Conflict – Issues and actors

A militant Fulani minority has been blamed for brutal attacks on southern villages. (CSI)
A militant Fulani minority has been blamed for brutal attacks on southern villages. (CSI)

Deaths from terrorism in Nigeria rose to 2,040 in 2018, a 33 per cent increase over the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Violence between Nigerian herders and farmers intensified in early 2018 with approximately 300,000 people fleeing their homes. Land rights are at the root of the conflict, with farmers accusing Fulani nomadic herders of destroying their crops as they drive their cattle across cultivated land. In a bid to ease tensions, two southern states, Benue and Taraba, introduced a ban on cattle grazing in November 2017. As a result there was an exodus of herders into neighbouring states, sparking clashes with farmers there. The new conflict comes on the heels of an Islamic insurgency by the Boko Haram group begun in 2009 and its violent suppression by government forces. In its 2022 report, the Global Terrorism Index referred to another jihadist group, Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP), as the country's deadliest terrorist group.  1.)


Boko Haram

The Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad, more commonly known as Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is sinful”, is a Nigeria-based Sunni jihadist militant organisation. Since 2009 and the death in police custody of its founder Mohammed Yusuf Boko Haram has carried out many acts of violence, kidnappings and bombings. More than 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed in northeastern Nigeria since the insurgency began, while nearly two million others have been driven from their homes. In 2014 the group captured control of swathes of territory and declared an Islamic state; it frequently attacks churches and mosques. Targeted by the Multinational Joint Task Force which includes forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, Boko Haram  lost ground as a result of military defeats and has become factionalised. But in recent months it has intensified attacks on military bases in Borno and nearby Yobe state, undermining claims by the military that they have the upper hand.


A Muslim tribe believed to be the largest semi-nomadic group in the world, the Fulani are found across West and Central Africa. In Nigeria, some continue to live as semi-nomadic herders, while others have moved to cities. The pastoralists herd their animals across vast tracts of land. The Boko Haram insurgency and increasing desertification have forced herders to leave their traditional grazing lands in the north and move south into traditionally Christian farming areas in search of grazing land and water. A militant minority of heavily armed Fulani have carried out a wave of brutal attacks on Christian communities in the central belt where churches and homes have been destroyed, and locals killed or forced to flee. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019 reported a "substantial escalation of violence by Fulani extremists". Such attacks have fuelled the belief that the Islamic militants are intent on the genocide of the Christian population. According to Amnesty International, 


At least 3,641 people were killed in attacks and reprisal attacks involving farmers and Fulani herders between January 2016 and October 2018, 57 percent of them (2,075)  in 2018 alone. 2)

The GTI 2020 reported a sharp decline in terrorism deaths "driven by a significant reduction in violence attributed to Fulani extremists". 3.)



Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)

A faction of Boko Haram that has pledged allegiance to terror group ISIS, ISWAP is active in the Lake Chad region. It was responsible for the kidnappings of 110 schoolgirls in the northern town of Dapchi, Yobe State, in February 2018. The following month it abducted two International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid workers, who it later killed. On 23 February 2019, ISWAP claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Maiduguri, Borno State, just hours before voting began in the country's presidential and parliamentary election. ISWAP has been responsible for most of the recent major attacks in northeastern Nigeria. 4)  ISWAP usually targets the military and other security targets. But it has also targeted aid workers and other civilians in 2019 and 2020, including by carrying out abductions and unlawful killings .5.)