Nigeria on the verge of losing Borno state

Nigeria on the verge of losing Borno state

Nigeria stands on the verge of being split in two as Boko Haram makes lightning territorial gains in the north-east of the country, we warn in a special report, North-East Nigeria on the brink

The report warns that Boko Haram is preparing to take over Borno’s state capital, Maiduguri, following an attack on Bama to the south-east.

“If Maiduguri falls, it will be a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict,” the report says.

A successful attack could be followed by a take over of the whole of Borno state and possibly parts of Adamawa, Yobe, and neighbouring Cameroon.

The report says, “Unless swift action is taken, Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of ISIS’s lightning advances in Iraq.”

We call on the Nigerian government to urgently reinforce Maiduguri to prevent it falling into enemy hands and re-gain control over Borno’s network of roads to stem the insurgency’s advance.

Low morale and inadequate equipment in the army is causing soldiers to refuse to counter-attack and flee from battle. They must be provided with adequate equipment and ammunition to confidently stand against Boko Haram in battle.

Unless drastic action is taken, Nigeria stands to lose a large portion of its territory with an accompanying humanitarian crisis.

For more information, read the full report.

August briefing

As we approach the 2015 presidential election, the temptation to use the insurgency for electoral gain is getting stronger. Politicians from both the PDP and the APC are blaming each other for Boko Haram, with some even accusing their opponents of supporting the insurgents.

It’s worth remembering that politicising a conflict can make it even worse. By turning against each other, political leaders risk distracting themselves from fighting the real enemy. Boko Haram is making alarming gains in the north-east, even recently seizing the town of Damboa. Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. Much needed funding for the counter-insurgency has also been delayed by politicking, and the demonisation of the APC is undoubtedly further fuelling discontent in the north.

The 2015 election should be a time for Nigeria to show its strength and resolve against the insurgency. The best way to do that is for politicians to avoid blaming each other and instead unite against their common enemy.

This month’s analysis includes a more detailed warning from me about the dangers of politicising the insurgency, a piece by Andrew Walker reviewing the 100 days since the Chibok abduction, new observations from Jacob Zenn about Boko Haram’s evolution, and more.

Andrew Noakes
Coordinator
NSN

Our analysis

Playing politics with Nigeria’s insurgency risks civil war
This piece draws attention to the risks of playing politics with the insurgency, including further alienation of the north, distracting the country’s leadership away from Boko Haram at a time when they’re making gains, and hampering the allocation of resources to the military. The nightmare scenario is that the election causes broader unrest and violence in the north. Politicians should do everything they can to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Nigeria is dancing on the brink
John Campbell gives this interview to the Citizen. He warns there is a serious risk of instability in Nigeria and that political life has become unsettled by the approach of elections in 2015. Asked whether there’s anything he would now add to his book about Nigeria, Campbell suggests he would pay more attention to the problem of corruption.

100 days of violence, rumors, and loss
Andrew Walker gives a critical assessment of Nigeria’s response to the Chibok abduction, 100 days on. He suggests that the government’s ability to handle Boko Haram will determine Nigeria’s long-term stability and viability, and that much remains to be done. He also offers an overview of the myriad conspiracy theories that have cropped up following the abduction, and reminds us that all of the theorising and politicking surrounding Chibok are a world away from the real struggles faced by people in the north.

Boko Haram opens new fronts in Lagos and Nigeria’s middle belt
In this new analysis from Jacob Zenn, he argues that Boko Haram are expanding their operations into the middle belt and Lagos. He suggests that a new faction is responsible for the Lagos suicide attack in June, and that Ansaru has reintegrated into Boko Haram and is carrying out the middle belt attacks. He also says that Boko Haram has internalised Ansaru’s kidnapping skills and is using them to carry out abductions in the north. The biggest threat to Nigeria, though, comes from Boko Haram’s seizure of territory in the north-east. Zenn argues that they could create a region free from government control in which to found a new Islamic state.

“I have more than twenty refugees seeking refuge in my house as a result of this insurgency”
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonial Archive Project has conducted a fresh group of interviews with people affected by the insurgency, as well as subject matter experts. In this interview, a young civil servant in Yobe explains that Boko Haram attacks villages when their inhabitants refuse to cooperate. He also says the state of emergency has not been very useful in the fight against Boko Haram.

Is Nigeria’s Boko Haram Becoming Territorial?
In his latest blog, John Campbell asks whether Boko Haram is establishing territory in north-east Nigeria. He notes that Boko Haram has taken over the town of Damboa, raising its flag and establishing checkpoints. Until now, Boko Haram has been more well known for its hit-and-run attacks rather than for seizing towns. Damboa could signal a new phase of the insurgency.

Key points from this briefing

- There’s a growing risk the 2015 elections will inflame the Boko Haram insurgency unless politicians are able to avoid politicising the conflict

- The elections are going to be destabilising in general

- While conspiracy theories abound about the Chibok abduction, the people of the north need practical help to keep them safe

- Boko Haram has opened up new fronts in Lagos and the middle belt

- The greatest threat still comes from Boko Haram’s activities in the north-east, where they are trying to create an Islamic state

- Boko Haram have started to seize territory

- The insurgents attack villagers when they are not cooperative, suggesting people are forced to cooperate through fear

 

100 days on from Chibok

In an article for Foreign Policy, NSN member Andrew Walker reviews the 100 days since the Chibok abduction. While the world’s attention has shifted away from Nigeria, Andrew notes that the insurgency is still raging. “Since Boko Haram seized the girls of Chibok”, he says “Nigeria has racked up the world’s highest terrorism fatality rate”.

He goes on to discuss the politicisation of the conflict, with the government, the opposition, and civil society all accusing each other of using the insurgency to further a political agenda.

You can read the full article here.

Is Boko Haram becoming territorial?

In his latest blog, former US Ambassador to Nigeria and NSN member John Campbell asks whether Boko Haram is establishing territory in north-east Nigeria.

He notes that Boko Haram has taken over the town of Damboa, raising its flag and establishing checkpoints. Until now, Boko Haram has been more well known for its hit-and-run attacks rather than for seizing towns. Damboa could signal a new phase of the insurgency.

You can find the full blog here.

July conflict briefing

As we bring you this month’s conflict briefing, the Boko Haram insurgency shows no sign of stopping. Over the last few weeks, there have been reports of further kidnappings, bombs in Abuja and elsewhere, and multiple clashes between Boko Haram and the military.

Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, has rightly spoken of the need for a new approach to the counter-insurgency, focused on tackling the root causes of insecurity, particularly under-development and inadequate education. He has also called for community diplomacy and peace-building, engagement with civil society, efforts to win public support for the counter-insurgency, and steps to avoid harming civilians during military operations. We believe this approach could be decisive in tackling the insurgency if properly implemented and sustained.

This month’s analysis includes a ground-breaking study of the reasons young people join Boko Haram by Freedom Onuoha, a warning from John Campbell on Boko Haram’s seizure of territory, and testimony from the Testimonial Archive Project revealing people’s views towards the security forces in the north-east, among other important contributions.

Andrew Noakes
Coordinator
Nigeria Security Network

Our Analysis

A Boko Haram enclave in northeastern Nigeria?
John Campbell draws attention to Boko Haram’s successes in taking over territory in north-east Nigeria. Noting that Boko Haram’s flag has been hoisted in several villages, he argues that the insurgency has been seeking to destroy all vestiges of government authority in areas like Gwoza, Borno State. He warns that Maiduguri could be the insurgents’ next target. However, he also notes that Boko Haram do not appear to have taken over any governance functions in the areas they occupy.

Why do youth join Boko Haram?
Freedom Onuoha has published a ground-breaking study of the reasons young people join Boko Haram, based on survey data gathered by the CLEEN Foundation in 2013. The report, entitled “Why do youth join Boko Haram?”, finds that poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalization. It recommends monitoring and regulation of religious preaching, strengthening education, job training and job creation programs, robust programmes to aid destitute children, peace education, and anti-corruption measures.

Rejoinder to ‘why fear Boko Haram’
In this article, Hannah Hoechner warns against assumptions regarding Boko Haram recruitment from West African madrassas. She argues that, although many have said Boko Haram’s ranks are filled with almajiri graduates, there is little empirical evidence to support this. Crucially, she says, from a policy-making perspective this suggests easy answers where they do not exist.

“After [Boko Haram] do their own operation and go, the police will come for innocent people”
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonal Archive Project interviews a woman from north-east Nigeria about her experiences of the insurgency. She shows how the war has caused economic activity to grind to a halt, and reveals how her calls to security forces go unanswered. She says people do not trust the security forces, as they arrest innocent civilians. She also reveals how Boko Haram mainly recruit by force.

Insurgency prolonged: Nigeria’s lack of strategic adaptation and the rising Boko Haram death toll
In this joint article with Rafael Serrano, Zacharias Pieri provides a critical analysis of the Nigerian military’s symmetric approach to an asymmetric conflict, while also drawing attention to under-development in the north and corruption as contributing factors to the ongoing insurgency. He argues for renewed leadership to tackle corruption in Nigeria, and calls for the authorities to work with local civil society partners and neighbouring countries to tackle the insurgents.

Key points from this briefing

  • Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalization in Nigeria.
  • Monitoring and regulation of religious preaching, strengthening education, job training and job creation programs, robust programmes to aid destitute children, peace education, and anti-corruption measures will be important for tackling radicalization.
  • Boko Haram have been seizing territory in north-east Nigeria but they do not appear to have taken over governance functions.
  • There is little empirical evidence to suggest almajiri students are filling the ranks of the insurgency.
  • People in the north-east lack confidence in the security forces, who are perceived to target innocent people and fail to respond to attacks.
  • Economic activity has suffered as a result of the insurgency.
  • Boko Haram are recruiting by force.
  • Corruption remains one of the main challenges undermining Nigeria’s response to the insurgency.

Why do youth join Boko Haram?

NSN member Freedom Onuoha has produced a detailed report analysing the reasons young people in Nigeria’s north-east might join Boko Haram. The report is based on survey data gathered by the CLEEN Foundation in 2013. The report, entitled “Why do youth join Boko Haram”, finds that poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalization. It recommends monitoring and regulation of religious preaching, strengthening education, job training and job creation programs, robust programmes to aid destitute children, peace education, and anti-corruption measures.

Find the full report here.

June conflict briefing

Welcome to the first of a series of monthly briefings from the Nigeria Security Network, a new collaborative group dedicated to promoting research and analysis related to Nigerian security.

Our network launched on 16 May with an open letter to the UN Secretary General calling for a comprehensive effort to address the crisis of civilian protection in Nigeria’s north-east. Our letter, and our formation, came as a result of the growing violence in areas affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The casualties of the conflict have been higher in the first few months of 2014 than in any other equivalent period since it began in 2009.

Our open letter called on the international community to assist Nigeria with training and advice, and to help coordinate a regional security response along Nigeria’s borders, but cautioned that direct intervention could backfire. It called on the Nigerian government to re-orient its military strategy towards population protection and noted the particular need for protection of women and girls. It also pressed the Nigerian military to do more to build public support for the counter-insurgency and avoid perpetrating human rights violations.

In the section below, you will find a selection of our most recent analytical work. I would particularly like to draw your attention to an instructive piece by Jacob Zenn in which he predicts Boko Haram could be set to expand its operations and influence beyond northern Nigeria and the Chad-Niger-Cameroon border area. I’d also like to highlight a detailed and thoughtful contribution by Kyari Mohammed who charts the ideological and operational evolution of Boko Haram and explains the local grievances that have fuelled the insurgency. Finally, don’t miss this important analysis by Elizabeth Pearson and Jacob Zenn pointing out that the tactic of kidnapping girls has been provoked in part by detention of women and children by the Nigerian security forces.

As we move into a new and difficult phase of the insurgency, let us all remember that there are no easy answers for tackling a conflict of this kind. The Nigerian government finds itself facing a challenge arguably even more complex than that faced by Britain and the United States in Afghanistan, with fewer resources and less assistance to combat it. NSN intends to play a constructive role in helping the government to confront Boko Haram.

Andrew Noakes
Coordinator
Nigeria Security Network

Our Analysis

Boko Haram and the Kidnapping of the Chibok Schoolgirls
Jacob Zenn
writes for CTC Sentinel, breaking down the structure of Boko Haram, analysing its international links and influences, and predicting where the insurgency is headed. He shows how Boko Haram consists of different factions that come together to coordinate large operations. He predicts the insurgency may turn its attention beyond its existing area of operations. He also suggests its ideology will evolve to become more trans-regional.

Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria
Kyari Mohammed, Hannah Hoechner, Freedom Onuoha, and Zacharias Pieri have all contributed to this comprehensive volume. Kyari Mohammed’s piece charts the evolution of Boko Haram and the local grievances that have fuelled the insurgency. Hannah Hoechner explains there’s no evidence to suggest graduates of Nigeria’s Quranic schools are a recruitment source for Boko Haram, but calls for reform to improve the quality and affordability of secular education to reduce the demand for such schools. Freedom Onuoha argues for a political counter-insurgency strategy that delivers public goods and builds state legitimacy. Finally, Zacharias Pieri and his co-author deliver a critical assessment of the performance of the Nigerian security forces, showing the abnormally high level of civilian casualties resulting from military operations.

How Nigerian police also detained women and children as weapon of war
Elizabeth Pearson and Jacob Zenn point out that the tactic of kidnapping girls has been provoked in part by detention of women and children by the Nigerian security forces.

Why Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram
Writing for the BBC, Andrew Walker argues that the state of emergency in Nigeria’s north-east has had little impact on the insurgency. He shows how the military are not trusted due to human rights violations and lack the equipment and motivation to fight effectively.

After kidnappings, Nigeria must step up
Jason Warner and Jacob Zenn argue that security needs to be de-politicised and there need to be more funds made available for areas affected by the insurgency. They also call for regional cooperation and more emphasis on human intelligence gathering.

Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff Responds to Critics of the Military
John Campbell highlights the need for a stronger and more effective Nigerian military resembling the force that used to command respect for its peacekeeping contributions across Africa.

Jonathan’s Prisoner Dilemma
Ryan Cummings writes about the possible outcomes to the Chibok abduction. He suggests a hostage-prisoner exchange is the most likely, and analyses the rumours about the Nigerian government recently pulling out of a deal with Boko Haram.


Key points from this briefing

  • International support in the form of training and advice will be important. There must also be a regional response to insecurity along Nigeria’s borders. But Western powers must be cautious about direct intervention.
  • More attention should be paid to protecting the population, and particularly protecting women and girls.
  • Some of the security forces’ actions have backfired, particularly human rights violations and detention of women and children.
  • Efforts should be made to de-politicise the conflict.
  • The government ought to focus on tackling the underlying grievances that have fuelled the insurgency.
  • The government should do more to build support for the counter-insurgency.
  • Education reform could play an important role in improving socio-economic conditions in the north-east.
  • The Nigerian military could benefit from better equipment and improved capabilities.
  • The most likely outcome to the Chibok abduction remains a negotiated hostage-prisoner exchange.
  • The insurgency contains different factions that come together for major operations.
  • Boko Haram may adopt a wider geographic and ideological agenda.