A research group, Nextier SPD, has raised the alarm that the Jihadists terrorism that started with Boko Haram twelve years ago in Northern Nigeria is steadily spreading to Southern Nigeria through the North-Central zone, which demarcates the North and South.
Nextier SPD in a research conducted by its experts, Dr. Iro Aghedo, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Benin, Edo State and Dr. Ndu Nwokolo, Managing Partner and Chief Executive at Nextier SPD, submitted that the availability of ungoverned forest spaces, easy access to deadly weapons and deployment of the poor military strategy of hit-and-run has aided the growth.
To arrest the ugly development, the group said, “One way to stop the weaponisation of these forests is for the federal and state governments to cultivate and use them for large-scale agriculture. Security forces need to rely on state-of-the-art intelligence to identify the sources and channels of illegal weapons. Rather than a hit-and-run approach, security agencies must deploy an extermination strategy to stamp out terrorism.”
It further said, “All these factors aiding the spread of terrorism need to be urgently addressed if the state is to gain the upper hand against the jihadists.”
“Slowly but steadily, non-state violence is spreading across the length and breadth of Nigeria, and the state is largely unable to halt it. The agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which started in 2012, has gained enormous dominance in South-Eastern Nigeria and is fast spreading to other parts of Southern Nigeria.
“Similarly, the rural banditry which erupted in Zamfara State in 2011 has engulfed most of the North-Western zone and large swathes of the North-Central today. Even more worrisome is the mobility of the Boko Haram insurgency. Since the Ansaru broke away from Boko Haram in 2012, followed by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in 2015, jihadist violence has spread rapidly across Northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries, including Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
“However, the spread of jihadist violence towards Southern Nigeria has been slow and subtle. Still, it has gained unprecedented momentum in the last couple of years, especially since the execution of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau by ISWAP forces in 2021.
“The North-Central zone, especially Niger, Benue, Plateau and Kogi states, have been a significant attraction to jihadists in their push towards the South. Nextier SPD weekly examines the growing attraction of the North-Central zone to terrorists and how the deadly push towards the South can be addressed.”
According to the report, in recent years, Niger, Benue and Plateau states have been the hotspots of violent attacks in the North-Central zone and the three states accounted for most attacks, deaths and displacements in the region.
It said, “Of the three states, Niger State has been the worst hit in the last three years, recording 1,100 deaths, 942 kidnaps, and 150 incidents between January 1, 2020, and January 12, 2023. In the second position, Benue State recorded 616 deaths, 25 kidnaps, and 116 incidents for the period under review.
“In the third position is Plateau State which recorded 470 deaths, 65 kidnaps and 110 incidents for the period under review. Indeed, following the establishment of Ansaru and ISWAP cells around the New Bussa-Babanna axis of Niger State, many communities have become vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
“The worst hit communities include Beni, Kuchi, Hudawa, and Kusasu in Shiroro LGA, Kaore, Rafi, Muya, Mariga, Kotangora and Lapai, which shares a common boundary with Abaji in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. After taking advantage of the ungoverned spaces of vast forests, terrorists began to unleash their campaign of violence on the communities.
“Even though terrorists have hibernated in Niger State for several years, their presence was officially heralded in April 2021 when a terrorist leader with links to Boko Haram hoisted their flag in Kaure village in Shiroro area.
“In recent months, the terrorist cells have launched attacks in the areas, including the one on a mining site at Ajala-Aboko community in Shiroro on June 30, 2022, in which 43 persons, including 37 security personnel, were allegedly killed by suspected ISWAP members.
“Another attack happened on July 23, 2022, when 50 persons from Kuchi in Munya LGA were abducted by an unnamed terrorist group which launched a house-to-house operation.
“Two days after this incident, the Shadadi community in Mariga LGA was attacked on July 25, 2022. Over 15 persons, primarily women and children, were kidnapped. Another set of three women was kidnapped on August 8, 2022, and some fuel tankers were set ablaze at Saminaka community in Lapai LGA.
“Similarly, in the last decade, many communities in Benue and Plateau states have been under incessant Fulani herders’ attacks. Pastoralists, in the quest for water and pasture for their herds, have subjected farming communities to violent attacks for denying them access to land-based resources.
“Over the years, several people have been killed in Benue State, leading to the enactment of anti-grazing law to regulate the activities of the herders. In the same vein, there have been deadly clashes between Fulani herders and farming communities in Plateau State over land ownership, grazing routes, and crop destruction.
“In recent years, Kogi State has witnessed deadly terrorist attacks, especially in Okene, Eyima, Okehi, and Adavi in Kogi Central Senatorial District, where Ansaru, ISWAP, and Boko Haram have set up local cells.
“The presence of Ansaru in the state was made known in 2016 when one of its leaders, Khalid al-Barnawi, was arrested in Lokoja after many security breaches. One of the widely reported terrorist activities in the state was the attack on a Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kabba on September 13, 2021, in which over 200 inmates were set free and two security personnel were killed.
“On June 5, 2022, terrorists allegedly linked to the ISWAP cell in Kogi State bombed a Catholic Church at Owo in Ondo State and killed 40 worshippers. The terrorists were said to have invaded the South-Western town of Owo through the Okpella, Uzebba, and Ekperi forests between Kogi and Ondo states. Thus, the Owo massacre marked the beginning of jihadist terrorism in Southern Nigeria.”
On how to address terrorism mobility in the country, the group said certain factors aid the mobility of terrorists and that for it to be reduced drastically, the drivers need to be addressed.
One of the drivers it noted is opening up ungoverned forest spaces: “The vast availability of ungoverned forestlands has provided cover for terrorist groups to incubate and fester. From the Sambisa forest in the Northeast, Boko Haram, Ansaru and ISWAP jihadists have been weaponising forests in their movement towards Southern Nigeria. Besides serving as their abode and camps, the forests are also used as training grounds to stockpile deadly weapons.
“In Kogi State, the forests through Bassa, Dekina, and Omalla, after River Niger and Benue, have been used by terrorists operating from the flank of Abuja and Nasarawa State to build their cells and unleash terror on Kogi State.
“The Allawa and Gawu forests in Niger State have links to Sarkin Pawa, Kuduru, Kamuku, and Kuyanbana forests in Kaduna State and Dansadau forest in Zamfara State have also been exploited by terrorists operating in Shiroro Local Government Area in Niger State.
“Thus, one way to stop the weaponisation of these forests is for the federal and state governments concerned to cultivate and use them for large-scale agriculture, thereby aiding food security.”
Another driver is the tracking availability of deadly weapons as terrorists can unleash mayhem on communities; and bomb churches and prison facilities in their advance toward Southern Nigeria because of their access to deadly weapons, including explosives used in bomb-making.
“To address this, the security forces need to rely on state-of-the-art intelligence to identify the sources and channels of illegal weapons,” it said.
It said changing the hit-and-run military strategy will help as terrorists have grown in leaps and bounds because of poor military response.
“Like the Boko Haram terrorism, banditry in recent times started with a lone criminal gang in 2011 and grew from a single cell operating mainly in Zamfara State. As of 2021, there were over 120 gangs across six states in North-Western Nigeria. The hit-and-run military strategy only scares the terrorists away from one place to another and thus promoting their spread. Rather than a hit-and-run approach, security agencies need to deploy an extermination strategy to stamp out terrorism.”