What is happening in Nigeria?: A Threat Assessment

What is happening in Nigeria? This report examines the principal threats currently faced by Nigeria. For collection and processing, the author used OSINT, therefore anyone can distribute this report safely.

What is happening in Nigeria: Key Judgements 

KJ-1. The level of security in Nigeria is unlikely to improve in the following months. This is due to a combination of internal and external factors. These are local crime, jihadist-led insurgency, and terrorism, frequent conflicts between herdsmen, and farmers, and increased piracy activity. Jihadist violence spreads across the north-eastern region and is likely to spill over into the north-western region. Violence has displaced thousands already.

KJ-2. Dissent on the current governance and high levels of insecurity is likely to cause further violent clashes between Nigerian nationals. In rural areas mainly, the security forces are likely to face resistance in imposing lockdown measures. People struggle to make a living during the crisis.

KJ-3. The Nigerian economy is likely to face massive losses in terms of oil exports, leading to widespread poverty across the country and extreme poverty in areas where the living standards were already low.

What is happening in Nigeria: A Security Perspective

Local crime

Local crime in Nigeria is likely to foster despite a new military operation to combat local crime. The national forces are preoccupied with maintaining order during the lockdown and fighting insurgency groups in the North. Given Nigeria’s weakened economy, lack of jobs, and widespread violence, the military operation the government launched in May 2020 in the Delta region is unlikely to bring about major security improvements.

Violent crime is widespread which includes violent street crime, armed robberies, carjackings, kidnapping, and rape. Nigerian nationals are most affected. Nevertheless, the population perceives expatriate personnel without adequate security as lucrative targets due to their perceived wealth. Crime is rampant throughout southern Nigeria, particularly the Niger Delta region including Port Harcourt. The mainland portion of Lagos has experienced outbreaks of violence, resulting from clashes among gangs known as “Area Boys.”

There is a strong history of kidnapping in Nigeria. The tactic has evolved from purely targeting political and expatriate oil sector workers by a militant local group. Now the focus is on a more commercial model which criminal gangs have adopted. Trends indicate that kidnap risk has subsequently spread inland and will continue to do so.

Vigilantes, Farmers, Herders and Bandits

Violence between various ethnic and occupational communities in Nigeria remains a high risk for the country’s security. A decrease in resources and income result in the fights between herdsmen, vigilantes, bandits, and farmers are likely to increase.

Incidents of intercommunal violence, including herder-settler violence emanating from the Middle Belt, occur in southern Nigeria and can prompt reprisals. Upticks in armed criminality, including armed banditry and kidnapping, are associated with intercommunal violence in the Middle Belt.

Ethnic Hausa farmers and vigilantes act against Fulani herders and militias who set on fire villages and attack the civilians. Armed with locally made guns, machetes, clubs, and other crude weapons, they impose harsh sanctions on perpetrators of robberies and raids. The vigilantes particularly target Fulanis. Others accuse these, because of their ethnic affiliation with the cattle-herding Fulani in the forests, of complicity in criminal activity. 

Jihadist violence

Terrorist attacks occur predominately in the northern part of the country (Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states). While the epicenter for terrorist activity is in Borno State, this activity can affect other states in the Northeast and other parts of Nigeria such as the south. Boko Haram and ISWAP have recently targeted churches, schools, mosques, government installations, educational institutions, and entertainment venues. The main targets have been Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, Taraba, and Yobe states.

Terrorist groups may attack with little or no warning. They may target shopping centers, malls, markets, hotels, places of worship, restaurants. In general, places where crowds gather.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for most of the terrorist activity in Nigeria. Nonetheless, its rival group ISWAP has become increasingly active. Boko Haram has conducted kidnappings, killings, bombings, and attacks on civilian and military targets. There is a realistic probability that ISWAP will seek to increase the intensity of its attacks to claim legitimacy. VBIEDs bombings remain the most likely scenario is they are cost-effective and have a great impact in terms of casualties. Nevertheless, from a psychological perspective, the situation intimidates the local population and seeks to avoid cooperation with the national forces. However, kidnappings and assassinations of local representatives and tribe leaders who decline to support the group remain a possibility. 

What is hapenning in Nigeria?: ISWAP


According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since April 2020, 23,000 Nigerian refugees fled to Niger. The number of refugees seeking protection almost tripled from last year when the UNHCR reported an influx of 20,000. This happened following a rebellion and banditry in northern Nigeria. The latest influx of mostly women and children came after attacks by gunmen in Nigeria’s Katsina, Sokoto, and Zamfara in April. The forces of security suspect that the attackers are members of Boko Haram. On 16 May 2020, Fulani militants killed two Christians and kidnapped two others in Kaduna state (north-western Nigeria).

The national forces are concerned with maintaining order during the lockdown imposed. In this regard, there is a high probability that Boko Haram and ISWAP will intensify their activities in the northeast. They will also attempt to conduct attacks on more secure targets, such as buildings and public centers in southern Nigeria.

Piracy and maritime security

Piracy conducted by Nigerian nationals presents an ongoing challenge for regional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). It is likely that pirates will take advantage of the national forces’ preoccupation to secure the country during the lockdown and conduct an increased number of attacks on oil tankers. This threat does not concern the Nigerian waters exclusively, but the entire region of the Gulf of Guinea.

The majority of GoG piracy events in 2019 occurred in or near Nigerian waters. However, dozens of incidents occurred in international waters or off the coasts of other GoG countries. Nigerian pirates have participated in several of these incidents. According to reports from the Georgian Maritime Transport Agency, pirates took 10 sailors on April 30, 2020. Some Panamanian-flagged tankers in the region near Nigeria took these. In March, a Libyan-flagged tanker which Oceangold Tankers operated, released 4 sailors who the pirates kidnapped. That incident also involved 10 sailors who were all taken on February 20 near Lagos, Nigeria.

In 2019, at least 50 piracy incidents (e.g. boardings, hijackings, and armed attacks on vessels) occurred in and around Port Harcourt and Lagos, including in ports, anchorage points, and inland waterways. Piracy attacks are unlikely to decrease in number, especially during the lockdown period, when national forces are focusing their efforts on in-land security. Attacks occur mostly in ports, but authorities some over 200Nm from the coast. 

The attackers usually use small arms fire and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). The objective is predominantly kidnapping for ransom. The movement of vessels passing the GoG is likely to decline during the pandemic, as the oil exports from the GoG countries to Europe have decreased considerably. Piracy groups in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger River Delta region and the GoG are well-known for siphoning oil off tanker ships and reselling it on the black market. Authorities suspect some of them to have links with Boko Haram. 

What is happening in Nigeria: A Military Perspective

An area used by Boko Haram Terrorists In Borno State for launching attacks against military troops has been destroyed in a military airstrike on 30 April 2020. The airstrike coordinated by the Air Task Force of Operation Lafiya Dole destroyed the terrorist’s logistics facilities at Parisu, Sambisa forest. According to a statement made by the Coordinator Defence Media Operations, recent aerial surveillance missions had also shown significant terrorist activities in the area whilst identifying some compounds housing the fighters and their logistics items.

In May 2020, Amnesty International accused the Nigerian army of wrongly detaining and torturing at least 10,000 nationals in northeast Nigeria. Many of the detained were children who died in custody. They left their homes to flee violence from Boko Haram, whose deadly jihadist insurgency began in 2009. Yet displaced people were wrongly arrested by civilian militia forces and soldiers on suspicion of being connected to or supporting the insurgency. There is a realistic possibility that the Nigerian army will continue on persecuting alleged jihadists-affiliated nationals to spread fear among those who are willing to collaborate with the insurgent groups. This is expected to lead to further civilian dissent against the army, leading to limited intelligence collection efforts. However, it is unlikely that this factor will highly influence Nigeria’s counter-terrorism capacity.

What is happening in Nigeria: A Political Perspective

The policies of the Nigerian president Buhari regarding counter-terrorism and the control of the coronavirus epidemic face increased criticism, especially on social media. As the security and economic situation is the country is unlikely to improve in 2020, Buhari’s popularity is expected to decrease. He assumed office in 2019, after being re-elected.

Criticism is often made public by a new political and religious figure – Mohammad Tawhidi, also known as “Imam of Peace”. He is promoting centrist Islam and denounces any act of terrorism and violence conducted in the name of Islam. His views rapidly became popular in Nigeria over the last few months. On Twitter, he stated that Buhari is not fit for being president, due to his weak and ineffective leadership. 

What is happening in Nigeria: A Technological Perspective

The worsening living standards in Nigeria caused by an economy in crisis are likely to determine more people to make a living out of cybercrime. Business email compromise has proliferated and has included phishing, spear phishing, and even social engineering techniques. Technical proficiency has improved, making suspicious emails and contacts harder to identify.

Scams are prevalent and include offers of fake business opportunities and romance schemes. Fraud is common in Nigeria, with “419” style advance-fee fraud being the most pervasive. 419 scams are classic email frauds and frequently involve the well-known “Nigerian Prince” scam. However, more sophisticated scams and fraud networks exist. There is a realistic probability that cybercrime in Nigeria will advance dramatically due to widespread poverty. One of these more sophisticated scam-based criminal enterprises includes “Yahoo boys”. These used diverse ploys and platforms including dating sites, chat rooms, social media, and other online conduits to deceive their victims.  In Ghana, this type of fraud is already endemic and is highly embedded in the culture of the youth. This same youth perceives cybercrime as a means of subsistence. 

What is happening in Nigeria: An Economical Perspective

It is highly likely that the Nigerian economy will suffer heavy losses. This will lead to extreme poverty in areas where the living standards were already low.

The continuous drop in the price of crude oil in the international market is expected to take a heavy toll on the Nigerian economy. Oil and gas account for over 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings and more than 60 percent of the country’s oil earnings.

As of 27 May 2020, Nigeria has registered 8,344 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 249 related deaths. Local reports indicate that the pandemic has devastated the economy, leaving millions struggling to get by. Economists warn that many businesses in Nigeria’s informal economy may never recover. Informal economies are those that are not fully regulated by the government and other public authorities. In Nigeria, this includes enterprises that are not officially registered, street trading, subsistence farmers, small-scale manufacturers, and service providers. As Nigeria’s job market remains limited, many of its citizens choose to go into the informal sector.

What is happening in Nigeria: An Environmental Perspective

National disaster management and emergency preparedness are ineffective due to limited resources and capacity. Crowd control and medical response during demonstrations are erratic. Many private-sector organizations operate their own disaster management and emergency preparedness programs that can be more effective than the local response. Air pollution remains a significant problem in several major cities in Nigeria, especially in the south. Nigeria lacks the capacity to power the entire country and small low-cost generators are widely used. During the lockdown, with millions of citizens staying at home, it is likely that millions of electricity generators will be working overtime to power homes, worsening pollution in residential areas.

This is also relevant there was a high amount of metals traceable to waste from batteries and other industrial effluents. These were discharged into waterways and caused the death of thousands of fish on the shores of Nigeria. Big oil companies operating in Nigeria are also responsible for water pollution due to oil spills. As the export of oil is stalled, for now, the level of water pollution is expected to decrease.

What is happening in Nigeria too is that the deforestation rate is increasing. Data collected indicate deforestation surged to a new high last year. This year it is likely to do the same. This is an environmental problem for the country. It has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world and relies on firewood exports. The northern regions are already depleted of their forests and further deforestation is taking now place in the southern parts of Nigeria (e.g.: the Akure-Ofosu forest). The expansion of agricultural land and urbanization are also responsible for this phenomenon. 

What is happening in Nigeria: A Social Perspective

Violence occurs in parts of southern Nigeria due to endemic poverty, poor education, youth unemployment, and high levels of inequality. Many individuals struggle on a daily basis to access clean water, reliable power, and basic healthcare. In some communities, domestic and international efforts to address these issues occasionally have the consequence of creating divisions within communities. In isolated incidents, protests against the government related to these issues have led to violence. The Coronavirus crisis has paralyzed most of the informal sectors of the Nigerian economy, leading to increased poverty. It is likely that violent outbursts will become more often due to increased prices, lack of basic services, and income shortages.

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