Conflict Alerts # 498, 13 April 2022
In the news
On 12 April, the Associated Press reported that gunmen had killed over 100 people across four villages in Plateau state, in central Nigeria, on 10 April. The death toll has not been confirmed; witnesses said nearly 130 had died as the gunmen ransacked and set fire to homes. The news report quoted a government statement wherein the state governor promised: “to make it difficult for terrorists and other criminals to set their bases in any part of the state.”
On the same day, the BBC reported mass burials conducted in the villages. The BBC estimated the death toll at 150 and said most victims were men and children; several residents are still fleeing to neighbouring villages. The news report quoted survivors who said security forces arrived nearly a day after the attacks.
Issues at large
First, Nigeria’s gunmen problem. The gunmen, also known as bandits, have been operating in northwestern parts of Nigeria. They carry out frequent attacks and raids across villages; often, these raids are accompanied by mass killings or kidnapping for ransom. Several bandit groups are speculated to be linked to Boko Haram or the Islamic State West Africa Province.
Second, poverty and resource conflict as a cause. The Centre of Democracy and Development (CDD) for West Africa estimates hundreds of bandit groups from the Hausa and Fulani communities working with militants in the northwest. The CDD outlines that poverty in northwestern states is higher than the national average, and therefore, several community members turn to kidnappings and related activities as it is a source of easy money. Further, such attacks have also been linked to the larger conflict over resources between Hausa and Fulani communities in northwestern. These are farmer and cattle herder communities, respectively and therefore, clash over water and land resources.
Third, the government’s response. In January, the Nigerian government classified the activities of bandits as “acts of terrorism and illegality.” Security forces were directed to conduct air raids to target these groups. However, such actions have failed to quell the attacks. Instead, bandit groups seem to outnumber and outwit security forces. On several occasions, the government officials have negotiated with bandits for the release of victims. Details of such negotiations have not been made public, thereby raising questions of transparency and accountability.
Fourth, the human cost of banditry. In January 2022, The East African referred to data collected by the Council on Foreign Affairs, which revealed that Nigeria witnessed 10,938 deaths in 2021. Of this, 4,835 were civilian deaths, and the rest were security personnel bandits (including kidnappers) and terrorists. Similarly, several schools were shut after bandits conducted mass abductions of school children over 2021; close to 1,500 children were kidnapped in 2021 during different attacks.
First, the increasing frequency of attacks shows that the government response has been inadequate. Government measures like air raids and labelling bandits as terrorists do not address the root problem of the conflict. Instead, it provides only short-term solutions.
Second, the issue is spreading now from the northwest to other regions. The activities of bandits in central Nigerian states indicate that bandits are expanding their bases.
Third, poverty and competition over resources have manifested into violent crimes, indiscriminate killings and abductions. These criminal activities have led to insecurities, like the closure of schools, hindering socio-economic development in the northwest. Therefore, the region is stuck in a cycle wherein poverty has led to conflict resulting in a lack of development and vice versa.