US Consular Team Attacked in Anambra Update 1 – Further Details and Analysis

Further to our report dated 17 May 2023, additional details have been made public regarding the attack on a US diplomatic convoy on Tuesday, 16 May 2023 in Anambra State.

Statements by the US Government’s Secretary of State and the Governor of Anambra State, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, and law enforcement personnel provided the following additional information.

Incident Details

  • The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken issued a public statement on the incident in which he revealed the following;
    • The personnel in the convoy comprised of 5 employees of the US Mission to Nigeria and 4 members of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF).
    • At least 4 personnel of the convoy were killed in the attack.
  • The Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, issued a statement condemning the attack and stating that 7 people were killed and burned in the attack. He also claimed that 2 persons had been abducted.  Other details stated that;
    • The journey was an advanced visit in support of a planned mission to a US-funded project on the right bank – Anambra State side – of the river Niger.
    • Although no motive for the attack had yet been identified, there was no indication that the convoy was specifically targeted.
  • The Governor of Anambra State, Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo, issued a statement which stated that;
    • The attack took place along the Atani-Osamala Road in Ogbaru LGA. The location was described as a remote, riverine community.
    • The location was a known criminal hotspot where oil theft and other crime are common. The Governor stated that the sight of police uniforms can sometimes provoke an attack.
  • The Anambra State Police Commissioner, Echeng Echeng, revealed that the personnel in the convoy comprised of 5 male officials of the US Consulate and 4 armed Mobile Police escorted from Lagos. The purpose of the task was to assess the impact of erosion in Ogbaru LGA.
    • When questioned about the mission’s protocols, The Commissioner of Police (CP) Echeng stated that it is not the appropriate time to assign blame regarding whether the officials sought security clearance from the command before their arrival.  He did emphasise that that the US embassy has been helpful, providing the command with necessary information regarding the officials and their mission in Anambra.

Follow Up Action By The Nigerian Government

On 17th May, a joint operation involving NPF tactical teams and Nigerian Army elements was mounted against a criminal hideout in Ogwuaniocha in Ogbara LGA which was suspected of being the base from which the criminals who attacked the convoy were operating.  Two persons were arrested and are in custody assisting security forces personnel in their investigation. The arrested individuals’ telephones are being examined and their phone conversations analysed to gather more information.

Members of the US Mission to Nigeria are working with Nigerian security personnel to gather information as to the whereabouts and condition of those members of the convoy who are as yet unaccounted for.  The US Mission is also working with the Nigerian authorities to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.

Statement By The US State Department

“Unknown assailants yesterday attacked a convoy of two U.S. government vehicles in the Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra state, Nigeria. The convoy was carrying nine Nigerian nationals: five employees of the U.S. Mission to Nigeria and four members of the Nigeria Police Force. They were traveling in advance of a planned visit by U.S. Mission personnel to a U.S.-funded flood response project in Anambra.

We do not yet know the motive for the attack, but we have no indications at this time that it was targeted against our Mission. The assailants killed at least four members of the convoy, and U.S. Mission personnel are working urgently with Nigerian counterparts to ascertain the location and condition of the members of the convoy who are unaccounted for.

We condemn in the strongest terms this attack. We will work closely with our Nigerian law enforcement colleagues in seeking to bring those responsible to justice.

The United States has no greater priority than the safety and security of our personnel. We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the attack, and pledge to do everything possible to safely recover those who remain missing. We deeply value our relationship with our Locally Employed Staff and our partnership with Nigeria.

The United States reaffirms its commitment to the people of Nigeria to assist in the fight against violence and insecurity”.

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State

Statement From The Inspector General of Police

“The Inspector-General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, CFR, has condemned in its totality the callous attack on a United States Consulate convoy and the killing and burning beyond recognition of seven (7) persons including US Embassy local staff and Police Mobile Force Officers, and their vehicles, as well as the likely abduction of two (2) others, at Atani Osamale Road, Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, who were visiting the area to assess its proneness to erosions as part of their humanitarian efforts.

The IGP, while expressing astonishment at the attack, described it as a clear indication of the attackers’ and/or non-state actors’ callousness and an act of wickedness to humanity, most especially to their kinsmen who have been considered to enjoy aids and palliatives from the attacked diplomats. The act is indeed evil and inhuman.

The IGP has ordered an immediate full-scale investigation into the attacks and has charged the investigative team to ensure the culprits and their sponsors are arrested and brought to book at the earliest possible time. Similarly, the IGP warns all non-state actors to cease their nefarious actions as the Nigeria Police Force, in synergy with other security agencies, will not hesitate to clamp down on them and their sponsors to rid the nation of their unpatriotic and disruptive activities.

In the same vein, the Inspector-General of Police, while commiserating with the US Consulate on the brazen murder and abduction of her local staff, and the families of the officers who paid the supreme price, assures that all hands are on deck to ensure the rescue of those abducted. The IGP while expressing the openness of the NPF to working with all foreign presence in the country to ensure the security of their assets and personnel, assures that the Nigeria Police is committed to the safety and security of all and sundry, including visitors and diplomats within the country”.

CSP OLUMUYIWA ADEJOBI, mnipr, mipra,
FORCE PUBLIC RELATIONS OFFICER,
FORCE HEADQUARTERS, ABUJA

17th May 2023

Statement By The Governor of Anambra State

OFFICIAL STATEMENT BY ANAMBRA STATE GOVERNMENT ON THE UNPROVOKED KILLINGS OF UNITED STATES (US) EMBASSY STAFF, OTHERS IN ANAMBRA STATE*

“On behalf of the government and great people of Anambra State, the Governor, Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR, expresses deep condolences to the bereaved families and organisations, particularly the US Embassy, over the death of their staff and policemen who were attacked by gunmen along Atani-Osamala Road, Ogbaru Local Government Area on Tuesday, 16th May 2023 while they were on a mission in Anambra State.

We strongly condemn the heinous and unprovoked attack. Over the last one year, we have worked very hard with our gallant security forces to massively degrade criminality and restore law and order. We can proudly assert that Anambra is currently one of the safest states in Nigeria.

Only two weeks ago, the dreaded and notorious criminal gang leader operating mostly in a neighboring state was gunned down with four of his team members when they made incursion into Anambra and recovered huge deadly weapons. The criminals are largely on the run or feeling the heat of our zero tolerance to criminality.

This incident in a remote riverine community in Ogbaru local government is a reminder that patches of these criminal gangs can still unleash senseless and murderous acts.

Whatever the identity or motive of the attackers, Anambra State government will actively work with the security agencies to smoke out the criminals and bring them to justice.

We call on anyone with information on the identity or whereabouts of the criminals to offer same on our secured security phone numbers or to any of the security agencies and such informant will be handsomely rewarded. Investigations are underway.

We assure our residents and visitors of our continued commitment to law and order. If anything, this incident has emboldened our drive.

As the investigation continues, it is important to highlight an important preliminary takeaway from the facts so far. It is evident from reports by the various security agencies in the state that the visiting team made their own security arrangements and totally bypassed the existing security architecture in the state and the state government was not aware of the “humanitarian mission” of the visiting team. 

In a place like parts of Ogbaru where security forces have been fighting the criminals and oil bunkerers, the sight of few policemen can indeed attract vengeance from the criminal gangs. Correcting such lapses and ensuring better coordination will help prevent such avoidable incidents in the future.

The Government of Anambra State once again, expresses its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims. We reassure the United States Embassy in Nigeria of our unwavering commitment to the safety and security of its officials in our State.

Together, we will prevail over those who seek to disrupt the peace and stability of our society”.

Christian Aburime
Press Secretary to the Governor of Anambra State

Extracts from the Anambra State Police Commissioner’s Statement 

“As you are probably aware, a team of officials from the Lagos Consulate of the United States of America and their police escorts (USA) were ambushed on 16/05/2023.

Consequently, a joint team of Mobile Policemen and troops of the Nigerian Navy stationed in Onitsha was immediately deployed to the area. Upon arrival at the scene of the incident, the joint security team sighted and engaged the assailants in a shot-out, but they escaped through a nearby forest.

Yesterday – 17/05/2023, joint security forces comprising police tactical teams from the command and troops of the Nigerian Army as well as the Nigerian Navy raided a camp in Ogwuaniocha community of Ogbaru LGA, which was suspected to be the hideout of the assailants but discovered that it had been deserted. Two persons of interest were arrested and they currently assisting the police in the investigation. The criminal camp was razed down by the joint security team.”

 

Further Analysis

The project site area where the attack took place is in an area known to harbour organised crime gangs involved in crude oil theft (bunkering) and known camps believed to harbour armed criminal elements.  These facts underline the need for accurate and timely risk intelligence assessments when operating in many parts of Nigeria.

It is also essential to ensure that the circle of knowledge regarding mission plans, routes, timings and security protocols are shared with the appropriate authorities – subject to a full risk assessment and application of the ‘Need To Know’ principle.

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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.

 

Assessment

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. 

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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.

Nigerian Navy to set up Maritime Taskforce

On Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023 the Bulk carrier GREBE BULKER was reportedly attacked by pirates at Owendo Anchorage, Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea. According to the TradeWinds report, 3 crew members were kidnapped, including the Captain, Second and Third Officers. However the other 17 members of the crew were unharmed. The ship had arrived at Owendo Anchorage on Apr 30 from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

There has been a spike in attacks in the Gulf of Guinea in recent weeks including the kidnap of 6 crew members of the Monjasa Reformer as we earlier reported here. It was reported on 8th May that the kidnapped crew had been released.

In response to the recent attacks, the Nigerian Navy said on 15th April that the service would sustain its presence in the Gulf of Guinea region as well as directing its “operational bases” to “enhance efforts to dominate their area of operations”.

On Wednesday, May 10th, the Nigerian Navy disclosed plans to set up a Maritime Task Force with other countries in the Gulf of Guinea in order to boost security and rid the region of criminalities and other emerging threats. The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awaal Gambo, made this known during a press conference on the Nigerian Navy Presidential Fleet Review (PFR) 2023, in Abuja.

The Naval Chief, who was represented by Rear Admiral Saidu Garba, Chief of Policy and Plans, said that the formation of the task force would be discussed on Saturday, 18th May, 2023 during the scheduled activities to mark the Presidential Fleet Review (PFR) which is expected to have heads of Navies and other key stakeholders in attendance. 

“One of the deliverables of that engagement would be a formation of a task force, Once we form it, it would be conducted among the nations across the entire Gulf, in which there is information sharing, joint operations at sea; all these will ensure we create a proper architecture that we will use to fight criminalities in our waters”, he said, while noting that incidents of piracy have crept up in the last few months. He explained that Nigeria would take the lead on this and bring other countries to setup the force, leveraging existing legal instruments such as the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy (2015), and an African Union resolution for the formation of maritime task forces across the regions of Africa. 

The PFR will run from Friday 19th Monday 22nd May 2023 in Lagos. “The PFR involves 16 NN warships, 3 x AW109E Nigerian Navy helicopters and a mix of Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Aircraft,” Garba noted. He said some foreign warships from allied nations including Spain, Brazil and Ghana are also expected to participate in the exercise.

Read more here.

Turkish National Abducted in Abuja

On Wednesday May 3, a 52-year-old Turkish national, Erdogan Guler, and one other yet-to-be-identified man were reportedly abducted by three gunmen in the Kubwa area of Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital territory.

According to a report from the Saturday PUNCH newspaper, the incident happened around 7pm on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, and was reported to the Byazhin Police Division, Abuja.

A police source was reported as saying –  “A furniture maker, Babagana Usman, reported that around 7pm on Wednesday, May 3, three unknown gunmen in a Toyota Prado SUV, whose registration number is yet unknown, abducted his foreign partner, Erdogan Guler, 52-year-old male, who is a Turkish national, alongside one other person whose name and address have yet to be known, at his (Guler’s) premises on Leaner Estate, Brickcity, Kubwa. However, the anti-kidnapping arm of the SCID is investigating the incident and efforts are being made by the police to rescue the victims and arrest the hoodlums.”

No further information on the incident as at the time of this report.

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The Indigenous People of Biafra – The Southeast’s Own Terrorist Group

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.

Conclusions

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.  

 

TERRORISM IN NIGERIA

Introduction

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. 

Overview

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. 

Conclusions

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.

Pirates kidnap Danish vessel’s crew in Gulf of Guinea

A Danish ship – the Monjasa Reformer, was boarded by pirates offshore Congo on Saturday March 25, and later found on Thursday March 30 off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea by the French Navy vessel, Premier Maître L’Her. 

It is believed 5 armed attackers boarded the vessel whilst it was idling roughly 140NM west of Pointe Noire, Congo before hijacking the tanker, with some reports saying they were heading for Nigeria. 

The French naval vessel received a distress message on Thursday evening from Monjasa Reformer having earlier located her using an aerial drone which showed the pirate’s vessel still alongside. The vessel was approximately 90nm south of Bonny, Nigeria and the distress message indicated that 6 crew members had been kidnapped. 

“The rescued crew members are all in good health and safely located in a secure environment and receiving proper attention following these dreadful events,” Monjasa said in a statement. It was later reported 3 of the remaining crew had suffered minor injuries which were treated onboard.

“Our thoughts are with the crew members still missing and their families during this stressful period,” Monjasa said, adding that it was “working closely with the local authorities” to ensure the sailors’ safe return. The owner said there was no reported damage to the vessel or cargo.

The shipowner said the crew had initially notified the company that manages the vessel that pirates had boarded and that the entire crew, believed to number 16, was safe in the tanker’s citadel, “in accordance with the onboard anti-piracy emergency protocol”. It said communications were then lost.

No details have been released on the nationality or rank of the kidnapped crew as at the time of this report. Monjasa Reformer was escorted to Lomé, Togo by the French Navy vessel.

Read more here.

First Maritime Green Corridor to launch in Africa?

For the first time in Africa, a new consortium will explore the options for developing a maritime green corridor for the zero-emission shipping of iron ore between South Africa and Europe. Maritime green corridors are routes between major port hubs where zero-emission solutions are supported and demonstrated. They have become recognised as one of the most important tools to aid industry and governments in the decarbonization of the maritime sector.

The consortium brings together Anglo American, Tata Steel, CMB, VUKA Marine, Freeport Saldanha, and ENGIE, convened by the Global Maritime Forum, to assess how zero-emission shipping could work. The consortium of iron ore miners and shippers, the steel industry, shipowners, freeport operators, and energy suppliers will explore full-scope concepts for the South Africa-EU green corridor development. The work will look at bunkering and offtake arrangements, available green fuel supplies, and financial and business model alternatives.

“CMB is proud to be part of the green corridor initiative between South Africa and Europe. CMB has already built various ship types that run on hydrogen and is building dry bulk vessels powered by ammonia. We hope that our track record in the development of green ships will contribute to the success of the consortium and accelerate the deployment of low-carbon vessels on this important trade route,” said Alexander Saverys, CEO at CMB.

As the International Maritime Organization prepares to revise its strategy for decarbonization at the MEPC 80 meeting to be held in London this July, the consortium’s initiative to explore the development of the green corridor between South Africa and Europe is yet another demonstration that the industry is preparing for a rapid shift to zero-emission shipping that leaves no country behind, said Johannah Christensen, CEO of the Global Maritime Forum.

“We hope this project will lay bare a viable shipping decarbonization pathway towards real-world implementation, generating sustainable growth and business opportunities for South Africa and the region, with synergies for other sectors of the economy”,  he added.

You can read more about it here.

U.S. military conducts first maritime training for West African troops

On Saturday March 11, the U.S. military conducted its first maritime drills with West African troops under its long-running Flintlock programme which is intended to strengthen the ability of key partner nations in the region to counter violent extremist organisations, collaborate across borders, and provide security to its citizens. 

The drill, which was carried out in Ghana’s Volta river, involved a sea-based training exercise and culminated with soldiers storming a beach resort to defuse a staged hostage crisis. High-ranking military officials, diplomats and other stakeholders watched the exercise.

Admiral Milton Sands, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command for Africa (SOCAF), said the programme had expanded to help coastal nations in the region cope with maritime threats such as piracy and illegal fishing. Unauthorised fishing “is a significant one that we’re really trying to work with our partners to get our arms around slowing down,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Around 350 troops took part in the drills including servicemen from Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. The Gulf of Guinea has become a global piracy hotspot in recent years although cases have fallen in the region since 2021, according to the U.N. Security Council.

However, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has spread along West Africa’s coast, sapping an estimated $9.4 billion per year through illicit financial flows, according to a 2022 report by the Financial Transparency Coalition of non-governmental organisations. Of the top 10 companies they found to be involved in IUU fishing in the region, 8 were Chinese and a third of all vessels sported Chinese flags.

Commodore Godwin Livinus Bessing, commander of Ghana’s Naval Training Command, said tackling IUU fishing had become a top priority, citing a lack of resources to deal with the foreign boats stealing from Ghana’s waters.

“They continue to flout our regulations because of our enforcement capabilities,” he said. “That is one of the biggest problems. If we had enough ships out there and they knew we were monitoring the place, we would be able to curb the situation.”

Flintlock has taken place annually since 2005 across the Sahel region of Africa among nations participating in the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership. Last year, Côte d’Ivoire hosted Flintlock 2022, with more than 400 participants from ten nations.

Read more here.

Nigeria Decides – The 2023 Nigerian Elections

The Electoral Process – Successes and Enduring Systemic Challenges

Following the electoral victory of the All Progressive Congress nominee for the presidency on 25 February, observers and critics have continued to discuss the alleged shortcomings in the electoral system.  Widely described as a flawed process, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also wrestled with the same challenges faced during the second round of elections at State level on 18 March. Despite the criticism of the process, it is expected that Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be inaugurated as President on 29 May.  So where will a federal government led by the septuagenarian veteran of Nigerian politics take the country?  Against this background, other observers and analysts identify some encouraging outcomes of the federal elections.  

Perhaps the principal development that could take Nigeria forward as a mature and credible democracy is the emergence of a third force in the political fabric of the country.  The emergence of the Labour Party led by Peter Obi was bolstered by a groundswell of support among the youth, who are desperate for change.  The momentum began in late 2020 when the #ENDSARS movement emerged, showing the power that social media could have in bringing people together to protest for change.  As the Nigerian population surges towards becoming the second most populous democracy within a generation, the emergence of a largely youth supported party could prove critical in the mid to long term.  

The second important factor in these elections is that for the first time since the end of military rule in 1999, no former military general was on the ballot.

Thirdly, the ruling party won only 36 percent of the vote, 20 percent less than in 2019.

Finally, in more than half the states, the winning presidential candidate represented a different party than that of the incumbent governor, demonstrating that incumbency is no longer a guarantee of success at the polls.

Nevertheless, Nigeria and in particular INEC, needs to address an array of shortcomings in the way the election was conducted if the country is to become the democratic benchmark for West Africa.  International and domestic observers reported a number of issues that INEC should address before the next round of elections at the weekend, including:

  • Reports in the months preceding the polls of at least 18 assassinations or assassination attempts on candidates and party leaders.
  • Widespread delays in polling station opening, particularly in opposition voting areas. Conversely, in many ruling party strongholds, there were reports from election observers and civil society organizations, that voting started early, turnout was higher, and results were reported more quickly.
  • At a small number of polling stations voting was not conducted at all.
  • Violent disruptions to the voting process, including attacks on polling stations and tabulation centres.
  • Theft and destruction of ballot boxes. 
  • Questions of manipulation of results in some states. 
  • INEC’s lack of transparency throughout the election.  Challenges with the electronic transfer of results and their upload to a public portal in a timely manner undermined citizen confidence at a crucial moment of the process. Moreover, inadequate communication and lack of clarity by INEC about the cause and extent of these problems created confusion and eroded voters “’trust in the process.”

Observers reported that many voters – even those supporting winning candidates – expressed frustration and disappointment. A major question mark remains over the participation figures.   With almost 94 million registered voters, 10 million of whom were eligible to vote for the first time, fewer than 25 million votes were cast.

One aspect of the challenges facing voters was the currency crisis which was perceived by some to have a political undercurrent.  The shortage of available hard currency impacted on voters’ ability to travel to polling centres, further contributing to voter disenfranchisement and low turnout.

The National Executive Council of AnyiAnyi, an international group of powerful Igbo professionals and experts, led by Anthony Olisa Okolo and Peter Agba Kaluhas, drew attention to the apparent failure of the INEC to gain the trust of the public by conducting free, fair and credible elections.

The group claimed that Igbo people across the country and in Lagos especially have “…been made the scapegoat of widespread rejection of a party and their candidate, leading to the disruption of Igbo businesses, destruction of our people’s shops, properties, and wilful damage and intimidation of voters, leading even to grievous bodily harm.” 

Major Errors of Judgement by the Central Bank?

Nigeria has previously and successfully introduced new banknotes several times since independence in 1960. So what caused the issues this time? 

The CBN announced the introduction of new banknotes in November 2022, with the changeover to new notes scheduled for mid-December.  The transition rapidly disintegrated leaving millions of Nigerians without access to cash, triggering protests and attacks on banks and ATM machine facilities.  

The rollout of the currency change was disastrous. The fallout included:

  • Severe shortages of the new banknotes.
  • Massive decline in business transactions (especially in the informal sector).
  • People queueing for hours at banks and ATM machines.
  • Attacks on bank staff and destruction of bank property, including ATMs that failed to dispense cash.

The policy also led to lawsuits by some state governors against the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Government.

The CBN seemingly failed to carry out a full cost-benefit analysis.  It promoted the benefits of the project without apparently making a serious effort to assess the cost – not least of which was the huge impact on economic activity – especially in the informal economy upon which millions of Nigerians rely for sustenance.

It also failed to adequately inform the general population of the aims and the details of the process for the transition to new bank notes, but also appeared to have not carried along the commercial banks, which were left uncertain as to the procedures for transitioning.  This extends to failing to issue policy guidelines following the Supreme Court ruling that some old bank notes should continue to be legal tender.  This fundamental failure of planning and execution triggered confusion and anger as merchants and businesses continue to reject the old notes, despite the court’s rulings.

The timing of the implementation could hardly have been worse and the timeline for completion of the transition was unrealistic and unsupported by a logical explanation as to why it was so compressed.

The CBN also failed to adequately explain why old and new notes could not coexist.  This has now been enforced by the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Bank to comply and implement their earlier ruling.

Undermining the entire process was an opaque strategy with no clear prioritisation of the aims and objectives.  This led to conflicting priorities and requirements.  

Had the CBN opted for a tandem system of using both sets of notes, it could have withdrawn the old notes over a period and avoided the hardship inflicted on millions of traders and citizens.  The aim of reducing the amount of currency circulating outside the banking system has probably been thoroughly undermined, as Nigerians now do not trust the banks to make their hard-earned cash accessible on demand and by default may be even less likely to deposit their cash.

The policy also completely failed to take into account the fact that the Nigerian economy is currently in a state of crisis, with 22% inflation, 33% unemployment– 43% among young Nigerians – and a growth rate of 3%, interest rates at 17.5%, steep declines in the value of the Naira, and burgeoning poverty.

Speculation and commentary in Nigeria and abroad has alluded to the suspicion that the timing of the changeover was politically inspired to suppress vote buying and electoral fraud.  While that was achieved – to some extent – the election is still subject to allegations of influencing of INEC officials using hard foreign currency.

The net effect was that Nigerians were already suffering unprecedented hardship when the CBN effectively removed their ability to withdraw cash on demand.  To do so during what is perhaps the most heavily contested election in the country’s recent history was reckless and ruined the credibility of the banking system for many Nigerians.

Moving to a Dual Currency System

On 13 March 2023, the CBN announced that it had extended the timeline to withdraw its old currency for redesigned notes.  The old notes of 200 naira (43 U.S. cents), 500 naira ($1.08) and 1,000 naira ($2.16) will now remain legal tender until 31 December 2023, which begs the question as to why this could not have been done in the first instance.  It is perhaps important to note that the Bank announced that this move was taken in order to comply with a directive from the Supreme Court, which ruled on 3rd March 2023 that the program’s failed implementation was in breach of the law.

However, on 14 March, thousands still queued at banks as neither old nor new notes were available in sufficient volume to meet demands.  To date, according to the Lagos-based Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprises, the impact on the Nigerian economy of the failed process is estimated to have cost 20 trillion naira ($43 billion) as a result of the catastrophic impact on trading activities, the stifling of the informal economy and contraction of the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, President Elect Tinubu’s Director of Media and Publicity, Bayo Onanuga, has asked President Buhari to sack CBN Governor Emefiele, arguing that his continued governorship of the bank is in conflict with the suspension of the cashless policy by the Supreme Court.

The State Elections

Elections for governors and state assemblies were postponed by a week allegedly due to pending legal cases in the presidential vote by opposition parties who have filed lawsuits demanding the right to examine ballot papers and voting machines from the 25 February 2023 presidential polls. 

INEC filed a countersuit saying it needed to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems (BVAS) ahead of the gubernatorial elections that had been planned for 11 March.  The Supreme Court directed INEC to upload information in the BVAS onto a secure server for opposition parties to review.  INEC said the ruling came far too late for the commission to adequately prepare for the elections, while the opposition Labour Party (LP) stated that it wanted to “keep close eye and watch what is happening within the INEC and BVAS.”  Amid argument and counterargument, the court has heard allegations of corruption from the LP and a fear that voter confidentiality will be breached if the opposition is granted full access to its Cloud storage system from the INEC.  Both opposition parties threatened to protest if access were denied.

Recent activity and trend analysis showed that electoral violence was most likely to occur in Rivers, Lagos and Kano States.  It is perhaps significant that these three states are the most important economically and also have the three largest urban populations in the country.

As the country prepared for the 18 March round of election in 28 states, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including 28 governorship and 993 assembly seats, expectations were high regarding the performance of INEC.  The Commission did manage to achieve some improvements in the conduct of the polls compared to the earlier Presidential elections, with particular enhancements in the deployment of security officers to the various polling units, more efficient distribution of election materials, and more timely opening of the polling centres.  According to a board member of Yiaga Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu, during the Governorship and State Assembly elections the INEC Result Viewing portal (IReV) functioned optimally and electronic  voter accreditation using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was successfully implemented in a significant number of polling stations.

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room raised concern over attacks being carried out in some parts of the country and noted that there was still a long way to go before the country achieves a truly credible and transparent electoral system.  A well-respected civil society monitoring organisation, Yiaga Africa, stated that its observers had recorded 216 critical incidents, including vote-trading, violence, ballot-snatching and voter-suppression.  The body reported irregular activity in approximately 5% of polling units, including destruction of election materials, arguments and quarrels between party agents, and fighting among party supporters, among others.  Given the country’s election history, irregularities in just one in twenty polling centres is testament to the focus INEC has placed on delivering a credible election.

Other reporting indicates that killings occurred in Benue, Kano, Ebonyi, Cross Rivers, Gombe, and Rivers State, with some of the fatalities recorded resulting from security forces responding to acts of violence and ballot box snatching by political thugs and voter intimidation. Suppression by non-state elements was reported in Lagos, Gombe, Edo, Kano, Enugu, Imo, Bayelsa, and Rivers.  The elections took on an ethnic character in Lagos where some voters claimed they were prevented from voting because of their ethnicity and/or perceived party affiliation.  Similar activity was reported in Sokoto state in the north-west, Kano in the north, and Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta.

Some vote buying is alleged to have occurred in several states and this is supported by reports of party officials being arrested in possession of very large amounts of cash in Lagos and Rivers states.  Party agents were observed in some location asking voters to declare who they had voted for.

Security forces personnel generally performed well during the state gubernatorial and senate elections, with notable successes in Lagos, where a ballot box snatcher was rescued from a lynch mob, and in Imo State where abducted INEC personnel were rescued.  One observer organisation reported that almost all voting centres had at least two security personnel present.  The State saw incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the APC win a solid victory.  Nevertheless, Lagos State experienced some irregularities.  Unconfirmed media reports suggest the security forces responded to 24 calls for assistance in the State between the opening of the polling centres at 08:30 am and 13:30 pm.  The areas of the city affected included Oshodi, Jakande Estate, Ejigbo, Ajao and Oke-Afa.  The resounding victory of Sanwo-Olu, with more than 736,000 votes over the second place Labour Party candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who secured 292,000 votes, raises an interesting discussion about how the APC managed to turn the vote around in a state where the LP voted solidly against the APC and for the LP in the presidential elections.

Despite a generally good performance by security forces personnel in Rivers State, a total of at least 12 people were killed in election related acts of violence, including 3 political thugs in Ogbakiri in the Emohua LGA.  However, voting commenced early in Woji, Rumuomasi, Rumobaikani and Elelenwo in the Obi Akpor LGA.  Low voter turnout reportedly led to the polling centres closing mid-afternoon, potentially disenfranchising some voters who intended to vote later in the day.  Furthermore, reports indicated that voting did not occur in the Asari-Toru, Gokana and Khana LGAs.  In other reports, numerous videos circulated on social media apparently showing ballot box snatching, including at Uniport where a lecturer allegedly led a gang of thugs who stole ballot boxes.

Social media carried numerous reports and videos in which Igbo commentary claimed the Igbo voting areas of Lagos state were subject to harassment and voter suppression.  Given that this also occurred in areas such as Surulere, Oniru and Yaba in the 2019 elections, the reports may well be credible.  

Additionally, unconfirmed reports claimed that security forces arrested a total of 140 political thugs in Enugu State at a hotel in Nsukka and political thugs destroyed ballots in Birnin Ruwa in Zamfara State.

Some states, including Lagos, allowed voting to resume on Sunday, 19 March.

What Next for Nigeria?

The APC retains a slightly diminished, but still solid, majority in the Nigerian Senate and a slim majority in the House of Representatives. The new National Assembly is significantly different in terms of parties represented and individual members to the outgoing legislature.  At least eight parties will be represented. The APC won 57 senatorial seats, the PDP 29, the LP 6, New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) 2 each, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Young Progressive Party (YPP) 1 seat each, according to the breakdown.

While the PDP remains the leading opposition party, Nigeria’s first-past-the-post electoral system has meant that many of the gains by the LP and smaller parties came at its expense: it has lost at least fifteen Senate seats. While the momentum for change was insufficient to overturn the Nigerian political system, it has ensured that numerous long-standing presences in the assembly have come to an end.  The downside to this is that 3 of the 6 sitting female parliamentarians will depart.

Tinubu has pledged to end the fuel subsidy that costs Nigeria some $15 billion annually and use the money “more productively in joint investments with the private sector to create jobs in infrastructure, health care, education and agriculture.” He plans to focus investments in industrialization, technological innovation, improved infrastructure, and agricultural development.  

To achieve this, he will face a wall of vested interests that have defeated such an initiative by every Nigerian president before him.  If he forges ahead with his plan, Nigeria will face further fuel shortages and civil unrest as ordinary Nigerians run out of fuel and businesses are forced to shut down.  

Restoring security will also need to be a top priority. The country faces a mosaic of security challenges, including:

  • Islamist terrorism in the northeast
  • Banditry and criminal gangs in the northwest, 
  • Separatists in the oil-rich southeast,
  • Industrialised theft of oil and condensate by transnational cartels led by powerful Nigerian actors,
  • Herder-farmer conflicts in the middle belt, 
  • Increasing levels of poverty driven violence in cities. 

While Nigerian oil and gas do not have the importance for the United States it once had, events in Nigeria are still of strategic importance in Washington.  Conversely, as the European Union tries to realign its strategic energy relationships away from Russia, the importance of Nigeria, already the source of about 14 percent of EU imports of gas, has increased immeasurably. Furthermore, as Nigeria’s population explodes from its current 216 million to 375 million by 2050, making the country the third most populous in the world after India and China, it will become a regional and continental heavyweight that will increasingly matter to the West.  All of these factors should be major drivers of Tinubu’s new foreign policy.

Whatever he does, Tinubu will have to move fast to address the many challenges that his presidency will face.  Failing to demonstrate to the youth that he is serious about developing the economy and creating opportunities for work and prosperity will likely result in a stronger Labour Party and significant social unrest.  Fuel shortages, poverty, unemployment and insecurity must attract his attention as the key issues to be addressed from day one of his tenure.