Understanding Nigeria’s Other Security Crises

People stand behind burnt out cars after a suicide bombing in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, Feb. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Hamza Suleiman).
People stand behind burnt out cars after a suicide bombing in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, Feb. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Hamza Suleiman).
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How has Nigeria responded to a resurgent Biafran separatist movement, and how is it dealing with its other security challenges? Learn more with a subscription to World Politics Review.

Fifty years after the Biafran war, a new separatist movement has taken shape in the Nigerian province. In response, the Nigerian government has used a repressive approach to snuff out the movement, arresting activists en masse. The movement’s self-declared leader, Nnmadi Kanu, was at home when Nigerian soldiers stormed his compound. More than 20 people were either killed during the attack or disappeared after it. Kanu himself has not been seen or heard from since. And despite extensive evidence to the contrary, the army maintains that the incident never occurred.

Though tensions go back at least as far as the devastating Biafran/Nigerian Civil War, which lasted from 1967 to 1970 and resulted in more than 1 million deaths, they have escalated sharply since Kanu ramped up calls for this southeastern corner of the country to form a breakaway nation dominated by members of the Igbo ethnic group.

If it turns out if that Kanu was in fact killed, large-scale protests would be virtually guaranteed, along with future election boycotts and, potentially, reprisal violence. But even if he turns up alive, the government’s problems in the region would be far from over. The handling of the Biafra crisis in Nigeria continues a long tradition in which the state has aggravated rather than eased the grievances of marginalized people.

To learn more about the Biafran war and the current Biafra crisis in Nigeria, read Their Leader Is Missing, but Nigeria’s Biafran Separatists Aren’t Backing Down for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

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The Possibility of a Renewed Biafran War Isn’t the Only Threat to Nigeria’s Stability

Although the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, in power since 2015, has long boasted that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated,” a string of losses since the start of the rainy season in July 2018 has underlined the hollowness of this claim. In fact, the insurgency has entered a new, deadlier phase, and there is concern that the military reversals will accelerate, deepening the humanitarian crisis triggered by the nine-year-long war. An estimated 600 Nigerian soldiers have been killed over the past six months alone. Buhari does not seem to be paying much attention to the progress of the war. Instead, he is far too focused on the February election, critics allege. For all its setbacks, though, the Nigerian military has had success against Boko Haram before, and there’s no reason to believe this success can’t be replicated if the right strategies are implemented.

Nigeria has faced setbacks since declaring victory over Boko Haram. To learn more, read ‘Year of the Debacle’: How Nigeria Lost Its Way in the War Against Boko Haram for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

The Fight For Resources Leads to Farmer-Herder Violence

As if Biafran separatists and Boko Haram militants weren’t enough of a challenge for Nigeria, disputes between herders and farmers over land-use matters have escalated into bloody and divisive clashes. Although the relationship between herders and farmers wasn’t always so hostile, increasing tensions over land use have disrupted their pervious rapport, sowing deep distrust between both sides. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, advancing desertification, overgrazing and lower rainfall have forced nomads to search for richer agricultural land for their animals. This migration fuels constant conflicts, triggered by disagreements over grazing routes and encroachment on farmland, which damages farmers’ crops.

To learn more about how the struggle for resources is driving violence between farmers and herders, read Herders vs. Farmers: Nigeria’s Other Security Crisis for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

Will Unrest in Cameroon Have a Spillover Effect on Nigeria’s Stability?

In late 2016, when lawyers and teachers began organizing demonstrations against the perceived marginalization of Cameroon’s English-speaking population, one of the most significant questions was whether their discontent would translate into a broader anti-government movement that could mobilize French-speakers as well. More than a year later, the answer appears to be no, or at least not yet. While the crisis has intensified, it remains concentrated in the two western Anglophone regions, which are home to a fifth of the Central African nation’s 22 million people. It has failed to spread east to threaten the capital, Yaounde, and the regime of President Paul Biya. To the extent the crisis is expanding at all, it is in the opposite direction: into Nigeria, which borders Cameroon to the west. Last week, the United Nations refugee agency reported that more than 15,000 Cameroonians fleeing the government’s heavy-handed response had crossed into Nigeria, and that more were no doubt unaccounted for.

Read more about how unrest in Cameroon could affect Nigeria’s stability, in Nigeria Is Being Dragged Into Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis. How Will It Respond? for FREE with your subscription to World Politics Review.

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You can learn much more about Nigeria’s multiple security crises and a wide variety of other world political issues in the vast, searchable library of World Politics Review (WPR):

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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in July 2018 and is regularly updated.

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