AnalysisArmed ViolenceNews

As Terror Groups Expand Operations Beyond Nigeria’s Northeast

Recent developments are an indication that terrorists in Nigeria have expanded their operations beyond the northeastern region, which has borne the brunt of the protracted insurgency.

Many believe Nigeria’s counterinsurgency campaign has contained the terror groups and their cells in the Northeast. However, the swath of ungoverned spaces across the country as well as insufficient policing and surveillance are allowing terrorists to conduct attacks in other parts of the country. 

Over the past few months, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) has conducted a series of attacks on security forces and civilians in Kogi and Niger in the north-central region, and Taraba in the Northeast. These attacks include the denotation of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in local bars and the targeting of police officers. One of such incidents occurred in Suleja town, located a couple of kilometres from Nigeria’s capital. 

Last month, the Nigerian government said the deadly attack on a Catholic church in the Owo area of Ondo State in the Southwest, which left about 40 people dead and several others injured, was linked to ISWAP. The disclosure was made at the end of a security meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The government’s revelation would have been based on certain intelligence available to authorities,” said Murtala Abdullahi, Head of Armed Violence Desk at HumAngle. He added that Owo is not far away from the Kabba area of Kogi State, where ISWAP has carried out multiple attacks. 

The ungoverned and unprotected forest in these areas, similar to other parts of the country increases vulnerability to terror and criminal activities including smuggling routes. 

Why this should bother everyone

The expansion in terror activities is happening at a time when Nigeria is struggling with multiple armed conflicts, including a separatist militancy in the Southeast and a complex wave of violence in the Northwest

In March 2022, a group of terrorists attacked a train moving between Abuja and Kaduna, abducting over 60 passengers and injuring and killing several others. The government would later say that preliminary reports on the attack revealed collaboration between non-ideological terror groups and Boko Haram. 

The security situation in the region and parts of the Northcentral has deteriorated over the past years due to violent attacks on communities and commuters by terror groups associated with the herder community. This crisis has been aggravated as a result of escalation in the operations of jihadi groups including the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansaru. 

Ansaru, which has been latent for some time, is becoming deadlier and more active. “For much of the past decade, Ansaru has largely been an outlier on the terrorism threat landscape. But the group is making a comeback in Nigeria – and is more dangerous than ever,” the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said in a report

Malik Samuel, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), believes that two things should bother Nigerians about the pervasive insecurity in the country.

“The first is that nowhere seems to be safe at the moment, especially given that all the six geopolitical zones in the country are facing security threats,” Samuel told HumAngle. 

“This means that no one knows when or where the next attack will be, and anyone can be caught at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Given recent trends, it is just a matter of when and where, not if, another attack will happen.”

The second thing which should disappoint Nigerians, according to him, is the attitude and response of the government to what is happening. 

He said the authorities seem unable or unwilling to deal with the situation, which fuels more attacks “because attackers are emboldened by the day”. The security researcher opines that the government’s inaction only fuels speculation, suspicions among citizens, and mob action as people resort to self-help.

“In the past, many attacks happened under cover of the night, but we now see these attacks taking place in broad daylight and perpetrators getting away with it. The government seems keen to issue statements condemning attacks and promising to solve the problem, but that is all there is. Nothing else happens. Once this condemnation comes from the government, we, unfortunately, move on to waiting for the next attack.”

Samuel also said violent extremist groups are always looking for ways to spread terror, and a good opportunity they take advantage of is unresolved crises. “These crises give them the perfect cover to carry out their activities without much attention.” 

Govt needs to provide better security

Abdullahi recommended that the government should evolve a better counterterrorism strategy that will enable the security agencies to track down perpetrators of armed violence. 

It needs to address the social and economic drivers of terrorism and insurgency, he added, arguing that when people are economically buoyant, they have a better livelihood and have fewer grievances against the state. 

For him, the government would do well to ensure better policing across the country, better border security to curb the illegal movement of arms, and security sector reforms. 

Samuel shares Murtala’s point of view. He said there’s a need to understand why there has been an increase in insecurity in the last few years.

“Understanding the reasons will enable the government to implement relevant policies to address the issue. A major root cause of insecurity is the issue of governance — corruption, unemployment, marginalisation, neglect of communities, especially remote communities, among others,” he said.

If the country must get loose from the shackles of insecurity, Samuel argued that security must be driven by actionable intelligence, with community members playing an important role. 

He urged that there must be more coordination among the security agencies.

“Nigeria has very good and reliable intelligence agencies but who receives this intelligence from them, and what happens to it? Security agencies must work together and coordinate better if insecurity is to be defeated.”


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Yekeen Akinwale

Yekeen Akinwale is a multiple award-winning investigative journalist with over 17 years journalism experience across different newsrooms in Nigeria. He had previously worked at Leadership Newspaper, Nigerian Compass, New Telegraph and Freedom Newspaper. A graduate of Mass Communication, Akinwale was the Head of Newsroom at the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) before joining HumAngle. He is passionate about investigative reporting, environment, climate change and developments. Akinwale is the 2018 Investigative Journalist of the Year for Diamond Media Award for Excellence (DAME) and 2019 Business Reporter of the Year for Nigeria Media Merit Award ((NMMA).

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