As Nigeria completes the 2015 election cycle, (with the fascinating soap opera of Presidential elections and results firmly entrenched in Nigerian folklore and humour), the many security issues facing Nigeria still persist.
In this article I will try and identify key security threats that the country faces or will face. Those selected are not exhaustive but I believe those listed could have first order existential consequences, a key omission is piracy but this is a direct consequence of the Niger Delta situation and general poor governance. Neo Biafran agitation and Bakassi militancy are worth considering but without other unseen factors aggravating them, they do not as yet present major threats in their own rights. Using a SWOT analysis we will examine 3 land based threats, Boko Haram, the Niger Delta and Middle Belt conflict.
The insurgents in the North East have gone from ‘sticks and stones’ to complex simultaneous attacks with artillery and armoured vehicles as well as IED attacks within and without Nigeria’s borders. They have recently suffered a series of defeats, losing the areas they had captured, as well as men, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, IED components and factories and other stores. The defeats have constrained the enemies’ offensive capabilities, however they still put up strong resistance, with raids on going in the periphery of the Area of Operations particularly in Gombe, Bauchi and Niger Republic. After a brief hiatus IED attacks have resumed.
Resilience: the insurgents have consistently bounced back from defeat and setbacks, there is no indication that this time will be any different.
Will: despite the enemy being virtually surrounded and suffering a string of heavy defeats they have still sustained their operations to the best of their ability and have managed to resume IED attacks. This indicates strong cohesion and motivation. A key indicator of discipline and motivation is measured in surrenders and although these have increased they are not at the level that one would expect for an amorphous coalition heavily dependent on forced conscripts. This indicates that there are sufficient dedicated, motivated insurgents to control hostages and forced conscripts and enforce discipline.
Time: the insurgents are not constrained by time. Their campaign can take as long as they need, thus major setbacks are manageable as they will simply concede space and operational activity until a more propitious time.
Manpower: despite recent defeats the enemy has launched attacks in Gombe, Bauchi and Borno indicating that there are still elements that are armed, organised and motivated to carry on the fight
Operational mobility: the enemy retains sufficient operational mobility and capability to operate in Niger Republic, Cameron, Chad and across at least 5 Nigerian states.
International borders: although no longer as free as before, Boko Haram can still exploit these boundaries to move people and supplies as well as fundraise, rest and recuperate.
Poor coordination: despite the formation of the MJNTF and French liaison officers in Chad, Niger and Cameroun, coordination by allied nations is still poor. The enemy can take advantage of this by exploiting gaps, infiltrating between armies and playing one side off against the other
Urban/ guerrilla warfare: the enemies IED networks have been demonstrably disrupted with the capture of IED factories and stores in Borno and Yobe States, however experience dictates that further IED networks will be rebuilt and reactivated and the enemy will once more seek to conduct a wide scale IED campaign.
Difficult terrain: the area the enemy operates in is generally difficult and restricted. With forests, hills, mountains, swamps, desert or Sahel with limited infrastructure. As the enemy divests itself of heavy equipment it will it easier to operate in these areas than friendly forces.
Local Knowledge: the enemy still has a presence in its key terrain, with fairly strong, organised forces around Lake Chad and the Gongola River Basin. Remnants of the enemy have retreated into the Mandara Mountains and Sambisa Forest as well as existing enemy positions in Waza and the Eastern Mandara Mountains in Cameroun. Their existing links and knowledge give them an advantage.
Daesh: the collaboration with Daesh could potentially open supply lines to Daesh affiliates in Libya and give them better deals in the Sahelian arms market. If the links strengthen then an exchange of fighters, receipts from Libyan oil smuggling and expertise from Syria/ Iraq or Libya could assist Boko Haram as well as give them bankable jihadi credibility.
Political: post election there will be unemployed thugs and disgruntled politician willing to sponsor troublemakers against rivals. This can be a useful source of funds and manpower for Boko Haram.
Improved tactics: Nigerians forces have fielded fresh retrained, well motivated units, with new commanders and better tactics. These units have taken the fight to the enemy as never before and used all assets such as intelligence, mobility, manoeuvre and joint fires to relentlessly pursue, degrade, defeat and destroy the enemy.
Improved equipment: Nigerians forces have fielded new equipment such as T 72 MBTs, armed UAVs, ISR platforms, MBRLs, patrol vehicles etc have increased troops range, firepower, protection and confidence.
Increased force numbers: additional Army, police and MOPOL units have been deployed to the area allowing greater flexibility and allowing, friendly forces to hold cleared areas.
Lack of popular support: the enemy has limited remaining popular support. With nothing to offer in the way of a better life and short of a complete change in tactics, it is unlikely it could generate any support (in Nigeria) without financial inducements, abductions, blackmail or threats.
Loss of territory: the loss of territory deprives the enemy of rest and training areas, arms caches and bases. It also deprives the enemy of a captive population and smuggling and trade routes to prey off
Better coordination: the new cooperation between the Lake Chad states increases the number of forces facing the enemy and reduces access to cross border sanctuaries.
Loss of economic areas: the loss of the area around Lake Chad will have a significant financial effect on the enemies’ ability to reconstitute its men and equipment.
Daesh: whilst giving a certain amount of jihadi credibility, it also increases the level of scrutiny and assets that might be brought to bear on their supply lines and financial links and could lead to requests for contributions of fighters or funds as happened with MUJAO
Improved Coordination: the formation of the MJNTF and mobilisation of Chad and Niger (and eventually Benin) in addition to Nigerian and Camerounian forces should thus reduce their room for manoeuvre. Once an AU force enters the conflict then sufficient forces will exist to maintain constant pressure on enemy forces and supply lines.
Force numbers: post-election more troops can be deployed to the area to garrison liberated areas and continue the pursuit of enemy forces.
Operational tempo: the aggressive intent of 7 Div commander appears to focus on taking the fight to the enemy. Operations in Balmo Forest, around Lake Chad, in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno keep the enemy constantly under pressure, with raids from Chadian/ Nigerien forces harassing them and keeping them off balance.
MJNTF: properly handled the MJNTF would be able to prevent the enemy from reconstituting in the numbers and lethality previously seen.
Post conflict ops: the military has begun providing basic services in liberated areas, is this is sustained with a comprehensive civilian effort to rebuild infrastructure, restart economic life and provide for the population, the conditions favourable to Boko Haram will be arrested.
Urban terrorism: with a huge area to secure, terrorism will continue to be the tactic of choice for the insurgents. Urban counter terror efforts absorb a disproportionate amount of troops and resources.
Guerrilla warfare: small mobile groups operating from inhospitable terrain requires a disproportionate amount of resource to counter and defeat them.
Expansion to the Middle Belt: Whilst the North East is the traditional area of operations. The geography, history, demographic and situation in the Middle Belt is ripe for exploitation and expansion.
Expansion to the east: Cameroun still constitutes vital ground to the enemy with the Mandara Mountains, Waza Forests and links to Chad and Central Africa. The tribal and linguistic links, inhospitable terrain and relatively all size of Cameroun’s forces make operations easier.
Expansion to the west: The enemy is firmly established to the west of the AO in Bauchi and Gombe along the Gongola River Basin and in the Balmo Forest. This area could easily become a battleground in its own right rather than an adjunct to operations in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, further stretching friendly forces.
Expansion to the north: enemy links in Niger Republic are stronger than previously suspected and Niger is the weakest power in the alliance. It is unlikely Niger can sustain its current relatively low level of ops much less secure its population centres, lines of communications and defend against subversion. Combined with the economic effects of the blockade on trade and transport with Nigeria and the sub region, Boko Haram could carve out a significant niche for itself if it maintains pressure on Niger.
External interference: Boko Haram constitutes a useful tool for regional powers to bolster their regional and international credentials and sap Nigerian strength. The utility of the insurgents to these powers as well as geographic and other links constitutes a form of strategic depth for the insurgents (and for external powers).
Boko Haram still retains the means to inflict casualties and cause destruction. However it would appear they no longer have the means to launch major town capturing attacks but they have the space and time to fall back regroup and attack again. Their motivation still appears strong as thus far there have not been mass surrenders or even a consistent trickle of surrenders or defections which is generally a good indicator of morale and discipline.
The enemy is vulnerable to the type of sustained Clear-Hold-Build ops that are currently ongoing, with friendly mobile elements harrying the enemy and destroying their men, materiel, cohesion and plans. Despite their defeats they are not defeated and will convert the weakness of having multiple enemies to the strength of having multiple targets, the loss of territory to the strength of not having to defend it, the loss of rural strongholds to the strength of stronger urban cells hiding in IDPS and refugees and so on. Boko Haram might not present as dangerous a threat but it is not defeated.
Niger Delta Militancy
The Niger Delta consists of the South-South Political zone in Nigeria consisting of 6 states along Nigeria’s coast where the Niger Delta enters the Atlantic (Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo States) and parts of Ondo and Imo States. The region is inhabited by at least 60 tribes.
Majority of Nigeria’s oil and gas is produced here and as has been well documented this is not just economically deprived but polluted on a scale slightly less than that of Chernobyl. Resource related rebellion dates back to Jaja of Opobo under colonialism and Isaac Boro in modern Nigeria.
Agitation began again in the early 1990’s with non violent civic protest which was met by repression, characterised by the Ogoni 9 murders by Sani Abacha. As well as state repression the Abacha regime also sponsored tribal militias pitting Ogoni, Andoni, Ijaw, Urhobo, Kalabari and others against each other as well as using the Army to attack recalcitrant villages.
Violence reduced after his death but peaked again in the late 1990’s when political thugs and cultists who were used by local politicians to rig elections and intimidate opponents were abandoned post-election and ‘took to the creeks’ adopting, the populist cause of resource control. They ran an extremely effective campaign combining guerrilla attacks with economic warfare and high profile kidnaping (hostages were well treated, indoctrinated and then released for ransom becoming useful ambassadors for the cause). Eventually the attacks descended into criminality and the insurgency ended with a highly controversial ‘Amnesty’ programme in 2009 leading some insurgent leaders to become extremely wealthy, some rank and file insurgents were put on $400 monthly stipends and sent on expensive courses abroad whilst youths who didn’t take up arms were ignored and the Niger Delta left to fester.
The amnesty concludes in 2015 with certain insurgent leaders receiving multi billion naira pipeline monitoring and security contracts. Nigeria is curiously experiencing its highest level of oil theft and bunkering estimated at 100,000 barrels per day.
The general sense of injustice (at their historic lot and the amnesty largesse) was slightly tempered by the election of President Jonathan (from Bayelsa state). In the current election cycle several militant leaders expressed their support by threatening the opposition and anyone not voting as they pleased. The Presidents honourable concession made a mockery of these threats leaving them further disenfranchised and humiliated.
The Presidential electoral defeat coincides with the ending of the amnesty, a split within the Rivers State political class as gubernatorial and local elections. Combined with a drop in oil prices (making bunkering uneconomic as well as reducing legitimate business in the oil sector), unresolved environmental damage and a complete failure by Federal, State and Local Governments to develop the region could create the perfect storm that reignite the insurgency.
Wealthy sponsors: there are several people who became extremely wealthy very quickly and very easily under previous administrations. These people could lose access to contracts and/ or come under investigation under a new administration. These nouveau riche cabals without broad multi regional alliances to keep them in good stead, might be considered vulnerable to a new administration looking to make a name for themselves. These people have the funds and networks to raise and sustain insurgent groups
Poorly maintained oil infrastructure: old, surface laid, poorly maintained pipelines make it easy to both steal oil and sabotage oil operations. A comprehensive pipeline security operation will be both cost, manpower and time intensive. A comprehensive programme to construct new pipelines will come with prohibitive environmental, security and capital costs
Extremely difficult terrain: the terrain is extremely restricted with the southern portion consisting of mangrove swamps, creeks, forest and isolated villages, while the northern portion consists of rain forest with several large cities. These cities and other towns and villages are linked by road, rail and air. It is ideal guerrilla country favouring light mobile forces with local knowledge.
Easy availability of light weapons: the area currently has a high density of light and small arms leftovers from the earlier insurgency and current and past political struggles. Established smuggling networks also exist allowing weapons and ammunition to be brought in. Oil exploration activities also mean the presence of commercial explosives.
Poor border security: there are highly developed smuggling routes dating back to the days of Jaja of Opobo which can comfortably extract tanker loads of petroleum products as well as other smaller vessels with a variety of goods allowing insurgents to sustain themselves by smuggling and bring in armaments and other stores.
Political/ regional grievance: the plight of the Niger Delta is a genuine casus belli and that arouses anger and sympathy locally, nationally and internationally. It is not hard to garner popular support and legitimacy by championing the cause of the Niger Delta.
Economic incentives: Peaceful non violent means such as Ken Saro Wiwa’s MOSOP were met with repression and judicial murder while the MEND leaders were richly rewarded. With limited legal economic opportunities there is a high incentive for young men to become insurgents either for the direct rewards of bunkering, piracy and kidnapping or for the hoped for economic or educational rewards of ‘amnesty’.
Insufficient combat power: although security forces are deployed in the area the rest of the military are heavily committed to COIN operations in the northeast, internal security operations in the Middle Belt, International peace keeping operations and other tasks. This gives the insurgents confidence that the security forces will struggle allowing them to exploit gaps.
Unemployment: high levels of unemployment and underemployment provide a large pool of unoccupied fighting age males for insurgency or criminality
Poor oil market: the current low oil price reduces the profitability of oil bunkering and also leads oil companies to cut production, reducing the flow from fields and the number of kidnapable staff in the area.
Better Experienced/ Equipped security forces: the security forces have are better equipped, prepared and trained for counter insurgency operations in the Niger Delta than previously.
Lack of popular support: the previous conflict did not lead to better lives for the people of the Delta. A tiny minority became very wealthy, a small number got scholarships, however there is limited new development outside of Port Harcourt, with no discernible dividend of the struggle (or democracy) to the average person. People will have a fairly good idea of the cynical nature of a renewed insurgency and are unlikely to provide unqualified support.
Improved ISR capability: new unmanned, fixed and rotary ISR platforms are in the Nigerian inventory as well as satellites. Even more importantly are the surveillance, analysis, and interpretation skills developed in the current military generation under combat conditions.
Specialist forces: supporting the ISR and STA effort would be Nigeria’s special forces in particular Nigerian Navy SBS. Highly trained in maritime and riverine warfare, having gained valuable combat experience in the North, these troops act as force multipliers giving friendly commanders the capability to infiltrate enemy positions, observe and/or call in fires or other assets.
Exploit Differences: there are many actors and factions in the Niger Delta divided by tribe, state, allegiances, can, etc. There are those that have ‘chopped’, are ‘chopping’ and those who are yet to ‘chop’. These fissures are fairly obvious and easy to exploit, if done skilfully. By turning insurgents and potential insurgents against each other or toward the government, it reduces the size and scale of the task
Sustained Development: A genuine plan to deal with underdevelopment, pollution and lack of amenities will win the consent of the local population, turning them against insurgents who will be viewed as thugs and ‘spoilers’. Labour intensive development schemes will not only develop the area and introduce funds into the local economy but it will also tie up a large proportion of fighting age males.
Law and order: robust and thorough national and international anti corruption and money laundering against suspected sponsors of insurgent groups; freezing their assets, trying and detaining them, would increase the personal risk and cost of sponsoring an insurgency.
Low Oil Prices: the low oil prices means less profit from stolen oil. This can be exploited with a robust (and honest) counter bunkering operation, this will increase the cost of bunkering making the trade too costly for all but the largest, wealthiest and most powerful syndicates, who can then be more thoroughly targeted.
Robust policing: an increased police presence should make it difficult for insurgents to move and organise as well as increase general security. It is important that the police actions are seen as protecting the communities as opposed to repressive or predatory. This will require a well led, well trained, well equipped and properly rewarded and motivated police force
Strategic communications: a credible media and information operation to craft a strong, unifying narrative, paint the insurgents as the enemy and highlight positive achievements will reduce sympathy and legitimacy for the insurgents and ensure that local, national, regional and international audiences identify with the government.
Economic blockade: the decrepit nature of the oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta means that it is relatively easy for people with explosives and local and technical knowledge to shut down production with a few well targeted attacks. Even deep water installations have been shown not to be immune. Even a few successful attacks would have an economic effect with increased insurance and security costs leading companies to pull out rather than run the risks.
Increased crime and insecurity: the presence of armed criminals acting with impunity encourages more crime, with copycats using the general insecurity to rob, kidnap for ransom and run protection and extortion rackets. The abundance of small arms leads to an increase in crime and banditry, increasing the misery of ordinary people, isolating or driving away professionals and increasing pressure on the security forces
IDP: Nigeria already has some of the largest concentrations of internally displaced people in the world. Further conflict will displace more people, putting pressure on resources, security and reducing economic activity
Insufficient combat power: all counter insurgency is manpower intensive. To garrison, patrol and dominate a vast inhospitable area that stretches from Cameroun to Ondo State properly would take more forces than are currently available and requires boats, landing craft (and the specialised skills to handle them), helicopters, life jackets etc. This strains the combat, combat support and combat service support elements, particularly as logistics will be air or water based.
Contagion: militancy in the Niger Delta led to increased kidnapping in the South Eastern States, increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, militancy in Bakassi, increased oil theft and other problems. An upsurge in violence will cause second, third and fourth order effects in neighbouring areas
Copy cats: There are few ethnic or tribal groups in Nigeria without a genuine grievance against the state or each other and the unfortunate example of the amnesty bonanza has been a belief that the way to get economic incentives is to create a threat to the state and then wait to be co-opted or paid off. A resurgent Niger Delta could encourage other disaffected people to take up arms in the hope that the Federal Government would rather pay them than fight them all at once.
Environmental damage: although it is hard to imagine the Delta becoming more polluted, whatever limited (frankly non existent) attempts there are to end gas flaring, oil leaks and clean up legacy leaks will come to a halt. Renewed attacks against pipelines as well as a reduction in the already paltry maintenance will lead to more spills.
IEDs: were used in the earlier Niger Delta conflicts in combat and to destroy oil installations. There were a few terror attacks but these were isolated. Commercial explosive from oil exploration is easily obtained or stolen. It is likely that IEDs and urban terrorism would be a key weapon for any resurgent groups. Although restraint was shown in their use there was limited discrimination in targeting, these limited restrictions will likely lessen now.
Indiscriminate attacks: as above previous iterations of the Niger Delta struggle took pains to gain popular and international support with proper treatment of hostages, timely press releases to justify attacks etc. A new iteration is more likely to be less disciplined due to the more mercenary nature of the conflict.
There is just as much incentive for militants to ‘return to the creeks’ as there is for them not to. Low prices might reduce profits but does not remove them, on the corollary, men who have got used to fine living in Abuja and around the world would be loath to risk it all for a dangerous uncomfortable life on the run. However others who did not benefit at all from the largesse might consider they had nothing to lose and carry on. These are the most dangerous elements as they will be genuinely locally based and connected people, with genuine grievances and local knowledge. The presence of large numbers of armed thugs, criminals and unemployed as well as the light arms and explosives shows the means exists and the current disquiet in the region and focus on the North East presents an opportunity for a renewed insurgency.
The effect of a widespread insurgency on the Nigerian economy would be devastating, even without the effects of depleted of Foreign Reserves, the devalued Naira, low oil prices and the insurgency in the North East, a renewed Niger Delta insurgency would present a significant existential threat.
Middle Belt conflict
Situation: the Middle Belt is the strip of land between the mainly majority Islamic North and slightly majority Christian South. It is made up of Kwara, Kogi Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Adamawa States as well as the southern parts of Kaduna, Kebbi, Bauchi, Gombe and Borno States. There are hundreds of small to medium sized tribes in addition to the large Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri tribes all of which have a historical grievances with each other.
Difficult terrain: The terrain consists of rocky hills, highlands, Sahel, forests and semi-arid Sahel as well as numerous population centres. It is (like much of Nigeria) excellent guerrilla country, providing concealment, covered approaches, water sources, populations to hide within and feed off, restricted terrain for a mechanised force and comparatively limited infrastructure.
Historical grievances: the existing grievances between the groups are too numerous to mention, these historically emanated from power struggles, jihads, slave raids and competition for land, water and livestock. With the exception of (overt) slave raiding in the present day these struggles are utilised by political leaders to garner support, votes and maintain power structures. Fear of domination by other tribes drives feeds these conflicts ensuring that the cycle of violence is self-sustaining.
Resource Scarcity: arable land, grazing, water, business opportunities, water sources etc. are all bones of contention between different tribes and actors in this region.
Ethnic/ sectarian dimensions: although at their core these disputes are economic, driven by competition for resources, they are greatly aggravated by tribal and religious factors. These factors turn conflicts between Muslim nomads and Christian farmers into Christian persecution or Islamic jihad. Conflict between the Eggon and Fulani becomes about tribe rather than state politics. These overlapping causative factors make it more complicated to resolve conflicts due to the multiplicity of actors.
Boko Haram/ Nomadic bandits: the traditional nomadic, smuggling and other trade routes as well as the inhospitable terrain make this ideal bandit country. Sahelian/ Central African bandits who migrated to the North East and Boko Haram gangs escaping military operations in the North East move further south to new picking. These groups could act independently, ally themselves to ethnic or religious adherents or else act as mercenaries for different actors.
Small arms and light weapons: the proliferation of weapons in the north east and smuggled across the borders means they are easily available to potential combatants
Multiple actors: there are numerous conflicts in this region, sub conflicts, super conflicts, overlapping conflicts etc.; between tribes, religions, pastoralists/ farmers, political parties, urban/ rural dwellers, hill people and lowlanders, cults and criminals etc. This makes any analysis of the potential enemy and human terrain problematic. The large patchwork of interests means that any single action could have multiple causes and multiple effects.
Political support: as alluded to above politicians in the region regularly use ethnic and religious elements to pursue and stay in power. The rewards for this are extremely high and the consequences to the perpetrators virtually non-existent. There is thus little incentive for these actors to stop using divisions and violence as a means to an end.
Popular support: many of the ethnic militias and combatants have popular support as they are considered to be defending local interests, retaliating for previous attacks or preventing domination.
Economic rewards: these areas are not just rich agricultural areas but also contain mines, factories and other businesses. Combined with vehicular traffic from the coast to the North and Central Africa/ the Sahels and vice versa, there are economic rewards to banditry and an insecure environment.
Retaliation: as mentioned before due to the historical nature of the conflicts in the area any attack results in retaliation, and counter retaliation, feeding a self sustaining cycle of violence
Mobility: armed factions have the advantage of being small and mobile with the ability and local knowledge to move freely about the battlespace with little detection
Multiple actors: the diversity of the region and equal opportunity historical grievance prevents factions from forming lasting alliances or else gathering enough strength to present a concentrated threat.
Combat power: as yet armed factions do not yet have the strength to resist a determined disciplined force.
Existing task force: the presence of existing military task forces limits the excesses of armed factions in areas they are deployed to.
Multiple actors: the multiplicity of actors means that any one faction will have numerous adversaries, meaning a portion of their time and resource must be dedicated to either fending off those parties or at least preventing themselves from getting in a position where their opponents can take advantage of them.
Existing task force: the recurring cycles of violence mean that the security forces in the area are already mobilised and familiar with the local area, local factions and history.
Political/ cultural solution: whilst the conflicts have ethnic or religious hues, economic and political drivers are generally more important. Intelligent solutions such as dedicated ranches for nomads, nomadic education, crop marketing boards, creation of separate local government areas to overcome some tribes fear of domination, multi party peace bodies and so on could reduce much of the underlying causes of violence.
Airpower: air superiority gives friendly forces force multiplying advantages in ISR, troop transport, fire support and force projection
Expansion south, west and east: tribal, trade and transport links to neighbouring areas means that the crisis can very easily spread to other areas
Transport routes: roads, rivers and rail lines linking north-south, east and west run through this zone transiting goods and people. Violence in this area would shut these routes increasing the cost of transport and thus the cost of goods and living
Food insecurity: this is one of the key food producing areas in Nigeria feeding the southern cities as well as foreign markets. Fighting and displacement would interrupt planting and harvesting leading not just to starvation locally but higher food prices or scarcity elsewhere.
Gateway insecurity: the tribal/ religious elements of the situation permit external actors to use the crisis to their advantage. For example attacks on Muslims can be translated into calls for a wider national or regional jihad giving actors such as Boko Haram, Daesh or AQIM a presence.
IDPs: the already severe IDP problem is a strain on several already poor states, further fighting and displacement would create not just a humanitarian but economic crisis due to the loss of production and cost of caring for IDPs
Insufficient Combat Power: the rugged and varied terrain will absorb a lot of manpower and resources. With the economic urgency of containing the Niger Delta and military necessity of defeating Boko Haram, the Middle Belt will be a lower priority.
Abuja: The Federal Capital Territory (deliberately sited in the middle of the country to keep it safe) is currently surrounded by areas of insecurity. A group that evolves from local conflict to a war against the state has the nation’s capital in easy reach for terror and guerrilla attacks, increasing their prestige and threatening the workings of government. The FCT itself has outstanding issues from peoples dispossessed to make way for Abuja and its expansion.
Terrorism: the crisis in Jos has already transcended local regional issues to become a front for Boko Haram and a target of terror attacks and has been mentioned by other transnational group as an example of Muslim persecution of Christians. Other group’s particularly weaker groups can use terror attacks to attract attention or put pressure on the government or opposing factions.
IEDs: have already been widely used in Plateau, Gombe and Bauchi States. However IED attacks in relatively peaceful states such as Niger and Kogi indicate that the expanded use of these devices is not difficult. The use of commercial explosives’ in mining and fertiliser in agriculture means that the raw materials are easy to obtain.
The Middle Belt already hosts numerous conflicts and there is a general availability of weapons and explosives. Unlike other at risk regions it doesn’t share extensive international borders, however it does border the North East and has nomadic routes through it which are traditional smuggling routes, thus the means exist for an insurgency. The motivation is slightly different as most of the struggles are internecine. It is unlikely that actors would be motivated to act against the state unless the state moved against them, the biggest threat would be the amount of forces that would be required to maintain order and the resources needed to sustain them. A peace keeping, peace enforcing, internal security and counter insurgency operation rolled into one would be manpower and resource intensive. This would again present Nigeria with the problem it had in the North East of insufficient troops for the task. Combined with the economic consequences of food insecurity and IDPs into neighbouring regions, an unresolved and escalating Middle Belt crisis would present an existential threat to Nigeria
This basic analysis indicates that for all the positives that came from this election such as a peaceful transfer of power and the victories against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s future still holds many threats. Whilst Boko Haram is uppermost, despite their brutality and successes are still too remote from key economic and political areas to constitute an existential threat. Their most potent danger are the amount of troops, resources and strategic attention they suck up, however the most dangerous contribution is their movement into the Middle Belt, where they can link up with local actors and act as a game changer in that region or more importantly carry guerrilla warfare to Abuja and Nigeria’s key agricultural region. The Middle Belts messy patchwork of tribes, clans, nations and kingdoms is a naturally self-sustaining pressure cooker of conflicts and potential conflicts however the area was generally peaceful in recent history. Whilst even the larger groups such as Fulanis’ or Tivs’ are not homogenous enough to form a significant threat to the state, even minor threats such as the Eggon Ombaatse cult have disproportionate effect and ties up excessive resources. This regions messy patchwork of conflicts potential to spiral out of control and paralyse trade across the Federation is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable threats to the country.
The Niger Delta is the region most likely to transition into violence and have the most immediate damaging effect. How much is just jockeying for position or firing warning shots to protect vested interest remains to be seen.
The good news is that opportunities abound to head of these issues before they become problems, ameliorate them before they become crises and arrest them before they become threats.