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Violence between Fulani militias in Nigeria’s Middle Belt continued into 2021, causing hundreds of fatalities and displacement (The Punch, 24 January 2021). Political violence between the IPOB paramilitaries wing and the government escalated significantly in Southeast Nigeria.
1. Oil spills in the Niger Delta
Nigeria’s notoriously polluted Niger Delta region has suffered its latest oil spill from a Shell facility in Brass locality of Bayelsa state, polluting farmland and water sources while upending the livelihoods of communities who have long endured environmental pollution from oil companies. This latest oil spill threatens rare species such as West African manatee and Niger Delta red colobus monkey.
The impact of the Ogoniland oil spill has yet to be fully assessed; however, activists believe it was one of the worst incidents in 16 years. Oil sheens, mud, and dead fish poured into Okulu River before flowing onto other creeks and eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Furthermore, agricultural land was polluted, and hundreds of people were displaced, according to an independent non-profit that monitors these incidents in Ogoniland.
Since 1956, oil companies have been extracting profits from the Niger Delta for profit. Yet, despite decades of protest from affected communities and ongoing environmental degradation, they have failed to clean up their mess. A recent ruling brought by two Niger Delta communities against Shell led to them finally agreeing to pay compensation; another case by London-based law firm Leigh Day is currently ongoing in court.
2. Boko Haram insurgency
Boko Haram insurgency has had devastating repercussions since 2009 in northeast Nigeria (with significant spillover effects into Niger, Cameroon, and Chad), killing at least 20,000 and injuring 1.5 million. Also known as Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da’awati wal Jihad or Islamic State West Africa Province, its attacks are often used against civilians – women and children being targets.
Insurgency by Boko Haram has destroyed or damaged schools, health facilities, and mosques, killed or displaced countless others, and abducted or forced the displacement of thousands. Boko Haram kidnapped thousands of children, raped women and girls for sexual gratification, and slaughtered livestock – yet government response ranged between neglect of the problem to counterinsurgency measures that made no distinction between Boko Haram fighters and populations living under its rule.
Recent evidence indicates that Boko Haram may be transitioning away from suicide bombings towards more armed attacks. They have even collaborated with motorcycle bandits in certain regions to set up illegal checkpoints along crucial supply routes and set up illegal checkpoints there. This has further escalated tensions between communities and the military, which has conducted airstrikes against suspected Boko Haram positions without providing apparent civilian oversight or an accountable accountability process. Conciliation Resources, International Crisis Group, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, and Behavioural Insights Team have come together to launch Smart Peace initiatives in northeast Nigeria that seek to strengthen relationships among militia groups, those associated with Boko Haram, and their respective communities.
3. Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP)
Boko Haram, also known as Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) or Boko Haram, is a Salafi-jihadist group that seeks to replace Nigeria’s secular government with one adhering strictly to Shari’ah law and free from corruption and injustice. Their initial intent was to root out corruption; now, their operations extend into surrounding states like Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who is designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, reportedly leads this group and has become its leader, consolidating control over what had previously been Boko Haram splinter group called Islamic State Lake Chad Region (ISWLCR) before expanding further into northwestern Nigeria and Niger.
ISWAP has become known for more targeted attacks that result in minimal civilian casualties. Additionally, efforts have been made to improve local relationships by reinstating latrine construction programs in areas they control and permitting polio vaccination campaigns for both religious and public health purposes to continue there.
This tactic change has decreased civilian deaths in northeast Nigeria and increased military deaths in 2018. Furthermore, it may explain why reports of Shekau’s death have been greatly exaggerated. HumAngle sources indicate he remains alive, was recently promoted to ISWLCR leader status, and coordinated activities for other IS affiliates worldwide.
4. Biafra separatist rebellion
Since the fall of Biafra in 1970, its cause has periodically surfaced again. Ralph Uwazurike founded MASSOB (Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra). Although pledged nonviolence when starting up this group in 1999, shortly after democratic Nigeria emerged from decades of military dictatorships, several clashes occurred with police several times, and members claimed security operatives had killed an unbelievable number.
In 2021, the government banned MASSOB and its successor organization, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). IPOB’s leaders have consistently rejected this categorization as terrorist.
Nigeria’s heavy-handed approach to separatist movements has only furthered them. Instead of violent crackdowns, engagement should be sought with these groups to shut them down.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader and director of the IPOB radio station, is at the core of this movement. Since his arrest in October 2015, weekly protests and sit-at-home demonstrations across southeast Nigeria have ensued following his imprisonment; on 2 December an IPOB rally in Onitsha descended into violence killing nine protesters and two police officers; demonstrators blocked key bridges that connect Anambra and Ondo states of southern Nigeria with rest of country for one month-long blockade which resulted in severe economic disruptions across these states resulting in severe economic disorders across these regions as they sought access; on 2 December an IPOB rally held by IPOB descended into violence killing nine protesters while two police officers died when two police officers blocked an essential bridge which linked Anambra and Ondo states to rest of country thus leading to severe economic disruptions within these regions; which resulted in severe financial troubles due to blockade caused by demonstrators blocking it for one month-causing severe economic disorders within this region causing severe economic disruptions within this region due to siege created during that month-long blockade, leading to harsh economic conditions within this region due to blockade caused by demonstrators’s blockade caused severe economic disruptions across southeast Nigeria due to blocking key bridge which linked Anambra and Ondo states to rest of country due to blocking it all throughout this month long blockade which caused severe economic disruptions due to economic blockades which created.