Russian/Chinese Expansion in Africa

Making inroads in Africa

With last week’s state visit to Beijing by Equatorial Guinea’s President, which follows a separate visit by President Embalo (Guinea-Bissau) to Russia earlier in May (purportedly to prepare for an update to their 2018 military agreement), we analyse how international ‘powers’ are continuing to enhance their presence in the Gulf of Guinea.

Over the last 5 years, Russia and China have made significant strides in asserting their power in the region with China seeking to leverage its enhanced military reach to control strategic choke points crucial to global trade, and Russia attempting to restore its superpower status and influence Eastern and Central Europe.

Both nations clearly recognise the strategic importance of the Gulf of Guinea, which is not only rich in minerals and natural resources, but who’s coastline has over 20 major ports crucial for accessing new markets, however any action on their respective parts could well pose potential threats to regional peace and stability.

In the past 3 years, Russian and Chinese interests in Africa have grown significantly. China’s commercial activities have expanded quietly, highlighted by a newly commissioned pipeline transporting oil from southern Niger through Benin. Although the pipeline was briefly closed by the Porto Novo government (in response to accusations by the Nigerien government that Benin was allowing the presence of terrorist training camps on its side of the border), Chinese intervention resolved the issue, ensuring oil continued to flow through the port at Seme.

Both nations are keen to establish a naval presence to protect their strategic interests, following the historical precedent set by colonial powers. In April 2024, Russia signed a military accord with São Tomé and Príncipe for military training, logistical support and ‘possible collaborations’ raising concerns from Portugal amongst others about increased Russian influence.

As global powers vie for Africa’s vast resources, securing regional sea lanes is crucial. Tomorrow, we will analyse what has happened so far and what may be next for China and Russia in this strategic competition.In October 2021 the Russian Navy deployed a maritime task group to the Gulf of Guinea for counter-piracy operations, signalling its growing interest in the region. By July 2023, Equato-Guinean delegates at the Russo-Africa Summit in St Petersburg engaged with Russian oil, gas, and mining companies, aiming to enhance trade and economic ties. Following the summit, Russia announced it would reopen its embassy in Bioko.

In November 2023, President Putin met Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Moscow. Putin stated their discussions focused on security and regional relations, with plans for further collaboration. President Obiang highlighted the significant international security challenges and affirmed Russia as a traditional strategic partner of Equatorial Guinea and Africa.

Continuous Expansion

It is clear from this activity that Russia is intent on expanding its ties with Malabo, seeking a foothold for power projection into strategic regional waters. Whilst Russia’s navy continues to suffer losses in the Black Sea from Ukraine, Russia’s intent may well be to expand its footprint in the Gulf of Guinea to potentially interdict Western trade alongside securing its own interests in Africa.

President Obiang enjoys a close relationship with China, however Beijing has been far more measured in its ambitions than Russia, investing heavily in the port of Bata in Equatorial Guinea, ensuring its 550m piers are capable of accommodating the newest Chinese aircraft carriers (noting a recent Pentagon report in 2023 highlighted Equatorial Guinea as the potential site for a new Chinese naval base).

Notably, China has built a strong presence in the country for over 5 decades, with their activity being supported by a large embassy and robust security ties through bilateral engagements. Indeed, in a statement released during the recent state visit of President Obiang to Beijing, the 2 countries were said to have “elevated their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation”.

Since 2014, China has increased activities throughout the Gulf of Guinea, conducting port calls and anti-piracy drills with local navies (between 2014 and 2019 China participated in 39 military exchanges with regional partners). Again notably Angola and Nigeria are among China’s top oil suppliers and Lekki deep sea port was also built by a Chinese company. This growing engagement reflects Beijing’s strategic interest in the region, and their pursuit of a program of rapid naval expansion, both in terms of numbers and also capabilities.

In conclusion both Russia and China clearly see the Gulf of Guinea as vital ground with China particularly regarding the region as a link in its so-called “String of Pearls” – a strategic plan for a chain of naval bases around the world. These ambitions, if achieved by one or both countries, represent a significant challenge to western naval dominance of the eastern Atlantic and the entire West African coastline. While NATO is fixated on Ukraine, the Levant and Taiwan, both Moscow and Beijing are clearly keen on pushing forward with their strategies for Africa and wider global economic hegemony.

A tale of two coups?

A tale of two coups?

Equatorial Guinea

On Friday, 17 May 2024, rumours emerged suggesting a state of emergency or an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo. Unverified reports claimed a state of emergency had been declared the previous day and mainland borders had been closed.

However, our investigation and local intelligence found no credible evidence to support these claims, and all flights operating as scheduled during this time.
Equatorial Guinea’s leadership is particularly wary of potential coups due to the country’s history of such attempts. President Teodoro Obiang, serving the world’s longest uninterrupted presidency, has been in power since 1979. In October 2003, security services arrested a French journalist amid coup rumours. Obiang also faced a significant coup attempt in 2004 when South African mercenaries, planning to replace him with a more business-friendly figure, were arrested in Zimbabwe en route to Equatorial Guinea. This event, known as the “Wonga Coup,” failed before it could begin.

More recently, in December 2018, a coup attempt involved 40 armed mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, allegedly connected to radical opposition elements within the country. Whether President Obiang’s prolonged tenure is due to exceptional security measures or sheer luck remains unclear. Nonetheless, the nation’s security net remains highly vigilant, and the recent rumours may simply reflect a heightened sense of paranoia stemming from past experiences.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Two days after rumours of a potential coup in Equatorial Guinea, an actual coup attempt unfolded in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. Many details remain unclear, but here’s what is known:
– A firefight erupted outside the Gombe residence of Vital Kamerhe, sole candidate for the post of Speaker of the National Assembly.
– A second group seized the nearby Palais de la Nation, raising the flag of former Zaire.
– The attempted coup was led by 41-year-old Christian Malanga, a naturalised American citizen, who live-streamed the attack on Facebook. Malanga was killed, along with two Congolese security officials, while his son, also involved, was captured alive.
– Gunfire from the capital hit Brazzaville in the neighbouring Republic of the Congo, injuring several people.

Malanga, a wealthy businessman, politician and former Congolese army captain, lived in the US where his family had secured political asylum when he was a child. He had a criminal record for firearms and domestic violence offences in the US. Known for his grandiose aspirations, Malanga stood for election as a member of the opposition in the 2011 DRC legislative elections but was arrested for being openly anti-Kabila prior to polling day. Upon release, he returned to the US, founded the opposition United Congolese Party (UCP), and declared himself President of the “New Zaire” government in exile. He published a manifesto detailing plans to create business opportunities and reform Congo’s security services, campaigned for religious freedom in Africa, and led anti-corruption training for young Africans in Europe.

In addition to three US citizens, a naturalised British subject and the President’s former Security Advisor, Francois Beya, were also arrested. In all, 50 people have been arrested in the security sweeps that followed the events. The African Union condemned the coup and praised the military’s response. We will continue to monitor developments in both territories and provide updates.

More chapters to follow?

Since August 2020, a wave of coups and attempted coups has swept through several African countries, including Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Gabon. The most recent coups in Niger (July 2023) and Gabon (August 2023) have left military leaders still acting as Heads of State.

While ‘Coup Fever’ appears to be contagious in West Africa and the Sahel, it seems last week’s rumours in Equatorial Guinea were unrelated to internal events. Given the rumours surfaced within 48 hours of the Kinshasa coup attempt, it is plausible that news of the impending/planned events in DRC reached Malabo, sparking speculation about a coup or similar actions unfolding closer to home. Unlike the coups in Francophone West Africa and the Sahel, which may have been influenced at least in part by anti-Western sentiment, increasing Russian presence, and the withdrawal of U.N. troops, the DRC incident appears to be a power grab by an individual driven by personal economic and political ambitions. There is no evidence to suggest foreign interference in the DRC event; it seems more a case of an opportunist expecting support from local elements, who ultimately abandoned him.

Regardless, the weekend’s events highlight that coups and attempted overthrows of power remain a persistent threat across the continent, driven by many factors including economic hardship, instability, poor internal security, inadequate education, and perceived weak democracies. With upcoming elections in Chad, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali, further instability is a real possibility.

For those with interests in West Africa and beyond, we offer comprehensive assistance to navigate these challenging environments. With our extensive experience advising clients on their business operations in high-risk areas, Arete are equipped to provide expert guidance and strategic planning to ensure your success and safety. Our services include:

• Planning for Operating in High-Risk Environments: From inception to completion, we provide tailored strategies to ensure your operations run smoothly.
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Protect your investments and ensure the safety of your personnel with our expert guidance. Contact for more information on how we can help you navigate these complex and volatile landscapes.

School Kidnapping in Nigeria – An Analysis

School Kidnapping in Nigeria

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

Red Sea Crisis


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.

Nigeria’s New President, Possible Security Solutions

Nigeria’s New President & Security

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.

Maritime Threats in the Gulf of Guinea

Gulf of Guinea Maritime Threats


On 09 May 2023, the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo, announced that the International Maritime Bureau had removed Nigeria from its list of “War Risk Countries”.  The move by the IMB reflects the sustained low levels of piracy and maritime criminal activity reported in the Gulf of Guinea over the last 18 months and follows the cessation of war risk premium payments by Nigeria to Lloyds of London amounting to $793 million per annum.  While this is an encouraging step for Nigeria and its neighbours, it does not mean the risks posed by highly organised criminal gangs has disappeared completely.

The discussion around the recent historical low frequency of acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and of maritime crime in the territorial waters of littoral states in the region, continues to present analysts with the interesting question of what exactly happened to the pirate gangs previously operating in the region?  Various bodies have presented credible explanations of why piracy and maritime criminality is at its lowest for several years, but are they accurate?  This report examines recent developments in the maritime operating environment in the region and revisits some of the questions posed in previous analyses.


The Baseline

Figures held by Arete analysts indicate that the rates of piracy and maritime crime in the region over the last five years have fallen dramatically since they peaked in 2020.  Security events are broken down into those that occurred inside territorial waters, including ports and navigable inland waterways, and those that occur in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and International Waters.  The statistics are summarised in the following table.

Table 1.  Spatial distribution of incidents between territorial and international waters 

It should be borne in mind that these figures reflect only those incidents that have been reported noting it is generally accepted that maritime crime remains under-reported in the region still.  

If we break the figures down into those that occurred in Nigerian Waters and those occurring in other territorial jurisdictions in the region, we see a stark reduction in the levels of activity in Nigerian waters.  There has also been a corresponding increase in the number of incidents in other regional waters, however, the overall trend is for a gradual reduction in those waters as well.

Table 2.  Spatial distribution of incidents between Nigerian and other nations’ waters 

2023 has seen numbers remain very low for the year to date, with just one incident reported in Nigerian waters – a robbery of a berthed vessel in Tin Can Island terminal, and 14 events occurring in other nations’ waters.  

Significantly, 2023 has seen two maritime kidnappings, with 6 crewmen taken from a hijacked product tanker (Monjasa Reformer) in March off Pointe Noire, Congo Republic and 3 crewmen taken from a bulk carrier (Grebe Bulker) in Libreville, Gabon.  The latter is interesting in that the vessel was boarded and the crew abducted while berthed in the port of Ownedo.   In the whole of 2022, there was just one maritime kidnap reported on 13 December, when pirates abducted two crewmen from an offshore support vessel (name withheld) some 48 nautical miles off Bioko, Equatorial Guinea.  Additionally, in 2023, a tanker (Success 9) was hijacked more than 300 nautical miles off Abidjan; the vessel and crew were reported safe 5 days later.  

These events highlight the latent risk that pervades the region and the fact that despite the frequency of events remaining very low, when incidents do occur, they have the potential to have a very high impact on the crew and the company’s operations.

Lloyd’s list, in a report released in early May 2023 indicated that the global trend was shifting away from deepwater operations by pirate gangs (hijacking and kidnapping of crew members) to a renewed focus on armed robbery against vessels in territorial waters.  This global trend seems to also be reflected in the Gulf of Guinea as shown in Table 1 above.  

However, the Gulf of Guinea presents a more complex array of actors and threats than can be summarised in such a broad global analysis.  The region sees opportunist thieves boarding vessels in ports and anchorages hoping to steal something they can then sell.  At the other end of the spectrum, we have the organised pirate cartels who operate deepwater capable vessels and who hunt vessels in international waters frequently more than 200 nautical miles from nearest landfall.  We have also seen a minor increase in hijacking and kidnapping in the region since December 2022.  

So, although the report acknowledges that the Gulf of Guinea is somewhat more complex than other regions due to the widespread theft of oil and a diversity of smuggling operations by organised crime groups, the picture is perhaps not as cut and dried as the Lloyds list report headline would seem to suggest (details of all known incidents in 2023 are provided at Annex A to this report).


What Has Driven the Pirates from Nigerian Waters?

There has been a lot of speculation as to why the pirate gangs have apparently moved into other areas of criminal activity in 2022.  In February 2023, the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Bashir Jamoh, said:

“This achievement is a product of a well-structured multimodal policy which has been implemented over the years to fight piracy and other criminalities in Nigerian Waters. The Legal instrument called SPOMO Act signed into Law by President Buhari in 2019, the full implementation of the Deep Blue Project by NIMASA, expanded assets and capacity of the Nigerian Navy, enhanced cooperation between NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy, and the regional collaborative efforts under the umbrella of SHADE Gulf of Guinea midwifed by NIMASA, are all policies of the current administration and the benefits are gradually coming to fruition. We are focused on ultimately improving and reducing the cost of commercial shipping in Nigeria.

Notable maritime institutions like the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, have lauded the reduction in piracy in Nigeria following enhanced patrol and relevant Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered by NIMASA with other security agencies.”

Much has been made of the launch of the Deep Blue Project, including the introduction of maritime surveillance aircraft and their integration into a fully integrated maritime and coastal surveillance system. This development is a significant capability multiplier alongside improving performance and evolving capability of the Nigerian Navy.  

It is also apparent that regional cooperation between states is improving, with an announcement on 10 May 2023 that the Nigerian Navy was establishing a maritime task force with other navies in the region, including those of Ghana, Benin, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’ivoire.  The strategy includes the establishment of a Multinational Joint Task Force (see our piece on this news here.).

Additionally, international support to regional navies is increasing.  This year has seen US participation in joint operations and training with local navies and the launch of a Japanese government initiative to cooperate with Nigerian security efforts to reduce piracy in the region.   On 21-22 May 2023, President Buhari conducted a Presidential Fleet Review of 16 Nigerian naval vessels as well as guest vessels from Ghana, Brazil and Spain.  The drive by the Nigerian Navy towards becoming a more collaborative force capable of operating in multi-national formations will aide further development of capability.

While all of the above is having a beneficial effect on the regional maritime security situation, it should be remembered that the pirate cartels were sponsored by powerful actors with strong political connections.  It cannot be overlooked that in 2022 it was suggested in some circles that the pirate cartels had been shut down very quietly after a foreign power identified the big men behind them and threatened to name them publicly and internationally unless there was an immediate improvement.  Whilst this cannot be conclusively verified, it can also not be discounted as a possibility.



NIMASA and the Nigerian Navy are improving their collaborative efforts to secure the nations maritime economy.  Greater cooperation with other nations will further improve the situation.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains well below 2020 levels, although we have seen a recent spike in high-impact attacks in international waters in the region.

Gangs are still operating in the region, but mostly outside Nigerian waters.  Within Nigeria, the greatest threat currently is faced by travellers and commercial users of the country’s waterways and navigable rivers. 

Whilst the likelihood of an event affecting a vessel may now much lower, in the event an incident does occur, the impact will be high, with attacks on personnel, kidnappings and injuries if the crew resist.  Theft of cargo from product tankers remains a risk, normally resulting from short-term hijackings. Companies operating in the area should not take the recent headlines as an indication that there is no longer a threat. 

As a locally owned and registered Nigerian company, Arete provide a wide range of maritime risk management services, including escort services within Nigerian EEZ as well as onboard consultants to assist with crew training and drills, voyage planning and advice on threat across the region and beyond. 

Fully ISO accredited and with a 100% track record, we have over a decade of experience operating in West Africa specifically so please reach out to us to discuss your operational requirements in the region.


Annex A

Chronological List of Reported Maritime Crime And Piracy Events – 2023

  1. Sao Tome and Principe – Suspicious Approach – At approximately 02:00 hours local time, on Wednesday, 11 January 2023, an unnamed vessel was approached by two skiffs in approximate position 00:45N – 006:20E, approximately 27 NM northwest of Sao Tome Island.  The master took evasive action and increased the vessel’s speed causing the skiffs to abandon their approach. The crew and vessel are reported safe. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  2. Ghana Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 23:50 hrs UTC on Wednesday, 25 January 2023, the Hong Kong flagged Product tanker, MT Seaclipper, IMO number 9570101, was illegally boarded while at anchor in an unspecified position in the Takoradi Anchorage. Duty officer onboard an anchored tanker spotted three unauthorised persons on the forecastle area. Alarm raised, crew mustered, and port control notified. Hearing the alarm and seeing the crew alertness the persons escaped without stealing anything. A patrol boat was dispatched to the location and investigated. (Source – multiple – B2)
  3. Cameroon Offshore – Hostile Approach – At approximately 03:45 hrs local time on Tuesday, 31 January 2023, two skiffs approached a Chinese fishing trawler operating off of Idenau in position 04:13N – 008:50E, approximately 31 NM from the Nigeria-Cameroon maritime border. Armed military guards onboard the trawler fired shots toward the two speed boats, which resulted in them aborting their approach and moving away from the area. The vessel, crew, and military guards have been reported as safe. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  4. Cameroon inshore – Armed Attack – At approximately 00:28 hrs local time on Thursday, 02 February 2023, an unnamed vessel was attacked off cap Debundscha, Cameroon. The vessel was attacked, but the attempted boarding was unsuccessful.  It is suspected that the vessel had an armed, military protection team on board. Vessel and crew were reported as safe. (Source – B2)
  5. Cameroon Inshore – Armed Attack – At 0400 hrs local time on Friday, 17 February 2023, an unnamed oil vessel was attacked and fired on by suspected militants while anchored off the Idabato subdivision of the Bakassi Peninsula.  The attackers boarded the vessel after shooting and killing two escorts. They then attempted to set the vessel ablaze.  The attackers escaped before Cameroonian security forces arrived. (Source media – C3)
  6. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 03:15 hrs local time on Wednesday, 01 March 2023, an unnamed container ship anchored in approximate position 06:05S – 012:14E, off Soyo, was boarded by armed men from a skiff.  The boarders threatened a crew member with a knife before stealing items from inside a container. The local authorities were alerted, and the crew was reported as safe. (Source – C3)
  7. Ghana Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 02:36 hrs UTC on Thursday, 02 March 2023, the Danish flagged product tanker Nord Stingray, IMO number 94197835, was illegally boarded while at anchor in position 04:53.70N  001:41.20W, in the Takoradi Anchorage. Duty crew onboard an anchored tanker noticed an unauthorised person near the forecastle and immediately raised the alarm. Upon hearing the alarm, the individual escaped with stolen ship’s stores. The incident was reported to Takoradi port control, and a patrol boat was sent to investigate. (Source – Multiple – B2)


  1. Congo Republic Offshore – Maritime Kidnap – At approximately 21:38hrs UTC on Saturday, 25 March 2023, more than ten pirates armed with guns attacked and boarded the Liberian flagged product tanker MT Monjasa reformer, IMO number 9255878, while underway in position 05:03.00S 009: 35.00E, approximately 135nm WSW of Pointe Noire. The alarm was raised, and all crew members mustered in the citadel. On being notified of the incident, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre immediately informed the regional authorities in the Gulf of Guinea and the French authorities and requested their assistance. The pirates managed to break into the citadel, took hostage all crew members, and took control of the tanker. They hijacked the tanker and sailed to another location. All communication with the tanker was lost as the pirates had destroyed the navigational and communication equipment. The IMB broadcast a missing tanker message to all ships at sea. On 30 March 2023, the French patrol boat Premier Maitre L’Her intercepted the tanker Off Bonny, Nigeria. A team boarded the vessel and treated three crew members for minor injuries. Part of the cargo was stolen and six crew were reported kidnapped. The tanker was then escorted to the port of Lome, Togo. On 08 May 2023, the Owners confirmed that the six kidnapped crew were released safely. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  2. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 0230 hrs UTC on Sunday, 26 March 2023, The Maltese flagged Tug Komodo, IMO number 9328273, was boarded by robbers who had approached the vessel in a canoe while the vessel was at anchor in position 08:44.61S 013:17.36E in the Luanda Anchorage.  Alert crew noticed the robbers and informed the OOW who raised the alarm and crew mustered resulting in the robbers escaping with stolen ship’s properties (including empty plastic food trays, an air hose which was coiled on top of the portside tugger winch, and the main deck c/w electrical extension wire in used daily for deck maintenance.  Port Authorities informed. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  3. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft – At approximately 0318 hrs local time, on Wednesday, 29 March, 2023, an unnamed container vessel was boarded while steaming in approximate position 06:08S – 012:15E off Soyo Anchorage.  The boarders threatened a duty crew member with a knife, then made their escape with items from one of the containers. Local authorities were informed of the incident and the crew were reported as safe. (Source – Multiple – B2) 
  4. Ivory Coast Inshore – Attempted Boarding – At approximately 22:00 hrs UTC on Friday, 31 March 2023, the Singapore flagged Container Ship, MV Maersk Vigo, IMO number 9401697, was approached and a boarding attempted while the vessel was anchored in position 04:44.47N 006:37.13W in the Port of San Pedro. Two unauthorised persons attempted to board the berthed ship by crawling under the razor wire while a third was assisting from their wooden canoe to move the razor wire. Alert crew detected the persons and raised the alarm. Hearing the alarm and seeing the crew alertness, the persons escaped without stealing anything. At the time of event the pilot was still onboard. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  5. Ivory Coast Offshore – Maritime Hijack – At approximately 13:50hrs UTC on Monday, 10 April 2023, the Singapore flagged product tanker MT Success 9, IMO number 9258131, was attacked and boarded by twelve pirates armed with firearms while underway in position 00:06.90N 004:34.00W, approximately 307 nM SSW of Abidjan.  The pirates hijacked and self-navigated the tanker. On being notified of the incident, the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre immediately informed the regional and French authorities in the Gulf of Guinea. A missing tanker message was broadcast to all ships to lookout for the tanker. Position updates received from all sources were communicated with the relevant authorities for their coordination. On 15 April, a French naval asset located the tanker and the tanker escorted to a safe port by an Ivory Coast Guard patrol boat. The pirates had destroyed the navigational equipment, handcuffed all 21 members of the crew with cable ties and stolen part of the cargo before escaping. All crew reported safe. (Source – Multiple  – B2)
  6. Angola Inshore Attempted Boarding – at approximately 02:30 hrs local time, on Wednesday, 19 April 2023, an unnamed refrigerated cargo ship was boarded while at anchor in approximate position 08:44S – 013:18E in the Luanda Anchorage. The duty watchman noticed an unauthorized person climb up the anchor chain and through the hawse pipe while another individual waited below on a small boat. The watchman raised the alarm and mustered the crew. Upon seeing the alerted crew, the perpetrator jumped into the water and escaped in the small boat. The master confirmed that all crew were safe and that nothing was reported stolen. (Source – Single security source – C3)
  7. Angola Inshore – Boarding Theft  – At approximately 02:30 hrs UTC on Tuesday, 25 April 2023, the Panama flagged crew change vessel, MV Bourbon Shamal, IMO number 9656931, was boarded while anchored in position 08:47.06S 013:14.85S in the Luanda Inner Anchorage.  Alert crew noticed unauthorised persons onboard attempting to steal an outboard engine of the FRC. The alarm was raised and ship’s horn sounded resulting in the robbers escaping. Authorities informed and the police boarded the vessel for investigation. (Source – Multiple – B2)
  8. Lagos Inshore – Illegal Boarding – At approximately 05:00 hrs UTC on Tuesday, 28 April 2023, the Liberia flagged general cargo ship MSC Wave F, IMO number 9232462, was boarded by approximately 8 persons armed with knives while berthed in position 06:25.76N 003:20.53E in the Tin Can Island Terminal.   Alert crew on rounds spotted the persons resulting in the persons escaping empty handed in their boat.  (Source – Multiple – B2)

16. Gabon Inshore – Maritime Kidnapping – At approximately 02:00 hrs local time on Tuesday, 02 May 2023, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier MV Grebe Bulker, IMO number 9441312, was boarded while at anchor in approximate position 00:16N – 009:29E in the Owendo Inner Anchorage in Libreville.  Three crew members were kidnapped. The remaining crew members and vessel were reported safe. The vessel notified the local authorities of the kidnapping. (Source – Multiple – B2)

US Consular Team Attacked in Anambra, Four Dead – An Initial Analysis

During the afternoon of 16 May 2023, a US consular team travelling in Anambra State was attacked and 4 personnel were killed.  No US citizens were involved in the incident, but the significance of the event should  not be understated.   It is clear that this is a key escalation in the violence that is affecting the region, and Anambra State in particular, and the response from the Nigerian Security Forces is likely to be substantial.  

The impact of this event will be significant on most organisations operating in the area, or that will potentially operate in the area, and all concerned parties should look to review their risk assessments and security risk mitigation strategies for the area.

What Do We Know So Far?

At approximately 15:30 hrs local time on Tuesday 16 May 2023, a convoy of vehicles from the US Consulate was attacked on Osamale Road in the Atani area of the Ogbaru Local Government Area.  The location is south of the main urban centre of Onitsha and close to the Niger River. 

The gunmen killed 2 x local nationals who were employed as the vehicle driver and co-driver, and 2 x Nigerian nationals employed by USAID were also killed.  The gunmen then set the vehicle containing the bodies on fire.  No US citizens were involved in the incident.

The vehicle carrying the USAID personnel was reportedly marked accordingly and would have been identifiable from the outside as being associated with the US consular mission.

On identifying the security forces team in the second vehicle, the attackers then abducted the driver and 2 police officers, escaping with them and the vehicle.

The reason for the journey being undertaken is not clear at this time, and we await clarification as to which specific consular elements were involved, however, Tobechukwu Ikenga, the spokesperson for the Anambra State Police Command, issued a statement in which he said that neither the Anambra State Police Command nor any other security agency in the State had been aware of the entry into the State by the US team.  Ikenga went on to add that security forces were mounting a follow up operation to rescue the abducted personnel.

Further details will likely emerge in the coming hours / days.  


The Risk Environment

The security environment in Anambra State has been steadily deteriorating over the past 3 months.  This trend has accelerated in the last 2 weeks, with an emerging pattern of attacks on members of the security forces, some political actors, notable community members as well as on infrastructure. 

Anambra generally is known to present a high risk to travellers and the specific area where the attack took place is assessed to present a high to extreme level of risk.  

Given that members of the security forces are frequently attacked on sight, the presence of a police escort team might have actually drawn attention to the movement and elevated the risk of the convoy being targeted.  


Who Were the Perpetrators?

In the second part of our recent Deep Dive Analysis of terrorism in Nigeria here, we examined the characteristics and capabilities of extremist elements and groups operating in the South-East geopolitical zone.   

The area where the attack took place is a known operating area for the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) and its associated paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).  It is most likely that elements of the ESN were responsible for the attack.

The above notwithstanding, this is the second attack in recent days in which the victims have been shot dead and the bodies burned in the vehicles.  It begs the question as to whether this is just coincidence or an emerging modus operandi that is the signature of a specific and highly lethal group.

The Biafran Government in Exile, an extra-territorial group that exists among the Igbo diaspora, was quick to dissociate itself from the attack.  In a rambling statement in which he referred to Islamic State and Boko Haram, Simon Ekpa, the group’s Prime Minister, stated that the movement condemned the attack on the convoy.


Was This a Statement Attack against the US?

It has been speculated that the attack was a retaliation for the US imposing visa restrictions on a list of Nigerian political and electoral actors believed to be responsible for undermining the democratic processes in the recent federal and state level elections in the country.  

Our analysis indicates that the links between this list and any named individual close to or within the Biafran separatist movements is tenuous to non-existent.  Therefore, this is not believed to be the motive for the attack.   

Similarly, the US has not designated IPOB as a terrorist group – unlike the UK and the Nigerian governments.  

Given the above it is highly unlikely that this was an attack specifically being made against a US target.



Given the levels of violence employed and the location, the attackers are most likely members of an element of the ESN.

At this time it is also assessed that the convoy possibly entered the area without any pre-emptive liaison with local security forces commanders. This would have limited the security mitigation measures being employed to the small security detachment that was organic to the US team, which would have been (and evidently was) quickly overwhelmed once the attack commenced.  There would not have been a quick reaction force in the area, or even a second escort vehicle to protect the convoy.

It is also assessed that the convoy was a target of opportunity and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There is no evidence or indication that the team was attacked because of its association with the US Government.  It is notable that the attackers were not deterred by the reported markings on the US vehicle and this also indicates that they either didn’t know who or what the vehicle represented, or that they were not concerned by the fact that they were attacking a US government asset.  If the latter is the case, it indicates a level of confidence and boldness that represents a significant elevation of the threat in the area.

Looking ahead, the area will become extremely challenging for movement in the immediate future as the Nigerian security forces respond aggressively to this event.  This will be characterised by the deployment of large numbers of uniformed personnel, the establishment of multiple roadblocks and an aggressive posture being adopted by security forces personnel.  The general targeting of uniformed personnel means the security forces will be on high levels of alert which could increase tensions yet further as the boldness of this attack, and the significance of its target, will only serve to heighten their nervousness.  This increase in tension and nervousness among personnel might present an elevated threat to travellers approaching roadblocks and checkpoints if they are not extremely cautious and completely compliant. 

Arete is a private risk management company providing turnkey risk management solutions to clients throughout the complex and often challenging environment of West and East Africa.

We provide a variety of secure journey management services to enable safe movement throughout the high-risk environments found in Africa.  This includes services such as the provision of Personal Security Details (PSDs) for secure transportation and movement as well as risk and threat assessments prior to any such travel.  Arete’s journey management specialists are highly trained in all aspects of protective movement and are practised in undertaking dynamic and detailed threat analysis and route assessment to ensure all movements are undertaken securely.

IPOB – Nigeria’s Southeast Terrorist Group

IPOB Terrorism Nigeria

Background and Context

Designated as a terrorist group in 2017 by Federal Government, the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) is a separatist movement comprising of numerous factions and associated groups.  It operates in a similar manner to that of the now defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which became a franchised social justice movement and a flag of convenience under which numerous criminal groups operated.  IPOB has a similar character, which allows criminals to attain a sense of self-justification by attaching themselves to a more widely recognised and widely supported socio-political activist movement. 

According to the report published by the US think-tank the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), IPOB is the 10th most deadly terrorist group globally, with 40 attacks in 2022 in which 57 people were killed and 16 injured.  This is a significant increase on the 26 attacks and 34 deaths inflicted by the group in 2021.  While these numbers might not seem particularly high, they reflect a trajectory that indicates a steady escalation of violence in the South-East in the last two years.  

In 2020, IPOB created an armed paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is implicated in the deaths of civilians and members of the security forces as well as attacks on state infrastructure and property.  The UK government also designated the movement as a terrorist organisation in May 2022 and excluded members of IPOB from eligibility to claim asylum in UK territories.  Its statement read: 

“IPOB is proscribed as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government, and members of the group and its paramilitary wing – the Eastern Security Network (created in December 2020) – have reportedly committed human rights violations in Nigeria (see Indigenous People of ‘Biafra’ (IPOB) and various media articles in Activities and Clashes between state and IPOB).  If a person has been involved with IPOB (and/or an affiliated group), MASSOB or any other ‘Biafran’ group that incites or uses violence to achieve its aims, decision-makers must consider whether one (or more) of the exclusion clauses under the Refugee Convention is applicable. Persons who commit human rights violations must not be granted asylum. If the person is excluded from the Refugee Convention, they will also be excluded from a grant of humanitarian protection.”

The recent elections held in Nigeria, at the federal and state levels, were fiercely contested, and the Igbo leader of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, was surprisingly successful, breaking the stranglehold of the binary political system that has prevailed since independence.  His success took many by surprise, to the extent that Obi has launched a legal challenge to the outcome of the presidential vote.  While there is no suggestion that the LP has any connection to IPOB, the surge in support for the party across the southern half of the country was significant. Nevertheless, the LP is a nation-wide party, and its agenda and manifesto should not be confused with that of the separatists of IPOB and its paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network. 

Arrest, Evolution and Escalation

In 2021, the then leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and remains in prison to date, despite a Nigerian court ordering his release in October 2022 after ruling that he had been illegally arrested in Kenya and extradited to Nigeria.  Kanu’s arrest and detention dislocated the leadership and disrupted the cohesion of the movement and its political objectives, resulting in a leadership contest that led to a factionalised movement with competing and centrifugal internal forces.  Nevertheless, the movement became more lethal in 2022 than in any previous year.

IPOB and the ESN have been accused of causing fatalities among the civilian population – indeed, among their ethnic Igbo brethren.  The movement has an established track record of inflicting stay at home orders on the population, requiring people to stay in their houses for periods up to and sometimes exceeding seven days.  This causes extreme hardship in a population that survives to a significant extent as street traders and small business owners.  Many people are unable to afford to stockpile supplies of food and potable water ahead of such orders.  The movement routinely issues threats against breaches of the order and there are recorded instances of people who have breached the orders being attacked, and in some instances killed, by members of ESN.   

The activities of IPOB and the ESN have provoked a heavy response from the Nigerian security forces and Amnesty International has accused the security forces of using excessive force and claim as many as 115 people were killed in a four-month period in 2021 alone.  The government of Imo State, as well as many civilians and the security forces themselves, claim that many of the killings of civilians are actually attributable to the ESN.  Many civilians claim that the ESN is targeting them, extorting money and material support while the security forces target them for allegedly supporting the ESN and IPOB.  Security forces have also been accused of inflicting civilian causalities as highlighted by the security forces action at Okporo on 02 August 2021, when homes, businesses and vehicles belonging to people suspected of supporting the separatists were destroyed by security forces.  Other properties were burned by members of the ESN who accuse their owners of failing to support them. The impact on the population has been significant, and while many people support the idea of an independent Biafra, many people do not support IPOB and the ESN. 

A Complex Landscape of Movements

IPOB and the associated ESN are not the only separatists or insurgents operating in the South-East.  Other movements include:

  • The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSSOB).  This movement pre-dates IPOB, having been formed in 1999 under the leadership of Ralph Uwazuruike.  Although it is accused of acts of violence by the Nigerian government, according to its leaders it is a movement dedicated to peaceful agitation with the aim of achieving an independent Biafran state.  Some of its agitations have been deliberately provocative and aimed at the Abuja regime.  Its campaign is designed to generate sympathy and support among international audiences and it is widely supported in the Igbo diaspora.  MASSOB is not proscribed as a terrorist group.
  • The Biafra Zionist Front (BZF), formerly known as the Biafra Zionist Movement, broke away from MASSOB in 2010 under the leadership of Benjamin Onwuka.  The group agitates for the restoration of Biafra and its independence from Nigeria. The group claims to be supported by Israel and the United States.  Its official ideology is Zionism.  Despite its claim to be a peaceful agitation movement, the group was responsible for an attack on the Enugu Government House on 07-08 March 2014.  Onwuka issued a threat to non-Igbo Nigerians living in Biafran territory ordering them to vacate their land by 31 March 2014 or “face the bloodbath that will come afterward.”  Three months later, on 05 June 2014, 13 members of the BZF attacked the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS).  Their intention was to make a public announcement via the Service’s radio and television channels declaring the sovereign state of Biafra.  Onwuka, a lawyer who also practiced in the UK, was arrested following this attack and detained but was released in 2017.  He immediately returned to leading the BZM, and in June 2017 the group proclaimed the independence of Biafra and named Onwuka as president.
  • The Biafran Government In Exile (BGIE) is an extra-territorial group that exists among the Igbo diaspora.   Its website claims it was established in the US in 2001 and that it is the reincarnation of the exiled leadership of General Ojukwu and other survivors of the Nigerian Civil War.  It also praises Nnamdi Kanu and espouses a peaceful agitation for secession and independence.
  • The Biafran Liberation Army is a movement about whom very little is known, although Simon Ekpa, posted a Tweet on 06 April 2023 in which he stated that “The Biafra Liberation Army BLA has launched and commenced OPERATION SANCTITY across Biafraland and Biafra territory. This operation tackle (sic) the illegal road block by the terrorist @HQNigerianArmy  where they facilitates (sic) kidnapping of Biafrans at checkpoints, it is also a place where we have noticed many disappearances of Biafra youths”.

The entire structure of IPOB is loose and reflects a more franchised aggregation of local agitation groups, criminal gangs, and quasi-political movements.  As stated above, the IPOB name is a flag of convenience and a rallying call for a wide ranging, but still relatively small, movement for independence.  

The New Political Paradigm


While there is a long-standing and strong desire among Igbo people to see an Igbo President lead the country, the best chance of that becoming a reality was the recent surge in the political fortunes of the Labour Party (LP) under Peter Obi.  That opportunity now seems to have been missed.

Obi is not affiliated to IPOB in any overt or identifiable way, and has a wider, federal political agenda according to his manifesto.  Had he won the presidency, it is possible that the result would have impacted heavily on the momentum for Biafran independence, with many agitators seeing an opportunity to exploit his Igbo credentials and sympathies.  

In November 2022 Obi stated that he would enter into a dialogue with IPOB (among other terrorist and separatist groups in the country) if he became President.  As a former governor of Anambra State, he would have had more exposure to the various agitators and independence movements calling for an independent Biafran state than either of the other two main candidates.  Further indicating his sympathies with the Igbo agitators, in January 2023, he also stated that he would remove IPOB from the list of proscribed groups in the country.  However, he went on to say that he is committed to “One United and Secured Progressive Nigeria”.  

The balance of these seemingly contradictory signals from Obi generates uncertainty as to how the separatists and agitators might react if he becomes President.  Whatever the outcome, it is likely that the Biafra movements will increase their agitation in the coming months.

Equally, the win by the All Progressive Congress (APC) nominee, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, might also galvanise the separatist movement to agitate more aggressively in the face of another President who reportedly has strong links to organisations such as the Oodua Peoples’ Congress, a youth organisation that sometimes acts as a militia and which has a history of confrontation with Igbo people in Yorubaland.  Many will see the win by Tinubu as a provocation and a marginalisation of the Igbo people – especially in the context of an extant legal challenge by the Igbo front-runner, Peter Obi.

For its part, ahead of the elections, IPOB issued a statement through its spokesperson, Emma Powerful, on 02 January 2023, in which he stated during an interview with media that IPOB:

“Has no interest whatsoever in the 2023 Nigerian selection process. The enemies of Biafra, however, keep on linking IPOB to those criminals who wish to demonise IPOB and ESN. This strategy of trying to drag IPOB into a process that ab initio is programmed to produce a particular result is simply to give legitimacy to a flawed process and IPOB will not be part of it”.

Powerful went on to state that IPOB has no link to Simon Ekpa.  His words exposed the deep factional fault lines that divide the various Biafra movements, fault lines that effectively weaken the overall strategy and momentum of the separatist goals they all share.  

Recent Developments

In his January 2023 statement, Peter Obi said that “I live in Onitsha, and I can tell you they are not terrorists. They (IPOB members) are people I pass on the road every time, (and) every day.  I meet them and live with them. In fact, I usually see (IPOB) people gathering, and not one day has there been a threat or molestation or anything from them, even when they gather.”  He insisted that IPOB is not a threat to Nigeria, saying that the violence in the South-East is only credited to IPOB by the Nigerian Police.  However, accounts of violence in the region by local people suggest that the ESN is behind much of the violence.  When addressing the Chatham House think-tank in London on 17 January, Obi stressed that he is not a supporter of IPOB, saying that leadership failure in Nigeria was responsible for agitations in many parts of the country.

“You are not following me, even yesterday, I spoke about Biafra being ended 53 years ago. It’s all over the place in the space. I condemned all agitators but in condemning them, you have to look at what brought about these agitations all over the place. So, we have IPOB, we have the Yoruba Nation movement, we have all sorts.  When you have created this level of massive poverty, where 63 percent of your population is poor, you’re going to create all sorts of problems. I was speaking to a British minister this morning, I said we have about 40 percent unemployment, about 60 percent youth unemployment, young people in their productive age doing nothing, if you have 15 percent unemployment in Britain today, you’re going to have massive agitation. Nobody will be able to leave his house.  What you have seen is a cumulative effect of leadership failure over the years, which will be solved by good governance, When people start seeing justice, fairness, and inclusive government and doing the right thing, all those things will start reversing itself (sic)”.

In February 2023, as Nigeria prepared itself for a critical Presidential and Senatorial election process, one of the successor leaders, Simon Ekpa, a Finnish citizen of Nigeria origin was arrested in Finland on charges of financial misconduct.  He was released after a short time in custody.  The Nigerian government has repeatedly called upon the Finnish government to move against Ekpa, who leads one of the factions within the broader IPOB movement and uses social media to mobilise opinion and incite violence in the south-east and parts of the south-south geopolitical zones.

Police said that IPOB was responsible for an attack in Enugu on 22 February 2023 in which a senatorial candidate for the opposition Labour Party, Oyibo Chukwu, was killed while he was returning from the campaign trail. The car containing his body was then set on fire.  Armed men also attacked the governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and a campaign bus of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), killing the driver.

On 11 April 2023, IPOB claimed the failure of the Supreme Court to set a date to hear the appeals against the continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu was politically contrived and a reflection of the absence of impartiality on the part of the Court.  It was referring to the delays in his release following the 13 October 2022 Court of Appeal ruling that the IPOB leader was brought back to Nigeria from Kenya in an act of extra-ordinarily rendition that was a violation of the country’s extradition treaty and also a breach of Kanu’s fundamental human rights.

On the political front, on the weekend of 15-16 April, 2023, IPOB issued a statement dissociating itself from the Biafran Government In Exile (BGIE), and its associated Liberation Army, saying these organisations were created and sponsored by the Federal Government to deter and distract people from supporting IPOB. 

Among the most recent attacks mounted by the movement, it was reported on 20 April 2023, that a firefight had taken place at Ubah Agwa/Izombe tropical rain Forest in Oguta Local Government Area (LGA).  Police claim to have wounded several members of the ESN.


While the GTI report holds IPOB as the tenth most dangerous terrorist group in the world, the actual numbers of incidents and victims remains relatively low when compared to the impact of attacks in the country by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa.  The impact of IPOB/ESN activity is most keenly felt by fellow Igbo indigenes, with a Federal Government response that has been unsubtle and sometimes heavy-handed.  The latter will only act as a recruiting sergeant for the separatist movements and their armed wings and supporters.

The various Biafran secessionist movements will likely ramp up their rhetoric and agitation for independence in coming months.  The outcome of the February Presidential elections is unlikely to calm the situation, even in the extremely unlikely event that Peter Obi wins his lawsuit against INEC and the APC and is inaugurated as President.

The fragmented and factionalised secessionist landscape will remain highly competitive.  This internecine struggle will ultimately render the struggle a failure and the status quo will endure.

IPOB/ESN violence will continue to impact on ordinary Nigerian citizens, including the Igbo people they claim to represent and on whose behalf they claim to be waging their struggle against the State.

Operations by the Nigerian Security Forces will likely also escalate after, as seems likely, Tinubu is inaugurated as President.  This will provoke a backlash as well as claim and counter-claim as to which side is responsible for any resultant deaths and destruction of property.

An Oodua Peoples’ Congress and other Yoruba youth groups will be emboldened by a Tinubu presidency.  This has the potential to lead to further violence and communal conflict in states outside those identified by IPOB as being constituents of the Biafran State.  Likely hotspots for such activity are located in the major metropolitan and urban areas of Lagos and other cities in the South-West.  Additionally, any attacks by IPOB/ESN on non-Igbo citizens in the South-East will probably trigger retaliatory pogroms in Kaduna and Kano.  




The recently published Global Terrorism Index (GTI) survey of terrorism around the world in 2022 highlights a number of important trends and developments in the fight against Islamist terrorism in Nigeria.  This Deep Dive reviews the key points from the report against historical and regional context, and examines the current situation and possible future developments.

The report indicates that Nigeria has seen an improvement in the number of terrorist attacks and related fatalities, but other sources indicate an expanding footprint, with Islamist terrorist activity spreading from the extreme north-east of the country to more central and southern areas. 

Having suffered at least 865 fatalities in 2020, Nigeria reported a 43% decrease in terrorist deaths in 2021 and a further 35% in 2022. Nevertheless, the terrorist threat posed by Islamist groups Boko Haram (BH) and Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) remains severe in some areas and significant across the country.

The report indicates that Nigeria lies in eighth position on the table of countries most impacted by terrorism in 2022 – three places lower than in 2021.  Burkina Faso and Mali sit in second and third positions on the same table.  Complicating this assessment, the Global and International Terrorism Research/Analysis Group in its half yearly report for January-June 2022 assessed that Nigeria was the second most attacked and terrorized country in the world with Iraq being the first and Syria being the third.  Their report stated that while Iraq recorded 337 terrorist attacks, Nigeria recorded 305 attacks with Syria coming third following 142 terrorist’s attacks.  

This apparent divergence in assessment highlights the problem of using statistical analysis when examining a subject where the definitions of what are relevant or not differ significantly.  Some sources quote attacks by herdsmen on farming communities as being terrorist in nature.  Other sources attribute the attacks by roving bands of motorcycle mounted bandits in the North West as being terrorism. This problem is also compounded by unreliable reporting of incidents and casualties, with authorities manipulating data to represent a specific operational, social or political agenda point.  

Key to note is this analysis does not examine the additional terrorist threats posed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the south-east region, the issue of marauding bandit gangs in the north-west or itinerant cattle herders in the mid-belt and southern states.  Each of these additional elements carry out attacks on communities that are very similar in nature to many of the attacks carried out by Islamist groups however the drivers and motivation behind these attacks are frequently very different, ranging from simple gangsterism to the struggle for grazing rights for cattle herders.  Designated as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government in 2017, IPOB has a socio-political agenda and aims to achieve independence from the Federal state, however, IPOB is not a homogenous, singular entity, but more of a franchised brand comprising of numerous factions, each with its own aims and strategy.  Additionally although many of the small groups flying the IPOB flag are simply gangsters and extortionists, IPOB elements still accounted for over 40 attacks in 2022 resulting in 57 deaths – its most active and lethal year of operations to date.  The threat posed by IPOB will be examined in our next Deep Dive. 


The impact of terrorism in Nigeria continues to decline in terms of both the number of incidents and deaths with the latter falling by 23% from the figures recorded in 2021 and the former falling by 120 attacks as compared with 2021.  Overall this represents the lowest attack rate per annum since 2011.

Despite a dramatic reduction in the number of attacks carried out by ISWA (57 attacks resulting in 211 deaths), the group’s lethality increased with 3.7 deaths per attack in 2022 compared to 3.0 in 2021 making it the most lethal terrorist group in the country for the third consecutive year.

Boko Haram (BH) activity also decreased substantially in 2022.  Attacks almost halved from 91 attacks in 2021 to 48 in 2022 – the lowest incident rate for more than a decade, but deaths attributable to BH increased slightly from 69 in 2021 to 72 in 2022 – again, and like ISWA, reflecting an increased lethality of their operations.  

Terrorist target selection also notably shifted from the police to the Nigerian Army.  Nigerian military personnel were targeted in 25 percent of all attacks with civilians the second most targeted group following closely at 24 percent of targeted attacks.   The police, previously the preferred target, fell to third place, being targeted in just 18 percent of attacks.

The lethality of attacks increased considerably for civilians, seeing them suffer 196 deaths in 2022, an increase of 78% over the previous year.  Conversely, the military, despite becoming the target of choice, suffered 74% fewer deaths in 2022 (58 fatalities) compared to the previous year.

The epicentre of Islamist associated terrorist activity remains the extreme north-east of the country – primarily in Borno State which saw a significant reduction (12%) in terrorism related deaths in 2022.  This is largely attributable to the decline of BH, as large numbers of its fighters and supporters surrender to security forces.  The erosion of BH combat power is attributable to powerful and well-supported opposition and competition from ISWA, which is now the preeminent terrorist group in Borno State.  Severe defeats, mass defections of its members to ISWA, and much improved counter-terrorism efforts by the Nigerian government and foreign military forces generated a perfect storm of challenges for BH, which its dwindling numbers and collapsing support in the indigenous population also significantly undermined its position.   

In a reflection of this shift in power between the two groups, in Borno State, ISWA mounted 40 attacks resulting in 168 deaths in 2022.  BH mounted just 6 incidents causing 63 deaths.   The greater lethality of BH attacks is deceptive as the group is more inclined to carry out mass casualty attacks on soft (civilian) targets than ISWA, which remains focussed on security forces targets.  Despite the improving overall trend in the statistics for terrorism, Borno State remains the most kinetic and lethal state in the country.  The most lethal terrorist attack of the year occurred in the state when 50 civilians were massacred by gunmen who accused the community of harbouring informants for the security forces. 


Contest Between ISWA and BH

The struggle for supremacy between ISWA and BH has its roots in philosophical differences between the Islamic State philosophy and that of BH.   ISWA was opposed to mass killings of Muslim civilians, whereas BH used such attacks as a tactic to subdue the indigenous population and force them to support the movement with food, shelter and wives.  ISWA was focussed on the broader aims of jihad and the establishment of Islamism throughout West Africa.  The two divergent philosophies generated tensions that deteriorated into open conflict between the two factions.  

This contest between the two groups is better understood when one examines their origins.  Following the 2002 emergence of Boko Haram officially known as Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (Group of the People of Sunnah for Dawah and Jihad), the group underwent several evolutions, growing from a small, rag-tag band of proselytising Wahabi idealists armed with spears, bows and arrows and primitive home-made firearms to a well organised insurgent group that uses sophisticated firearms, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and drones.  By 2014, the group had evolved sufficiently to enable it to seize control of most of Borno State and large tracts of neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe as they strived to establish their own caliphate in the Lake Chad Basin.  Indeed, in 2014, BH proved to be a more deadly threat than ISIS, reportedly killing as many as 6,664 people.  The insurgency spread into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic, reflecting its essentially Kanuri tribal origins and support base. 

The group was responsible for a number of high-profile attacks on communities and security force bases.   In 2015, a South African led private military company (PMC), STTEP International, led a successful surge operation that drove BH and ISWA elements out of many areas, pushing them back towards Lake Chad.  This setback, saw BH on the defensive, coming under attack by an increasingly well trained (mainly by foreign military training teams) Nigerian Army.  In 2016, Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) announced that it had appointed Abu-Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of the group.  The existing BH leader at that time, Abubakar Shekau, refused to accept the new leader, creating division within the group between those that supported Barnawi and those loyal to Shekau.  Those loyal to Barnawi adopted the name of Province (ISWAP), later changing to Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA).  This development introduced significant increased complexity into the security environment in Nigeria.  

Following the factionalisation of BH, attacks by Shekau loyalists on communities, farmers and schools escalated, triggering an internationally supported effort to mount a counter-insurgency campaign by Nigerian security forces.   Nevertheless, the attacks continue.  Estimates indicate that by March 2022 the insurgency had resulted in the deaths of at least 350,000 people and 3 million had become internally displaced persons (IDPs).    Despite the hard-core members of BH continuing the insurgency, large numbers of less committed fighters have surrendered to security forces.  Between July 2021 and May 2022, a total of 13,360 BH fighters and 13,468 BH family members surrendered to security forces.  This flow of surrendering BH fighters has continued into 2023 and continues to weaken the group.  Even in the face of a steady erosion of its combat power, BH remains a potent threat and is capable of mounting complex and ‘spectacular’ attacks at times and places of its choosing.

On 24 January 2023, more than 200 Boko Haram fighters surrendered to security forces at military barracks in Konduga and Banki in Borno state following an attack on the group by the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP).  ISWAP attacked BH camps in Mantari and Maimusari in Bama, also in Borno State.  The attack continued a sequence of attack and counterattack by the two groups on one another’s positions that began in early 2020. The clashes have claimed at least 1,320 lives from both groups in a prolonged battle for supremacy.

Terrorists Embrace New Technology

In the period preceding the conflict between BH and ISWA, the latter embraced their fellow Islamists to the extent that BH fighters were being trained at terrorist training camps in the Sahel and Middle East.  This allowed the group to exploit the use of IEDs and more advanced tactics techniques and procedures.  Their attacks became more lethal and effective in overrunning and defeating the Nigeria security forces.  While the IEDs being used by BH were relatively primitive compared to the very advanced technology seen in Iraq and Syria, their introduction changed the way the campaign was being fought.  Security forces suddenly found the roads to be a much more dangerous proposition as several vehicles were destroyed by IEDS and lives were lost.  Additionally, the introduction of person-borne, suicide IEDs introduced a major new threat to security check points, as well as civilian targets such as markets and places of worship. 

Boko Haram also introduced drone technology into its arsenal of weapons and operating systems.  Using drones for both reconnaissance purposes and also to deliver explosives to security forces targets was yet another gamechanger.  According to the GTI report, 65 non-state actors are now assessed to be capable of employing drones as weapon systems.  The technology can be purchased easily in open markets.  Modern drones have long-ranges – up to 1,500 kilometres – and can be used in swarm attacks where the sheer number of drones ensures that some will evade security forces defences.  They can also be used in targeted assassinations.  Operators can be trained easily and quickly.  While effective countermeasures to drone technology do exist, it is believed that the Nigerian security forces are yet to introduce such systems, although there are moves to identify a suitable system for deployment in high-risk areas.

An Expanding Operational Footprint

According to a separate analysis based on data from sources close to the Nigerian security forces, in 2022, ISWA claimed responsibility for 25 percent of Islamic State attacks worldwide.  The group mounted 517 attacks in Nigeria and a further 30 in the Lake Chad region.  The death toll from these attacks amounted to 1,589 deaths.

Within Nigeria, the group has claimed least 25 attacks beyond the North East geopolitical region, supporting the assessment that the group has developed and positioned several well organised and resilient cells beyond its North East / Lake Chad Basin main footprint.  

Attacks were mounted in 8 states in 4 geopolitical zones (North West, South-South, North Centre and the South West).   The majority of attacks took place in the Middle Belt, with a main effort in Kogi State and single attacks in Taraba, Niger and the FCT.   The main area of operations is in the centre of Kogi State. The tempo and variety of attacks indicates that a well-trained and well-resourced cell exists in or close to Lokoja.

The Kogi cell mounted 13 attacks over a 12-month period.  Within Kogi State, attacks occurred in Adavi, Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta, Kabbah Bunu and Lokoja Local Government Areas (LGA).  Most took place within 40 kilometres of Okene Town in the Okene LGA.  Two attacks were mounted further afield in the vicinity of Owo Town, Owo LGA, approximately 85km away. The cell also carried out attacks in Edo and Ondo States.  

Attacks in Taraba were concentrated around Jalingo, indicating the presence of an active terrorist cell in or in the environs of the city.  The Taraba cell is likely smaller and less resilient than the Kogi cell. A series of arrests in June 2022 disrupted its operations.  However, the contiguous borders with the north-eastern states and the survival of some members of the cell mean that it has the potential to be reconstituted and reactivated rapidly and easily.   

In both areas, a small majority (56%) of attacks targeted civilians, with bars in both Taraba and Kogi State being the most frequently targeted.  Security forces – primarily police vehicle patrols, checkpoints and police stations – were also targeted.  Additionally, 3 large scale attacks were mounted against high profile targets – a train, a prison and a military holding facility.  Overall, attacks comprised of 2 instances of kidnap for ransom (each with multiple victims), 15 complex attacks with small arms and IEDs, 8 attacks mounted using just IEDS, 1 assassination and 2 prison breaks.  The attacks resulted in 100 deaths, 51 injuries and 177 people being abducted.

Civilian target locations were apparently selected because they would allow the inflicting of mass casualties and were mostly frequented by people whose characteristics and behaviours made them more likely to be targeted by fundamentalists – e.g. Christians and alcohol drinkers.  No individual tribal or ethnic group was specifically targeted, but the purpose of the attacks was probably to inflict mass casualties to frighten and intimidate the civilian population and influence the behaviour and decisions of other audiences including federal and local government, local community and political thought leaders and finally, other Islamist groups.  

During the attacks and their aftermath, the attackers exhibited very little selectivity in the way the treated their victims.  In the case of the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, middle class Nigerians were targeted irrespective of tribe or religion.  Muslims were killed, abducted, abused and ransomed alongside Christians.  

In all instances, the attackers killed without restraint. IEDs were also used as part of complex attacks against the Wawa Cantonment, Owo, Kuje, Kaduna-Abuja Train and other targets.  Nevertheless, most casualties were caused by small arms fire.  Apart from the large-scale attacks such as at Wawa and Kuje, the cells employed weapons that can be easily obtained, hidden, moved, or even manufactured.

ISWA has demonstrated a sophisticated use of the information space in its campaign, with information exploitation being a key component of its operational cycle. They rapidly disseminate detailed claims covering the location and number of casualties of their attacks.  These statements are accompanied by high-quality imagery.  It is assessed that ISWA reports their attacks immediately in order to dominate the information space, confirm their actions and achieve greater influence over their target audiences.  It is probable that the cells exploit local languages using multiple mediums and channels.

Regional Context

As ISWA surges to pre-eminence in Nigeria and beyond, the spatial dynamics of terrorism in the region have shifted.  The primary area of terrorist activity in the Sahel region currently lies in the tri-border area of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (also known as Liptako-Gourma).  Whilst this region does not feature in western news media as prominently as Syria and Iraq did during the height of ISIS activity, the Sahel is currently the region of the world most affected by terrorism.  In contrast to Nigeria and Niger, which have seen falling rates of terrorist activity in 2022, the tri-border region has seen a dramatic deterioration in security.  Burkina Faso and Mali occupy the second and third slots in the GTI report table of countries most impacted by terrorism.  The two countries saw terrorism deaths increasing by 50% and 56% to 1,135 and 944 deaths respectively.   Additionally, four of the ten countries in the Sahel feature in the ten worst scores in the GTI report. 


Benin and Togo are also impacted, with both recording more than ten deaths for the first time.  Furthermore, reporting also indicates the spread of Islamist extremism into northern Ghana and Ivory Coast. 

With regards to BH while their eminence peaked in 2014, i.e., when the group controlled huge swathes of territory in north-east Nigeria as well as areas in neighbouring countries around the Lake Chad Basin, its conflict with ISWA has seen many of its fighters displaced into neighbouring countries.  While this has seen its power and influence severely eroded in Nigeria, the group remains relatively stable in other areas of the Lake Chad Basin.  In neighbouring Niger, deaths in the Diffa region rose by 38% to their highest level in two years and it is believed this rise has been driven by the displacement of BH elements from Borno State due to pressure from ISWA attacks.  The displacement of BH fighters elevated the group’s position in Niger, making it the country’s most deadly terrorist group in 2022. 


Although BH continues to atrophy within Nigeria, ISWA remains a potent threat and has shown an intent to expand its operations both geographically and in terms of its targeting.  

The conflict between the two groups continued throughout 2022 and is likely to persist throughout 2023.  The trajectory of this conflict indicates that BH will be reduced to a mere shadow of its former strength in Nigeria and ISWA will continue to be the dominant Islamist group in the country.  Given the wider, regional connectivity that ISWA enjoys, it will likely prove an even tougher opponent for the Nigerian Security Forces than BH has been historically.  

The outcome of the 2023 Presidential and Senate elections in the country are yet to be settled, with robust lawsuits filed against the President Elect and INEC.  Whether or not the President Elect is inaugurated in May, the security environment in Nigeria will remain complex, dynamic and extremely unstable for the foreseeable future.