Terrorism rebounds in Nigeria

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Nigeria recorded its first increase in terrorism in three years in 2023, with total deaths rising by 34% to 524, marking Nigeria’s highest death toll since 2020, driven by a surge in conflict between Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) and Boko Haram.

This is according to the latest Global Terrorism Index 2024 published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP). The Institute found that if the conflict between ISWA and Boko Haram last year was excluded from its data, terrorism deaths would have declined by 18% in Nigeria last year.

Civilians were the most targeted group for the second consecutive year in 2023, followed by military personnel. Civilians were targeted in over a quarter of all attacks, followed by military personnel at 21% and law enforcement also at 21%.

The IEP found ISWA has been Nigeria’s deadliest terrorist group for each of the past four years. It accounted for 53% of the nation’s terrorism-related fatalities and 37% of terrorist incidents in 2023. Even though the number of ISWA terrorist attacks decreased slightly in the past year, the death toll rose by 27% to 276 deaths, the highest amount in the past three years.

On average, ISWA attacks became deadlier in 2023, causing 5.2 fatalities per attack, an increase from of 3.6 in 2022. The conflict between ISWA and Boko Haram intensified in 2023, with ISWA attacks resulting in the death of 167 Boko Haram militants, the most since the two groups split in 2016.

Boko Haram recorded its deadliest year since 2020, with 29 attacks leading to 151 deaths, a significant rise from the nine attacks and 72 deaths recorded in the previous year. The majority of Boko Haram’s attacks targeted civilians, but almost a quarter of their fatalities occurred during confrontations with ISWA.

“The conflict between Boko Haram and ISWA has resulted in a significant escalation in terrorism in Borno State, which experienced an increase of 63% in terrorism deaths compared with the prior year. Attacks in the state also increased from 48 to 73 respectively, an increase of 52%. The deadliest terror attack of the year occurred in Borno State, when 60 terrorists were killed in a battle between ISWA and Boko Haram gunmen in August. Boko Haram reportedly lost more fighters than ISWA in the attack,” the IEP reported.

The death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May 2021 has intensified conflicts between jihadist factions, the GTI stated. Although ISWA remains the more dominant group, Boko Haram persists as a strong, albeit weakened, adversary. “Regional observers have noted that government and security forces must focus on sustained peace initiatives in Borno State, allocate adequate resources to defector rehabilitation programs, and enhance services in rural areas to weaken recruitment efforts.”