In two months’ time, elections are expected to be undertaken across the country; however, the implications of insecurity affecting the integrity of the polls form a fraction of the criticism of the government’s ability to provide a secure environment for the conduct of a peaceful and transparent election. Pockets of disruptive attacks by non-state actors are seen as an unavoidable occurrence given the presence of a diverse range of existing threat actors engaged in political violence across the country.
Several security operations remain adequately active, having recorded feats over the past months such as the arrest or neutralization of threat actors, increased aerial interdiction, upgraded arsenals, and most importantly, vibrant intelligence-driven coordination towards arresting criminal activities across the North and South; however, despite these mentioned feats, criminality and all sorts of manifestations of insecurity continue to take a huge toll on the civilian population.
One major contributing factor is the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs), which has resulted from illegal and porous national borders manned by a weak border security system heavily impacted by corruption and negligence. This is fueling Nigeria’s security challenges as armed groups have been able to fortify themselves thanks to easy access to illicit firearms. According to Muhammed Akinyemi’s human-angle report titled Nigeria’s Coat of Arms, “With ₦15,000 ($34), you will get a local gun. A single barrel long-range [can be bought] for ₦25,000 ($57).”
The proliferation of illicit weapons encourages acts of terror, gradually pushing the population into despondency, and also likely to encourage apathy, the political issues associated with this is looked into in Yusuf Gupa’s Dynamics Of The 2023 Elections.
This article looks to discuss some of these security threat actors, their evolution, their strengths, and their impact on the elections in 2023.
Ragtag bandit groups, which are decentralized, unidentified armed groups generally operating in areas where states have shown an inability to exercise their authority in Nigeria’s northwest and northcentral regions, have contributed considerably to a surge in security threats associated with bandit terror campaigns such as violent assaults on commuters and villages, murder, kidnappings, and skirmishes with security services, the latter of which has triggered heavy kinetic offensives by the military.
For 11 years, banditry has persisted, with civilians bearing the brunt of crimes that have resulted in high fatalities, displacement, and severe economic shocks.
The reign of bandits has evolved over time to encompass parallel administrations, in which they manage towns under their control, encouraging tax collection, forced marriages, and combatant recruiting.
Bandits’ threat has been sustained during the pre-election season, primarily comprised of kidnapping and small-weapons attacks against political chieftains and election officials, with no clear motive to support or oppose the elections.
A typical example of these attacks include;
- Kajuru LGA – Around 1 April 2022, a Kaduna militia abducted seven persons related to the PDP chairman in Kajuru LGA. One abductee was released earlier on health grounds, one was killed after the ransom demands were not met.
- Chikun LGA – On 22 September 2022, a Kaduna militia attacked some chieftains of the APC, wounded three people, killed two, and abducted others at Tashar Icce near Kujama (Chikun, Kaduna). The victims were coming back from a political meeting in Kujama.
- Kagarko LGA: On April 25, 2022, a Kaduna militia killed an APC ward chairman and several others when they attacked several communities in Kagarko LGA (Kaduna). Scores of residents were abducted, others were seriously wounded, and some cows and household animals were seized.
- Kajuru LGA— Around April 2022 (as reported), members of a Kaduna militia killed one of the seven abductees related to the PDP chairman of Kajuru LGA over the non-payment of ransom.
- Katsina LGA – On 3 September 2022, policemen clashed with a Katsina militia who abducted three people in the Katsina metropolis (Katsina, Katsina). One of the abductees was the candidate for the Kankia zone state house of assembly from the PDP, his wife, and the registrar of Isa Kaita college of education.
- Mariga LGA – On 25 May 2022, members of a Niger communal militia killed four PDP delegates between Mariga and Tegina (Mariga, Niger) while they were on their way home from Minna. The vehicle the victims were travelling in was shot at by the assailants.
- Anka LGA – On April 1, 2022, members of a Zamfara militia abducted an unspecified number of commuters, including two APC members, on the Anka-Zuru federal highway in Dajin Daki Takwas, Anka LGA (Zamfara). Nasiru Yari (APC), who was one of the abductees, was released.
- Bukkuyum LGA – On 29 June 2022, Zamfara militiamen abducted an unspecified number of persons from Gadar Zaima, coded to Bukuyum (Bukkuyum, Zamfara) on the village market day. The abductees include the village head, a political secretary of a political party from Kyaram.
- Tsafe LGA – On 6 June 2022, Zamfara militiamen abducted a former permanent commissioner of the Zamfara Independent Electoral commission alongside his younger brother at Gidan-Giye, near Tsafe town (Zamfara). The abductees were trying to fix their car which developed a fault.
- Zurmi LGA – On 28 October 2022, a Zamfara militia led by Gwaska Dankarami simultaneously invaded two residences and abducted two persons in Dauran Birnin Tsaba (Zurmi, Zamfara). The abductees were a district head and an APC chieftain, the militia leader called the abductee’s relative to confirm the abduction which he claimed was a reprisal for the seizure of his motorcycles by security operatives.
The majority of the group’s activity has been propelled by various ineffective initiatives in dealing with the situation, which evolved from genuine anti-marginalization agitation to pure terrorism and criminality. The porous environment, on the other hand, over time allowed for the massive proliferation of SALW, which fell into the hands of these groups ushering acts of terror and, in fact, drawing the interest of several other actors, including organized armed groups such as Lakurawa [an armed militia group from Mali] in Sokoto State, armed religious sects such as Dar-Salam scattered in Nassawara, Niger, and Kogi States, and terrorist groups such as Ansaru.
Given the upcoming general and state elections, such a grip with parallel administrations spreading tentacles is only likely to influence how people in such areas vote, both whether they vote and for whom they vote. Such power eventually elevates them [bandits] to the status of election influencers, attracting the attention of desperate politicians looking for such clout to sway votes. This is disturbing since it goes against the democratic will and feeds the bandits’ desire for power.
Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimin Fi Biladis Sudan, aka Ansaru, has mostly been an anomaly on the terrorist threat scene since its formation as a splinter organization from Boko Haram in 2012, primarily providing logistical assistance to armed groups in the northwest and central regions and also being an active contributor to abductions and extremism. Its modus operandi, which employs “hearts and minds” strategies and claims to protect Islamic interests, however, like others, employs cohesive and deceptive religious indoctrination tactics to assert its influence.
The group had served as protectors of communities against bandit incursions prior to its sacking after a fierce battle with bandits at the close of July. During its reign, it gained widespread support from locals, who saw it as a protector rather than a threat.
The group’s stance on elections may be fairly clear; according to an excerpt from a report by the Institute for Security Studies, “In December 2021, a resident of Kuyallo in Birnin Gwari invited an Ansaru amir to be the guest speaker at a Maulid celebration; the amir warned listeners to steer clear of secular political gatherings or discussions that promote democracy.”
A notable form of interference in the 2023 elections so far has been the groups’ ban on political activity in seven political wards in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State on June 27, 2022. Around the same time, Ansaru militants beat up a commercial motorcyclist who resides in Unguwar Makera, Kazange ward, because he was observed wearing a political aspirant sticker. Because of its passive presence in the Northwest, the organisation is unlikely to have much effect until there is a return with assistance from its collaborators al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Sahel.
Following Shekau’s “suicide of vengeance” on May 20, 2021, the old renegade Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (JAS), also known as Boko Haram was operationally decimated, leaving those behind with few choices;
- Stay and resist Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).
- Flee the Northeast to other region states.
- Merge with ISWAP.
- Surrender to the military.
Before the group’s operational capability dwindled, the group had shown blatant disapproval of elections, particularly as demonstrated during the 2015 elections, forcing a six-week postponement of the election. But this did not stop the group from outrightly showing disapproval in the form of attacks on election day on March 28, 2015 in Borno’s Biu LGA, where the group murdered 25 civilians in Miringa, and also in Gombe’s Dukku LGA, where the group attacked the town of Dukku, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the state capital Gombe city, at about 11:30 A.M., shooting sporadically as voters queued up at polling station, following the attack three were killed and two injured; similar fatal attacks were also reported in Nafada LGA of Gombe state on the same day.
Opening fire on polling stations, Boko Haram attackers were heard saying,
“Didn’t we warn you about staying away from the election?”
So far, the groups shown capabilities to confront its long-term rival, ISWAP via existing group’s such as it’s Bakura extraction and other JAS groups controlled by commanders who stayed to fight-off ISWAP’s Sambisa incursion; may ultimately present a latent threat to local communities particularly in the Northeast States of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. Though sustained military clampdowns on BH enclaves have considerably weakened the group’s capacity to function as it did before 2021; its migration to new states is of course a cause for concern, given the risks that are anticipated to arise or are already discreetly in motion.
Following the death of its long-fought rival Shekau, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) rose to power [within the realm of terrorism], but it was short-lived as the military significantly increased its kinetic efforts with intense military ground assaults and improved air interdiction to curtail the group’s traditional excesses in the Northeast region, as well as failure to successfully absorb rival jihadi groups.
With the heated pushback faced in the North East, the group has sought new heavens to re-emerge outside its traditional areas of operation, i.e., Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, into new states across the Northwest, North Central, Southwest, and South-South regions, all of which have separately experienced scattered attacks.
The group has made no clear indication of disrupting the general elections, however, it is almost certain that there may be intentions for a number of reasons, the most notable being;
- Seeing the election as a perfect opportunity to make a damning statement against the government with regards the ongoing offensive against the sect which have allegedly resulted in the death of many of its senior hierarchy, this is one to definitely fuel retaliatory assaults.
- Additionally, because of divergent ideologies, it has been literally difficult to effectively integrate with other jihadi groups, especially Bakura and co., which has significantly weakened its power to influence the jihadi sphere. An attack on the elections might be an effort to restore its reputation or to offer some alluring chance to become a significant Jihadi actor in favor of consolidation efforts.
Jihadi terrorist actors present a similar risk as bandits, but unlike bandits, theirs has a more coordinated malevolent approach, and besides, salafist-jihadist groups have a clear disdain for democracy. Also, considering how terrorism (actors and activities) have evolved since the previous election in 2019, associated threats to elections are most likely to evolve.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) or perhaps a Renegade faction of the group remains the only threat actor with a much more direct threat to the election, as with attacks aimed at sabotaging elections mostly revolved around arson attacks on INEC facilities and disruption of democratic activities in the Southeast region.
IPOB’s actions and purported inactions have unleashed an unprecedented wave of insecurity in the region, prompting not only terrorist-like attacks on both civilians and security personnel but also a deep sense of hopelessness among the populace about participating in democratic activities.
As of November 6, 2022, IPOB central distanced itself from disrupting political activities in the region, citing the fact that the group was uninterested in the Nigerian State and related activities; however, it went on to highlight that there is a high rate of insecurity in the region and possible intra-party clashes are still potential threats that political parties may face in the region.
IPOB currently suffers from a dysfunctional leadership struggle, as evidenced by the intra-group conflict we have witnessed in recent months.
The recent broadcast announcing a compulsory sit-in order by Simon Ekpa, a renegade and ambitious leader of IPOB, further heightens the security threat in the region outside the customary “Ghost Mondays.” Emma Powerful, who is believed to be the legitimate second in command to the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, has refuted this new sit-in order; however, his inability to control the situation has shown his limited control over the group’s activity.
However, fear of the unknown continues to be the most compelling factor driving adherence in the region, resulting in a halt to both social and commercial activities across the region. The response has been poor thus far, indicating some level of unpreparedness on the part of our security agencies and, by extension, the state government through its regional security outfits ahead of the 2023 general elections. However, if allegations of arbitrary arrest and other forms of violence continue to dominate mainstream media, this will further widen the already existing mistrust against government institutions, rendering their efforts futile and election turnout low.
Assaults on the electorate and electoral personal in the form of small arms crime, kidnap, or other forms of assaults are most likely employed to dissuade participation, though a push back is also anticipated against the group, considering the dynamics behind the representation of the region at the poles.
Political Thuggery often consist of actors such as transport unionists, state militias (state/regional security outfits), cult groups, and political militias. The inter-relationship between these organizations is the cohesive advocacy in which all of them engage for the interests of their respective principals, or in simplier terms election violence.
The majority of political threat actors in the country are byproducts of political thuggery, as many of these actors have used violence to advance the aspirations of specific politicians at some point in their careers. And what happens when political power necessitates a clean house? Many of these actors are dismissed or abandoned. With the fundamental survival instinct at hand, they apply their acquired abilities to any kind of illegal activity, such as criminality, gun running, and other forms of smuggling.
To get a glimpse of things with regards to thuggery, according to a Human Rights Watch report, the sheer number of actors involved is staggering in Rivers State alone, which has thousands of young men affiliated with dozens of separate armed gangs.
Rivers and Lagos states have been at the epicentre of the political upheaval, with both serving as strongholds for specific political gladiators, resulting in pockets of violent assaults and other stymying tactics on the opposition. Acors in the South often consists of street urchins (Agbero), cult gang militias, and transport unions. These groups exist in the north, as do other prominent political gangs such as Sara-Suka and Yan Babeli Militias, among others, who are very active and frequently exhibit a violent tendency toward election-related events.
In Borno, for example, the reappearance of political thugs such as ECOMOG comes at an unsettling moment. Prior to the Boko Haram insurgency, some BH members, i.e., Mohammed Yusuf, apparently were also part of the ECOMOG’s political militia group. Since the commencement of campaigns, pockets of campaign-related violence in Borno’s Banki town in Bama LGA and even the state capital have received a seemingly condoning posture, which is a clear departure from Zulum’s 2021 stance of removing political urchins off the streets of Borno.
Another source of concern is the role of state-owned security outfits such as the ONELGA Security, Planning, and Advisory Committee (OSPAC) in Rivers State, the Ebube Agu Corps in the Southeast, the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed “Operation Amotekun” in the Southwest, Odua People’s Congress (OPC), and the Yansakai Militia in the Northwest and North Central region states of Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Taraba, Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, and Zamfara. One of the major criticisms levelled at the establishment of quasi-security outfits in states has been their susceptibility to being compromised by the state and being easily used under the guise of their operations to carry out disruptive measures aimed at stifling opposition activities. Wanton violence, which has been linked to several of these organizations’ operations, raises concerns, especially in rural communities with reduced oversight from electoral umpires and observers that may be susceptible to cohesive voter compulsion [ensuring votes favour a particular candidate].
Additionally, voter disruption is another possibility, particularly with the Yansakai, as a result of the growing revolt against their contentious operational status in certain states due to the state government’s desire to purge its ranks, aka “Clean House,” as earlier alluded to. Although the group has been accused of extrajudicial killings of criminals, bandits, and innocent people, GSFs continue to work with these groups as a key tool in clearance operations. According to Yusuf Anka, their influence over local communities has created the possibility of potential disruption of electoral activities in order to bargain their legitimacy.
Such stifling tactics, combined with the cordoning aspect of violence by state ruling parties against their opposition, as well as the lack of penalty from the election umpire, implicitly provide legitimacy for other actors to use violence in strengthening influences, promoting growing electoral violence impunity, and other related crimes that will persist in the coming months if such actions or threats continue to occur, which they will.