The future of Nigeria: Security Challenges and Implications for Internal, Regional and Global Security Environment – Fatima Kyari Mohammed

10 min read

Our Take: Nigeria has struggled with security challenges such as ethnic, religious, political, and militancy in the oil-producing part of the country since independence. With these numerous security concerns and the President’s pledge of ‘change’ before his election, Nigerians and international communities have high hopes that the government would develop sustainable solutions to address insecurity.


Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country and largest economy has suffered from persistent ethnic, religious and political violence since independence from the British in 1960. It went through a civil war between 1967-1970, the Maitasine crisis in the 1980s; sporadic ethno-pastoral conflicts particularly in the Middle Belt; and militancy in the oil producing Niger Delta region in the southern part of the country. In the past decade in particular, there have been a spate of violent attacks linked to the group notoriously known as ‘Boko Haram’ in the northern part of the country where thousands of lives have been lost and extensive damage to property suffered, setting the already slow development of the region even further backwards. Furthermore, conflict between nomadic herdsmen, cattle rustlers, and farmers has most recently expanded to other parts of the country with an escalation in the spate of violent clashes resulting in several deaths with entire villages being burnt down, and animals and farmlands being destroyed. Further south, a new wave of agitations by militants in the Niger Delta region as well as violent protests in the southeastern part of the country by pro-Biafra groups for the establishment of a Sovereign State of Biafra,  raises concerns for the future security implications of the nation, the region and the global security environment in the near future.

Despite this myriad of security challenges, which for the most part remain internal with regional implications, and the multitude of issues that the new government of Muhammadu Buhari has to tackle, one year later, the population remain optimistic about the President’s ‘Change Agenda’. Expectations from Nigerians and the International community remain high as the former military ruler who is considered to be a no nonsense incorruptible ‘new born democrat’ continues to tackle the myriad of security issues plaguing the country.

Security Challenges

The Boko Haram Insurgency

The origins of the group started sometime in the early 2000’s, but remained relatively under the radar for several years until the public emergence of Mohammed Yusuf and a movement called Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awa wal Jihad; a movement that claims to be based on Islamic religious ideology that rejects ‘westernization’ and calls for the establishment of an Islamic state in the country.

As the group gained prominence, there were some attempts to curtail their activities. Islamic clerics also came out to publicly dismiss this new movement and it’s teachings as a contradiction to mainstream Islamic belief. But for the most part, the group was left alone by local authorities and also dismissed by the local population as the ‘Boko Haram’ people, i.e. those who preach that ‘western’ education is ‘taboo’.

In 2009 however, the situation escalated when the group’s members had a confrontation with security agents during a funeral procession for one its members. Several of them were shot in the exchange and their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, vowed revenge. Following this incident, a spate of violent attacks were carried out in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, where an estimated 700-800 lives were lost including members of the sect. Their leader was arrested by the army, and handed over to the police where he was interviewed on camera before being shot to death.

His extra-judicial killing triggered further violence, which spread to other parts of the north as well as the capital, Abuja. The group expanded under the leadership of Yusuf’s second in command by a man known as Abubakar Shekau. In 2010, appearing in an Al Qaeda style video, with Kalashnikov rifle and wearing a camouflage bullet proof jacket, Shekau announced that he was the new leader of the group and threatened to cause more mayhem in the country.

Since then, the group’s tactics have evolved to more sophisticated levels and the scale of attacks have escalated—including a string of kidnappings such as that of a seven-member French family in northern Cameroon in 2013 which made international headlines for which Shekau claimed responsibility; abductions—the most well known being that of the Chibok girls in 2014; brutal killings of innocent civilians including children—the attack on a high school in Buni Yadi in 2014 where 59 harmless school boys were mercilessly murdered; and a series of suicide bombings which have become very rampant in recent months.

As violence escalated in the northeast region, taking over territory and hoisting their own flag, the groups attacks expanded affecting the bordering countries around the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) region of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. This expansion making it a regional threat with speculated links to other external violent groups operating in the region including Al Queda in the Magrib (AQIM). In early 2015, Boko Haram publicly declared allegiance to ISIS however, given it’s local roots and the geographical distance there has been weak evidence to any clear links between the two and this declaration is mainly seen as a desperate attempt to establish links with an international movement. 

 Nevertheless, its sheer ferocity and viciousness has earned Nigeria a place as one of the top five most dangerous countries in the world along with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. These countries according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) collected and collated by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, collectively account for 78% of terrorist attacks in the world.

Niger Delta Militancy

Just as the Nigerian military seems to be making headway in the Northeast, a new wave of militancy has started taking over the Niger Delta region with the mutation of the militant umbrella group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). The troubled Niger Delta region of the country made International headlines in the early 2000s when the oil-producing region of the country was besieged with Militancy.

The NDA have claimed responsibility for the recent pipeline vandalisations and bombing of oil installations in the region, vowing to cripple economic activities. The Nigerian Defence headquarters has come out with clear statements condemning the actions as ‘economic terrorism’ and has pledged to “employ all available means and measures within its rule of engagement to crush any individual or group that engages in the destruction of strategic assets and facilities of the government…”

With an all time low of less than $50 per barrel, Oil production in Nigeria has declined by 40% due to attacks on key pipelines pushing oil output to 1.4 million from 2.2 million barrels per day according to the Minister of state for Petroleum. This comes at a time when the country is tethering on a looming economic crisis accelerated by long years of failure to diversify the economy from crude oil and endemic corruption.

Former Militants, Community, and Political leaders in the oil producing states have recently come out to publicly condemn the attacks. The authorities have declared there would be no ransom money paid to kidnappers and zero tolerance for any form of criminality. It is for the moment not clear who is behind the emergence of this new group of militants as several former militants have distanced themselves from the group including Ateke Tom a former War lord from the region.

The attacks have been linked to the issuance of a warrant by a Lagos court for the arrest of the notorious Kingpin of MEND Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, and an ally of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan accused of being involved in $175 million corruption and money laundering case.

Farmer-Herder Conflict

In the last few months, an increase in the number of kidnappings and violent clashes between nomadic herdsmen and rural farmers has seen a rise in tension between the Fulani considered to be Northerners and rural communities in the Southern part of the country.

Recently, agitations by groups in the southeastern ‘Igbo’ region of the nation calling for an independent state of Biafra  have also raised concerns with indications of potential collaboration between the two groups.

Cattle rustling is a criminal activity that has plagued the central part of Nigeria over decades. Nomadic grazers have been exposed to rural banditry while an increased number in violent attacks between farmers and herdsmen stemming from competition for increasingly scarce land and resources particularly grazing space and encroachment into farmlands are putting rural communities as well as pastoralists at high risk of violent attacks on a daily basis. The growing ecological and demographic pressures in the rural areas of Nigeria further intensify this posing a serious security concern not only for the lives of the people but also economic activities and the environment.

According to Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria there are only 141 of the over 400 initially established grazing reserves remaining. This decrease in designated grazing routes coupled with high population growth and increase in livestock has further aggravated tensions between the two populations. 

With victims on both sides of the divide, there have also been insinuations of the possibility of ex Boko Haram fighters dispersing and integrating into the nomadic herder population but no clear evidence has been established to date.

Challenges Ahead

When a year ago, Nigeria’s historic elections saw the swearing in of General Muhammadu Buhari, expectations were high as the wave of ‘Change’ took over the country with renewed prospects to urgently tackle the challenges that have hindered economic prosperity, sustainable security and overall national development in the country. In outlining his priorities when he took over, President Buhari committed to tackle Security, Corruption, Unemployment, and the Economy as his key priority areas.

Since then, the Nigerian President has taken a number of concrete steps towards addressing the challenges particularly in the northeast; notably the overhaul of the top military hierarchy bringing in new service chiefs and moving the military command centre to the heart of the battle to Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital. Prioritising regional cooperation particularly with the neighbouring Lake Chad Basin Commission countries namely Cameroon, Chad, and Niger as well as Benin on the other side of the border; and the operationalization of Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF)—although technically set up since 1998 was barely functional until its recent rebirth—providing the security apparatus through which the countries can coordinate Military intervention in the region. The President has also reached out to key International stakeholders such as France, the USA and the United Kingdom to garner additional support to tackle the insurgents.

With the recent successes registered by the Military in recapturing claimed territory and weakening the structures of the insurgents in the Northeast, we have seen the emergence of a Humanitarian crises described by the President of ICRC in 2015 as ‘one of the worst in the world’. Despite the recent semblance of peace in the region however, the insurgents have engaged in ‘hit and run’ guerrilla warfare with sporadic attacks principally with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) strapped to innocent victims particularly girls and women in crowded spaces planning to carry out as much destruction and casualties as possible.

Although Nigeria continues to intensify its efforts in tackling both the security as well as the Humanitarian crisis in the short to medium term, the underlying socio-economic and political factors, which have created an enabling environment for the insurgency to take hold will also need to be addressed intensively in the medium to long term.

Implications For Future Security Environment

With a dynamic and changing International Security environment it is hard to predict the future particularly with new and emerging challenges. However, extrapolations can be made by looking at some of the drivers and trends shaping Global Security. Globalisation and the inter-relation between economic and security trends, Terrorism, State fragility, and Geopolitical uncertainty are all factors that have been identified as driving forces shaping the future of the global security environment. Additionally, according the World Economic Forums 2016 Global Risk Report, the top five Global risks in terms of likelihood include large-scale involuntary migration, extreme weather events, failure of climate—change mitigation and adaptation, interstate conflict with regional consequences, and major natural catastrophes.

For Nigeria given its strategic position as a key actor in both the LCBC region West Africa, and to a certain extent the Sahel, economic and security instability would have potential risks and repercussions for neighbouring countries and the region as a whole. As Africa’s most populous country the potential implications of an economic crisis as well as spill over effects of the Boko Haram crisis in the northeast, the escalation of violence linked to the farmer-herder clashes, as well as the relapse of insecurity in the Niger Delta region pose existent challenges for the government, its neighbours, and the global security environment looking ahead. This reality highlights the importance of having a balanced menu of instruments of not only national power but emphasises the need for collaboration with regional as well as international stakeholders. This not only demands innovation, since we are dealing with non-state threats, but also reinforces the importance of having the political will to ensure peace and stability for development of a country. Future direction must therefore be carved out from past as well as and current security trends.

Significance For France-Nigeria Relationship And Conclusions

Historically, France has had strong political, economic and diplomatic ties with the African continent summed up within the context of ‘francafrique’, particularly within the francophone states. Although Nigeria and France do not have any strong historical ties, their relationship has been cordial; stronger ties between the two countries would be mutually beneficial both politically as well as economically.

Additionally, Nigeria being geographically surrounded by the three Francophone countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, which have been affected by the crisis in the Northeast, reinforces the need for stronger diplomatic links between the two countries. The French White Paper on National Security and Defence (2013) also emphasises “the Sahel, from Mauritania to the Horn of Africa, together with part of sub-Saharan Africa, as regions of priority interest for France due to a common history, the presence of French nationals, the issues at stake and the threats confronting them” The White Paper also highlights the fact that instability in the region and particularly Nigeria creates potential risks for not only neighbouring countries but has consequences for Europe’s neighbourhood. 

The escalating violence in the LCBC region propelled President François Hollande to host the first Paris Summit for Security in May 2014 to address the regional challenges of the Boko Haram insurgency along with the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom. Representatives from the affected countries in the LCBC region as well as Benin committed to engage in Bilateral as well as Multilateral actions towards strengthening cooperation and addressing the security challenges.

At the end of April 2016, Nigeria signed an agreement with France to strengthen military cooperation—including intelligence sharing—to reinforce the fight against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region. In addition, the two countries committed to reinforce their bilateral relationship to address security issues not only in the Northeast but also maritime insecurity, especially piracy and oil theft. The catalyzing role France could play in the region reemphasizes the value of aligning what France has to offer and what the problem requires in addition to successful donor coordination for effectiveness and long-term sustainability.


  • Given Nigeria’s position as a key player in the Lake Chad Basin Commission and other western African countries, and the threats insecurity in Nigeria might pose to its neighboring countries; addressing insecurity would require strong diplomatic ties and collaboration between Nigeria, regional, and international security stakeholders.
  • It is also important to cultivate the political will to ensure peace and stability of the country.
  • The underlying socio-economic and political factors which have created an enabling environment for insurgencies to thrive also must be addressed intensively.

Source: Cairn.Info

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