Why the visit?
The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, visited Nigeria on the 5th of May 2022, to show support and solidarity for the people of Borno state which has been hardest hit by the insurgency. The UN says an estimated 8.4 million people need humanitarian protection and at least 3.2 million people do not have enough food to eat.
The Secretary-General believes that part of what is required to move forward from the terrorism conflict is to invest in livelihoods, reintegration, and the people’s future. To assist North-East Nigeria with the humanitarian, fallout of the insurgency, the UN has pledged to give $351 million towards the country’s counter-terrorism efforts, as part of the overall $1.1 billion humanitarian response plan for Nigeria.
The UN largely supports the policy of reconciliation and reintegration of former Boko Haram fighters. Many of them, they explain, are underage children who were coerced into joining the terrorist group.
It is however important to note that many local Nigerians do not support terrorist reintegration programs because they believe similar support is not shown to victims of terror. They instead insist that the former fighters must face the law for the crimes they perpetrated.
The number of attacks and casualties attributed to the terrorist group across the Northeast has fallen dramatically. Several factors have contributed to this reduction including:
The sustained military operations saw the death of the leader of the terrorist group, Abubakar Shekau causing significant cracks in the structure of the group, leading to mass defections of fighters.
Governor Zulum, the Governor of Borno State has been a proactive State Governor who has not been afraid to make tough decisions and quickly took a firm stance on returning community members to their homes, even when it was against the advice and counsel of the security personnel deployed to the state.
The State government also made active efforts to encourage diplomatic relations with the other Lake Chad Basin countries that were dealing with the insurgency. This encouraged more multinational joint task force operations and deeper counter-terrorism collaboration.
In addition, Borno State fully adopted and embraced the use of local vigilante groups to support the efforts of the federal government security forces. This is a formula that many state governments are now implementing as part of their state security management, as more state governors are beginning to come to terms with the fact the federal government security force manpower is simply not enough to cover all areas/parts of the country.
What’s The Issue?
Unfortunately, the drivers of insecurity, conflict and terrorism have not been adequately dealt with by the Nigerian government. One of the major causes of the rise of insurgency in the northeast was the high illiteracy rates which led to a significant number of the idle and unemployed youth population.
Today, increasing bandit attacks have targeted vulnerable communities, specifically schools. This has led to multiple schools across the north being abruptly disrupted due to the government’s inability to provide adequate security to prevent attacks on educational institutions.
Thus, Nigeria is likely to see a new wave of uneducated and unemployed youths, who will likely end up turning to crime to support their livelihoods. This is coupled with the fact that inadequacies in the government security forces structure are yet to be addressed.
The other issue is that many of the fighters from Boko Haram appear to have migrated from Borno state to other parts of Nigeria, particularly Niger State, where they are now staging attacks across the middle belt of Nigeria. There are also reports that they have occasionally provided training, weapons and other support to transnational bandit groups devastating the region.
What Next: The Problem Has Changed Name, Location and Tactics
While Mr Guterres’ visit shows support to Borno State in the aftermath of the insurgency and is commendable, it is not going to lessen the current level of attacks against the civilian population across Nigeria, nor is it going to do much to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Over the last 10 years since the Boko Haram insurgency started, Nigeria has seen an increase in the number of terrorist groups that now operate within the country. The nation has gone from just JAS (Boko Haram) to, ISWAP, and Ansaru. These groups are known to have links with JNIM and AQIM.
Added to this mix of adversarial players, are the transnational criminal bandit groups which reports have suggested number around 30,000. These are unstructured gangs that roam about Nigeria, attacking people for monetary purposes, and/or revenge.
One of the core drivers of this increase in adversarial actors operating within Nigeria is the country’s poor border security. Many of these groups can cross in and out of Nigeria without fear of interruption from any of the government security agencies. The second issue is many of these bandits are very familiar with the forests and use them as their safe-havens.
So aside from focusing on ex-fighter reintegration and rehabilitation projects, the Nigerian government must focus on Border Security and modern effective Forest Management as a top national security priority.
While the reduction in attacks in Borno State is being hailed as the elimination of the Boko Haram terrorist group, the reality is that “the problem has changed location”. Many of the fighters have regrouped in Niger State, and attacks are now being conducted in new locations including Niger, Taraba, Kogi and Kwara States. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are now being increasingly used across the country, further spreading the humanitarian crisis beyond Borno State.
If things continue at this rate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres might have to revisit Nigeria and pledge an additional $341 million, multiplied by 36 states, plus the FCT.