The latest developments
The kidnapping industry is the new frontier of Nigerian crime. The insiders of the sector are not only the Islamist terrorists of Boko Haram but bandits (as they are defined by the Government) of the most varied origins. Collaboration is not excluded because the kidnappings of students practiced by both groups force hundreds of schools to close, the only barrier to illiteracy to which the poorest are condemned and forced marriages for girls. A victory for the Jahidists who see education on the Western model as an enemy to be suppressed. The kidnappings are taking place in every corner of Nigeria, in the Christian Southwest as well as in the Islamic Northeast. At the expense of bus passengers, unsuspecting travelers traveling by car, unarmed passers-by. The ransom paid by families to hug loved ones can range from a few hundred dollars to millions for the rich. And the majority of victims avoid reporting to the police. The 1,100 official kidnapped in 2020 are just the tip of the iceberg and reconfirm the fragility of the state, which despite promises has never reinforced safety on risky roads and schools. The pressing requests that MPs from the Chamber and Senate have made to President Buhari to dismiss the military leaders for their inability (or even collusion) in dealing with the emergency remained unheard.
The demographic explosion (in 2019 there were already 201 million inhabitants), the economic crisis (which recorded the second recession in six years), the collapse of the oil price have caused conflicts to explode. More than half of Nigerians, overwhelmingly young people, are unemployed or underemployed while food prices have skyrocketed (the record since 2006). Add to this the desertification (which pushes more and more masses to move or emigrate), as well as the dizzying increase in the traffic of light and small arms, and it will be easy to understand the destructive potential of the “atomic” mixture flowing under the clay feet of the African giant, which maintains the economic primacy on the continent.
Ethnic tensions further complicate the situation. The main suspects in the kidnappings are nomadic Peul herders or Hausa farmers, historically competing for control of water and land. The clashes have resulted in massacres of villages and mass kidnappings. And so those who yesterday practiced the theft of livestock today are dedicated to kidnappings, with greater economic advantages.
The year 2022 is not without violence: 40 people are said to have died in the massacre perpetrated on Sunday 5 June in the St Francis Xavier Church in Owo. According to the local authorities of Ondo State, in the south-west of the country) 61 people were wounded, making a total of 127 people killed by the terrorist commando who acted with ruthless determination. Another massacre also took place on the same Sunday, 5 June, in the northern state of Kaduna, where 32 people were killed in a raid by Fulani herdsmen on villages in the Kajuru local government area.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
What is being fought for?
If on the one hand Nigeria is a melting pot of ethnic groups, languages and religions, on the other it is so also for the reasons for fighting. In the Northeast (the State of Borno and neighbouring ones) clashes and attacks are always due to the presence of Islamic terrorists. In the Middle Belt (the entire central area of the Federation) tensions and violence are caused by the conflict between farmers and agricultural communities. And again, in the Niger Delta (the oil region) the guerrilla activity of rebel groups fighting the domination of the extraction companies continues, while sporadic episodes of rebellion and consequent repression take place in Biafra, for the claims of independence.
But that is not all. A further worrying element is the generalized growth of crime, more or less organized, throughout the country, especially in large and overpopulated cities – such as the megalopolis Lagos, the economic and commercial capital of the African country, but also in criminal activities.
According to the 2020 Global Terrorism Index (produced by the IEP, Institute for Economics and Peace), Nigeria is the third country in the world where terrorism has hit the most, after Afghanistan and Iraq. it is the first African State on the list, ahead of Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is a climate of widespread instability and violence that risks worsening in a highly critical phase: after the recession of 2020 (-1.92%), the forecasts for 2021 are of a very low growth, between 1.1 and 1.5. %.
Between October and December 2020, the biggest wave of protests of the last thirty years hit Nigeria. The fuse was triggered on October 3rd 2020 with the murder of a boy in Ughelli, in the southern State of the Delta. The killers are officers of the SARS, the special anti-robbery squad of the police, who then ran away in their jeep. A witness filmed the crime with a smartphone and posted a tweet, shared more than 10 thousand times in a very short time frame, but was arrested within the day. Thus, the #EndSARS movement found new life on the web, after being born in 2017 from the complaints of young people condemning the violence and corruption of the anti-theft unit and the distrust of the central State that had always hidden its crimes, indifferent to the abuses perpetrated on civilians.
On October 8, the streets of Abuja and Lagos were flooded with students, activists, journalists, young entrepreneurs, artists and women. The protest spread and inflamed all of Nigeria, paralyzing it for three months. It was a long chain of marches, sit-ins, occupations, indiscriminate police shootings of protesters, deaths, injuries and devastation caused even by infiltrated thugs. It was a movement without a leader, but well-organized thanks to the ability of social networks to mobilize and inform correctly, crushing government attempts to divide the movement with the spread of fake news. For example, the demonstration at the Lekki toll booth, which resulted in a carnage, was organized by girls through social platforms with images shared in real-time on the network; at the same time, a fundraiser to support the protest was also started.
Protesters demand, along with the dissolution of the anti-theft squad, justice for the victims, independent judicial investigations, but also a wage increase for inadequately paid policemen. SARS units were created in 1992 to counter robberies and other criminal activities. However, they have always been accused of abuses on citizens: arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, robberies, extortion, torture and murders, mostly against young people. In 2009, a BBC report even documented the involvement of some agents in the trade of corpses: the bodies of some of their victims were allegedly sold to Nigerian hospitals for training and medical research. In short, bandits in uniform, authorized by the government. Amnesty International has duly denounced the misdeeds of this police force, structurally violent and corrupt, and with a culture of impunity embedded in its DNA.
“The boldness with which the state kills its citizens, so clearly premeditated, as if it were certain of the lack of consequences is chilling,” commented writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Victims of violence and protagonists of the protests are young people, in a nation where the under 20 years-olds are half of the 201 million inhabitants. It is a generation that has no memory (except through narrated stories) of the years of the dictatorship and that highlighted the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke with embarrassment only a few days after the massacres to minimize the extent and to make promises that were duly disregarded. Those who took to the streets showed their horizons are broader than the current situation: to tackle are government corruption, social inequalities, lack of opportunities, but also gender discrimination and injustices suffered by the LGBT community are in their sights. Feminists and LGBT activists were the pillars of the demonstrations.
Despite the rich income from oil (Nigeria is the first producer in Africa, eighth in the world) and other resources, in the country more than half of the population survives on less than two dollars a day, one in three children suffer from chronic malnutrition, and the maternal mortality rate is the fourth highest on the planet. The economy – according to analysts – will enter the worst recession of the last forty years due to the effects of Covid-19 and the collapse of the oil price, which represents 80% of exports and 60% of government revenues. As a result, another 7 million people will fall into poverty while already recording the highest unemployment rate ever.
Contempt towards protests is the seal of yet another failure of the elite. Perhaps the opportunity to bridge the deep divide that divides the state and society, young and old, has gone up in smoke.
Key figure or association – Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram since 2009, remains a mysterious character, and doubts remain about his death. Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, leader of ISWAP, in an audio message, announced his suicide: he would have blown himself up so as not to fall prisoner of the splinters of the Islamic State of West Africa. However, four times he had been given up for dead but the denials arrived on time with his snarling threats in front of the cameras. Mysterious even in his age (between 34 and 43 years) as well as on the country of birth (Niger or Nigeria), Abubakar Shekau has led Boko Haram since the death of its founder Muhammad Yusuf, killed by the police. Under his leadership, the group controlled large areas of the Northeast, leading him to proclaim the caliphate in 2014. He became infamous to world television audiences when he claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Chibok’s 276 students.
FOCUS 1 – Iswap and Boko Haram
The showdown came on May 19, 2021. In the forest of Sambisa (in the North-eastern state of Borno) the militiamen of Boko Haram faced those of ISWAP (Islamic State of the West African Province), another terrorist group, born from a split of Boko Haram and affiliated with ISIS. The latter prevailed. In the armed clash, Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, also lost his life.
It was Al-Baghdadi himself (founder of the Iraqi Islamic State) to remove Shekau back in August 2016 and appoint Abu Musab Al-Barnawi in his place as head of the Islamist group, marking the rift between the two factions. The terrorist practice of the two sides is the same: murders, raids, abductions of women and children. But ISWAP stands out in avoiding abuse and mistreatment of hostages during imprisonment and in having military camps, institutional headquarters and oil sites among its favourite targets. Attention to the needs of the population strengthens their consensus. Faced with the violent military response of the central state, the terrorists are proselytizing in a very poor region where young people with no prospects have only the terrorist option left.
FOCUS 2 – Corruption
The UNODOC (the UN agency for drug control and crime prevention) published the results of a survey conducted in 2019, according to which 30.2% of citizens who turned to a public official paid a bribe or has been requested. Estimates indicate that $ 1.7 billion in bribes were paid to public officials in Nigeria in 2019, equivalent to 0.52% of Gross Domestic Product. The level of corruption affects all the daily aspects of the life of the inhabitants. The SARS scandal is proof of this: bribes to obtain freedom, otherwise detention upon accusations without evidence.