Nigeria election special: Insecurity on the eve of polls
Boko Haram splinter group ISWAP has been stockpiling weapons ahead of the vote
This Saturday, as Nigerians troop to the polls to vote in what is the sixth general elections in the twenty years since the return of democracy, parts of the country still remain in disarray. Four of the six geopolitical zones have lingering issues of insecurity, but nowhere is the situation more dire than in the North East, where an insurgency mounted by Boko Haram has been ongoing since 2009, and a deadlier faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), has emerged.
Who is ISWAP?
- ISWAP was formed in 2016, after an ideological split between Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al Barnawi, a son of Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf.
- The group’s rapid rise foreshadows the next chapter for the Islamic State, according to formal risk assessment by US intelligence chiefs last week, reported by the Wall Street Journal.
- Said to be more bloodthirsty and “passionate” than Boko Haram. Through its links with the Islamic State it is receiving weapons from Libya, and tactical advice from Syria to focus its attacks on security forces and non-governmental organisations.
- ISWAP holds sway over a territory spanning around 160km in Borno and Yobe states, according to residents who spoke to journalists. The Nigerian military refutes these claims.
ISWAP’s passion could translate into bad news for the most important election in sub-Saharan Africa this year. And the facts stack up in its favour.
- ISWAP claimed responsibility for an attack on an election convoy in Borno State on Tuesday. Via their Amaq news agency the rebels claimed they killed 42 people in the ambush of State governor Kashim Shettima’s motorcade on its way to a rally. Official sources told Reuters between three and 10 people were killed.
- The group’s 5,000-strong force has been attacking military bases, including one in Baga in December, and stockpiling weapons ahead of election day.
- Ahmad Salkida, a journalist who has covered the crisis since it began and acted as mediator between Boko Haram and the government, points to ISWAP as the reason for the recent spate of direct attacks on military formations over the last year. “#ISWAP in Al-Naba news confirmed that it carried out attacks on a military base in Metele, on 18th and a second one on 19th/20th, when the military went to collect the fallen comrades. In all, the terror group claimed to have killed 100 soldiers,” he tweeted in November.
- In February 2018, ISWAP kidnapped 110 schoolgirls in the town of Dapchi, 275km away from Chibok where Boko Haram had abducted more than double that number of young girls four years ago.
- Before and after the fall of the IS in the Middle East, trained fighters from that region, as well as Libya, Chad and Niger, have swelled the ranks of ISWAP.
Recruitment to ISWAP is ongoing:
- With unemployment/under-unemployment figures rising up cumulatively to 42% according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), ISWAP will do less to convince more.
- Salkida also tweeted that ISWAP is getting lots of applications from both Nigerian youths and their Francophone neighbours. “The pace of recruitment today, is almost similar to 2013/14. Today, there is a competition to join Jihadi herd between Nigerians and Francophone youths.”
Last April, President Muhammad Buhari approved the release of $1bn from the excess crude account for the procurement of security equipment to fight insecurity in the country, but the effect has been minimal. In 2015, the elections were postponed by a few weeks after security chiefs claimed they had received “unfavourable security reports” related to the insurgency interrupting the elections.