Abuja is finding it difficult to contain security threats in the run-up to the next presidential election.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with over one hundred and ninety million people, with a federal presidential republic system and a deeply religious electorate. Often referred to as “the Giant of Africa”, Nigeria possesses the largest youth population in the continent, and also the largest economy.
Much like its neighbours, Nigeria has suffered from critical security lapses, culminating in state security forces fighting militias and armed gangs which operate from the Northern part of the country. The importance of combating this threat is amplified by the upcoming Presidential elections in 2019.
Nigeria has spent most of its post-colonial existence struggling under a brutal civil war and successive military juntas. It achieved democratic stability in 1999 when the first presidential elections were held and has continued steadily to strengthen its democratic institutions.
In this year alone, in the state of Zumfara, hundreds of people have died, and thousands have been driven away from their homes. The violence has stemmed from a gang of armed men who have made the Northwestern province their base of operations. President Buhari responded with force and ordered over a thousand troops and jets to fight the gangs.
Nigeria is beleaguered by security threats. In the northeast, Islamist extremists from Boko Haram and its splinter groups are waging increasingly complex attacks on military forces and civilians. In the middle part of the country, more than 1,300 people have been killed in increasingly vicious land disputes between cattle herders and farmers. Farther to the south, violence spikes from time to time in the Biafra region, where separatists are pushing to secede. And in various pockets throughout the country, like a major highway between Kaduna and Abuja, kidnappings of prominent figures and regular Nigerians alike have become common.
The threats are becoming a major issue for President Muhammadu Buhari as he tries for a second term in February. Increasingly, critics and even allies complain about his failure to take control of the security situation.
After almost a decade into the Boko Haram insurgency, security resources on the frontlines of the conflict are increasingly stretched. On Sunday, according to local reports, several soldiers brought an airport in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria, to a halt, shooting into the air and threatening their superiors to protest working conditions. It is the third time this year that security forces have protested their plight stemming from the conflict.
Of late, security has deteriorated significantly. In July alone, a total of more than 400 people were killed by Boko Haram or gangs in Zamfara, or in the herder-farmer conflict, according to the International Crisis Group.
In recent weeks, Mr. Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party has been hit with a wave of defections. More than 50 lawmakers, state governors and party members have joined the opposition People’s Democratic Party, many of them worried that any alignment with the president could challenge their prospects in next year’s elections.
Some bizarre events have left many in the nation concerned about the general state of democracy. Twice in recent weeks, security forces from the Department of State Services, the top spy agency, have appeared in black face masks outside the National Assembly. On August 7, they blocked lawmakers from entering.
Later that day, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo fired the head of the agency. And on Tuesday, he announced that a notorious security agency, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, would be shut down. The decision was widely welcomed; it followed several months of criticism that Mr. Buhari was again deaf to the concerns of Nigerians, after several protests against alleged abuses by the agency.
Analysts see Mr. Buhari’s dispatching of fighter jets to combat the gangs in Zamfara as a belated show of force for a president eager to appear like he has control over security.
Our assessment is that this is a stern test for President Buhari as well as the Nigerian electoral system. We feel that the recurring violence in the Northern and North Western provinces are a result of anti-establishment sentiments. The failure of successive presidents in achieving basic campaign promises like providing potable water and reliable food supply seems to spur these armed groups. We feel that Nigeria’s stability, as Africa’s strongest economy and regional power, is of paramount importance for regional peace in the continent. Nigeria has successfully repelled Boko Haram from major urban centres, but it needs to do more if it wants to continue being Africa’s bellwether.