2019 in Review: Nigeria’s internal security challenges by Abdullahi Murtala

Police inspecting recovered firearms

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and most populous country with a population of an estimated 200 million people and is expected to be the world’s third most populous country by 2050, with 400 million people. The country is the largest democracy in Africa. In February and March, Nigeria held its sixth Presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections since returning to democracy in 1999. The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, emerged as the winner. Unfortunately, the elections were marred by violence. According to SBM intelligence report, 626 people were killed since the beginning of the election cycle in 2018. 

The United Nations Human Development Index for 2019,  which measures indicators such as human security, health, socio-economic sustainability and inequality ranked Nigeria 157 out of 189 countries (2), the Global multidimensional poverty index jointly published by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative disclosed  98 million Nigerians were living in Multidimensional poverty(3). While the Global Peace Index report ranked Nigeria 148th out of 163 countries and third most affected by terrorism (4).

Internal Security challenges 

Internal security challenges experience in 2019, ranging from violent urban crimes, kidnapping, long-running Niger Delta militancy and pirate attacks, inter-communal and herders farming community violence, rural armed banditry in the north-west, violent extremism and insurgency in the northeast, Separatist Biafra agitation in the south-east, mob justice-extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses related to security forces response.

During the quarterly Northern Traditional Rulers council meeting, The Inspector-General of the Nigerian Police force, Mohammed Adamu disclosed that in the first quarter of 2009, 1,071 people lost their lives in crime-related cases across the country. Between January and April, 767 persons killed were from the North. The North-West topped the death list with 436; North-Central second with 250; while the South-South geopolitical zone recorded 130 deaths during the period. (6)

Statisense, a data consulting firm, tracking data published by Nigerian security tracker a Washington based Council on Foreign Relations, Africa program monitoring and collating local media reports on security incidents revealed around 7,000 insecurity related deaths and over 1000 cases of kidnapping were recorded between January and October 2019.

Boko Haram

Since 2009, the Nigerian Government has waged a counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency CT-COIN campaign against Jama’at Ahl al Sunna Lil Da’wa wal jihad known as JASJD or Boko Haram, its splinter groups Anṣaril Muslimina fila Biladis Sudan known as Ansaru and  Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiya also known as the Islamic in West Africa province ISWAP.

The violence in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa led to an estimated casualty of tens of thousands and over 2 million others displaced. Significant military gains reversed territorial loss suffered during the peak of the insurgency with towns recaptured and reconstruction efforts initiated. In 2019, there was a resurgence of violence by ISWAP and JASJD particularly targeting military positions and government facilities.

 The Nigerian military collapsed smaller Forward Operating bases into what they refer to as Super Camps to strengthen military positions and reverse setbacks. Super camps depend heavily on patrols by troops who are exposed to threats from improvised explosive device and ambush by Boko Haram and ISWAP. 

According to a Crisis Group report ‘’facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province’’, State authorities should supplement their military campaign with efforts to weaken ISWAP’s influence by improving governance and services in the northeast(7). While Berlin-based Adelphi report ‘’Shoring Up Stability in the Lake Chad Region: Addressing Climate and Fragility Risks in the Lake Chad region’’ Highlights the conflict trap, vulnerability of local population and fragility in the region, the report explains the intersection between the armed conflict, military response, climate change and livelihoods insecurity. (8)

A report by Global initiative for civil stabilization, Conflict studies and analysis project “Survival And Expansion: The Islamic State’s West African Province” tracked and collated information on ISWAP activities and Government response to the crisis in the Northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. The report highlighted the effects of clamping down on trades critical to the local economy around the Lake area, which is breeding resentment among the civilian populations. (9)

Armed Rural Banditry

Rural armed banditry, cattle rustling, revenge killing, kidnapping for ransom and violence was a major threat to livelihoods and well being of rural communities and road users in North-Western Nigeria, prior to the recent peace initiatives by State Governors in the region particularly Katsina and Zamfara. The violence led humanitarian crisis with locals in affected communities forced to flee their homes, over 30.000 Nigerian refugees according to United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in the Niger Republic have been registered in Maradi region due to violence in Northwestern Nigeria.

The lawlessness was created by weak law enforcement, criminal justice system and conflict resolution mechanisms. Porous border, arms proliferation, ungoverned spaces and neglected spaces, perceived marginalization, local grievances and criminality. 

Herder farmers and inter-communal violence

Cattle rustling, unresolved grievances, underdevelopment, ungoverned spaces, population explosion, shrinking access to land and water due to environmental degradation, climatic variation and presence of armed non-state actors among other factors has led to hostility and conflict between farming communities and herders along grazing routes. Seasonal pastoralists migration is also becoming more permanent and increasing tension.

Huge diversity in geographical regions, ethnicity, religion and languages coupled with social discrimination, lack of inclusive governance and growth, resource competition and mass unemployment are factors behind incidents of violence and communal tensions in parts of the country.

Niger Delta, militancy and piracy

Local grievances and criminality continue to pose a threat to security forces and the maritime environment in the Niger Delta, which is the heart of maritime activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

Cheta Nwanze, Head of Research at SBM Intelligence explains that a number of global organisations which track shipping agree that in 2018, the Gulf of Guinea experienced a steep rise in attacks against ships and crews with the incidents accounting for the majority of serious acts of piracy globally. Over the last ten years, 555 incidents of piracy and armed robbery have occurred in West African waters, according to the Global Integrated Shipping Information System. 

Cheta further says maritime piracy attacks worldwide declined in 2019 so far compared to 2018, they continue to rise in the Gulf of Guinea which had more than twice the number of attacks in 2018 than it had in 2017. In July, the International Maritime Bureau described the Gulf of Guinea as the most dangerous area in the world for piracy. 

Vigilantism and self-defence groups

Weak law enforcement and criminal justice system has led to the formation of self-defence groups and alternative justice system by communities to engage criminals, attackers or assist security forces.  However, they are also accused of exacerbating violence through arms proliferation, bias criminal profiling, and excessive use of force and mob justice.

In the North West, the Yan Sakai vigilante group is accused of exacerbating and fueling the cycle of violence in the region, ethnic style vigilantes across rural areas of have also been accused of bias and fueling of violence and in the North East, the civilian joint task force has become a major component of the military campaign in the region, however, they have also faced accusations of abuses, going beyond their mandate and absorbing them into formal system under state control is the best way to avoid these abuses. In urban and rural areas, vigilantes fill the policing vacuum in neighbourhoods and communities.

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)

The Islamic movement in Nigeria, founded by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Iranian revolution in 1979, which led to Ayatollah Khomeini taking over power from the US-backed Shah. 

In July the Nigerian Government banned the group following months of protest and violent confrontation with security forces in Abuja and some States in Northern Nigeria. The group members want the government to release their leader arrested in 2015 after a major escalation of violence following a confrontation between his followers and soldiers attached to the convoy of the Nigerian Army chief and subsequent Military raid of the group’s spiritual headquarters in Zaria.

External threats

 Nigeria has almost 1,500 identified land border crossings, of these only 114 had approved border posts manned by immigration officials and other security agencies. These factors increase the vulnerability of the country to arms proliferation and Spillover of conflicts in Neighboring Cameroon and Sahel. 

The Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, started as a series of protests by the Anglophone community against marginalization, eventually turning into a full-blown civil war. According to the office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs in the west and central Africa, the conflict in the Southwest and Northwest regions has left more than 450,000 IDPs, 237,000 returnees and 44,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.

 The violence in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso were a complex web of militancy and terrorism have created a security crisis in these countries that threatens regional instability.

Biafran Separatist agitation

50 years after the Civil war ended, there exist a fragile situation in the south-east, compounded by deterioration livelihoods and poor land to support the local population, political uncertainty and perceived marginalisation which has fuelled confrontation with the central government and enabled the growth of the indigenous people of Biafra IPOB. The group was classified as a terrorist organization following September 2017 federal high court ruling.


Security sector reform; According to a paper published by Chatham House, Africa programme and authored by its Associate fellow Matthew T. Page. “Nigeria’s security sector needs greater transparency and better oversight. Its current lack of accountability and opaque budget and procurement practices enable the large-scale corruption that is a major contributing factor to its operational shortcomings, frequent misconduct and poor performance in conflict zones. (10).

Strengthening law enforcement and criminal justice to improve the effectiveness of institutions and rebuild public trust, restore law and order is important. Nigeria security sector is widely believed to suffer from manpower deficit. However, manpower management is also a major challenge.

 Manpower; The Nigerian police is estimated to have 291, 685 serving police officers and recently the president approved the recruitment of 400,000 additional police personnel (11).  Increase in manpower without increasing security and defence funding will stretch available resources thin and lead to further deterioration in the quality of policing. A flexible approach of using volunteer police officers to fill specialists and regular manpower needs of the police will increase strength without rapidly increasing resource burden.

Improving security sector manpower management will free police and paramilitary officers from unnecessary and unofficial duties, enhance their capacity and ability police more areas, furthermore technology could serve as a force multiplier for a well trained and motivated police force. While    reducing the number of armed law enforcement officers, adopting maximum restraint- non-lethal weapons and tactics policy for low threat environment alongside new tactics, techniques and procedures of policing will rapidly increase the quality of law enforcement and prevent the recurring problem of excessive use of force, negligent and accidental discharge of firearms.

Border security: While it’s difficult to physically secure the thousands of miles of the borderline,  improving tools and training for border security agents and investing in border security technology such as long-range thermal cameras, radar systems and communication devices will enhance border security and prevent the movement of harmful items, such as drugs and firearms. Besides utilizing technology to manage borders there is a need to address the underlying socioeconomic drivers of smuggling and improve transnational-multilateral security cooperation.

Livestock and land management: Smart animal tracking and identification systems run by State ministries of agriculture and departments in the north are vital to oversee certification of cattle and traders, provide veterinary and extension services, monitor cattle movement, markets and abattoirs to improve livelihoods, standard of living, prevent and disrupt the movement of stolen cattle within and outside the country. Furthermore investing in measures and policies to improve land demarcation and availability, encourage ranching and establishment of related industries such as Bio-energy, diary, and manure production will add value to livestock production and reduce confrontation.

Forest management:  Over the years, a lot of national game reserves and forest reserves have become ungoverned spaces and safe havens for criminals and other non-state actors terrorizing local communities and travellers. Effective management and protection of forest and national parks through forest management agencies,  private sector investment and participation by local communities and Civil Society Organisations in the management of our forest resources will prevent the use of these areas as a safe haven by criminals and provide opportunities for local communities to generate income from improved forest management and National park conservation activities.

Geospatial information gathering and mapping of forest reserves will also provide the Government with information on the interaction between local settlements and forest areas.

Counterinsurgency: a population-centric approach to the decade-old war in the North East will enable the Government to provide governance and development required to win hearts and minds, improve the resilience of the people and reduce fragility. The ongoing military campaign has suffered setbacks which led to the recent change in strategy including the creation super camps. 

Chidi Nwaonu, a consultant with the U.K.-based security firm Peccavi Consulting, which publishes the Vox Peccavi blog, says Nigeria depends heavily on an airborne sensor mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles, fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. There is also the use of human intelligence, signal intelligence etc. However, while these are good, there are many other useful collection sources that are not being exploited, more importantly, according to him is the processing, analysis and exploitation of the data(intelligence) collected.

Chidi further explains, Nigeria has earth sensing satellites as well as a communication satellite with dedicated military Band Channel, which can produce imaging that can be exploited by the military, such as accurate maps of the Lake Chad Basin, its hydrography or topography. And calls for setting up of a Regional and National Intelligence fusion centres: to analyse and process data collected and he describes long-range patrols as excellent sources of information.

The government needs to unify their plans to counter this insurgency, transparency and accountability in this war is highly needed. The government needs to partner with civil society organizations CSOs and the military, they can’t win the war with firepower alone says Bassim Al-Hussaini- a programme and research officer at the premium times Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Beyond military and law enforcement measures to curb the violence. It is vital to Address the decades’ old neglect, underdevelopment, grievances, ideological and social-economic factors sustaining the conflict, reduce vulnerabilities of the local population improve the legitimacy of the State and provide required environment for disengagement. 

 Crime and Conflict prevention: Crime prevention requires holistic crosscutting multilevel and integrated multi-sectoral policies and interventions tailored to address risk factors and crime drivers such as weak governance and law enforcement, unemployment, substance abuse, social division, economic and resource issues. This approach of dealing with crime and conflict leads to long term crime prevention and reduction, it gives options to the government beyond law enforcement and prison.

Human capital development is vital for raising income and improving livelihoods to disrupt the link between intergenerational poverty, inequality and crime. So also investing in physical infrastructure and affordable transportation to increase access to jobs and livelihood opportunities, particularly for low-income families, at-risk individuals and ex-offenders. 

The physical presence of local parks and facilities in communities tend to discourage social disorder and criminal activity, they help to create opportunities for low income and disadvantaged communities, for example, Sports facilities in parks provide opportunities for young people to earn income, improve educational achievements and job prospects. They provide adrenaline alternative to drug abuse and violence, particularly when aimed at risk and high-risk communities.

Niger Delta. Addressing Oil pollution, soot and other local grievances such as poverty, inequality and underdevelopment in the Niger Delta is important for stability and reducing security risks in the Gulf of Guinea and creaks of the Niger Delta.

Cheta of SBM Intelligence says the Nigerian Navy has to increase its patrols of the country’s waters and respond more actively to reported incidents. 


Military deployment, Militarization of law enforcement and prison approach to internal security are not sufficient and effective means to prevent crime in today’s complex security environment. 

As such internal security requires a comprehensive, well defined and coordinated approach involving political system, responsive governance system, strong institutions, social cohesion, rule of law, a vibrant economy, development and good distribution of wealth in the population.



1- Persistent Violence Occurred During Buhari’s Second-term Election – Human Rights Watch


2- Human Development Index and its components


3- More Nigerians are multidimensionally poor than a decade before 2017

4-Global Peace Index 2019

5-1,071 Nigerians killed, 685 abducted in 4 months – IGP

6-Facing the Challenge of the Islamic State in West Africa Province

7- Shoring Up Stability – Addressing climate and fragility risks in the Lake Chad region

8- “Survival And Expansion: The Islamic State’s West African Province

9- Nigeria Struggles With Security Sector Reform.

11- presidency orders ministry to recruit 400,000 policemen


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