Niger State is 76,363 km² large, as the largest state in Nigeria in terms of landmass, it is bigger than the entire Southeast region and at least fifteen times the size of Lagos. Niger shares boundaries with seven states- Kaduna, Kebbi, Kwara, Zamfara, Katsina, Kogi and Abuja. The vast territory and interconnectedness with other states have made it a melting pot for criminality. In recent times it is suffering from the triple onslaught of kidnapping, banditry, and terrorism.
Figure 1: The map depicts the distribution of security occurrences and the level of insecurity impact in Nigeria’s North Central State of Niger from January 2021 till February 2022. Data Source: ACLED
Notably, last year hundreds of pupils were abducted from different schools. Bandits abducted 27 students from Government Science Secondary School at Kagara local government. There was also the abduction of 136 pupils of the Salihu Tanko Islamiyya Tegina, Rafi local government. These school abductions negatively affect school enrollment, in addition to these, travellers are waylaid and kidnapped almost daily. Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram also have a foothold in the state, they have come from the northeast where the Nigerian Armed Forces are seriously engaging them. The terrorists are well established in Shiroro Local government, where the Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello in April 2021 had earlier cried out that Boko Haram elements had hoisted a flag in Shiroro. Eight wards and 500 communities in Shiroro were reportedly under the control of Boko haram. The terrorist group is reportedly equipping villagers and instigating them to fight against the state. Due to the insecurity over 150,000 people mostly rural farmers have become internally displaced persons in the last two years.
The bandits attacks are witnessed in areas such as Munya, Lapai, Baro, Wushishi, Mariga, Mashegu, Borgu, Rafi. Koki, Shukuba, Kusare and Madaka. The bandits invade these communities and kill, injure, rape and torch houses as well as farm produce. In January 2022, Governor Abubakar Bello disclosed to State House correspondents that Niger State communities were attacked by bandits at least 50 times, with over 300 persons killed and 200 kidnapped, including security personnel. The Secretary to the state government, Ahmed Matane says that “ISWAP members join the community congregation during Friday prayers and preach on the need to forsake western education, engage in civil disobedience and ban women from going to conventional schools”. ISWAP elements are also present in Babana, a border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin in Borgu Local Government Area of Niger State where they intend to establish a caliphate.
The Boko Haram terrorists are also known to attack security personnel. On February 21, 2022, four personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps lost their lives in what was confirmed as a landmine explosion. According to a statement spokesperson of NSCDC, Olusola Odumosu, the officers were in a patrol vehicle in Shiroro Local government when the vehicle stepped on a landmine which exploded and immediately killed all the occupants except the driver. The use of Improvised explosive device (IED) by Boko Haram has created fear and tension in affected communities. According to a Daily Trust report, in Kaure community where Boko Haram has hoisted a flag. The terrorists snatch the wives of the villagers, direct residents to remove their children from formal schools and marry off girls above the age of 12 or face consequences. The report states that Boko Haram had also directed the villagers not to recognise any constituted authority and planted explosives some of which has been empowered by the government.
The triple onslaught of criminality in Niger has led to a precarious security situation. Food scarcity also looms due to the inability of farmers to access farmlands. Low response time by security agencies to the scene of these attacks is caused by a lack of access roads. These communities are largely remote and accessing them swiftly proves difficult. Intelligence gathering and utilisation is also a bane in this issue. The response of the Niger State Government to this wanton Insecurity apart from supporting federal security agencies has been to invigorate and standardize Vigilantes, a local security outfit. Governor Abubakar Sani Bello on Thursday, December 17th 2021 signed the Vigilante Corps Bill into law. According to Mr Emmanuel Umar, Commissioner for Local Government, Community Development, Chieftaincy Affairs, and Internal Security, “the bill was necessitated by the need to standardise the conduct of the many voluntary organisations protecting various communities” in the state out of concern and courage. The Vigilantes due to their mobility and knowledge of the terrain are recording results. They are foiling kidnapping attempts, rescuing victims and supporting conventional agencies in the state’s security architecture. However, supervision is needed for them not to become a law unto themselves.
Exacerbating the insecurity situation are “Informants”. Identifying Informants would go a long way in disrupting the cycle of Insecurity. Security agencies must treat intel supplied by villagers with utmost confidentiality as any leak would cause villagers not to be forthcoming with credible information for fear of abduction or death. People in affected communities should be encouraged to reach out to security agencies through their control room lines and not necessarily in person. Informants provide terrorists and bandits with information on troops’ movements, locations, deployments, strength, the calibre of weapons and other activities, thereby thwarting military operations from the onset. Informants go further to supply the terrorists with basic logistics for their daily survival, ranging from supply of petroleum and lubricants, drugs, mosquito nets, kola nuts, recharge cards and foodstuff. Informants even utilize many disguises such as a cobbler, mai shayi (tea vendor) or mai suya (roasted meat seller). These give them a vantage position in accessing information that can be passed on.
The business of being an informant is profitable and influenced by different factors ranging from greed to despondency. These informants reside and make merry with members of their communities but sell them out to bandits and terrorists for monetary gains. Also, due to an absence of security agencies, some vulnerable and defenceless communities are left with no option other than to obey the rulings and proclamations of bandits and terrorists and become informants against their will. Their relay of sensitive information to criminals is due to coercion and not wilfully. Security agencies must dislodge these criminals and let normalcy return to these communities.
Due to an understanding that collaborators of criminal elements at whatever scale are a hindrance to peace and security. The Governor of Niger State, Abubakar Sani Bello on the 16th of July 2021 signed a bill prescribing death by hanging for cattle rustlers, bandits, kidnappers and their informants into law. The law passed by the Niger State House of Assembly states “that whoever instigates any person to kidnap or rustle cattle, or intentionally aids, abets or facilitate by any acts of omission or commission of the offence of kidnapping and or cattle rustling is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to death by hanging in public”.
Identifying Informants is a critical component in reducing insecurity, which flourishes because of how valuable information shared is in an economically deprived environment. This bill means that informants who aid and abet kidnappers and cattle rustlers by any acts of commission or omission would be liable to the death penalty if convicted. The extent of this penalty for such a crime indicates that informants have contributed immensely to the activities of criminals be they bandits, kidnappers or terrorists.
Fifth columnists also exist in government and security agencies. These individuals divulge security-related confidential information that facilitates attacks on communities. At a press conference on January 27, 2020, The Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the Nigerian Airforce to destroy bandits hideouts in the state was leaked to bandits ahead of the operation.
To annihilate these bandits and terrorists the state government must look beyond the Vigilante solution. It should procure Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) for the police, army personnel and Civil Defense to aid their operations. To aid the Nigerian Airforce in aerial bombardment, aerial Drones for air surveillance to locate the hideouts of bandits and terrorists should also be procured. Insecurity in Niger is particularly disturbing because of its strategic location. Niger state is a few hours’ drive from Abuja, terrorist activity in Niger puts the Federal Capital Territory at risk.
To build the resilience of communities and dissuade them against terrorist propaganda absence of governance and services at the local level must be tackled. Tackling poverty and providing basic amenities are long-term solutions that should begin immediately while building social infrastructure makes communities more accessible for protection. The need to build trust and strengthen communities through reinvigorating their socioeconomic structures to become resilient and unified has become more imperative. Given the landmass and swath of ungoverned territory in Niger concerted collaboration between residents, security agencies and the state government is needed to secure the state.
Figure 6: The map depicts the insecurity impact across locations in Nigeria’s North Central State of Niger between January 2022 and February 2022. Data Source: ACLED
Figure 7: The table displays the distribution of fatalities by local government area (LGA) between 2021 and 2022. Data Source: ACLED