Insecurity In Northern Nigeria: A National Nightmare.

By Daniel Uchechukwu Lawrence

Insecurity is a global phenomenon and not peculiar to any state of the world. It manifests in violent and non-violent forms. For this reason, tackling insecurity internally and globally has remained one of the primary focus of many independent nations and international organizations in the modern world. Krahmann, E. in an article titled “Conceptualizing Security Governance” published in Journal of the Nordic International Studies Association in 2003 defined insecurity as activities that do not ensure the protection of a country, persons, and properties of the community against future threats, danger, mishaps and all other forms of perils. Though Krahmann view of insecurity may sound futuristic, however, it painted a clear picture of what the concept is all about. In summary, insecurity may be seen as the absence of security for humans, animals, and other valuable properties.

Based on the above said, the primary responsibility of any state government, be it democratic or socialist, is to ensure the security and welfare of its citizens. Sovereign states of the world in recognition of the importance of security to its national survival and existence, have made legal provisions that will give top priority to their national security. At the same time, many nations have committed and continued to commit enormous resources to ensure the strengthening of their national security. This is because the welfare of citizens cannot be guaranteed when both the internal and external security of a state is under serious threat. It is because of this that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (amended) in section 14(2)(b) stated that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

It is one thing to make a promise and another thing to keep such a promise. Unfortunately, the government of Nigeria over the years has continued to find it difficult to uphold the legal oath it took to protect the lives of her citizens and their properties. Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has been battling series of security challenges across the federation. The country has been over-run by various criminal and violent activities such as terrorism, militancy, kidnapping, armed robbery, fraud, sexual abuse, assassination, ritual killings, thuggery, cultism, drug and human trafficking, political and religious conflicts, communal clashes, the brutality of state security forces, among others in different parts of the federation. These security challenges have resulted in the loss of lives and displacement of persons, economic hardship, and retarded national development. Also, the unabated security challenges of Nigeria have created a negative perception and assumption in the mind of the global community.

In 2017, Nigeria ranked 5th out of 20 most dangerous countries in the world according to the World Economic Forum ranking of safest and least safe countries of the world (Independent UK, Thursday 7 September 2017). Two years later, Forbes Media in its online publication of September 5, 2019, titled “Ranked: The 20 Most Dangerous Places to Live”, Nigeria came 3rd behind Brazil and South Africa, as one of the 20 most dangerous places to live on earth in 2019 ( Though there may be objections from some quarters concerning these rankings, however, that does not change the fact that the security problem of Nigeria is now hydra-headed. Given these horrific rankings, some nations of the world have advised their citizens against making Nigeria their travel destination considering the constant volatile security situation of the country.

Northern Nigeria is one region of the country that is presently under serious security threat. For more than a decade now, the region has been a war theatre. In most cases, the situation seems to have overwhelmed the powers of the Federal Government of Nigeria to restore law and order despite the military and security campaigns launched in the region. The news of violent attacks and killings of both civilians and security personnel have become a daily and weekly trend in the region. With Boko-Haram insurgents unleashing unending terror in the north-east, farmers and herdsmen conflict ravaging the north-central and armed banditry gaining prominence in the north-west, the serenity and beautiful economic potentials of a great region is fast declining. Despite years of cry for help by the people of the region, there seems to be no possible end in sight concerning the security plight of northern Nigeria.

Insecurity in northern Nigeria became one of the unending nightmares of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic with the emergence of Boko-Haram. The goal of the sect is to declare northern Nigeria a caliphate under its control, establish a Sharia government, and abolish western civilisation which they consider an abomination. The group which came into existence in 2002 under the leadership of Muhammad Yusuf was initially envisioned to be an opposing force to the poverty, inept political and traditional leadership and underdevelopment ravaging northern Nigeria. With the arrest and death of the founder, Muhammad Yusuf in 2009, the group ended up becoming a terror to the people it once claimed to save from servitude. The group’s violent attacks have remained prevalent in the three north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe. These attacks include planting and detonation of bombs in public places, destruction of public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, the kidnapping of young boys and girls who they end up initiating into fighters and suicide bombers, abduction of school children and aid workers for ransom, forcing of kidnapped young girls into early marriage, and looting of cash, foodstuffs, toiletries, medical supplies during raids in communities. The group also carry out surprise attacks on military troops and military bases in attempt to steal military weapons.

Boko-Haram has become a dreaded terrorist group alleged to have links with several terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Despite the declaration of a state of emergency in north-eastern Nigeria by former President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2013, the insecurity problems caused by Boko-Haram in the region remained unabated. It was for this reason, that ending Boko-Haram insurgency in the north-east was among the major campaign promise of the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari prior to the 2015 general election. Since his victory at the 2015 presidential polls and being re-elected for a second term in office in 2019, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has no doubt made some progress in the war against insurgency in the north-east region more than his predecessor. However, the government has not defeated or decimated the insurgents as claimed and promised prior to 2015 polls. Thankfully, the group has been prevented from its regular bomb attacks in urban areas of the north-east. And their complete control of the geo-political zones has been ceded to the Nigerian military thereby forcing them to retreat to the Sambisa forest. Unfortunately, the government allowed itself to be carried away by the little progress it made in the war initially, and that gave the Boko-Haram insurgents the momentum to reinforce and now carryout constant attacks in remote communities in the northeast geo-political zone. They have also on countless occasions ambushed soldiers and attack military bases. These attacks have continued in the present time, with some progress made by the Nigerian military but not enough to end the situation. Given this, many public commentators have argued that the insurgency war is an ideology war, which requires the concerted effort of government at all levels to be won.

Thousands of human deaths and destructions of infrastructure worth billions of dollars have been attributed to the Boko-Haram group. Washington Post in a publication dated June 10, 2020, reported that group have killed not less than 30,000 people both civilians and soldiers from 2009 to 2020, and have displaced over 1.8million people ( Some reliable publications and reports put the death toll above 32,000 and human displacement above 2million. Many people of the of the north-east geo-political zone have deserted their ancestral homes and have become refugees in neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. This situation has created a serious humanitarian crisis for Nigeria that demands an international assistance. In 2016, the Nigerian Federal Government in a joint assessment with the United Nations, World Bank, and the European Union stated that damage suffered in north-east is put at $9billion and $6billion would be needed for immediate and near-term stabilisation and recovery of the geo-political zone (The Guardian Nigeria, April 5, 2016). However, with the renewed and regular attacks by the group, there is possibility of an increase in the initially projected economic cost.

Furthermore, farmers and herdsmen conflict remain another major security challenge threatening the peace and stability of northern Nigeria and by extension other parts of the federation. Though the conflict between herders and farmers over land has been an aged long issue, but the truth is that, the country has not seen before, the present intensity of such conflict. The farmers and cattle herders conflict in Nigeria is born out of the need for economic survival, as climate change has made both parties compete over scarce resources. Herdsmen in search of pasture for their animals encroach into farmlands, destroying crops and vegetables planted by farmers. On the other hand, farmers in the search for arable land have in some cases encroached into grazing routes and attack herders grazing their cattle in their farmlands. The retaliations on both sides result to economic and human loss.

States like Adamawa, Benue, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, and Taraba have been the major victims of the farmers and herdsmen conflict ravaging the country in recent time. However, states of north-central geo-political zone which include Benue, Kogi, Plateau, and Nasarawa, undoubtedly remain the worst hit by the crisis. The people of these states have continued to mourn the ruthless slaughter of their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and children by unknown killer herdsmen who took vengeful advantage of the conflict to unleash unimaginable terror. In pains, they have buried and continue to bury their loved ones brutally murdered daily, and they live in uncertainty of their own lives.

The Conversation, an online academic media, on June 29, 2020, published an article which claimed that the farmers and herdsmen conflict has taken the lives of 6,500 citizens, with 62,000 others displaced from their homes in 850 violent clashes between 2010 and 2015 ( On the other hand, International Crisis Group in its report dated September 19, 2017, put the estimated death toll from farmers and herdsmen conflict in 2016 to approximately 2,500 people, a toll higher than Boko-Haram casualties in the same period ( Amnesty International in another report published on December 17, 2018, with the title “Harvest of Deaths: Three Years of Bloody Clashes Between Farmers and Herders”, stated that between January 2016 to September 2018, at least 3,641 deaths have been recorded, with thousands displaced across the country in at least 310 attacks.

Regrettably, these ugly incidents between farmers and herdsmen have remained unabated because of the cold attitude of the government towards resolving the issue and unnecessary politicisation of the crisis by the Nigerian public. International Crisis Group in the same report dated September 19, 2017, claimed that in April 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in a bid to end the violent clash between farmers and herders set a Committee on Grazing Reserves chaired by former governor of Benue state Gabriel Suswam, and through the Central Bank of Nigeria approved the sum of N100billion to the 36 states of the federation for the construction of ranches. The report stated the state governments failed to construct any ranches and the funds were believed to have been looted. With the emergence of President Buhari from the 2015 general election, the government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, on January 25, 2016, announced its plan to set up grazing reserves and stock routes across the country as a policy measure to end the farmers' and herders' conflict. Unfortunately, the proposal was truncated by politics, as leaders and people of southern Nigeria opposed the plan, which they viewed as favouring the Fulani herders ( Up till now, nothing meaningful has been heard from the government about ending the crisis between farmers and herders in the country.

Recently, armed banditry has become another security nightmare ravaging northern Nigeria, particularly, north-west geopolitical zone. States like Kaduna, Kastina, Kebi, Niger, Sokoto, and Zamfara are under endless armed bandit attacks, which have left deep socio-economic and psychological scar on the people. The armed bandits are known for constantly attacking, abducting, killing and robbing of villagers and travellers, cattle rustling, and sexual violence. The activities of bandits in north-western Nigeria intensified since 2017, and according to the ACAPS report of March 19, 2020, was because of the discovery of gold mines and the activities of illegal miners competing for the control of gold reserves ( France24 report of June 11, 2020, claimed that violence perpetuated by bandits has killed an estimate of 8,000 people, with over 200,000 who flee their homes since 2011 ( Regrettably, displaced persons from these north-western states of Nigeria are now refugees in neighbouring border communities of the Niger Republic such as Maradi, Madaou in the Tahoua region, Dan Dadji Makaou, Garin Kaka, and Guidan Roumdji. The violent activities of bandits particularly in north-west geopolitical zone of Nigeria, pose great security concern not only to the entire northern region, but to the whole federation. If nothing substantial is done to curb the situation from the root, it could spill over to other parts of the country where there are already serious security challenges.

In as much as the violence in northern Nigeria may have some natural causes such as population increase and climate change; the major trigger of these acts of violence can only be attributed to failure of political leadership at all levels of governance since the attainment of political independence. The botch of political leadership both at the national and sub-national levels to use the enormous wealth of the nation to address properly the natural causes of human violence and improve the general well-being of the Nigerian people, has been the main reason for the persistent insecurity problems faced throughout the federation. Such national failure was facilitated by the culture of corruption, ethnic and religious bigotry which have become part of our national life. The mindless looting and mismanagement of public funds by those placed in positions of public trust and leaving majority of the people in penury, is responsible for the current chaotic situation the nation finds herself. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in its report on poverty and inequality in Nigeria from September 2018 to October 2019, stated that 40 percent (%) of people in the country live below its poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) a year, representing 82.9 million Nigerians living on less than $1 a day (Aljazeera News Network, May 4, 2020). The World Bank also reported that 87 percent (%) of Nigeria’s poor are found in the northern region, particularly the north-west zone (Punch Newspaper, February 11, 2020). Little wonder the country was tagged the poverty capital of the world by the World Bank in 2018.

As far as the poverty level in Nigeria is on the rise, it will continually trigger insecurity in the country. It is important to know that people cannot escape poverty when they do not have any stable means of livelihood. Though the government may not employ everyone, however, it is the responsibility of same government to create and sustain the enabling environment that will encourage private enterprises to spring up and thrive. Therefore, the state must make adequate provision for basic social amenities and create friendly policies that will guarantee economic prosperity for all. Unfortunately, as Nigeria’s population increases without any corresponding state welfare intervention, the unemployment curve continues to climb upwards. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in 2019, the unemployment rate was as high as 23.1 percent (%), while underemployment was at 16.6 percent (%). The unemployment figure was further projected to reach as high as 33.5 percent (%) by the end of 2020 (Premium Times Newspaper, May 2, 2019). With these high unemployment and underemployment figures in Nigeria and the youths being the worst affected, one can explain where the force behind the rising cases of violence in the country, especially in the northern region is coming from.

Furthermore, the development of any nation whether in business, politics, science, and technology, is hinged on the quality of its educational system, and its ability to prioritise the education needs of its people. Quality education produces quality individuals who are responsible members of society. These individuals will possess different life skills that will guarantee and improve their economic survival. Unfortunately, the failure of political leadership over the years has crippled the nation’s education system and has denied a large number of the Nigerian populace access to quality education, and a better life. The insecurity challenges in northern Nigeria and other parts of the country, is one that illiteracy is one of the major causes. In 2019, the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), announced that 35 percent of Nigeria’s adult population (age 15 and above) are illiterates (inability to read and write) (This Day Newspaper, April 12, 2019).

In 2019, the Federal Ministry of Education revealed that Nigeria has 10.2 million out-of-school children (Punch Newspaper, April 13, 2019). In 2020, the figure of out-of-school children increased to 14 million, with the northern region of the country being the worst affected (Nigerian Tribune Newspaper, May 13, 2020). With such an ugly trend, the “Almajiri” system in northern Nigeria has equally worsened the situation and poses a security risk both for the region and the entire country. Given this, CNN reporter Christian Purefoy wrote that Nigeria’s Almajiri children are learning life of poverty and violence (CNN, January 8, 2010). Therefore, if government at all levels fail to give these children quality life they deserve as humans and make them an asset to the nation, they can turn out a big security risk.

No doubt, the weak security architecture of Nigeria remains one of the problems hindering the successful control of insecurity in northern Nigeria and the rest of the country. The problem of inadequate funding, lack of modern equipment both in weaponry and investigative tools, poor personnel training, poor welfare of security personnel, and inadequate manpower are not new to security agencies in the country. These challenges have worsened security situation in the northern region and the rest of the country. The morale and psyche of the men and officers of Nigeria Armed Forces are low. They lack most of the tools needed to confront the enemies of the state. These deficiencies are no doubt caused by the massive corruption in the nation’s political and administrative systems. Annually, huge financial allocations are made for the security of the country, but with little or nothing to show for it. In 2015, the National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) was arrested and detained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly mismanaging $2billion meant for arms procurement for the military to fight insurgency in the north-east. Many of such corruption is still going on without the public knowledge, thereby frustrating every possible effort towards ending insecurity in the country.

Also, the exclusive nature of security in Nigeria makes victory over insecurity difficult. Under the Nigerian 1999 constitution, security is an exclusive affair of the federal government. Security agencies including the police, are under the exclusive control of the executive president and are answerable to him. Given this, state governors may answer the chief security officer of their states, but in actual sense, they are not. They rely on the benevolence of the president who is the absolute commander in-chief to secure their people. Apart from the Boko-Haram insurgency which has become a military warfare, most of the violent crimes taking place in northern Nigeria, and the rest of the country are civil matters that the police should handle without the involvement of the military. However, since the federal government controls the entire security apparatus of the country including the police at Abuja, it becomes extremely difficult to end insecurity. This has resulted to loss of lives and properties due to the inability of the federal police to respond to security threats in states of the federation on time. It is for this reason that there has been a constant call from different quarters of Nigeria to decentralize the Police Force as seen in other democracies, and federations of the world.

Migration is an indispensable part of human life, and if not well managed, could constitute a great security risk for a society. Given this, the porous nature of Nigeria’s national land borders have also been identified as one of the major factors fueling insecurity in Nigeria. With its large land mass, Nigeria is bordered by Cameroon (1,690 kilometers) in the east, Niger (1,497 kilometers) in the north, Benin (773 kilometers) in the west, and Chad (87 kilometers) in the northeast. In these major Nigerian borders, there are over a hundred illegal routes with links to the neighbouring African countries. However, the majority of the Nigerian land border routes are in the jungle which makes effective surveillance of them very difficult.

The porosity of Nigerian land borders has aided the uncontrollable and illegal influx of migrants, mainly young men who engage in different criminal acts including militancy, smuggling in of small and light weapons, contraband goods, drug and human trafficking among others from neighboring countries. Northern Nigeria has the highest land border routes as they share territorial proximity borders with Cameroun, Chad, and Niger. As a result of the loose nature of these land border routes, criminal elements from different troubled countries of sub-Saharan African such as Chad, Mali, Niger, and Sudan, have taken advantage of them to unleash terror on the people of Nigeria in the northern region. The routes have equally aided arms smuggling from the Libyan arms black market in North Africa. The Nigerian government on different occasions have acknowledged the involvement of foreign militias in the insecurity ravaging the northern region. Unfortunately, government has done nothing meaningful to secure the border points through which these illegalities take place.

The truth remains that what affects northern Nigeria, affects the whole country. In the same way, what which affects the southern part, affects the whole nation. Nigeria is a true representation of a system, with sub-units performing different functions. When any sub-unit or sub-units of the system malfunction, the general performance of the system is affected and equilibrium cannot be achieved. If the problem in the sub-unit or sub-units persist, and nothing urgent is done to address the issue or issues, it could lead to a complete collapse of the system. No doubt, the insecurity in the north has affected Nigeria’s national life, adversely. It has had grave deleterious consequences on the nation’s economy, social cohesion, and general development.

Economically, the northern region contributes immensely to the net GDP of Nigeria, mostly, through agriculture. A greater percentage of the food and meat needs of Nigeria and by extension, some sub-Saharan African countries are provided by the region. Since the outbreak of violence in the region, the Nigerian economy has suffered many set-backs, especially in the agricultural sector. Farmers are afraid to go to the farm for fear of being attacked and killed by criminal gangs. At the same time, farm crops are being destroyed, and cattle reared by hoodlums who attack rural communities of the northern region almost on daily basis. This condition has created food insecurity, resulting to the steady rise in food inflation in the country.

In addition, the north serves as an important route for sub-Saharan African trade. The region by the virtue of the numerous land borders it shares with some African countries, helps in promoting inter African trade. This trade has been a source of livelihood and employment to many citizens of the country, especially the border communities. However, since the spark of the extreme violence in the region, legitimate trans-border businesses have been greatly affected. Traders have been attacked, killed, and robbed of their belongings by different criminal gangs on different trading routes. In the same vein, the insecurity in the northern Nigeria has discouraged the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country. This is because security is paramount for the establishment and thriving of any business. No investor will invest in an environment where his or her capital is not protected from harm. For this reason, many promising investors have jettisoned Nigeria as an investment destination and have sought for other African climes where there is relative peace.

Furthermore, the North is one region in Nigeria with many tourism potentials. It is a region with rich and beautiful cultural festivals, history, food, people, wildlife and scenic sites and destinations, dating back in centuries. If these tourist attractions are harnessed and violence put to an end, could be a huge source of revenue for both the states of the region and the nation. The region is home to beautiful sites and destinations attracting both local and foreign tourists. Some of the notable sites and destinations in states of the region include the Kajuru Castle, Yankari Games Reserve, Bauchi, Matsirga Falls, Zaria City Wall, Kaduna, Gashaka Gumti National Park, Taraba, Shere Hills, Jos, Gurara Waterfalls, Niger, Mambilla Plateau, Taraba, among others. The annual Argungu International Festival in Kebbi State and the beautiful environment and climate of Jos, Plateau State also attract both local and foreign visitors to the region. Regrettably, the activities of different criminal groups operating in the region have made the numerous tourism potentials of northern Nigeria not to be fully maximised. Most high ways and inner roads in the region have been sieged by different felonious groups who harass innocent road users. This has equally discouraged many Nigerians from travelling and living in the region, nor doing business in the region.

Most importantly, if nothing substantial is done by the government at all levels to bring the violent situation in the north under control by addressing their root causes, there is no doubt that the crisis will spill over to other parts of the country. This has already begun to manifest with constant clash of farmers and herdsmen in the states of the south-east, south-south and south-west geo-political zones of the country. These violent confrontations in the south have led to the loss of human lives and the destruction of valuable properties. At the same time, it has compounded and complicated the duties of our security agencies who are already exhausted in fighting numerous internal wars in different parts of the country. In general, the rising cases of insecurity in northern Nigeria and other parts of the country have taken a huge chunk of our national revenue and worsened our development problems as a nation. Funds that should have been used to provide modern infrastructure that will uplift the life of the Nigerian people are channelled into fighting crime and criminals with little progress to show for it.

In conclusion, the Federal Government of Nigeria and federating state must take certain decisive decisions, if an end must be put to insecurity not only in northern Nigeria but throughout the federation. Political leadership at all levels must show strong commitment towards good governance and the culture of corruption, ethnic and religious bigotry jettisoned for collective interest to prevail. Most importantly, public institutions of the country must be made strong beyond the manipulations of few individuals to protect the interest of the Nigerian people at all times. Also, there is a need for transparent and accountable leadership that will address effectively the problems of extreme poverty, unemployment, inequality, and poor quality of education threatening the growth and development of the country. Security agencies must be motivated to discharge their duties to the nation, through timely and proper funding in order to be ahead of security situations in any part of the country. This will also entail decentralisation of the country’s police force for effective policing.

The leadership of the nation must also rise, and ensure that its national borders, particularly, the land borders are well-guarded and monitored by security agencies at all times. This will help reduce or even stop the indiscriminate and illegal migration of persons, in and out of the country. In doing this, Nigeria’s leadership must liaise with the leadership of her neighboring African countries such as Benin, Cameroun, Chad, and Niger, who are also faced with insurgency, banditry, and other forms of insecurity in their territories through intelligence sharing and joint security operations. Finally, Nigeria must continue to play its big brother role in Africa, by staying true to her foreign policy on Africa so as to bring about lasting peace and economic prosperity in troubled nations of the continent. This is because part of the security challenges faced in Nigeria are spill-overs of crises in different conflict ridden African nations. Therefore, until we as a nation come to the understanding that the insecurity challenges facing any part of Nigeria affects us all as a people, irrespective of social class, political, ethnic and religious affiliation, it is only then that our journey towards ending insecurity in the country has started.

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