecture of the country. Nigeria is gradually becoming an insecure nation with the rising wave of insecurity from north to south, and east to west in the populous West African country.
The preceding year 2018 marked a rise in the fatalities from violence from 10,517 to 11,665. Banditry was prevalent in Zamfara and Kaduna states. The first quarter of the year witnessed massive killings in Benue and Plateau states by alleged herdsmen. Rivers and Lagos states also recorded large incidents of cult attacks in 2019. Delta, Ebonyi, Cross River and Akwa Ibom witnessed rise in inter-state and intra-communal clashes that resulted in several loss of lives and properties. Many attacks were recorded on military bases in Tumbum Gini, Metele and Gashigar in Abadam local government area, Zari and Gudumbali in Guzamala local government area and Damasak in Mobbar local government area in Borno and Yobe states.
The militant Islamist group has destabilized the North-East of Nigeria. Since 2009 the group killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more. About 2.5 million people fled their homes and towns, and the direct consequence of the conflict was that the North-East was plunged into a severe humanitarian crisis – as of 2019, one of the worst in the world – which has left about 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
Heightened political tensions ahead of the 2019 elections in which President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking re-election defined Nigeria’s rights landscape. Despite notable military advances, and apparently premature proclamations of Boko Haram’s defeat by government forces, the group remained a threat to security in the northeast region.
Abductions, suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian targets by Boko Haram persisted. At least 1,200 people died and nearly 200,000 were displaced in the northeast. In June, at least 84 people were killed in double suicide bomb attacks attributed to Boko Haram at a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State.
Decades old communal conflict between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt intensified in 2019 and further exacerbated the security situation in the country. At least 1,600 people were killed and another 285,000 displaced as a result of the violence.
Civil society led campaigns against arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture exposed human rights abuses by security agencies, including by the Department of State Security Services (DSS) and the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Although Boko Haram’s territorial control shrank to small pockets of villages around Lake Chad as a result of sustained government military action, factions of the insurgency group continued to carry out attacks against civilians in the region.
In February, insurgents abducted 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State, in a style reminiscent of the 2014 abduction of 276 Chibok school girls. One hundred and four of the Dapchi girls were released two weeks later after negotiations with the government. Five of the remaining girls reportedly died in captivity and one girl, Leah Sharibu, continues to be held hostage allegedly for refusing to deny her Christian faith. About 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls remain unaccounted for.
In September and October, Boko Haram insurgents executed Saifura Ahmed and Hauwa Liman, both aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The group kidnapped them in March.
In June, twin suicide bomb attacks and grenade explosions by suspected Boko Haram fighters killed 31 people and injured 48 others during Muslim religious celebrations in Damboa, Borno State. The attack occurred in the wake of Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai’s speech encouraging displaced people to return to their communities.
Over 35,000 internally displaced people returned to northeast communities despite security concerns and lack of basic necessities, including food and shelter. Within two months of the return of 25,000 people to Gudumbali Borno State in July, suspected members of Boko Haram’s Islamic State’s West Africa franchise killed eight people and temporarily took control of the town.
Between October 2018 and July 2019, authorities conducted three rounds of trials of over 1,500 Boko Haram suspects in a military base in Kainji Niger State. Some defendants had been in detention since 2009 and the majority faced charges of material and non-violent support to Boko Haram. The trials were fraught with irregularities, including lack of interpreters, inadequate legal defense, lack of prosecutable evidence or witnesses and non-participation of victims.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) an Iranian backed Shia group in Nigeria also witnessed casualties. The leader of the group Ibraheem Zakzaky is opposed to the federal system of Nigeria, Israel, the US and also opposes secular governments. Correspondingly, Zakzaky has called for an Iranian-style revolution in Nigeria. The group’s strong position on these issues and their regular protesting has resulted in clashes with security forces. However, recently these clashes have become more frequent and more violent. In 2015, the leader of the sect was arrested, and in 2016 a judicial inquiry revealed that the army had unlawfully killed 347 members of the group in Zaria state.
Late last year, the security forces arrested 400 IMN members and allegedly killed dozens of civilians in the capital city Abuja and surrounding areas. According to Amnesty International, the security forces’ use of automatic weapons was an excessive and horrific use of force. This escalating violence, the emergence of a charismatic leader and excessive use of force by the Nigerian military are reminiscent of the rise of Boko Haram.
In August, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo dismissed DSS Director General Lawal Daura for the unauthorized sealing of the National Assembly. The National Human Rights Commission reported that under Daura’s three-year leadership, the agency repeatedly violated rights, including carrying out unlawful arrests, prolonged detention without trial, and torture of detainees. Osinbajo took the action while he was acting president.
On August 17, 112 women were arrested and prosecuted in Owerri, Imo State, for protesting the disappearance of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. They were discharged and released by a court six days later.
A social media campaign against human rights abuses by SARS, including extortion, illegal arrests, torture, and extra-judicial killings continued through 2019.
Recurring violence between herdsmen and farmers, as well as related cattle theft and banditry in many northern states, including Zamafara and Kaduna, posed 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.
In June, a typical reprisal attacks began after farmers allegedly killed five herdsmen for allegedly trespassing on farms in Plateau state. In apparent retaliation, herdsmen attacked villages in the area, killing 86 and injuring hundreds, including women and children. In September, suspected herdsmen killed 51 people and abducted about 24 others in Numan, Adamawa State.
Uncoordinated and inadequate responses by state and federal authorities deepened mistrust and perception of authorities’ bias and complicity in the violence.
In May, at least 45 people were killed in an attack by bandits in Gwaska Village, Kaduna State. Zamfara State was perhaps the worst affected by frequent bandit attacks that killed at least 400 people and displaced over 38,000 in 2018. In July, the government deployed 1,000 military troops to the state to tackle insecurity.
In the west of the country, Lagos state has evolved into microcosm of Nigeria with its diverse ethnic group, migrants and diverse economic activities. Intense urban growth has led to greater poverty, while increasing local government inability to provide services for all people.
Cultism is another major form of violence that ravaged the country. Among the 24 affected states and the Federal Capital Territory, Rivers and Lagos recorded the highest number of fatalities. Hundreds of people were killed in 153 lethal events in year preceding 2019.
Lagos state is not spared from the insecurity challenge in Nigeria, even with the efforts made by the previous administrations and the government of the day to ensure the safety of its populace.
Rapid urbanization and the absence of affordable housing have led to the expansion of slum areas, exacerbating socio-economic disparities, and contributing to widespread poverty dwells, gangs and cults evolved overtime and in this case the problems have taken peculiarly Nigerian dimensions.
Cases of transport unions unleashing mayhem on themselves from Oshodi to Mushin, Agege and other parts of Lagos before and after the general elections was prevalence. In other parts there were no physical confrontations, the atmosphere was enveloped with tensions due to change in the leadership of the road transport union at national, state and local chapters.
Cultism is another security challenge faced by Lagosians in the year under review. Different cult groups and gangs unleashed mayhem on themselves where putting the society under great fear whereby disrupting the social and economic lives of the people.
Notorious parts of the state for cult activities were Ikorodu, Bariga, Agege, Oshodi, Mushin and others. The amnesty offered first by former Governor of the State, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode and now by Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu for the cultists and others involved in crimes to lay down their arms and renounced their involvement but all seem to no avail.
Ikorodu Division is more pronounced in this regard as many cult clashes were recorded with several lives lost with Ikorodu township, Igbogbo, Odogunyan, Odo-Nla, Ita-Oluwo, Imota, Bayeku and other parts.
The once peaceful local government area is now marred with an array of criminal activities which are fast becoming permanent features of life and living for the inhabitants. The harsh daily realities now revolve around gang’s rivalries, cultism, ritual killing by Badoo cult groups, kidnapping rape and robbery.
Investigations revealed that natives and residents in the various communities in Ikorodu believe it’s now a territory controlled by underworld kingpins where crime is fast becoming a norm.
Cult clashes, ritualist activities especially by Badoo group and armed robbery which led to the deaths of about 652 persons from the figures available in the Nigeria Police records and statistics compiled between January and September 2019. Thousands of families have also been displaced by Cults activities who hunt for their targets across states based on their network and affiliation with other gangs.
Ikorodu is at present danger – prone and ridden with the violent activities of men of the underworld who prey on unsuspecting and defenseless victims. Cult wars and gang violence have exacerbated the climate of violence, lawlessness and fear across the country. There is hardly a day when some young men, women and close relatives of abducted cult initiates would not fall victims to this ongoing spectre of criminal violence.
Law enforcement authorities usually respond slowly not at all, and provide minimal investigate support to victims. The rapid response squad policing’s capacity and emergency response capability of this outfit and other supportive anti-crime mechanism continue to grow, but remain in the nascent state.
Decades of corruption and mismanagement of budgetary allocation to the military and police institution have weakened these organizations. A case in point is the US$2.1Billion arms deal funds which were meant for the procurement of arms for Nigeria’s military but were shared to various persons and companies. The loot was supervised by Former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki now being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The former NSA is reported to have implicated several prominent persons in the deal including former governors, ex-ministers and prominent officials.
The spiraling violence from the various criminal groups remains unchecked except for promises by the ruling authorities to design and implement novel mechanisms to tackle the challenge.
Nigeria, given her economic, cultural and demographic might must use its influence and power to contribute to peace in West Africa and the broader African region; especially as its stability has an inextricable impact on the peace, progress, and prosperity of the continent. Nigerian foreign policy has historically focused on this. In recent decades, Nigeria has contributed to the de-escalation of conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and most recently in the Gambia. Nigeria must continue along this path. To live up to the title of the ‘Giant of Africa’, it is imperative that Nigeria puts out the fires in its country and on its doorstep. President Buhari must take these issues seriously and ensure that Nigeria moves away from this seemingly perpetual cycle of conflict and instability and realizes its potential as a formidable African power.