Kidnapping of Schoolchildren in Nigeria – Terrorist Theatre, Social Engineering or Simply Big Business?

Following the recent 10 year anniversary of the April 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in Chibok in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno, we look into what has continued to be an ever present threat in certain parts of the country. As at 14/15th April 2024, 10 years since the abduction took place, it is believed 91 of the girls are still missing.  

70 further attacks have targeted schools in the country since that day, primarily in the north of the country.  

Of these attacks: 

  • 49 have occurred in the North-Western and 11 in the north-Central geopolitical zones. 
  • More than 1,680 children have been abducted from schools.
  • According to Amnesty International, 780 children were abducted in 2021.  Bring Back Our Girls puts the numbers even higher (see the image of their poster below).
  • Additionally,180 pupils have been killed and 90 injured.  
  • 60 school staff were also kidnapped and 14 killed.  
  • 25 school building were also destroyed in these attacks.

In the first 3 months of 2024, 309 students have been abducted:

  • 29 January 2024, 5 students 3 teachers and a driver abducted, Emure, Ekiti State
  • 07 March 2024, 100 primary school pupils and 187 secondary school pupils abducted, Chiruga Community, Chikun LGA, Kaduna State.
  • 09 March 2024, 17 students abducted, Gada, Sokoto State

At the time of writing, it is believed most of these 309 have been released or rescued however the ongoing threat and fear of these incidents has a huge ongoing impact:

  • Hundreds of schools remain closed.  
  • Pupil numbers are falling as parents lose faith in state and federal security forces. 
  • School dropout rates are increasing in a country where millions already do not attend school.  
  • UNICEF says 10.5 million Nigerian children never attend school – 20% of the global total for children who never receive an education.
  • Traumatisation of pupils that survive attacks / captivity is profound.    

Girls are most at risk of dropping out of school.  They are frequently targeted by groups seeking young women as brides.  According to Girls Not Brides, an organisation working to end child marriage, the problem is most common in Nigeria’s northwestern and northeastern areas, where just over half of women aged 20-24 marry before their adulthood.

What Drives Mass Abduction of School Children?

Nigeria’s security landscape presents significant challenges, particularly in the North-West region where armed groups, often referred to as ‘bandits’, operate with impunity. These groups, backed by influential individuals seeking a share of their profits, pose a formidable threat to stability.

Mass abductions, especially in northern Nigeria, highlight the poor security measures in schools. Despite international outcry following incidents like the Chibok kidnapping, little progress has been made in enhancing school security. While the Federal Government ratified the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015 and allocated $14 million for projects in the North-East, implementation remains limited at the state and local government levels.

Bandits’ mobility and rapid manoeuvres make them elusive targets for security forces, whose centralized command structures hinder swift and effective responses to security crises. In the North-East, Islamist terrorists have targeted schools, opposing Western-style education and the education of women.

In the North-West, mass abductions have become lucrative ventures, with reported ransom demands reaching exorbitant amounts. Despite ransom payments being a federal crime, suspicions arise regarding their payment, as seen in the Kuriga abduction case, where security forces intervened just before the ransom deadline.

Mass kidnap for ransom finances other activities – frequently terrorism or political activity.  It is also driven by greed or financial hardship.  In November 2022, according to Federal Government statistics, an estimated 63% of the population was caught in multidimensional poverty, and 72% in rural areas and with the current economic climate, this is only worsening.  

Will Anything Change?

There are several factors impacting the ability, or desire, to fully focus on this issue: 

  • Nigerian Security forces are overstretched and suffer crippling organisational weaknesses that prevent them from pre-empting attacks.  
  • Terrorists and criminals retain the initiative and consistently elude security forces.  

Failure to effectively implement the Safe Schools Declaration does not bode well.  However, ultimately the solution must be political rather than a military one.  

Only the emergence of a prosperous society with good employment opportunities will improve what is currently a very permissive environment for the criminals.  The educational deficit, exacerbated by the effects of mass school abductions, act as a brake on that progress.  Even with a fully educated youth, the emergence of a stable and prosperous society is likely to take years to achieve. With Nigeria’s population expected to exceed 260million in the next 5 years, and with half of the current population being under 19 years old, education and prospects for this generation will have a huge impact on not only the country’s future, but possibly more far-reaching. We will continue to monitor and provide commentary and analysis on this continuing situation.

Red Sea Crisis and Impact on Shipping


During the night of 22-23 January, 2024, the UK and US launched another round of air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.  Eight positions were struck in this series of strikes in a campaign of targeted attacks on Houthi positions identified as being linked to attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.  The action is the latest move in the international geopolitical chess match that threatens to escalate the conflict locally and potentially expand it regionally.

The impact on shipping in the region and the knock-on effects on the global economy are significant.  This analysis will examine the drivers behind the current crisis, the physical and commercial impact on shipping, the displacement of risk faced by vessels and mariners forced to use other routes to global markets and will offer a view on which countries are the winners and losers as a result of the Houthi campaign.

An armed Yemeni supporter of the Houthi movement sits on the back of an armored vehicle during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 22, 2024. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

For several months, shipping has been attacked by Houthi Rebels in the seas off the coast of Yemen.  Houthi rebel forces in Yemen began their campaign against shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden allegedly in response to the massive Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) response to the Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel on 07 October 2023.  Their operational footprint encompasses one of the most important strategic choke points for international shipping and global trade, the Bab al Mandab Straits, which connects Asia to European markets.  

This ‘accident of geography’ gives the Houthis a strategic advantage and elevates the impact they can inflict on global economic stability by an order of magnitude that, arguably, is disproportionate to their actual numbers and capabilities.  Setting geography aside, like Hamas in Gaza, they also enjoy the patronage of Iran and benefit both logistically and in terms of training and financial support from their strong ties to Tehran and, in particular, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps (IRGC).  Among other weaponry and equipment, the missiles and drones – and the necessary training – used by them to attack shipping are supplied by Tehran.  

The waters of the region are a target rich environment for the Houthis, with as many as 400 ships in the area at any one time and a total of approximately 19,000 vessels transiting the Suez Canal every year.  This number is now significantly diminished as shipping companies take the decision to sail the much longer and more costly route round the southern tip of Africa as they transit in both directions between the South Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.   

The Houthis claim their campaign is aimed at bringing an end to the IDF campaign in Gaza.  To that end, they claim their attacks have singled out vessels that have links to Israel, Israeli businesses or which are transiting to/from Israeli ports.  As the attacks continue, this claim has been demonstrably weak, or even completely false, as Houthi attacks have struck vessels that do not fit these criteria.  

Furthermore, Houthi rebels have been targeting shipping in the region since October 2015.  By August 2019, a total of 40 attacks against shipping were attributed exclusively to Houthi rebels. These early attacks began with relatively unsophisticated attacks using hand-held weapons such as RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).  This extremely common weapon system is not capable of sinking a vessel through breaching a hull, but if it were to strike a critical component of a vessel carrying a volatile cargo, such as an LNG carrier, the results could be severe.  The attacks soon escalated, and by 2019, 22 incidents saw the use of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles (or its Iranian built clone, the Noor missile).  In 9 instances, remote-controlled boats were utilized.  The first of these attacks in January 2017, saw a drone boat attack on a Saudi warship off Hodeidah, resulting in the deaths of two Saudi sailors.  These attacks were primarily against vessels involved in supporting the coalition that was attacking Houthi rebels in Yemen.  

A US Navy ship launches missiles in the Red Sea, Feb. 3, 2024

The attacks since October 2023 took on a different characteristic.  Following their threat against all shipping associated with Israel, and the firing of more than 100 missiles and drones in at least a dozen attacks in the weeks up to 21 December 2023, the 21 November 2023 heliborne assault and hijack of an Israeli-linked vessel, the MV Galaxy Leader, demonstrated to the world that the Houthis had evolved – or that they had direct support from the IRGC.

Following several warnings issued by the US through media statements, diplomatic channels and through international organisations, US patience finally ran out after a 03 January “Final Warning” was ignored and both the UK naval vessel HMS Diamond and several US Navy vessels were targeted on 09 January.  The response was quick and substantial.

On 12 January, in the opening round of the operation (named Operation Prosperity Guardian), US and UK military forces attacked more than 60 targets in 28 locations in Yemen that had been identified as linked to the Houthi attacks on shipping off the coast of Yemen.  6 further strike packages were launched in the following 10 days, culminating in the 22-23 January strikes. The most recent strikes took place on 03 February and further strikes are expected, until such time as the Houthi missile and drone strikes against shipping cease.

The Houthis denied that the strikes had impacted their ability to launch attacks on shipping off the Yemen coast and stated that all US and UK vessels were now also targets.  In an apparent demonstration of capability and intent, on 15 January, the US owned dry bulk cargo ship MV Gibraltar Eagle suffered a direct hit from a ballistic missile.

On 17 January, Houthis attacked the Marshall Islands-flagged, US owned and operated bulker MV Genco Picardy successfully hitting the superstructure of the vessel with a drone.  No casualties were reported, but the attack was a clear demonstration that the Houthis were not intimidated by the air and cruise missile strikes of previous days.

The 22 January strikes were carried out primarily by UK and US assets, which launched weapons from aerial and both surface and submarine naval platforms.  Additionally, Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands contributed to the mission, supplying intelligence and surveillance in support of the targeting.  Targets struck on this occasion included an underground storage site and other locations associated with missile and air surveillance capabilities.  These strikes follow a series of 7 attacks which have involved a total of 10 countries.  However, only the US and UK have been directly involved in launching weapons against targets on the ground.  

Two ships with ties to the UK and US were also targeted in early February.  MV Morning Tide, a UK-managed and owned vessel transited the Suez Canal on 02 February 2024, and was attacked approximately 57 miles west of Hodeidah, Yemen.  Houthis fired three ballistic missiles at the vessel, all of them narrowly missing their target. 

The second vessel targeted by the Houthis was the Greek-owned, Marshall Islands flagged bulk cargo carrier, MV Star Nasia. The ship is managed by a US-listed company called Star Bulk Carriers. The vessel also transited the Suez Canal at the end of January.  The vessel reported an explosion approximately 50 metres from the ship soon after it had transited the Bab el-Mandeb straits.  US Central Command (CENTCOM), stated that the vessel was attacked by three Houthi ballistic missiles over a period of 12 hours. The first missile reportedly missed the ship, although the ship was still caught in the blast radius and suffered minor damage. The second missile had no effect, and the third missile was shot down by the destroyer USS Laboon.

Houthi Spokesperson Yahya Saree, in a statement issued on 06 February claimed the attacks on the two vessels and stated strikes will continue to target all “Hostile American and British targets” along with Israeli shipping until the war in the Gaza Strip stops”.

Impact on Shipping

In November 2023, Houthis hijacked the car carrier MV Galaxy Leader.  They brazenly released a video of the incident to the world exposing that they had been trained to a very high level – presumably by their Iranian patrons.  Multiple attacks have seen the use of explosive weapons delivered either via missiles or drones.  Their targets are diverse, including container ships, bulk carriers and, interestingly, a Russian oil tanker that was narrowly missed.  A Houthi statement said the latter was targeted, allegedly, by mistake.  This statement is possibly very significant, and we will revisit that later in the analysis.

On 16 January, Bloomberg reported that 114 vessels had passed through Bab el-Mandeb strait in the days immediately after the 12 January strikes. This was 17 transits fewer than in the previous week and a dramatic reduction on the 272 transits a month earlier.

By 22 January, a total of more than 30 attacks on shipping had been launched by Houthis according to a UK MOD statement.  Other sources gave the number as 34 attacks.  These attacks have impacted directly on a total of 55 countries according to flag state, ownership, cargo destination or crewing.  

The diversion via the Cape of Good Hope adds approximately 6,000 miles to a journey from Asia to Europe.  The effect of this is to push up prices in the markets as a result of increased fuel costs (Approximately $1 million) and operating costs (which include crewing costs, insurance costs, demurrage and more) and also to delay the arrival of goods to market by an average of 10 days in each direction.  There is also a knock-on effect on port operations that also add costs to goods in the end markets.

By 20 December, a total of 1.3 million 20-foot-long shipping containers had been diverted.  Global oil benchmark prices rose by 1.2% in the same period.  A further impact is the demand for shipping capacity is rising, driven by the increased duration of transits effectively ‘removing’ capacity from the shipping market.  In turn, this pushes up chartering costs even further and the price consumers pay for goods at the final destination.

The model is not new.  Shipping operators used this diversion route in March 2021 when the Suez Canal was blocked for six days when the container ship MV Ever Given ran aground, blocking the canal in both directions.  Hundreds of ships were trapped in a holding pattern in the Red Sea for weeks, and the cost of shipping a container rose from $2,000 (€1,828) to $14,000. The Ever Given crisis added months of delays to goods imported from Asia.  That crisis lasted for a week and the costs were profound.  The current crisis has run for more than 3 months already and threatens to continue for an unknown duration.  Car manufacturers in Europe have been forced to interrupt operations due to the delayed arrival of parts from Asia.  The cost of shipping a container has tripled thus far and will likely increase further.  

The impact of uncertainty on this scale will impact global markets, oil and gas spot prices, insurance premiums and drive inflation up, slowing economic recovery in countries in Europe. In mid-January, JPMorgan Chase estimated that worldwide consumer prices for goods would increase by an additional 0.7% in the first 6 months of 2024 unless the disruption to shipping ends.  The name of the US operation – Prosperity Guardian – reflects the global strategic importance of the economics of this conflict.  It is this economic impact that drove the European Union to finally agree to deploy military forces in support of the US/UK coalition operations in the region.  Germany is deploying the Sachsen Class anti-aircraft frigate Hessen to the region.  However, this vessel and any other EU assets will not be in position to operate until an unstated date in February.

New Risks?

With so many vessels diverting round the Cape of Good Hope, it is worth examining whether that diversion exposes shipping to other risks along that route.

Historically, piracy has been a serious problem in the waters off Somalia and as far south as the Mozambique channel.  However, in 2022, according to International Maritime Bureau data, no acts of piracy were reported on the east coast of the continent.  2023 saw the return of piracy when a bulk carrier was hijacked off the coast of Oman and sailed towards Somalia.  To date, 2024 has seen a single incident on 04 January when the 7 occupants of a skiff launched from a mother vessel, opened fire on a bulk carrier approximately 455nm SE of Eyl, Somalia.  Although there has been a very small number of incidents in recent times, the return of deepwater attacks off the Horn of Africa indicate that a potential return of Somali based piracy is a real threat – although still a very limited one.  Nevertheless, opportunistic criminal cartels might seek to take advantage of the increase in vessel transits in the region and could lead to a spike in piracy in coming weeks.  

On the other side of the continent, the Gulf of Guinea became the world’s most active piracy hotspot in the years up to December 2021.  However, since then, activity levels have been limited and certainly nothing like the levels seen in the years 2016-2021.  Diverted vessels are unlikely to sail through the Gulf of Guinea directly, opting to take the shortest and fastest route between the Cape of Good Hope and the coast of Sierra Leone and Guinea.  However, the last 2 years have each seen a vessel boarded and hijacked off Sierra Leone and a similar rate of activity off Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire.  To date, 2024 has seen just one piracy incident in West African waters when, on 01 January 2024, the Tuvalu flagged product tanker MT Hanna I was boarded 45 nautical miles south of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea and nine crewmen abducted.  As with Somali groups, we have witnessed Nigerian based crime cartels operating in deep waters far from home so attacks can never be ruled out  Historically, they have operated as far south as Angolan waters and as far west as Ivorian waters.  Whilst the current threat is low, shipping companies should not ignore the latent threat posed by opportunistic criminals.  

The above all being said, is assessed that the diversion of shipping round the southern cape will not substantially increase the risk to shipping posed by latent piracy groups either on the eastern coast or in the Gulf of Guinea given the current level of threat.

Who Benefits

A US Navy ship in the Red Sea [Aaron Lau/AFP]

Almost nobody is benefitting from the crisis in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.  Interestingly and as mentioned above, the Houthis appear to have a benign attitude towards Russia and Russian linked shipping.  This reflects the supportive stance that Russia has taken in denouncing the western naval presence in the region and the recent wave of US-led air strikes.  The Houthis also have an unknown number of Soviet era legacy weapons that are now generally considered obsolete.  It is not known if these are even still operational.  Currently, Russia is not a direct supplier of weapons to the Houthis (and probably has none to spare given the intensity of the war it is prosecuting in Ukraine).  The connection is probably somewhat more subtle and potentially even strategic.

Noting the Houthis are essentially an Iranian proxy force in the region (they are supplied and trained by Iran), it is also strongly suspected that Quds Force personnel are actually active in Yemen.  Of course, Iran is a known ally of Russia and Putin, and it has been postulated by some analysts that the Hamas onslaught on 07 October 2023 against Israel, and the subsequent escalation of attacks on shipping in the Red Sea / Gulf of Aden, were both launched at the behest of the Iranian leadership in response to a Request from Moscow.  

Ultimately Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan so there is perhaps some credence to this theory noting that the actions of Hamas and the Houthis have drawn the attention of the US away from the conflict in Ukraine and focussed it on supporting its principal ally in the Levant.  With a US presidential election in 9 months, Russia will be content to slowly erode US support for Ukraine in the hope that a Trump win will allow Russia to steamroller the dwindling Ukrainian forces in 2025 in the face of collapsing western support.

The above analysis is speculative, but it is credible, and the next 12 months will likely shape the future of Europe.  The game and the stakes are enormous, and, unlike the US and its European allies, Russia is content to play a long game.  In fact, Russia would prefer a protracted war in which it believes its vast resources will eventually ensure victory.  So, a rapid suppression of the Houthis and the destruction of their ability to threaten shipping in the region is essential for a number of globally strategic reasons.  Whether this can be achieved using only long-range attacks is a known-unknown.  

The west is rightly nervous about any commitment of ground forces into the region as this would almost certainly result in a direct clash with Iranian forces, and that would escalate, expand and extend the conflict, none of which is desirable, particularly in a year when both the US and the UK have major elections.

Arete will continue to monitor and critically deconstruct events in the Middle East and shipping lanes around continental Africa.

Four Nigerian Troops Killed by Suspected Pirates

On Saturday, November 12, authorities confirmed that four Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCD) troops were killed by suspected armed pirates in Rivers State. Ahmed Audi, the NSCDC Commandant General, confirmed that the deaths occurred in Alakiri in Degema Local Government Area and promised thorough investigations into the killings.

He said: “The Minister of Interior, Dr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has assured that the blood of the gallant men will not be a waste. I’ll not reveal to the public our operational strategies to bring the perpetrators to book, but we are in collaboration with sister security agencies to ensure that justice is served.”

Pirates continue to operate in Nigeria’s waters despite efforts by the country’s security agencies to maintain security. Historically, attacks have mainly occurred offshore, often targeting international vessels where in recent years the aim has been to kidnap crew for ransom over product theft.

Read more about it here.

Nigeria Welcomes 24 Maritime Nations to Lagos

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) is hosting the 43rd Council and 18th Managing Director’s Roundtable event for the Port Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA) from Monday of this week (6th November). The gathering of 24 littoral African countries is being held in Lagos until November 9th with the theme “The Role of Ports in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)”.

Adegboyega Oyetola, the Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, expressed happiness that the meeting is being held at a time the most populous black nation was eager to provide the leadership necessary to maximise its marine and blue economy potential for prosperity of the growing youth population.

“To demonstrate the premium we place on maximising the emerging opportunities of AfCFTA, which is the focal point of the conference, we have given the Nigerian Ports Authority all the support necessary for a flawless hosting,” he said.

Also speaking in Lagos, NPA Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko, promised a successful outing. He restated his organisation’s readiness to provide regional leadership in port competitiveness.

At the opening of the event, President Bola Tinubu, tasked African leaders with full automation in order to remain competitive in the global maritime sector.  The President said the countries were duty-bound by posterity to unite and deploy their resources to solve issues affecting socio-economic progress and development; “Even though we have physical national boundaries that separate us, the waters are a natural source of connectivity, and they seem like a subtle providential message that we must work together for the good of all our countries”.

He pointed out that the ongoing discussions in Nigeria and other African countries on the importance of investing in infrastructure and equipment would support trade facilitation.

“My administration is especially interested in the maritime industry; this is why we created the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy in the first instance”. He noted that the theme of the conference was a testament to the determination of the organisers to collectively seek sustainable solutions to the challenges affecting port operations on the continent.

“After the issues of adequate security and transparency, the one other important factor deciding the competitiveness of ports is the seamlessness and efficiency with which cargoes are evacuated from the ports. 

“This without doubt is an area in which port operations in Africa need a lot of intervention” he said.

Read more about it here.

Germany Eyes Nigerian Natural Gas

German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz, visited Abuja on Sunday, 29 October 2023 on an official visit aimed at boosting trade with Nigeria.  With the trade between the two countries worth an estimated 3 billion Euros, and as Germany’s second largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria’s oil and gas sector is an attractive target for Germany as it tries to move further away from its previously entrenched position with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  

Sanctions and punitive tariff measures resulting from the Ukraine war have significantly dislocated energy supplies to Europe in general and Germany in particular.  The destruction of the sub-sea gas lines through the Baltic further limited Germany’s ability to meet its energy needs from previously cheap Russian gas.  Adding to the strategic pressure on European fuel markets, the destabilisation of the Sahel by military coups in 4 countries across the region has set plans for a trans Saharan gas pipeline running from Nigeria to Algeria back by years.  

As Europe’s largest economy and largest manufacturing base in the EU seeks alternative supplies, Scholz almost certainly has his eyes on the very light, sweet Nigerian crude and the high volumes of LNG that the country has the potential to produce from its estimated 202 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves.  Also discussed were the potential for development of a future hydrogen production and export sector in Nigeria.  The latter is seen as an area that Germany could assist with and invest in.

Apart from economic partnership, major pillars of the two countries’ future cooperation will likely include addressing regional and global issues such as migration, security and the recent spate of coups in West and Central Africa.  Scholz raised the issue of migration across from sub-Saharan countries to Europe via the trafficking and illegal migration routes across the Sahel and Sahara to the north African coast.  Facing major pressures at home to curb the problem of migration, Scholz spoke of the need to manage the problem through implementation of “co-management which is benefiting the two countries the best”.

Following his visit to Abuja, the German leader opened a German-Nigerian business forum in Lagos on Monday, 30 October before flying to Ghana on his final stop on this tour.


The development of an oil and gas trade deal with Nigeria is an obvious evolution in the development of Germany’s energy strategy.  Arete addressed the challenge of filling the gap in supplies of natural gas in our Deep Dive in Feb 2022 (you can read it here).  Since then, the situation has increased in complexity.  With significant uncertainty in the Middle East resulting from the ongoing war in Israel and its neighbouring territories, supplies from Qatar and other regional suppliers face a spike in prices and potentially disruption in supply chains.  The move by Germany is timely and focussed.  Nigeria has suffered badly with loss of market share in the last 2 years and will certainly benefit from an export deal.  We may well see the country ramping up its exports via Bonny and other LNG terminals in coming weeks.

Increased production will have a knock-on effect of increased tanker traffic in Nigerian territorial waters and its Exclusive Economic Zone.  It will also generate greater activity onshore and in the swamps as demand for raw gas supplies increases. This might accelerate President Tinubu’s pre-election declaration of his determination to secure the country’s oil and gas sector.


Nigerian Navy Burns Confiscated Oil Vessel MV Cecilia

The Nigerian Navy has reportedly burned an oil vessel stated as “MV Cecilia/Cecelia”. On August 16, the Nigerian Navy , Pathfinder, Port Harcourt, intercepted the oil vessel which was loaded with nearly 350,000 litres of stolen Automated Gas Oil (AGO). The operation took place in Woji, Obio-Akpor Local Government Area based in Port Harcourt metropolis, Rivers State in Nigeria.

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the theft of the product. According to the Navy, the vessel with a storage capacity of over 350,000 barrels of crude, was to be a service boat, however it was converted to a storage tank for illegally refined products.

 According to the Nigerian Navy, the Cecilia had been used as a stationary storage tank for the products of illegal mini-refinery operators. Crudely-constructed miniature refinery operations are common in the Niger Delta, and are typically operated by gangs using stolen oil.

“They would bring their products here to be stored, [and] other people would come here to purchase the products,” said Commodore Adedokun Siyanbade, commander of NNS Pathfinder. He told ChannelsTV that this riverside operation had gone undetected for two years. 

The Nigerian Navy has also revealed that the unfortunate culture of abandoning oil theft vessels along the waterways was one of the major reasons the international Maritime Organization, IMO, declared the country’s ports and waterways unsafe to do business in the past.

Nigeria Creates New Maritime Ministry

Nigeria has established a standalone maritime ministry. The new ministry has been named the Marine and Blue Economy Ministry and was carved out as a separate entity to the Transportation Ministry.

There are reports that it was created out of a growing need to establish a greater domestic shipping infrastructure. Bashir Jamoh, the director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), has commended President Bola Tinubu for the creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo was originally announced to lead the new ministry. However he has since been redeployed to the Ministry of the Interior and Adegboyega Oyetola has now been confirmed to lead the new marine ministry having previously been at the Ministry of Transport.

Showing their support for the ministry, Integrity Group of Nigerian Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), on Saturday, August 19, stated in a press release – “We are excited to collaborate with the Hon Ministers to drive a sustainable practices, technological advancements, and strategic partnerships that will elevate Nigeria’s standing on the global transportation stage.”

The group also said that the ministry of Maritime and Blue Economy would create jobs, sustainable growth and wealth creation for the country.

Read more here.

Nigeria: A Dynamic and Evolving Risk Environment – Are we seeing a resurgence of Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea?

Arete analysts have noted an increase in criminal activity in the maritime environment in the last five weeks.  This spike in incident rates has also been noted by the International Maritime Bureau.  Most of the incidents have occurred inside territorial waters of littoral states from Sierra Leone in the west to Cameroon in the east.  2 of the incidents resulted in multiple victim abductions – 1 each in Nigerian and Cameroonian waters, and a third in the hijacking of a fishing vessel in Sierra Leonean waters.  Both abduction attacks took place on navigable waterways, although the Nigeria incident occurred in an inland lagoon in Lagos State, targeting a passenger boat rather than targeting commercial shipping offshore.  In contrast the attack in Cameroon targeted Chinese fishing vessels.  It is unconfirmed who was responsible for the Cameroon attack, but historically such incidents have been linked to Nigeria based gangs or Nigerian communities in Cameroon.  The hijack of a fishing vessel off Freetown saw the vessel and crew taken and finally recovered several days later off Monrovia in Liberia after a deal was reportedly done with the coastguard.  The remainder of the attacks in West Africa were attempted boardings and robberies in anchorages, with the exception of one incident on the maritime boundary between Sierra Leonean and Guinean waters.  These inshore attacks are not categorised as piracy as they do not align with the definition of piracy as set out in UNCLOS.  Details of the incidents are at the foot of this report.  

While the above summarises the maritime crime situation over the last 5 weeks, illustrating a slight increase in activity levels, it cannot be concluded that we are seeing a return of piracy to the Gulf of Guinea region (noting that it never went away, it only decreased).  The situation on the water in recent weeks is also somewhat uncharacteristic in terms of historical precedent.  In the first 15 years of the millennium, we traditionally saw a reduction in maritime crime in the months of June and July.  This was attributable to the sea state, which between mid-June and mid-August is generally unfavourable for small boat operations in open waters.  The advent of the use of mother ships by the pirate gangs allowed the criminals to overcome the challenges of poor sea conditions and saw them move to deep-water operations beyond territorial waters and in the Exclusive Economic Zones defined by UNCLOS.  

Despite the apparent uptick in activity levels, the data at present is still too lean to say that we are witnessing a resurgence of maritime crime, but the 2 events in Lagos and Douala, and the hijacking off Freetown, are noteworthy due to the abduction of 8 and 5 persons in Nigeria and Cameroon respectively and the hijacking of a vessel much further West. It is also worth stating that all kidnapping incidents detailed in the IMB report from January to June this year took place in the Gulf of Guinea.  Some intelligence is reporting a 100% increase in alerts in the region for June 2023 compared to the same month last year, however what constitutes an alert can vary between different platforms/reporting systems. Arete continues to advise companies operating in the region to carry out risk assessments and take appropriate mitigation measures as these recent incidents highlight that the threat still remains despite reported incidents having reduced.

A nationwide increase in month-on-month incidents has also been observed in the onshore environment across the country, with over 30% more incidents in June than in May.  Kidnappings are also up, with an approximately 35% increase in kidnapping incidents in June and fatalities increased by 25% in June over the preceding month.

This general increase in levels of security incidents is noteworthy in the context of the inauguration of President Tinubu in May.  Our Deep Dive, released in 2 parts examined the challenges and options facing the new President in the matter of security and stability for the country.  The President pledged to address the security challenges facing the nation, and one of his first acts in this context was to replace the heads of almost all his security agencies.  This dislocation of command has potentially generated a degree of interruption in operational continuity as the new heads of departments, services and agencies each bring in their own new leadership teams.  It is possible that the upturn in the rates of criminality in recent weeks reflects opportunistic behaviour, as criminal elements both on and offshore seize the day while the security organs are realigning under these new command structures.  

Arete continues to monitor the situation both onshore and on the nation’s riverine and maritime environments.  We will deliver further analysis as the security environment evolves under the new President.

Maritime Crime Incidents in West Africa – June-July 2023

Nigeria – Inshore Kidnapping – At approximately 18:00hrs local time on 26 June 2023, eight (8) oil workers were kidnapped whilst travelling in a passenger boat in position 06°25.08N 003°21.07E in the Lagos Lagoon.  The passenger boat which departed the Lekki region for Tin Can Island was boarded by gunmen who forced victims onto their vessel and fled the scene. The passenger boat was later discovered at a jetty in Ikorodu, Northeast of Lagos Lagoon.  The victims were released on 2nd July, although it is unclear whether any ransom was paid.

Ghana – Boarding Theft – At approximately 00:55 hrs local time on 28 June 2023, an unnamed cargo ship reported a boarding and theft while anchored in position 04°53.03N 001°36.06W in the Takoradi anchorage.  Three perpetrators were sighted lowering paint buckets down the side of the vessel onto a boat. Following the alarm that was raised, the crew mustered, and the Port Control was informed.  upon searching the ship, it was discovered that items of ships stores had been stolen including twelve drums of paint.

Cameroon – Armed Attack – At approximately 22:40 hrs local time on 30 June 2023, two unnamed fishing vessels were attacked whilst proceeding in position 03°56.00N 009°35.00E, near buoy 14 in the Wouri River, Douala.  Some armed bandits onboard several speedboats approached the two Chinese-flagged fishing vessels. The attackers’ approach resulted in a crossfire between the bandits and the Cameroonian military guards onboard the fishing vessels. One of the pirates was killed and a pistol and one magazine were recovered from the incident.  Five crew members were kidnapped from the vessels.

Sierra Leone – Boarding Theft – At approximately 03:55 hrs local time on 05 July 2023, an unnamed Turkish-flagged fishing vessel reported a robbery incident while operating in position 08°53.00N 013°31.00W in the Northern part of Sierra Leone waters, bordering Guinea.  Eight (8) perpetrators boarded the vessel and stole various items before destroying the cameras and communication equipment. During the incident, the captain was shot and is currently undergoing surgical treatment in an undisclosed hospital, his condition is stable.  A Sierra Leonean Navy patrol team was deployed immediately to the location, and the vessel headed to Freetown Port.

Guinea – Attempted Boarding – At approximately 09°17.00N 013°45.42W on 05 July 2023,  an unnamed tanker reported an attempted boarding whilst anchored in position 09°17.00N 013°45.42W, 14NM South of Conakry. Six perpetrators were spotted trying to board the tanker from a small boat, using a ladder.  Duty crew directed a searchlight at the perpetrators, which resulted in them escaping empty-handed. The crew were all reported as safe.

Ghana – Attempted Robbery – At approximately 00:35 hrs local time on 10 July 2023, the master of an unnamed cargo vessel reported an attempted robbery while the vessel was anchored in position 04°53.07N 001°41.08W in the Takoradi Anchorage.  The duty crew noticed that the razor wire on the forward, port side of the cargo vessel had been partly removed and two (2) perpetrators were sighted on the deck. An alarm was raised, and the crew mustered. Port Control was informed via VHF Channel 14.  Upon hearing the alarm and seeing the alerted crew, the perpetrators escaped into a waiting blue, wooden boat with an additional perpetrator.  A full search of the cargo vessel was conducted, and it was confirmed that all padlocks were still intact, and nothing had been stolen.  A patrol boat arrived at the scene and checked the area surrounding the vessel however, the perpetrators could not be found.

Angola boarding/theft – At 02:50 hrs local time on Thursday, 2o0 July 2023, an unnamed Hong Kong flagged container vessel was boarded while at anchor in position 06:06.012S 012:12.24E in the Soyo Anchorage.  An unknown number of thieves boarded the vessel from a small boat and broke into one of the containers before stealing items of cargo.  They were spotted by the duty drew who raised the alarm   The perpetrators were able to escape.

Sierra Leone – Maritime Hijack – At approximately 04:30 hrs local time on Saturday, 22 July 2023, A fishing vessel was boarded by approximately 13 armed attackers while underway in approximate position position 08:22.00N 013:32.00W some 16 nautical miles SW of Freetown.  The vessel was sailed to have been sailing south, towards Liberia.  On 26 July 2023, the vessel was found located off Monrovia in Liberia.  Two of the attackers were arrested but the other 11 escaped.  The crew were rescued.

A New President, Possible Security Solutions

The Problem

In our previous Deep Dive (read it here) we explored President Tinubu’s challenges.  In this latest Deep Dive we shall analyse the potential solutions.  Over the last two decades, the performance of the security forces has been an area that has focussed minds among the Nigerian political elite.  

State security organs comprise of:

  • The Nigerian Police Force (NPF)
  • The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC)
  • The Nigerian Army
  • The Nigerian Navy
  • The Nigerian Air Force
  • The Department of State Security (DSS)
  • National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)

All these structures are deployed internally in roles that range from counterterrorism, through conventional policing, to counter-smuggling operations.  There is a significant degree of overlap in operational footprints, roles and terms of reference.  The Army is increasingly deployed in roles that are conventionally carried out by police forces.  Agencies compete for budget allocation, resourcing, and operational primacy.  Some competitiveness continues to exist between the Army and the NPF, which sometimes leads to clashes between the two.  The Navy has also steadfastly resisted the establishment of a Nigerian Coastguard Service.  Against this omnipresent and complex mosaic of security delivery, the average Nigerian is routinely frustrated by the intrusiveness of the security forces operations, the delays caused by them and the ineffectiveness of the response when a crime is committed.

The NPF is the largest security organ in terms of manpower.  Police officers are routinely armed with assault rifles, generating an environment where the sight of a weapon is absolutely commonplace.  The carriage of weapons in public places is a response to the availability of firearms to the criminal elements faced by police officers.  Firefights in crowded spaces are not uncommon, and collateral casualties sometimes occur when such incidents happen.  As the largest and most commonly encountered security body in the country, it is the police that can be most heavily criticised by the citizenry.  

In the last 20 years, we have witnessed several attempts to reform and restructure the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) – all of which have been unsuccessful.  Almost every regime in that period has attempted to improve the performance of the largest security force in the country.  Most recently, in 2020, President Buhari oversaw the ascent into law of the Police Bill, which repealed the previous Bill set in 1943 during the colonial era.  At the beginning of January 2023, Buhari’s regime introduced the Presidential Roadmap on Police Reform.  It pledged a 20% increase in police salaries.  The increase had not been paid as at the beginning of June.

So, against this background of stagnation and outdated practices, what should we expect to see from President Tinubu’s government?  When analysing the performance of the NPF, we should firstly identify the major areas of concern that require immediate and effective reform.  

The NPF faces a number of stubborn challenges that impact on performance and delivery in terms of capability, capacity and compliance.  These challenges include undertrained personnel, lack of funding, inadequate equipment, shortage of personnel, dilapidated housing units and offices, poor equipment and vehicles, absence of maintenance budgets and regimes, as well as weak supervision and accountability.  It will not be possible to reform the police without addressing these challenges

The pay and conditions that members of the NPF work under are an area for concern.   While the pay is considered attractive by many (police recruitment doesn’t seem to be a problem), delayed payment of salary, sometimes by as much as six months, is a widespread and perennial problem that generates strain and undermines discipline.  Pensions are either not paid in full or not paid at all.  There is inadequate insurance for police officers who lose their lives or are injured during the course of their duties and unable to continue to work.  All of these factors drive illicit collection of fines and other behaviour by police officers – particularly as they approach retirement.  The practice of illegitimate collection of ‘on the spot fines’ is one manifestation of the failure to pay police officers on time or in full.  It is also not possible for a citizen to report a crime without paying for the relevant forms.  

Further undermining morale and discipline is the parlous state of police barracks in many parts of the country.  Recently, on 23 May, media reported that 25 run down police barracks sites would be demolished across Lagos State due to them having failed structural integrity tests.  Police officers live in these barracks, frequently accompanied by their families.

Excessive behaviour by some police officers is widely reported on and an accepted facet of daily life in Nigeria.  Abuses of human rights and extortion of money drive a final nail into the coffin of trust between the citizenry and the NPF. Citizens do not believe that the police are there to serve their interests or protect them.  The 2020 emergence of the #ENDSARS movement reflected frustration among the youth and middle classes over the apparent lawlessness of certain elements and individuals in the NPF.   Established to address the ubiquitous problem of armed robbery, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) soon became notorious for use of excessive force and random targeting of youths based on stereotypes including wearing of dreadlocks, ripped jeans, tattoos, driving of expensive cars, or even the ownership / use of apparently expensive devices such as smart phones.  Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission reported that at least 18 people were extrajudicially killed during the Coronavirus pandemic by security forces enforcing the country’s COVID-19 lockdowns. Incidents of police violence are common in the Nigerian media.

Unfortunately, the #ENDSARS protest was put down violently by the Army and it was widely postulated on social media at the time that the order was given by the man who is now charged with improving the security of Nigerian citizens.   This unfortunate narrative, whether accurate or completely false, generates speculation as to how the security forces will operate under the new President.

Police involvement in political activity is further damaging to their reputation and standing.  We have seen incidences of police involvement in electoral activity in several locations across the country during this year’s elections.  

Police officers also are hired by private citizens who have the means for the purpose of providing private security details and protection of lives and property.  This practice and its impact on professionalism is examined below. 

All of the above factors are widely commented upon in open sources, regularly feature in the mainstream media and even more so on social media platforms in Nigeria and among the diaspora.

Following President Buhari’s statement in January 2023 as he launched the Roadmap to Police Reform, the Police Reform and Transformation Office (PORTO) Programmes Officer, said an extensive reform process of the police force had begun but pointed out that it will be a protracted process, taking up to five years to effectively implement.  This assumes that the programme will be adopted by President Tinubu.  Unfortunately, we have seen numerous examples of politicians killing the initiatives of their predecessors and then developing their own, equivalent proposal with their personal stamp on it.  In Nigeria, completion of a predecessor’s legacy projects is not good for political standing.  

Nevertheless, if President Tinubu is determined to improve security and stability in the country as stated in his address to the nation, the professionalisation of the NPF is a matter of priority.  So, what areas might he focus on?

Generating capacity and capability to enable the police to conduct effective and professional investigations has been the core of several failed police reform strategies.  Provision of adequate equipment and resources is vital.  This will only be achievable if the funding is not only allocated to, but actually spent on, closing the intended gaps.  

Training in both investigative techniques, human rights compliance and good governance are other areas that would generate dividends in terms of NPF performance.   Development of more advanced crime scene procedures, forensic techniques, laboratory facilities and perhaps most importantly, an effective and durable national crime database are all areas worthy of critical examination. 

Areas recommended by Sharkdam Wapmuk, an Associate Professor at the Nigerian Defence Academy, have included:

  • Rebuilding trust.  For the government to regain the trust of Nigerian citizens, special measures must put in place to address shortcomings in the policing system and the military.  Critically, governance must be sincere and transparent.
  • More inclusive oversight. The Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up at state level to probe police brutality should include critical stakeholders nominated independently of the government.  If the panel were to serve a similar function to the Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa, its impact would be much greater.  This could also generate a fundamental shift in the relationship between the police and the people, which should be a symbiotic relationship, but which currently is more confrontational than cooperative.  This would be assisted by tying police structures to the communities they serve (see below) 
  • Independent investigations into police abuses. To end police impunity, the government needs to establish an independent body that includes representatives of civil society organizations and charge it with responsibility to consistently investigate and report excesses and crimes committed both by the police and other security bodies.  The mandate of these investigations should be wide-ranging and cover the full gamut of security forces illicit and illegal activity.
  • Holistic police reform.  There are many good police officers. Yet good men and women recruited into the police force can easily turn bad due to poor remuneration, poor conditions of service and weak or corrupt leadership. 
  • Focus on citizen security. Reform of Nigeria’s security architecture is long overdue. There should be training and retraining of the security agencies on issues of citizen protection, human rights, relations with citizens, and building community trust.

One other area of reform that has been postulated in the past, but which died at birth, was the restructuring of the NPF into autonomous state or regional police forces with their own organic command and control structures.  The creation of federal agencies that support local forces would enhance the delivery of crime solutions.

Worryingly, experience of police reform in other West African nations does not offer encouraging signals.  In Liberia, police reform has been underway for 20 years.  Progress has been hindered by underfunding and a lack of political will to correct the problem as well as competing interests between different parties engaged in the process.  In Cote D’Ivoire, the efforts to drive police reform have struggled with the challenge of generating effective oversight and transparency as well as very challenging dynamics between vigilance committees, everyday citizens, police, and youth gangs.  These are relevant lessons that should be taken into account when any plan for police reform is undertaken in Nigeria.


The ‘Privatisation’ of Government Security Forces (GSF)

Not only the police, but all GSF organisations hire their personnel to influential and wealthy organisations and individuals.  The Supernumerary Police Force (SPY) was established to provide warranted police officers to support commercial enterprises and fee-paying individuals.  They carry a police warrant card and are trained at the force HQ training schools.  However, the levels of training received are tailored to their roles, which are essentially to act as a deterrent security force deployed to protect the ‘client’.

Typically, all the other agencies and organisations have also hired out their assets in similar roles.  The Army provides defensive deployments for oil and gas operators in the Niger Delta – as does the Nigerian Navy.  The Navy also provides armed detachments for vessels operating in Nigerian waters and on its navigable waterways.  These deployments are at the discretion of force and base commanders and have become a very lucrative sideline for the bodies concerned.  Even the DSS has provided private security detachments for high-net-worth individuals.  There is significant competition among the relevant bodies for this money-making business and contracts are much sought after.

The commercialisation of the security forces ought to be forcing standards of performance to increase.  However, the opposite is sometimes the case and there are instances where such detachments have refused to comply with corporate standards in areas such as the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (VPSHR) if the unit commander feels they increase the risks his personnel are faced with.  This frequently means the commercial enterprise cannot meet its own governance and compliance standards.  

President Tinubu will need to look very closely at this widespread practice and delivery a policy decision that provide robust and enforceable guidelines for commanders in all the various security organs of the state.  The challenge is that the operating environment is so hostile in some areas that removal of armed teams will leave organisations and individuals vulnerable.  This then generates a new problem for the Presidency to consider and address.


Illicit Involvement in Oil Theft

In early June, the President directed Service Chiefs, heads of security, and intelligence agencies to “crush” oil thieves.  His intention to issue this directive was known as early as January of this year.  It is driven by his understanding that no amount of police reform or investment in the armed forces will change the security environment in Nigeria unless the economic conditions that currently prevail are addressed.

Nigeria depends heavily on revenue from crude oil, such that 80% of Federal government’s revenue, 95% of export receipts and 90% of foreign exchange earnings come from oil exports.  However, huge losses occur due to the illicit activity of a complex ecosystem of criminals and facilitators.  

The semi-industrialised criminal enterprises have impacted so heavily on the oil and gas sector that the International Oil Companies, primarily Shell – the largest operator in the country – have taken a strategic decision to divest from their onshore assets.  The knock-on effects have included increased unemployment, a lowering of environmental performance standards as local start-ups buy the licences and assets, a reduction in transparency and governance and increased tension between communities.

There have been repeated and enduring allegations of security forces’ involvement in the illicit theft of hydrocarbons from pipelines in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country.  Some of this commentary is entirely speculative.  Some of it is apparently supported by evidence.  On 16 June 2023, the notable activist and former leader of one of the factions of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Alhaji Asari Dokubu, claimed that more than 99 per cent of oil theft in the country was carried out by the army and navy. Perhaps significantly, the allegation was made after a meeting with the President in Abuja.

There have been several well documented instances where senior officers have been identified in media reports as having been heavily involved in the so-called ‘bunkering’ of crude oil and condensate.  However, the only people to have been prosecuted to date have been very junior members of the security forces.  

It must be stated that the security forces are not the only alleged actors in the issue of oil theft.  Others include:

  • National and international oil company executives
  • Oil company employees
  • Militant organisations
  • Local political and community leaders
  • Local youths
  • Judicial officials
  • Political actors at all levels.

The impact of the illicit oil ‘industry’ in the Niger Delta has had a crippling effect on the economy, ravaged the local environment, driven intercommunal conflicts, and exacerbated poverty which in turn drives further criminality.

President Tinubu has pledged to address the problem of oil theft and return the revenue streams that previous fed the Federal budgets.  He has vowed to employ new technologies, including the use of drones and aerostat systems, for sustained and enduring surveillance.  However, deploying surveillance is worthless unless the response is in place to interdict criminal activity when detected.  To achieve this, a root and branch restructuring of the security apparatus in the region will be necessary.  

The challenge the new President faces is that the tentacles of the illicit trade are so far reaching and so influential that he will make powerful enemies as soon as he orders the first prosecutions of persons of note.  The strategy risks igniting a new insurgency in the region as powerful former militants who currently enjoy lucrative opportunities either through illegal activity or through winning multi-million dollar contracts to address the problem (….or both) fight to protect their revenue streams.  As has been shown above, the human terrain in the oil bunkering industry is diverse, complex and heavily integrated into the organs of state that are key to defeating the practice.

The trade routes through which the stolen oil pass are well documented, and it is likely that any successful solution will require international cooperation.  This would, of necessity, mean:

  • Sharing of intelligence.  This would require a patient and methodical gathering of raw information and its processing into actionable intelligence that can stand the test of evidence in court.
  • Provision of technology.  This will require foreign powers to share some assets that are potentially in high demand in other parts of the globe.
  • Interdiction of cargos on the high seas.  This will require robust rules of engagement and must be compliant with international maritime law and UN regulations such as the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS)
  • Embargoes of trade.  As we have seen with the recent issue of ‘dark tankers’ evading sanctions on Russian oil exports, trade embargoes are very difficult to enforce. 
  • Support for judicial processes and the prosecutions of offenders.  Preparation of evidence and provision of legal support to prosecution teams will be a significant ‘force multiplier’.  This might include extradition agreements that are robust and implemented.

To create a new security paradigm for the oil and gas sector, the President is going to have to make some very courageous decisions and be prepared to manage the fallout from potentially prosecuting powerful, well-connected, and ruthless individuals if that is where the evidence leads.

Informal security structures

Nigeria has witnessed an expansion of informal security structures in the last decade.  These are not the formally registered security companies that provide guard services and technical security installations, but organisations more akin to militias or even vigilante organisations.

These bodies have arisen due to the perception that the government security bodies are ineffective or even disinterested in dealing with crime affecting ordinary Nigerians.  Examples of such bodies include:

  • Hunters working as military auxiliaries and trackers during counter-terrorism operations in the north-east and counter-kidnapping operations elsewhere in the country.
  • Various vigilante groups in different parts of the country.  These bodies have largely emerged spontaneously in response to chaotic security situations.  Poorly trained and only loosely led, they are prone to committing human rights abuses and are vulnerable to exploitation by politicians and other elites. In some cases, their activities have aggravated intercommunal tensions, increasing the risks of conflict.
  • The Western Nigeria Security Network – also known as Amotekun – which was created in the six states of the south-west geopolitical zone in response to rising crime levels.   Its aim is to complement the operations of the security forces rather than replace them.  Controversial but well equipped and organised, the body was challenged by the Federal government, but remains in existence and operation to date.
  • Ethnic militias such as The Oodua People’s Congress (Yoruba) and the Arewa Peoples’ Congress (Hausa).  These bodies frequently drift across the divide between protecting the community and imposing the will of powerful actors in the community, often acting as political enforcers in election campaigns and polling days.



Nigeria’s security challenges are primarily homegrown and internal matters, elevating the importance of citizen engagement in delivering improvements in security and stability.  Yet this vital aspect of securing Nigeria’s urban centres, rural heartlands and the interconnecting network of roads and railways rests upon a relationship with the security forces that is, at best, apathetic and more accurately described in many areas as toxic.  

In almost every instance, Nigeria’s security forces operate from a position that is essentially founded on a deficit of trust. Many threat assessments and risk analyses include security force violence against citizens as a component of the security problem. Remedying this and building trust with citizens will be a top and ongoing priority of any national security strategy.

Any new security paradigm must be multi-faceted, agile, properly resourced and supported by the judiciary.  It will only succeed if it is built on foundations of:

  • Expanding access to government services
  • Social development
  • Job creation
  • Reform of the NPF
  • Modernisation of the Armed Forces and their removal from roles that should be performed by the NPF
  • Removal of the need for informal security structures – i.e. close the security gaps these bodies rose to fill
  • Address the issue of herder-farmer land use with a legislative posture that supports the needs of both communities
  • Effective judicial action against the ‘big men’ behind the organised crime groups
  • Expansion of and improved accessibility to an effective criminal justice system for ordinary citizens
  • Establishment of transparency and oversight of security forces activity

Can President Tinubu successfully implement a new security paradigm for Africa’s most populous nation?  Much depends on him being able to demonstrate quickly to the population that his plan is not just genuine, but more importantly, effective.  Without citizen buy-in, any new strategy is likely to fail before it gets started.  Perhaps the most immediate need of most Nigerians is some relief from the grinding poverty that effects so many of them.  Any uplift in the standard of living and the quality of life for ordinary Nigerians will gain the goodwill needed to support the longer-term planning and implementation of a significant shift in the security dynamic in the country.

His inauguration speech indicated that he understands not only the problems faced by Nigerian’s citizens, but also the underlying issues that drive such widespread insecurity and high levels of crime.   We shall monitor and evaluate his progress in addressing and resolving them over the coming months; it is hoped that he can succeed.

A New President, A New Security Paradigm…..Or Just More Of The Same?

Introduction and Background

This Deep Dive is a strategic review of potential developments in the security environment following the inauguration of the new President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, on 29th May 2023.  In part one, we will focus on what we know about the President’s declared strategic goals based partly on his post inaugural address to the nation.  It will also examine what is known about the extant drivers of instability and insecurity throughout the country and what we assess to be valid and effective reforms in the security sector that the President might pursue.

Elected in February 2023, President Tinubu was already fully versed in the strategic security challenges that he would be faced with in his first term in office.  The multi-faceted security environment is well documented.  Major drivers of instability exist in all the geopolitical regions of the country, generating economic fragility and stagnation, hindering social development and cohesion and, with relatively few exceptions, ensuring that the country remains an unattractive destination for foreign investors.  Adversarial groups throughout the country can be characterised as diverse, dynamic and persistent. 

It is perhaps sensible at this stage of the analysis to remind ourselves of what the new President has pledged. In his inaugural address to the nation, President Tinubu included the following statements:

The principles that will guide our administration are simple: 

  1. Nigeria will be impartially governed according to the constitution and the rule of law. 
  2. We shall defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality that threaten the peace and stability of our country and our subregion. 
  3. We shall remodel our economy to bring about growth and development through job creation, food security and an end of extreme poverty. 
  4. In our administration, women and youth will feature prominently. 
  5. Our government will continue to take proactive steps such as championing a credit culture to discourage corruption, while strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the various anti-corruption agencies. 


Security shall be the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence. 

To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security doctrine and its architecture. 

We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide, better training, equipment, pay and firepower. 


On the economy, we target a higher GDP growth and to significantly reduce unemployment. We intend to accomplish this by taking the following steps: 

  • First, budgetary reform stimulating the economy without engendering inflation will be instituted. 
  • Second, industrial policy will utilize the full range of fiscal measures to promote domestic manufacturing and lessen import dependency. 
  • Third, electricity will become more accessible and affordable to businesses and homes alike. Power generation should nearly double, and transmission and distribution networks improved. We will encourage states to develop local sources as well. 

I have a message for our investors, local and foreign: our government shall review all their complaints about multiple taxation and various anti-investment inhibitions. We shall ensure that investors and foreign businesses repatriate their hard-earned dividends and profits home. 


My administration must create meaningful opportunities for our youth. We shall honour our campaign commitment of one million new jobs in the digital economy. Our government also shall work with the National Assembly to fashion an omnibus Jobs and Prosperity bill. 

This bill will give our administration the policy space to embark on labour-intensive infrastructural improvements, encourage light industry and provide improved social services for the poor, elderly and vulnerable. 


Rural incomes shall be secured by commodity exchange boards guaranteeing minimal prices for certain crops and animal products. A nationwide programme for storage and other facilities to reduce spoilage and waste will be undertaken. 

Agricultural hubs will be created throughout the nation to increase production and engage in value-added processing. The livestock sector will be introduced to best modern practices and steps taken to minimize the perennial conflict over land and water resources in this sector. 

Through these actions, food shall be made more abundant yet less costly. Farmers shall earn more while the average Nigerian pays less. 


We shall continue the efforts of the Buhari administration on infrastructure. Progress toward national networks of roads, rail and ports shall get priority attention. 


We commend the decision of the outgoing administration in phasing out the petrol subsidy regime which has increasingly favoured the rich more than the poor. Subsidy can no longer justify its ever-increasing costs in the wake of drying resources. 

We shall instead re-channel the funds into better investment in public infrastructure, education, health care and jobs that will materially improve the lives of millions. 


Given the world in which we reside, please permit a few comments regarding foreign policy. 

The crisis in Sudan and the turn from democracy by several nations in our immediate neighbourhood are of pressing concern. 

As such, my primary foreign policy objective must be the peace and stability of the West African subregion and the African continent. We shall work with ECOWAS, the AU (African Union) and willing partners in the international community to end extant conflicts and to resolve new ones. 

As we contain threats to peace, we shall also retool our foreign policy to more actively lead the regional and continental quest for collective prosperity. 


Monetary policy needs thorough housecleaning. The Central Bank must work towards a unified exchange rate. This will direct funds away from arbitrage into meaningful investment in the plant, equipment and jobs that power the real economy. 

Interest rates need to be reduced to increase investment and consumer purchasing in ways that sustain the economy at a higher level. 

Whatever merits it had in concept, the currency swap was too harshly applied by the CBN given the number of unbanked Nigerians. The policy shall be reviewed. In the meantime, my administration will treat both currencies as legal tender.

All of the above will impact on security and stability – either positively, with improvements and reductions in levels of criminality, lower casualty and victim numbers, or negatively by impinging on the vested interests of powerful crime bosses and extremist groups.

Before we focus on the security reforms that we might see introduced by the new regime, it is useful to review the impacts – both positive and negative – of the President’s declared strategies.

Economic Drivers 

Because insecurity in Nigeria is driven primarily by internal actors and factors, improving GDP will generate security and stability benefits through generating greater revenues for the Federal Government to fund its key strategic aims while lifting many (but not all) Nigerians out of poverty.  

Many of the potential investments mentioned in the address to the nation, if successfully implemented, will contribute to a more prosperous society with improved distribution of wealth.  These impacts will reduce the poverty driven, low level criminality that plagues Nigeria’s urban centres.  

The economic pledges made in the President’s address are commendable.  Of particular note, is the pledge to reduce unemployment and to create 1 million new jobs in the digital economy.  Coupled with his pledge to improve the supply of electricity to communities, his policy development team has clearly identified the key drivers of poverty and hardship endured by millions of Nigerians.  The question is, will he be able to implement these reforms effectively?  A successful implementation will undoubtedly contribute to a more prosperous, stable and secure society.  However, if unsuccessful, the effects could drive even greater corruption and exacerbate existing social tensions.   

At the strategic level, the President aims to deliver a root and branch reform of the nation’s monetary policy.  Focussing on those factors that affect investment and business development, the task of making headway in this area falls squarely on the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).  The sacking and subsequent investigation by the Department of State Security of the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, on 9th June was driven, according to the President, by the chaotic performance of the CBN that saw exchange rate mechanisms and complex restrictions on currency transfers across international borders render international business and money transfers almost impossible. 

The shambolic planning for the change out of old bank notes generated severe hardship for millions of Nigerians as discussed in our previous analysis of the situation back in February (read it here).  The resultant unrest in some areas, and the allegations of mass corruption by bankers throughout the country, exposed the fragility of extant monetary policy, its facilitation of corruption and the strangulation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  

The President’s pledge that his government would ensure that both old and new currency would remain valid for the immediate future is a smart move that will significantly reduce tension among those Nigerians who do not have a bank account.  Long overdue reform of the country’s monetary policy should generate benefits for small business owners and improve the country’s appeal to foreign investors.

The reforms noted above will primarily impact urban centres, however, his address also picked up on the stressors endured by the rural population.  His focus on reforms of the agricultural sector is also commendable, with a clear focus on improvement in the value chain for farmers and the difficulties they experience in getting their products to market.

Improving supply chain security for arable farmers is welcomed, however, the President also addressed the enduring problem of the livestock sector and the omnipresent challenge facing herders in their search for grazing and watering opportunities.  If the President’s team can effectively address this challenge, it will have focussed on a major driver of conflict and instability in rural areas and outlying communities from the mid-belt south as far as the coast in some areas.

Improving the supply chain for agricultural products will generate positive returns in the battle to provide more affordable staple foodstuffs for the average Nigerian.  Again, this reduction in one of the drivers of poverty will help to improve social stability and reduce the need for urban populations to indulge in ‘opportunistic income generation’. 

The focus on the transport networks in the country should also generate commercial advantages that will enhance the strategic aim of reducing poverty.  If this can be achieved in parallel with a doubling of the supply of power to communities, commerce will increase, investment will be a more attractive option for companies and the net effect will be to lift Nigerians out of poverty, into employment and away from low-level criminality driven by need rather than greed.

Conversely, the stated aim of completely phasing out the fuel subsidy is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand it will free up much needed federal revenues to focus on infrastructure projects and other social developments, including improved schooling and healthcare, however, it will also force the price of fuel up and potentially counter the economic benefits of some of the other reforms the Tinubu regime intends.  

Historically, attempts to remove the fuel subsidy have generated political strain as fuel importers and marketers face the prospect of having to work the economy for their profits, and intense strike and protest activity by the wider population who would face significant hikes in essential fuel cost.  In the long term, the removal of the fuel subsidy is an essential step in the reform of the economy.  However, the strategy will involve some short-term pain for the Presidency.

Foreign Policy 

The world is in a transitional state as this report is drafted.  The war in Ukraine has dislocated the expectations of analysts around the world.  What was assessed to be a war that would likely last a matter of a few weeks, has seen the second most powerful military power in the world utterly humiliated. At the time of writing, the Russian Private Military Company (PMC), Wagner Group, appears to have ended its existence in its current form in a spectacular manner.  Regionally, this is significant, as the Group, widely assessed to be an unofficial arm of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an extension of the External Intelligence Service (Sluzhba Vneshnoj Razvedki (SVR), a successor organisation to the KGB, has significant operations in Mali and the Central African Republic.  

It is beyond the scope of this Deep Dive to analyse in detail the impact of the Wagner group presence in several African countries, but it can be stated that everywhere the group has operated has seen a subsequent deterioration in stability and security.

So, what has this to do with Nigeria?  In July 2021, it was reported in mainstream media that Wagner Group’s CEO, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, had met with the Nigerian Army’s Chief of Staff, Farouk Yahya.  It was stated by a source close to the Nigerian Army that the meeting was in preparation for the deployment of Wagner elements into the north-east of the country to tackle the Islamist insurgency in the region.  It is unknown whether President Tinubu intends to nurture this fledgeling relationship with the Russian mercenary outfit, however, events of the weekend 24-25 June 2023 have left a huge question mark over the future of Wagner Group.  It is possible that it will fragment into a number of new companies, some of which will likely focus on lucrative African opportunities.

President Tinubu stated in his address that his primary foreign policy objective will focus on establishing and maintaining peace and stability of the West African subregion and the wider African continent. This is an important statement, as regional security is fragile.  Our recent examination of trends in terrorism (read it here) highlighted the dynamic nature of the Islamist insurgency that is a transnational threat to stability in at least nine West African nations.  We will look briefly at the threat posed to Nigeria by this insurgency below.

President Tinubu’s pledge to work with regional and international bodies to address the instability is commendable.  If successful, and the insurgency is driven out of northern Nigeria, he will have achieved a significant goal.  However, recent history has shown how resilient the Islamist movements are, and it is unlikely that the insurgency will be defeated in Nigeria within his first term in office.

The Security Mosaic of Nigeria

President Tinubu faces a very challenging problem that is, perhaps, more accurately described as a complex mosaic of shifting and diverse drivers of instability.  The various regions of the country each have their own characteristic primary security challenge. The diversity of Nigeria’s security threats requires an innovative set of bespoke solutions. This requires a detailed and intimate understanding of the local crime patterns, drivers of instability and the dynamics of each threat.  Only by addressing these factors can the response be integrated into a multifaceted national security strategy.

In the North-West Geopolitical Zone, banditry is widespread and, in some areas, out of control. Raids on communities with abduction especially of women, armed robbery and kidnapping on highways and even on railways characterise the region, although they are not exclusive to the north-west.  Our Deep Dive on the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna railway link examined some aspects of the regional security threats in detail (read it here).

In the North-East the principal security challenge is that of Islamist insurgency and our previous Deep Dives have examined the evolution of this threat in detail.

In the North-Central Geopolitical Zone, the main driver of instability is the eternal conflict between pastoral herdsmen and arable farmers over grazing rights and access to water sources.  Banditry also plays a part in the security picture for this region.

The South-West is characterised by high levels of urban criminality which impacts a number of the region’s state capitals but is perhaps the most intense in Lagos – the most populous city in the country.  It comprises of need-driven opportunistic street crime, organised criminal activity including kidnap for ransom as well as ritual killing, armed robbery and house-breaking / estate invasions. 

The South-East suffers from a low-level insurgency associated with the Biafran separatist movements.  See our Deep Dive from April 2023 which examines the security landscape in the region in detail (read it here).

In the South-South region we can still find massive, industrialised theft of crude oil and condensate from pipelines.  The estimated losses are so significant that President Tinubu has identified the problem as having a strategic impact on the nation’s economy.  He has vowed to deal with the problem as a matter of high priority.  

Thus, we can see that the major sources of instability are diverse, relentless and dynamic.  As any one group is neutralised, another steps into the gap.  The monetary gains to be had through criminality often exceed those that are achievable through enterprise and hard work.  

At a lower level, even though Nigerians are instinctively and energetically entrepreneurial, SMEs are prey to ruthless and corrupt landlords, local politicians, community leaders and groups of gangsters.  Corruption among local authorities – such as the leadership of major market sites – can render a business valueless in terms of profitability.  In effect, millions of Nigerians work for the benefit of the unscrupulous and corrupt.  This generates a poverty trap that creates levels of stress and desperation that frequently force ordinary people to commit petty crimes in order to survive.

It is this incredibly complex security environment that President Tinubu must address if he is to create a legacy as the man who improved the lot of the average Nigerian.  In part two of this Deep Dive we will examine some of the measures and steps that could be taken in order to create more effective security forces and achieve success in elevating Nigerians out of the circumstances they find themselves in currently.