Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 198, 4 December 2020

Nigeria: The Maiduguri massacre, an indicator of increasing State failure
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 1 December, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the massacre of at least 78 farmers in the Zabarmari region of the Borno state in Nigeria. In the video, he says they attacked because a group of farmers had handed over one of their gunmen to the Nigerian Army.  

Earlier in the day, the House of Representatives summoned President Muhammadu Buhari and demanded that he brief them about the security situation of the country. The House also adopted a motion of urgent national importance. Further, Senators asked the President to sack the military chiefs and called for an immediate investigation into alleged corruption in the country's security system. 

On 28 November, unidentified assailants rounded up the farmers and slit their throats; several women were abducted. The incident which took place 20 kilometres away from the state capital, Maiduguri, has raised concerns in neighbouring areas, especially in the farming communities. Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have targeted labourers, farmers, herders suspecting that they pass on information to the military. 

Issues at large
First, the worsening overall security situation in Nigeria. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2020, Nigeria ranks third among the countries most impacted by terrorism. Apart from terrorism that has paralyzed mostly the north and north-western regions, the security situation across the country is volatile due to worsening socioeconomic indicators. Ethnic clashes between farmers and herders and crimes resulting from poverty and food insecurity are on the rise. 

Second, problems in governance and military approach. After the Maiduguri massacre, the Presidential spokesperson said the farmers had not obtained military clearance to be in the area. Later, he clarified that his statement was not an attempt to shift the blame to the farmers. However, there has been a similar lack of accountability from the government on security issues. On the other hand, lack of personnel, expertise and morale plague the military. After a spate of attacks against the military by the ISWAP and Boko Haram in 2019, the Nigerian army withdrew its troops from crucial positions. This left areas previously under military protection open to attacks by terrorist outfits. Further, the heavy-handedness of the military against the civilians has instilled a sense of resentment against the military in the minds of people. 

Third, the lack of regional and international response. While the problem of terrorism has spilt over to neighbouring countries like Niger and Chad, there have been no sustained joint operations to address the issue. For example, in April 2020, the Chadian President announced the withdrawal of Chadian troops from joint operations against "armed groups active in the Lake Chad region and the Sahel." Internationally, the global war on terror has failed to bring any change to the security situation in Africa. Though the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has been brought down, the ideological influence has risen in other parts of the world, like in north and west Africa.  

In perspective
Despite, numerous operations against terrorism like - Operation Lafiya Dole, Operation Safe Corridor - Nigeria has failed to reduce the impact of terrorism. President Buhari who won the elections in 2015 on the promise of improving the security situations has failed to bring about any change. Further, in October, the Nigerians' protest against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squads transitioned into a protest against the government and the rampant corruption. Unless President Buhari introduces substantial reform in the security system, it is unlikely that the public scrutiny will fade.

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