Why Doesn’t Terrorist Activity in Nigeria End?

Nigeria is experiencing a sharp increase in the influence of terrorist groups in the country. On June 29, 2024, female suicide bombers carried out a series of terrorist attacks in the town of Gwoza in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. One of the suicide bombers detonated a bomb at a wedding party in the town, and during the funeral of the wedding victims, another bomber caused a massive explosion. Minutes later, an explosive device attack occurred around the town’s general hospital. These attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 32 people and injuries to dozens more.

Key Points

The recent attacks can be understood within the framework of Nigeria’s current security, political, and economic challenges as follows:

Involvement of Women in Terrorist Attacks: The model of terrorism in Nigeria involves women in violent missions. Their roles extend beyond internal activities supporting male members of extremist groups; women also participate in intelligence and combat operations, especially in Boko Haram. According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime study on the gender dimensions of terrorism in Nigeria, women’s involvement in attacks stems from ideological factors related to their beliefs. Additionally, this practice can result from kidnappings for ransom. If the abducted women are not financially beneficial, they are used as tools for attacks or punishment. Voluntary female involvement in terrorist attacks produces more radical and ideologically committed generations.

Multiplicity of Armed Terrorist Groups: Northern Nigeria witnesses various extremist groups. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has significant influence, alongside Boko Haram, which resumed independent operations after splitting from ISWAP. Internal splits within Boko Haram have created other extremist factions, like Ansaru, which the UN Security Council listed as a terrorist organization on June 26, 2014, noting its links to al-Qaeda. This diversity of terrorist methods and strategies complicates security confrontations and intelligence efforts to preempt violent attacks. The ideological diversity in the region offers a broader scope for recruitment into extremist groups for ideological or financial reasons.

Spread of Suicide Ideology and Difficulty in Tracking: The reliance on suicide attacks indicates the penetration of extreme ideas about self-sacrifice for distorted ideological affiliations, reflecting a weak security environment. The spread of suicide operations strains security agencies due to the difficulty of tracking or preventing attackers from executing bombings, which can cause higher casualties and threaten more critical state targets.

Decline in Security and Intelligence Capabilities: Nigeria ranked eighth globally in terrorist-related fatalities according to the 2024 Global Terrorism Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Three of the world’s top 20 deadliest terrorist attacks in 2023 occurred in Nigeria, indicating that armed groups still pose a significant threat and possess the means to carry out large-scale, deadly attacks.

Government’s Ineffective Approach to Tackling Extremist Violence: Recent incidents have highlighted the government’s approach to handling extremist violence. During a visit to the injured on July 1, 2024, Borno State Acting Governor Umar Usman Kadafur urged citizens to accept these attacks as divine fate and maintain hope for peace in the state. This statement suggests a religious framing of both the attacks and the response, hindering systematic counter-terrorism efforts. On June 30, 2024, President Bola Tinubu said the recent attacks indicate the military’s success in pressuring and weakening terrorists, suggesting reliance on media propaganda.

Impact of Increased Poverty and Marginalization: According to a World Bank report from June 2024, the number of Nigerians living in poverty increased from 70 million in 2010 to around 109 million in 2023, forming the world’s largest segment of poor people. The country ranked 161st out of 193 on the 2022 Human Development Index. The widespread poverty and economic and social marginalization are significant variables exploited by terrorist groups for recruitment. Economic decline and poor living conditions also increase kidnapping rates, a notable security issue in Nigeria, as kidnappings for ransom often aim to secure food supplies.

Effects of Sectarian and Ethnic Conflicts: Armed conflicts create fertile ground for the growth of terrorist groups alongside security fragility. ISIS exploits attacks on priests and churches to fuel ethnic conflict in the region. Ethnic strife and secessionist tendencies in the south further complicate Nigeria’s complex security crisis. The Indigenous People of Biafra separatist group conducts violent attacks on security forces in southeastern Nigeria.

Terrorist Exploitation of Cryptocurrency Expansion: Nigeria has become a prominent West African country in digital currency use, launching an electronic version of its local currency (eNaira) in 2021. However, the lack of robust infrastructure for secure financial transactions has allowed terrorist groups to use cryptocurrencies to fund violence and extremism. A US Treasury Department report from February 2024 noted a rise in ISIS West Africa Province’s reliance on cryptocurrencies, particularly Tether, for its regional activities. The US Treasury accused the digital trading platform Binance of facilitating financial transactions for ISIS. The Nigerian government requested local trading data from Binance in March 2024 as part of official investigations into its involvement in funding terrorist organizations.

Problem of Porous Borders: Nigeria’s weak geographical borders contribute to the development of terrorism in the region. It borders Chad and Niger, both experiencing security deterioration and declining military capabilities, as well as the spread of terrorist influence. The 2024 National Terrorist Financing Risk Assessment by the US Treasury Department highlighted that the turbulent regional environment around Lake Chad provides easy transit routes for ISIS elements between Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria, exacerbating conditions in northeastern Nigeria.

Financial Gains from Armed Influence: The presence of various extremist groups, criminal gangs, and separatist movements enhances competition for the country’s resources amid climate crises affecting economic inputs. This competition for geographic spread targets economic activities in the Gulf of Guinea, a hotspot on the international navigation map, and mines and mining workers. In June 2022, an armed gang kidnapped gold mine workers in central Nigeria for ransom. The geographic spread allows groups to expand kidnapping activities for ransom and present themselves internationally as proxy warfare tools, intensifying the competition among terrorist groups.

Potential Implications

The recent operations indicate security risks affecting the economy and society, with implications such as:

Increased Psychological Motivations for Terrorist Competition: Terrorist groups use major operations to promote their operational superiority and ideological penetration in the region. Given the ongoing competition between extremist organizations and armed gangs for resources, recruitment, and geographic spread, violent attacks may add a competitive dimension, potentially exacerbating security disturbances, ethnic strife, and secessionist calls, further undermining the government’s ability to maintain security.

Increase in Internal Displacement: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reported on May 14, 2024, that Nigeria recorded the highest rate of internal displacement due to conflict in 2023, with about 291,000 people displaced, double the 2022 figure. Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states in northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram and ISIS operate, saw significant displacement. As terrorist influence grows and attacks widen, displacement is likely to increase, straining government capabilities to address the issue and potentially fostering affiliation with armed groups.

Impact on Investments and Hindrance to International Efforts to Save the Economy: Security disturbances hinder Nigeria’s economic recovery, requiring substantial resource allocation to combat violence and armed groups. According to a World Bank report from March 2024, the country recorded a 31.7% inflation rate due to the impact of terrorism and security fragility on economic growth. Armed groups undermine the outcomes of financial efforts to unify the local currency exchange rate, affecting foreign investment in the country.

Disruption of UN Efforts to Prevent Child Recruitment: The United Nations aims to end child recruitment by terrorist groups in Nigeria, but security, economic, and social factors likely intersect with these efforts. In April 2024, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in collaboration with the Nigerian government and the European Union, showcased a documentary on resilience stories to raise awareness against child recruitment by armed groups. However, the increasing role of women in terrorist attacks could produce psychologically and ideologically distorted generations.

Need for Enhanced Regional Cooperation: Nigeria and Lake Chad Basin countries need to enhance regional cooperation to counter the growth of terrorist groups in the region by expanding intelligence sharing and utilizing international support in military fields. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu called in April 2024 for more regional cooperation by establishing a joint military force and sharing intelligence to combat regional terrorism.

Worsening Crises

In conclusion, Nigeria faces a complex security crisis due to the growing influence of Boko Haram and its offshoots now loyal to international terrorist organizations and ISIS’s ambitions in the region. This has led to more armed conflict over the country’s resources, while criminal gangs and separatist movements add to the crisis. Abuja needs to enhance regional and international cooperation in counter-terrorism.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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