Abuja, Nigeria – Swirls of dust, whipped up by a nearby construction site, envelop Ibrahim Usman’s parked commercial tricycle. But the 26-year-old, who runs a shuttle service between Galadimawa, a suburb of Nigeria’s capital Abuja, and other satellite towns, is not disturbed.
“Dust means nothing to me. The most important thing for me right now is the safety I have in Abuja and the little money I make from my business, ”he says, as he in turn offers to carry passengers.
“When I arrived in Abuja I had nothing to do for a few weeks and relied on friends to survive, but today I am also able to support others and my family.”
Usman is among thousands who were forced to flee their homes in Gwoza, a town in northeast Borno state that was overrun by armed group Boko Haram in 2014.
Nigerian security forces expelled the fighters the following year, but many residents – including Usman, a father of four – chose not to return as attacks on the city and other parts of the region continued.
“Going home is not an option for me now,” said Babagana, who fled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, after his hometown of Kukawa was attacked in August.
On Monday alone, fighters attacked the town of Dikwa, east of Maiduguri, which is home to more than 100,000 people, including tens of thousands of people already internally displaced.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on Dikwa, but Borno suffered frequent attacks from Boko Haram and its dissident faction, the Islamic State of Africa Province of Africa. ‘West (ISWAP).
Retired Army General Muhammadu Buhari was first elected President of Nigeria in 2015 on promises to eradicate Boko Haram and tackle the country’s growing insecurity.
Soon after, government forces retook the main towns in the northeast – but success was short-lived, as fighters have since retaken some of the region’s key towns and villages and have continued to mount attacks.
However, the long-standing conflict – which has killed tens of thousands, displaced more than two million, and spilled over into neighboring countries – is far from Nigeria’s only security challenge.
In the northwest of the country, gangs of so-called bandits are increasingly involved in mass kidnappings, often targeting boarding schools located outside the cities.
On Friday, gunmen abducted nearly 300 girls from their school in Jangebe village, Zamfara state. Governor Bello Matawalle announced its release early Tuesday. The previous week, 42 people, including 27 students, were taken to a boarding school in Niger State. They were released on Saturday.
The criminal gangs behind the kidnappings do not appear to be motivated by ideological motives but by financial gain. Between June 2011 and March 2020, at least $ 18 million was paid to kidnappers as ransom, report says (PDF) by SB tomorrow.
State governments need to review their policy of rewarding bandits with cash and vehicles. Such a policy has the potential to backfire with dire consequences. States and local governments must also play their role by being proactive in improving safety in and around schools.
– Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) February 26, 2021
In the meantime, frequent clashes between farmers and semi-nomadic pastoralists have claimed thousands of lives and, in some years, have claimed more lives than the conflict involving Boko Haram.
Elsewhere, government security agents continually clashed with a group from the southeast campaigning for secession, while the Gulf of Guinea coast which includes Nigeria has been described by the International Maritime Bureau as one of the most dangerous in the world for piracy.
“Since 2016, the military has undertaken too many internal security operations, many of which could have been better managed through good governance at state and local levels, supported by a robust and efficient police force,” says Nnamdi Obasi, senior analyst from Nigeria. for the International Crisis Group.
“The army is now clearly overloaded,” Obasi told Al Jazeera. “[It has been] dissipate energy in too many directions, and [has] yet to achieve decisive results against the insurgents in the northeast and various armed groups in the northwest.
Buhari last week blamed local and state authorities for the increase in attacks, saying they needed to improve security around schools. He also wrote on Twitter that their policy of “rewarding bandits with money and vehicles” could “backfire on us with dire consequences.”
New security chiefs
In January, after months of public pressure over escalating violence across the country, the president sacked his security chiefs and appointed new senior military commanders.
Leo Irabor has been appointed Chief of Defense Staff, while Ibrahim Attahiru, Awwal Zubairu Gambo and Isiaka Amao have taken charge of the army, navy and air force respectively.
Abdulrazak Namdas, the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on the army, said he was convinced that the changing of the guard would “be a game-changer” to contain insecurity in the country.
“The new department heads have held leadership positions in the counterinsurgency,” Namdas told Al Jazeera, describing the appointees as “nimble and energetic” commanders “who have already tested the ground.”
“The new thing we expect is that they should lead the fight against the insurgents and should not wait until they are crushed or ambushed,” he said.
Despite some military gains, attacks on towns and army positions continued. Last week, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a deadly rocket attack on Maiduguri.
Namdas said there was an urgent need to increase the number of soldiers.
“The major challenge is to recruit more,” Namdas said. “They recruit 5,000 soldiers a year and use the same pre-colonial depot. Equipment and infrastructure are always the same. No extension. “
“Even though you’re going to use technology to fight, you still need humans to make some of these technologies work. In Africa, where there are no networks, human beings always have to go to certain regions. “
But for Lemmy Ughegbe, executive director of Make A Difference Initiative, a civil society group, what is needed is for authorities to regain public trust and trust among members of affected communities.
He cited claims by locals “that they often give the military information about impending attacks in their communities before they strike.”
“However, no effort is being made to secure them,” he said, calling for the recruitment of so-called development communicators “to engage communities at different levels to restore trust and gain buy-in to efforts to to fight against insecurities ”.