Muhammadu Buhari has just won his second term as President of Nigeria in what was a fiercely fought campaign chiefly between him and former vice-president and businessman Atiku Abubakar. Tragically, across the country an estimated 39 people were killed in outbreaks of violence. Moreover, the election process was plagued with allegations of vote buying, rigging and delays and this could lead to heightened tensions and perhaps more violence in the weeks following the vote. These are grave and unfortunate examples of the insecurity that the ‘Giant of Africa’ will need to overcome to achieve its true potential. However, it is not the only challenge facing President Buhari. Here are five major security challenges that the president must tackle in his second term.
1. Boko Haram
The militant Islamist group has destabilised 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 2018, one of the worst in the world – which has left about 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid. In his first term, Muhammadu Buhari claimed that his government would bring an end to the national suffering inflicted by Boko Haram. The government made significant military gains, reducing the number of Boko Haram attributed deaths from more than 5,000 in 2015 to less than 1,000 in the past couple of years.
Nevertheless, the crisis is not yet over, and it would be a grave mistake for the president to disregard the continued importance of the conflict. Suicide attacks and kidnappings have been carried out by the group this year. At this time, the government should not just focus on security but invest in peace-building, reconstruction and rehabilitation and socio-economic development.
2. Farmer-herder clashes
The Middle Belt region of Nigeria has faced prolonged violent clashes between the predominantly Christian farmers and the mostly Muslim cattle herders. At the core of the conflicts are disputes over access and rights to land and water resources and rapid desertification which has changed the grazing patterns of cattle. These clashes are not necessarily new, but since 2015, the disputes have become more frequent and violent. In 2018 alone, more than 2,000 people were killed in such clashes – more than the number killed in the past two years combined. The conflict now claims an estimated six times more than the Boko Haram crisis. The dispute is being politicised and is stirring ethnic and religious tensions, which is very dangerous in a deeply divided country like Nigeria. The president must find inclusive and creative ways of addressing and deescalating this complex conflict.
3. The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is an Iranian backed Shia group in Nigeria. 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. President Buhari has to ensure that the army has learnt lessons from how they dealt with the then emerging threat of Boko Haram, and make sure that the situation does not repeat itself.
The Niger Delta, the oil-producing core of Nigeria has for decades suffered from oil pollution which has led to the loss of livelihoods and sources of food for locals. The area has also been neglected by the federal government even though the bulk of the country’s fund comes from the region. In the last decade, clashes between armed groups in the area and the security forces reached an all-time high; kidnappings were rife, and oil infrastructure destroyed at a phenomenal rate. In 2016, one of the most prominent armed groups in the region, the Niger Delta Avengers (and other smaller groups), destroyed oil production infrastructure reducing production from 2.2 million barrels per day to the two decades low of 1.4 million barrels a day. The infrastructure vandalism contributed to the onset of one of Nigeria’s worst economic recessions on record.
Efforts were made by the Buhari administration in its first term to address the grievances of the region. Nonetheless, the Niger Delta Avengers have just ended their ceasefire with the government claiming that the government has not made good on bringing peace and development to the region. There is every reason for the government to make efforts to better foster peace and development in the region especially given the havoc the Avengers (and similar groups) have already brought to the country.
Neighbouring country Cameroon is on the brink of civil war. The Anglophone minority – 20% of the total population – has felt marginalised since independence. In 2016, what started as a series of protests by the Anglophone community against the increasing use of French in their region, eventually turned into a full-blown deadly crisis. The Anglophones are now calling for the secession of their territory which they call Ambazonia. In the past year alone, this intensifying conflict has led to the deaths of about 420 civilians, 175 military and police officers and hundreds of secessionist fighters.
As a consequence, over 437,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and about 32,000 people have fled to Nigeria. The increasing influx of refugees into the already fragile Niger Delta region will have untold consequences on local host communities and Nigeria as a whole. The government needs to be proactive in its response to the conflict through helping to mediate and deescalate the conflict and also through making proper arrangements for incoming refugees.
Nigeria – regional giant
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 deescalation 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.