Bandits on the Loose.

Protesters in Northern Nigeria following the kidnapping of schoolboys in Katsina (Al Jazeera)

What’s the Chop?

In the span of just two weeks, two major tragic events in Northern Nigeria have been making headlines — the beheading of over 70 farmers in Borno on the 29th of November; and the kidnapping of almost 600 boys from their secondary school in Katsina state on the 11th of December.

What’s going on?

Northern Nigeria has struggled with insecurity for many years now which has caused a huge strain on the welfare of our nation and its citizens for a long time now. Over the past 10 years alone, about 39,688 people have been killed and approximately 2.1 million more have been displaced by conflict in Northern Nigeria. Today, up to 7 million Nigerians are reported to be in need of humanitarian assistance because of this ongoing conflict. Boko Haram is the main group that most of this insecurity is associated with, but beyond them, there has also been a brewing farmer-herder conflict, evolving into recurring cases of banditry.

How did things get this bad?

It’s a complex set of stories really. For starters, take Boko Haram: The group was founded in 2002, and when it was first formed, its actions were completely non-violent and solely focused on introducing conservative islamic practices to the religion. However, things took a brutal turn in 2009 after clashes with security operatives led to the death of their then leader, Muhammed Yusuf. This escalated into a movement to overthrow the government. Needless to say, it has been downhill from there.

The group has since carried out different devastating attacks on citizens in the North which they never shy from taking full credit for: including the kidnapping over 200 girls from Chibok (if you recall the famous #BringBackOurGirls campaign); the bombing of the UN office in Abuja; killings of health and aid workers; and their most recent — the beheadings of farmers in Borno state.

And what about the farmer-herder conflict?

Nomadic herders and farming communities have been at loggerheads for a while now, and their tension is largely attributed to disagreements over land and water use. The land in the North is getting increasingly drier, and as a result, herders keep moving south in search of pasture, which brings them into clashes with farmers.

Since 1999, when the farmer-herder conflict first started, over 19,000 people have died, and it reached a devastating climax in 2018 when over 2,000 people were killed. The farmer-herder conflict has now morphed into widespread banditry with ransom kidnappings and attacks on farming communities.

I don’t get it. What’s the difference?

The lines are a bit blurred, to be honest. Over time, various groups have become more brazen, especially as the government response has been weak, and herders have realised they can earn more from kidnappings, and in some cases, using brute force to make farmers pay to access their farms. ‘Bandits’ is a blanket term used to refer to violent herdsmen, armed vigilante groups, and fleeing islamic terrorists from the North East who operate mostly in Nigeria’s North West states on bikes out of forest reserves. These bandits are not grouped under an ideology nor have they pledged allegiance to any singular group. Still, the havoc they have wreaked has been detrimental — they are alleged to be responsible for over 400 deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

What is the government doing about all of this?

The military has been fighting the Boko Haram insurgency for 10 years and carrying out internal security operations, but it’s not entirely clear what or how much headway has been made, as reports of insurgent-led crises remain constant year on year. With the recent schoolboys’ kidnapping top-of-mind, current security efforts are focused on the safe return of the boys, as over 300 are still missing. The military is on-the-ground in the region and the government is negotiating to have them released; in the meantime, schools are being closed by various state governments across a bunch of Northern states.

Your Takeaway.

While it may seem as though unstable Northern Nigeria is now pretty much the status quo now — especially with the general desensitisation of other regions to the bombings, kidnappings, mass murders, and so on — this certainly doesn’t bode well for the rest of the country or the wider continent, as the various conflicts are bound to spill over into neighbouring states, and across international borders. Plus, with most of Nigeria’s food being produced in the North, a possible food crisis also looms as the insurgency rages on. Summary: it’s a ticking time bomb.

What can I do?

There’s no clear cut solution — this crisis runs deep, and to a large degree, any sustainable solution may require military and/or government intervention. However, you can start by using the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys to raise awareness and follow news about the recent kidnapping. Plus, you can also join in on the calls for the sack of the service chiefs.




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