Recently I was scrolling through TGC USA and an article on Nigeria caught my eye. It follows a format that the author Joe Carter often uses. He provides a quick summary of the state of affairs in a certain country, followed by how Christians in the West should think through them. As usual, it was well researched and helpful to get an overview of the present conflict in Nigeria. But, after reading it, I was worried that it didn’t paint the entire picture. For the ongoing situation in my country is remarkably complex. Thus I wanted to offer a slightly more detailed picture of what is going on in Nigeria.
The Complex Conflict In Nigeria
The security situation in Nigeria is complicated to understand, even for those of us living in Nigeria. There are at least five separate but overlapping armed conflicts going on simultaneously in our country. Below I will give a brief overview of each. I’ll also provide a few links for those who wish to do further reading and reflection.
1. Boko Haram: Organised Terrorism
Boko Haram is by far the most popular armed group terrorising Nigeria. Their fighters remain concentrated in the North East of Nigeria. They use the isolated islands on Lake Chad, the abandoned 2,258 km2 of Sambisa Game Reserve, and the Mandara mountains range separating Nigeria from Cameroon. All these places have something in common: they are inaccessible. Because the Nigerian Army is unable to control these areas they’re unable to properly confront Boko Haram. That is why this conflict has largely been at a military stalemate since 2015.
2. Opportunistic and Well-Armed Gangs
The 2nd major armed conflict is concentrated in the North West of Nigeria. Here armed gangs, called “bandits” by the Nigerian media, terrorise isolated villages and towns at will. This part of Nigeria has always had these criminal gangs. For it is large, rural, and largely under-policed, with very little infrastructure.
Armed gangs terrorise isolated villages and towns at will.
We have a brother in our church from this part of the country. When he goes home to visit his family, tarred roads only carry him within two hours of his village. He must go the rest of the way via a motorcycle on dirt roads. But things have deteriorated in recent years. These gangs have shown growing ambition, most evident in them shooting down a Nigerian military jet and attacking the premier military university.
3. Contested Pastures and Limited Resources
The 3rd conflict is wider spread. This is the conflict between pastoralists and farmers. It is true that many of these pastoralists are ethnic Fulani. But most Fulani are not pastoralists and not every pastoralist is a Fulani. These conflicts are mainly over disagreements on grazing routes, as well as access to water and land. The alarming point to note here is that this conflict actually kills more people than all the other conflicts combined. At the the root of this conflict is Nigeria’s rapidly growing population, resulting in less space and therefore more tensions.
4. The Biafra Protests
Another conflict in Nigeria, though currently smaller than the above three, is the reopening of the wounds of the Nigerian Civil War. For the last 20 years, the peaceful movement demanding a Biafra Nation in the South East of Nigeria has gained significant traction. But credible allegations of a campaign of police brutality against these protestors are coming to light. In 2021 there has been a marked escalation in this conflict, with guerrilla type attacks on security forces in the region. With the recent arrest of the leader of the main separatist group, it is impossible to predict the future direction of this conflict.
5. Widespread Kidnapping for Ransom
The final conflict—and the one that ties many of the others together—is the exponential increase in kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria. This started in the oil-rich Niger Delta region in the early 2000s, by small armed gangs targeting expatriates that worked with foreign companies. But it has become a major source of revenue for Boko Haram. This frightening reality was hard to ignore after the well published Chibok school girls abduction in 2014. This brought Boko Haram vast amounts of money through ransom payments. Since then, copycat kidnapping has become a “growth industry”. At this point, almost every Nigerian knows someone who has been kidnapped for ransom.
Almost every Nigerian knows someone who has been kidnapped for ransom.
Kidnapping has become the default and easiest means of raising money for these various criminal groups and other “professional” kidnappers. The recent trend of kidnapping school children for ransom must be understood in light of Nigeria’s recent history of conflict outlined above. For a jaded country, the sight on television of children being held is one of the few things left that is sure to cause a national stir and get the government to negotiate ransom payments.
What Should We Make of This?
I am sure for most of you, reading the above was about as depressing as it has been for me to write it. Nigeria is conflict ridden. Very few, if any, Nigerians are untouched by the issues outlined above. In many cases, Nigerians are facing a combination of what I’ve listed above. So in closing I want to draw out four lessons on how to interpret these terrible stories coming out of Nigeria.
1. Religion Is Not The Primary Cause
It is true that for Boko Haram the destruction of Christianity in Nigeria is one of its aims. But since that crisis was largely contained in 2015, very little of the conflict in Nigeria has been about religion. It is true that criminals kidnapped more than 100 children from a Christian school called Bethel Baptist High School. But around the same time, another gang kidnapped children from Salihu Tanko Islamic School in a neighbouring state. These are evil men, who will do anything to grab the headlines in the bid to generate additional income.
2. Accept That Positive Change Will Be Slow
It has long been a cottage industry for Western analysts to predict the impending collapse of Nigeria. This has not happened—yet. However it is also highly unlikely that the situation will improve soon. The problems are varied, complex and overwhelming. Thus there is unlikely to be any major improvement anytime soon. Nigeria has been described, rightfully in my view, as a successful failed state.
3. Pray for Nigerian Rulers
At the root of all the armed conflicts is the inability of the Nigerian state to protect its people from the evil men who are taking advantage of them. Therefore the solution to many of these problems is that the Nigerian state would be able to wield its God given authority and punish evildoers. So let us pray, using the words of Romans 13:4, “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the ruler] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer”.
4. Pray for the Nigerian Church
It is tempting for us Christians in Nigeria to wonder why God has allowed us to have to live through such tragic days. So please pray for us that, rather than focus on our problems, these momentary afflictions will cause us to look forward to the day when our faith will become sight. May the words of this hymn be our watch word:
I’ve found a Friend, O such a Friend!
All pow’r to him is given,
To guard me on my onward course,
And bring me safe to heaven:
Eternal glory gleams afar,
To nerve my faint endeavor:
So now to watch, to work, to war;
And then to rest for ever.