By Kayode Adebiyi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
In its 2023 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) released recently, the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) said terrorist activities in Nigeria had dropped to their lowest since 2011.
The 2023 GTI showed that Nigeria dropped to the eighth most terrorised country globally in 2022, from the sixth position it held in 2021.
According to the report, the decline reflects a general decline in global terrorist activities as deaths from terrorism fell by nine per cent to 6,701 deaths.
It now stands at 38 per cent lower than at its peak in 2015 globally.
IEP said the fall in deaths mirrors a reduction in the number of incidents, with attacks declining by almost 28 per cent from 5,463 in 2021 to 3,955 in 2022.
Ironically, sub-Saharan Africa recorded the largest increase in terrorism deaths in 2022. While Afghanistan remained the country with the highest impact from terrorism, it is followed by Burkina Faso, Somalia and Mali.
Also of concern is the GTI report that the Sahel region of Africa is the area in the world most impacted by terrorism, as it accounts for 43 per cent of global terrorism deaths.
The IEP said its annual GTI reports use data from TerrorismTracker and other sources, which provide event records on terrorist attacks, to arrive at its figures.
It also identified violent conflict as the primary driver of terrorism, with over 88 per cent of attacks and 98 per cent of terrorism deaths in 2022 taking place in countries in conflict.
“All ten countries most impacted by terrorism in 2022 were also involved in armed conflicts. Attacks in countries involved in conflict are seven times deadlier than attacks in peaceful countries,” the report said.
Curiously, the report said most of the terrorist activities occur along borders where government control is weakest. Also, the relationship between conflict and food security was laid bare in the report.
“Significantly, of the 830 million people facing food insecurity globally, 58 per cent live in the 20 countries most affected by terrorism.”
On its list of ‘20 Groups with the Largest Number of Deaths Attributed in 2022’, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram were listed sixth and seventh deadliest groups respectively.
The GTI report attributed 219 deaths, 65 attacks and 118 injuries to ISWAP, while Boko Haram was said to have killed 204 people in 64 attacks, leaving 51 injured.
However, the highlight that made the rounds in the Nigerian media space was the inclusion of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) among the 20 deadliest terror groups in the world.
“In recent years, IPOB has been linked to several attacks, which have been attributed to its paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (IPOB-ESN).
“In 2022, IPOB-ESN was suspected of 40 attacks and 57 deaths. This is an increase from the 26 attacks and 34 deaths attributed to the group in the previous year.
“IPOB has not claimed responsibility for any of these attacks,” the report said.
On Sept. 20, 2017, the Federal Government declared IPOB’s activities as illegal and acts of terrorism.
The Terrorism (Prevention) (Proscription Order) Notice, 2017, had proscribed IPOB and restrained individuals or groups of persons from participating in any activity relating to or involving the group.
“Consequently, the General Public is hereby warned that any person or group of persons participating in any manner whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intensions or otherwise of the said group will be violating the provisions of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 (as amended) and liable to prosecution”, the proscription notice said.
According to a 2020 report published by the Journal of Public and International Affairs, IPOB was an offshoot or splinter group of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
Security experts believe that the activities of ESN, IPOB’s armed wing, were detrimental to the peace and peaceful agitation of the southeastern part of the country.
Former US ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, said in Council on Foreign Relations that the activities of IPOB’s ESN were capable of escalating violence.
“IPOB was saying that ESN forces were merely a “vigilante” group protecting the Igbo… Now Kanu has an organised wing and has the authority to order a cease-fire in a fight with the federal forces.”
With 51 deaths and 16 injuries in 40 attacks, IPOB, along with its Eastern Security Network (ESN) armed wing, was placed in 10th position on the GTI list.
In a twist of events, IEP recanted on the IPOB ranking. In statement it released later on its website it retracted its earlier classification of IPOB as a terrorist group and instead referred to it as a secessionist movement.
“It is important therefore to differentiate between the peaceful activities of the group and its alleged involvement in violent activity.
“We have today updated the Global Terrorism Index 2023 to reflect this necessary clarification,” IEP said.
Dr Fatima Akilu, who pioneered Nigeria’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programme under the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), said Nigeria’s steady decline in terrorist activities is noteworthy.
She, however, warned that the country was not off the hook yet.
She said, with ISWAP which emerged as the deadliest terror group still prominent in the Northeast, non-kinetic security efforts should be intensified.
The forensic psychologist also said that government should invest in the youths, especially in the areas of life skills, opportunities and provision of basic amenities, to stem the tide of radicalisation and extremist ideological counter-culture.
Experts also warn that violent extremism and terrorism have assumed trans-boundary dimensions. Thus, increased terrorist activities in the Sahel region and sub-Sahara Africa should worry Nigeria, as well as other African countries.