One Nigerian Army commander was ambushed and killed at Malali village in Kankara local government area

Over the years, violence from many different non-state actors in Nigeria has grown, leading to a very high degree of insecurity. Nigeria has developed a ‘culture of violence’. The failure of the federal and state authorities to turn the tide has certainly contributed to it. There are many reasons behind this but WWR sees as a guiding principle the push towards the Islamization of Nigeria. This has been going on for many years and might well be continued by President Buhari’s successor in the 2023 contested election, Bola Tunubu. Not only Christians but also many Muslims and other Nigerians are victims of this Islamization. In WWL terminology, this is called Islamic oppression. It is however combined with Ethno-religious hostility because militants from the Fulani ethnic group seem to be at the core of the Islamization process.

Comprehensive details about the various violent groups spreading terror in Nigeria are available in the WWL 2022 Nigeria – Full Country Dossier (pages 20-26). The most well-known are Boko Haram and split-off group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). There are others too. They all clearly adhere to a jihadist agenda, as do Fulani militants, who have been operating in the country for many years. Although initially more in the shadow of Boko Haram, in recent years these armed Fulani have become much more prominent. Nigeria’s Fulani herdsmen are represented by the three major umbrellas of ‘the Miyatti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria-MACBAN’, ‘the Miyatti Allah Koutal Hore Association of Nigeria’ and ‘the Fulani Nationality Movement-FUNAM’; these are all federally registered organizations in Nigeria. It seems reasonable to believe that among these three, MACBAN could be considered to be the operational center of the Fulani militants.

Apart from Islamic oppression and Ethno-religious hostility, WWR distinguishes Dictatorial paranoia and Organized corruption and crime as sources of severe oppression and violence against civilians, in particular Christians. Dictatorial paranoia refers to a style of governance that seems more interested in the ruling elite’s own interests than in the interests of the population governed. The oppression of Christian and other minorities in a state or national context, and (mis)using Islam to foster the ruler’s interests, fit that pattern. Perpetrators of Organized corruption and crime are represented (among others) by a wide array of bandits or criminal groups, as much involved in raiding Christian communities, killing and kidnapping Christians, raping girls and women (and related violence against them) as the more jihadist-inspired groups. Because of the inability of the authorities to contain that violence, over the years these criminal groups have become very powerful in the country.

Cults: Another category of violent groups are so-called cults which were were initially established as student societies to provide a sense of belonging, power and solidarity; however, over the years they have become a major menace to Nigerian society, contributing to the levels of violence across the country. Although their leaders deny it, they are responsible for “attacking and killing fellow students, armed robbery and general gangsterism tendencies”, according to a Nigerian analyst. Cult members are mostly students in tertiary institutions but recently community-based groups have emerged without any affiliation to an institution. Normally cults are not related to or allied with jihadist groups. However, apart from the direct threat they pose to society, their activities have the potential to trigger extra tension in conflict zones, acting like a spark in a powder keg. For a detailed example, see BBC News, 13 December 2021.

There is an ongoing discussion about whether all these violent groups are linked somehow to a jihadist agenda, or not. The questions being asked are whether there has been “A Jihadization of Banditry, or a ‘Banditization’ of Jihad”, or whether jihad and banditry simply overlap or are not linked at all. Together, these violent groups have instilled an atmosphere of terror over a large part of Nigerian territory. In this discussion, a complicating factor is that the term ‘bandits’ tends to be used as a catch-all category by the media, which could also include Boko Haram, ISWAP or Fulani militants. At times, it also seems likely that the term ‘bandits’ is not only used to simplify reporting but also to mask the true nature of the perpetrators.

Although answers to these questions are important for strategically working towards reconciliation and restoration of peace in the country, WWR thinks that trying to provide an exact answer is less important than the impact jihad and banditry have had on the population of Nigeria, in particular on Christian communities. A report by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Africa (ORFA) shows that the combined impact of all those terror groups was devastating (ORFA, Killings and Abductions in Nigeria 2019-2022, February 2023, p.3):

Most attacks by ‘Terror Groups’ are against geographic communities, and these are more often Christian communities than Muslim communities. Apart from causing direct harm, these attacks also destabilize communities, negatively affecting the survival of the victims, in particular Christians.

‘Terror Groups’ frequently engage in abductions. In this way they put additional pressure on civilians and religious communities, impoverishing them by demanding (excessive) ransom payments, and by creating serious trauma, while financing their own destructive operations. It applies for all, but Christians and churches are most often their victims.

While the security situation in Nigeria has become very problematic, there has been a rather strong suspicion about the role of the Federal government’s security apparatus in the country. In the past years, several cases were reported in which the security forces failed to protect citizens against attacks from violent groups. They either did not act or arrived too late at the scene of the violence. Sometimes they were even suspected of having a more active role in the violence itself. (For more details on this, please see the WWL 2022 Nigeria Full Country Dossier, pp.23-24.)

The ORFA report quoted above, shows that there was a significant increase in the number of members of terror groups killed over the period October 2019 to September 2022: A rise from 297 in the first year to 5,675 in the third year (nearly 20 times as many). Although some trend distortion might have occurred due to adaptations in the focus of data gathering, it is clear that in the 2022 period many more members of terror groups were killed than in the foregoing periods. Most of them were killed by the security forces, others by vigilantes.

This increase in members of terror groups killed might indicate that the Federal government’s security forces were taking more effective action against the perpetrators of violence in the country. However, a series of reports by Reuters in December 2022 started a discussion about whether the many members of these terror groups reportedly killed were always genuine perpetrators. The reports question whether the perpetrators killed may possibly have been in part normal citizens suspected of being perpetrators (or at least of actively collaborating with them). The reports even went so far as to question whether the alleged perpetrators may sometimes have been innocent citizens killed to feign the effectiveness of the security forces in combatting perpetrators, in particular those connected with Boko Haram (Reuters, Nightmare in Nigeria – The army’s secret campaigns to crush Boko Haram, December 2022).

The statistics supplied by ORFA show that in the reporting period with the highest number of terror group members killed, the numbers of killings and abductions did not fall; on the contrary, they significantly increased. (This does not necessarily prove that the security forces failed to eliminate members of terror groups on a large enough scale. It is possible that the terror groups had meanwhile grown stronger, and would have created even greater insecurity in the country had not many members been killed. Still, government pressure on the security forces might have pushed them into producing ‘fake successes’ in combatting the insurgents.) Apart from leading to innocent victims being killed, the suspicion of such behavior by the security forces can also lead to bitterness and thus greater willingness on the part of youth to join the ranks of terror groups, thus aggravating the insecurity in the country.

Corruption is also a major concern in Nigeria. The violent attacks on Christians and Christian communities are partly ‘fall-out’ from systemic corruption and are kept on-going through the emergence of a ‘conflict industry’, which in turn is sustained by a culture of impunity. A conflict industry is where some people benefit economically from conflict. Such beneficiaries could be Muslim or Christian. For example, some people import and/or sell weapons to belligerent groups

or even army uniforms to Boko Haram or ISWAP insurgents, Fulani militants and armed bandits. The lucrative economic benefits from such activity induces the officials involved to look the other way rather than challenge corrupt practices that compromise the security of citizens. Hence, conflict has become a money-making enterprise.

The security situation also has a gender component. Christian men and boys are specifically targeted for killing, resulting in a declined birth-rate of Christians and the opportunity to claim their land. With the emphasis on killing men and older boys, there are many Christian widows in the northern part of the country. A Christian widow may lose her children to Muslim relatives to be raised as Muslims, even when she has raised them previously as Christians.

A spike in abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of Christian girls and women, including married women, has further depopulated Christian-dominated territories in the north. Islamic militants also rape and sexually abuse women, forcing them into sexual slavery, or killing them. CREID highlights the fact that violence against women is on the rise in northern Nigeria, in part due to COVID-19 (CREID podcast, 15 October 2020). There were at least 3,600 cases of rape during the lockdown in April 2020, according to the Ministry of Women Affairs, and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) over the whole of 2020 received about 11,200 reports of rape (Amnesty International, 2021).

A public poll conducted in 2019 revealed that 85% of Nigerians recognized rape as prevalent in the country (NOIPOLLS, 25 July 2019). Whilst there are statutory laws that criminalize rape, in the rare incidents that rape crimes are reported (due to feelings of shame and fear of stigmatization), convictions are seldom reached due to outdated and inconsistent penal laws and court proceedings (OECD, 2019) and reports that some police   officers   themselves are rapists (BBC News, 4 June 2020).