At least 23,000 Nigerians fled their homes and communities in the Northwest and sought refuge in the Republic of Niger last month following heightened attacks by armed groups in the region. This is according to a report by the United Nations Refugee agency which also expressed worry about the poor state of internal security in the country.
What’s happening: States like Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, and Zamfara have recorded violent attacks by gunmen who kidnap people for ransom, pillage, and loot villages for food and other valuables. Scores of people have lost their lives, sometimes in reprisal attacks by civilian vigilante groups formed by communities as an extra layer of protection due to the failure of security agencies to protect them. With dominant media coverage on COVID-19 and its devastating consequences on Nigeria’s economy, the most recent attacks and the brewing humanitarian disaster in the region have gotten little attention.
Going by the numbers:
- 1416 Nigerian lives have been lost to violence between January and April this year, according to a report by Global Rights Nigeria. In comparison, COVID-19 has led to 191 deaths according to the government’s official figures.
- The Northwest contributed over 30% of the violent deaths with a recorded total figure of 449.
- Kaduna State had the highest number of deaths with 198, followed by Katsina , Zamfara , Sokoto , Kano , and Jigawa .
Why it matters: Insurgent groups continue to gain prominence in the Northwest region, the most populous region in the country and home to the president, Muhammadu Buhari. There are fears that the terrorists could use the region as a ‘land bridge’ to link with other fighters in the Sahel region given its geographical location. This would complicate the fight against terrorism and pose new problems for the country’s overstretched military.
- The humanitarian crisis could also aid the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Over 1600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the region per NCDC’s latest figures on Monday night.
What they are saying: The Federal Government has repeatedly deployed troops to the region to curb the violence in an operation codenamed ‘Hadarin Daji’. Last week, the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, said soldiers have been deployed to the state to protect the people from bandit attacks.
Yes, but: This is unlikely to solve the problem according to Murtala Abdullahi, a climate security expert who attributed the recent spate of attacks to the breakdown in peace talks between the government and the armed groups.
He said: “The dialogue process didn’t completely disarm these criminal gangs or ensure justice and compensation for the victims. Not much was invested in addressing the underlying factors responsible for the conflict such as deeply-rooted bad blood, vengeance resource struggle, ungoverned spaces, weak law enforcement and state presence.”