1) Nigeria has been weakened by a complex combination of deep-rooted issues
One of the most complex and corrupt nations in West Africa, Nigeria has long been struggling with deep-rooted issues. Due to the country’s size (in terms of geography, population and levels of natural resources), it has the potential to be a strong force on the continent. However, the political instability, insecurity and rampant corruption that have characterized the country for decades and still persist, have weakened it considerably. Regional, ethnic and religious tensions exacerbate the problem. The extent to which these issues are addressed will determine whether or not Nigeria will be able to realize its potential and become a prosperous and stable country. However, the current trends in the country seem to indicate that Nigeria will continue to be a country struggling to stay afloat.
2) The security crisis has evolved from a combination of violent actors and factors
The rise of Boko Haram in the last decade has made the situation even more complex. Since President Buhari came to power, military offensives led to the decimation of Boko Haram in numbers. But Boko Haram militants have shown their resilience by moving to weak neighboring countries, and rebuilding their strength in Nigeria too. ISWAP added to the spectrum of violent
Islamic groups. There are also numerous attacks by Fulani militants and armed bandits in the north, even in the south, and the government has not produced any working plan to solve the crisis. Boko Haram, ISWAP, the Fulani militants and armed bandits possess types and quantities of weapons that raise questions about their origin. One of the sources is almost certainly Turkey (CBN News, 14 November 2019; Gatestone Institute, 3 November 2019). Indeed, there are allegations that at least since December 2014, Turkey has been supporting and supplying weapons to both Boko Haram and the Nigerian armed forces (RLPB 680: Nigerian Elections 3: Buhari’s Legacy, 15 February 2023). Similarly, there are allegations that corruption in Nigerian government circles has been prolonging the conflict by supplying weapons to jihadists. It is claimed that fake contracts for provisions and equipment could have totaled as much as US$15 billion (Religious Liberty Monitoring, 28 May 2019). Meanwhile, Nigeria has been reaching out to Iran for both military equipment and training (Iran Press, 4 September 2022).If the ethno- religious hostilities further develop along the existing lines, Chrisitian vulnerability will be unimaginable.
The circles of influence of Boko Haram, ISWAP, the Fulani militants and armed bandits have increasingly overlapped, including their agendas. Boko Haram’s leader, Shekau, when still alive, was at least partly responsible for this. He had made a rigorous shift in attitude (HumAngle, 12 July 2020) and tried to forge alliances with various groups in northern Nigeria – such alliances included adherence to his radical Islamic agenda. A 2020 report by Jamestown Foundation also explains how the larger jihadist organizations have sought to “win over bandit groups, professionalize them so they can withstand increasing pressure from security forces, and guide them in administering villages and towns from which the government is absent, or retreat in an ‘Islamic’ way that legitimizes their rule” (Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor Volume 18, Issue 15, 28 July 2020). Further: “Analysts suspect that Ansaru is recruiting Fulani herdsmen and bandits into its ranks and that Ansaru jihadists, posing as herdsmen and bandits, are participating in the Fulani jihad (RLPB 562. Nigeria 2: Insecurity Enables Terrorist Expansion, 12 August 2020).
3) Vicious circle of violence against Christians leads to high levels of internal displacement
As a result of the increasing levels of insecurity, several states in northern Nigeria have vast numbers of IDPs, many of whom are Christians. Many of them are not taken care of by national or international aid agencies. They are a visible witness to the supremacy of the perpetrators and to the high vulnerability of the victims of violations in the region. And this, in turn, encourages further violence and culminates in constant fear among the Christian population where attacks are common.
Recent statements by Catholic church leaders indicate how severely the Christian community is being affected by the security crisis. Indeed, as reported by Nigeria Update on 6 October 2021, Catholic leaders go so far as to claim that Nigerian Christians have become victims of a gradual process of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Fulani Muslims, with the complicity of the state. At a recent online conference, one leader from the diocese of Maiduguri “expressed frustration when he hears people refer to ‘clashes’ or ‘conflicts’ between opposing groups. ‘It is not a clash, it is a slow genocide. To displace people from their ancestral homeland, deprive them of their livelihood and butcher them is a form of genocide.’
This vicious circle can only be broken if the international community intervenes with humanitarian (and other forms of) aid, and puts pressure on the Nigerian government to come up with a comprehensive policy to address this complex and deadly situation. As long as this is not the case, official visits and trade delegations to Nigeria should be postponed or clearly positioned within this framework.
4) Christians have allegedly begun to organize their own defense
Christians are allegedly increasingly organizing their own defense, although they can hardly match the types and amounts of weapons their adversaries are using. Having said that, much of Christianity in Nigeria is still not willing to respond with violence. However, certain Christian young men who see their mothers and sisters raped and their fathers and brothers killed, will likely increasingly try to arm themselves and defend their families and villages. This is a very risky situation, because notwithstanding the concept of ‘just war’ (self-defense), it can easily lead to disproportional retaliation on Fulani villagers and other Muslims, as well as lead to outright banditry when ‘just war’ and ‘lust for personal gain’ get confused.
5) Nigeria could become a destabilizing power for the entire region
Nigeria has become a destabilizing influence for the countries surrounding it, particularly because of the actions of Boko Haram and ISWAP. If in the near or distant future Nigeria emerges out of the current chaos as an Islamized nation, built upon the influence wielded by violent Islamic militancy, Nigeria could become an even more strongly destabilizing power for the entire region. The success of the insurgents might embolden other such groups on the continent, some of which are directly or indirectly related to each other (WWR, Africa: Mapping Islamic militancy
– past, present and future, July 2019). A similar situation confronted the international community when the Islamic State group conquered parts of Syria and Iraq; however, the Nigerian situation is being neglected or misinterpreted.