Conflict Alerts # 334, 25 February 2021
In the news
On 22 February, the Governor of Niger state in northwest Nigeria announced that 53 people, including 20 women and nine children, had been released by bandits. The 53 people had been abducted nearly a week ago by bandits when they were traveling in a state-owned bus in a village in Niger.
On 18 February, the Defence Minister said people should not be cowards. He said, “At times, bandits will come with about three rounds of ammunition. When they fire a shot, everybody runs. I don't know why people are running away from minor, minor, minor things like that. They should stand. Let these people know that even the villagers have the competence and capability to defend themselves."
On 17 February, one pupil was killed and 42 people, including 27 students, were abducted from a school in Niger. Apart from the students, three staff and their family members were abducted by gunmen who stormed the school around midnight. As of 23 February, the 42 are still missing. On 19 February, Aljazeera reported that government officials had contacted the kidnappers for peaceful negotiations as “any military action could result in unnecessary deaths.”
Issues at large
First, the increased instances of abductions. The latest abductions come after nearly 300 schoolboys were allegedly abducted by Boko Haram in December 2020 from another state in northwest Nigeria; they were later released after negotiations. Further, Africanews reported that in early February 2021, in Niger again, gunmen had killed at least 10 and kidnapped another 23.
Second, the insecurity in northwest Nigeria. Apart from the Niger state, other states in the northwestern region of Nigeria are witnessing similar instances of violence. Until recently, Nigeria faced issues of extremism in the northeastern region where Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations have their strongholds. The insecurity is now spreading to the northwest and attacks carry a similarity with the tactics of Boko Haram.
Third, the role of bandits and kidnapping for ransom. Though there are similarities with the terrorist organisations, the attacks in northwestern states are carried out by local groups, generally known as bandits. Bandits are infamous for kidnapping for ransoms. In such cases, the bandit groups are open to the idea of negotiating and releasing the victims, instead of killing them.
Fourth, the failure of the government. The government has been unresponsive to the demands of the people to improve the security conditions. After years of witnessing massacres and abductions and pushing for change by the people, President Buhari finally replaced the heads of the army, navy and air force on 26 January. Further, there has also been a lack of transparency from the government’s side about the negotiations with the bandits or terrorist groups.
First, unless the government steps up its efforts to increase security in the country, it will not be able to gain the trust and support of Nigerians. For the government to resolve problems like banditry, it is imperative to identify the root of the problem. Though, appointing new heads of defence may be a stepping stone to this, the government cannot afford to lose more time under increasing threats of violence.
Second, the government has not been accountable for the numerous instances of abductions and violence. Statements like that of the Defence Minister attempt to shift responsibility of security on to the people instead of owning up to the shortcomings in the security system.