2016: Nigeria’s dismal security situation and the task ahead
With its leader still elusive, and its ranks fractured by infighting occasioned by a struggle for power and control, Boko Haram’s ignoble roles in the spread of global terrorism was considerably weakened in 2016.
The Nigerian Army’s campaigns against the terror group in and around the Sambisa Forest - the epicentre of the group’s activities - reduced its propensity to launch large-scale attacks against soft and military targets. But the group remained the most active terror group in Nigeria, apart from the concerns raised by the activities of Fulani herdsmen, cattle rustlers and Niger Delta militants.
SB Morgen Intelligence in its report on security in the country in 2016 says “Boko Haram remained the most active threat in terms of a number of attacks, accounting for 44% of terror attacks recorded and 38% of the fatalities. However, 75% of the fatalities in the Boko Haram insurgency are now Boko Haram fighters themselves.” The average number of fatalities per Boko Haram attack has been significantly reduced to 17, indicating the weakened capacity to launch large-scale attacks.
But in spite of its declining capacity, the 2016 Global Terrorism Index indicates that Boko Haram has made more inroads to other West African countries such as Cameroon and Niger, with those two countries rising to 13th and 16th on the GTI.
Pastoral conflicts were the deadliest threats Nigeria faced in 2016 - cattle rustlers and Fulani herdsmen accounted for 470 and 1, 425 fatalities respectively. Cattle rustlers were responsible for 7% of the attacks and Fulani herdsmen 29%. However, an average of 39 victims was recorded in each cattle rustling attack while Fulani herdsmen attacks have an average of 30.
Unlike in Boko Haram attacks, the targets and victims of cattle rustlers and Fulani herdsmen were farmers and residents of attacked communities.
Though Niger Delta militancy was responsible for 20% of the security threats recorded in 2016, it only accounted for only 3% of the fatalities. However, the impacts of the militancy have been more evident on the Nigerian economy.
In 2016, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) emerged as the most prominent militant group in the oil rich region with series of attacks launched on installations belonging to Shell, Chevron, ENI and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The attacks sent oil production spiralling downwards, coinciding with the global fall of oil prices. This effectively reduced the government’s earnings and consequently contributed to the country going into a recession.
However, NDA has reigned in its violent onslaughts against oil multinationals in the region after unilaterally declaring cessation of hostilities. But Vice President Osinbajo’s visit to the region recently showed that the government was yet to formulate a concrete policy roadmap that will ensure the region which accounts for a huge chunk of the country’s revenue does not continue to wallow in depravity and underdevelopment.
However, the visit served a purpose. It was crucial in view of the fact that the region needs to be given an assurance of the government’s understanding of its plight and the urgent need to alleviate it. Such an assurance is what is needed to stabilise the region for the production of crude oil on which the economy depends. After a few false starts, it is hoped the government would progress along this line before the militants go back to bombing oil installations.
Undoubtedly, the government has to work to reassure the leaders of the region and the militants that it has their best interest at heart.
While life is gradually returning to normal in some of the communities ravaged by the scourge of Boko Haram, the effects of Fulani herdsmen attacks and cattle rustling, like those of the militancy in the Niger Delta, has been equalling telling. SBM Intelligence contends that the tepid reaction of the Nigerian government allowed for the pastoral conflicts to fester to the extent of claiming a total of 1,895 lives, landing the country in third spot on the 2016 Global Terrorism Index, just behind Iraq and Afghanistan.
The incidence of cattle rustling has been largely curtailed according to different media reports, but the government’s belated, yet indifferent, reactions to the activities of Fulani herdsmen seems to underscore its lack of empathy for victims of the attacks.
From farmlands in south-east Nigeria villages to Agatu in Benue and most recently, southern Kaduna, the absence of urgency to bring fatal attacks on defenceless victims under control was lacking. While the government can lay claims to an impossibility of official complicity in the Fulani herdsmen attacks in southern Kaduna and elsewhere, it is important for it to note that silence is not always golden. It should speak out promptly and also devote the right amount of attention to the marauders just as it is doing to Boko Haram. Left to fester, we may have a deadlier group than Boko Haram to contend with in the near future.