Nigeria is one of the world’s most attractive emerging markets. The regional hegemon is buoyed by demographic momentum, abundant natural resources, and a world-renowned entrepreneurial spirit. This tremendous potential is offset by a myriad of security issues that can often seem insurmountable to businesses. Nigeria has long been bathed in red ink, indicating higher risk on our annual RiskMap rating. A persistent Boko Haram insurgency, violence in the restive Middle Belt and militancy in the oil-producing Niger Delta has deterred investors wary of the perceived risks and costs of doing business.

Control Risks urges for a more nuanced perspective. Nigeria’s security dynamics are highly localised, giving the opportunity for businesses who really understand the threat environment to operate safely and cost efficiently. A national security risk management strategy simply will not suffice: any security strategy and execution should be driven by local dynamics, underpinned by contextual understanding of the wider environment. 

Given our local presence and capability we have identified two pressing issues: the latest evolution of Boko Haram, and financially-motivated crime targeting business travellers.

Boko Haram divided in the north-east

In 2014, an area of land roughly the size of Bangladesh was under the control of the proscribed terrorist organisation Boko Haram. Subsequent military operations have been largely successful in pushing the group back to the fringes of Borno state. However, the group continues to pose a credible threat beyond its traditional stronghold in Borno, launching attacks in Yobe and Adamawa states as well as across land borders into Niger, Chad and Cameroon. For example, Boko Haram kidnapped three individuals and injured several in an attack on a village in Adamawa on 2 March. The group also killed ten Nigerien soldiers in an attack on 2 July, and on 17 June two young girls killed three people in suicide bombings in Cameroon. 

Today Boko Haram is far from a unified group, complicating counter-terrorism efforts. Beset by internal divisions it operates as two factions with very different ideologies and methods. These opposing factions are led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who controls the northern part of Borno state and the Lake Chad region, and Abubakar Shekau, whose faction controls the south of Borno state. 

Barnawi is linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and has pursued a more tactical and coordinated approach. Through renouncing criminality and condemning attacks on the local population, his popularity is growing. He has also allowed NGOs and humanitarian organisations to operate within the territory his faction controls in what is likely to be an attempt to garner support at grassroots level. However, Barnawi’s contingent of well-armed and well-trained fighters continues to conduct kidnappings-for-ransom and persistently target the government, police convoys and military installations. The Barnawi-led faction on 30 August attacked a military base in Borno state killing at least 46 soldiers and two officers, making it the latest in a string of assaults on military bases in north-east Nigeria. Shekau’s group have adopted differing tactics, waging an indiscriminate campaign of violence targeting the local population, NGOs and other ‘soft’ targets such as markets, mosques and refugee camps. 

Accurate intelligence reporting and live threat monitoring is key to any security plan given the sporadic nature of attacks and wide range of targeting from the respective factions. Organisations should establish the capability to acquire, analyse and distribute threat information in real time to their stakeholders and be prepared to take remedial actions, such as changing route plans. Reliably informed with credible threat information, and – crucially – the means to make quick decisions based on it, organisations are now able to operate safely in parts of the north-east that were considered off limits until very recently.  

Financially motivated crime: urban hubs and rural peripheries

The increase in humanitarian workers in north-east Nigeria and Maiduguri combined with a general environment of insecurity provides a driver for criminality in this region. We have recorded an increase in petty crime in Maiduguri, for example NGO compounds being targeted by criminals. More generally, financially motivated crime remains a pervasive issue across Nigeria, especially in urban areas. Control Risks’ records show that crime levels in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt have been high but stable in recent years. However, financially motivated crime is likely to become more common as the 2018 elections draw nearer. These cities are densely populated, with high levels of inequality driving opportunistic targeting. 

Many business travellers, often high profile by virtue of their appearance and lack of local familiarity, stand out and are perceived as easy targets. Smash-and-grab attacks by petty criminals during Nigeria’s infamous ‘go-slow’ traffic congestion remain prevalent and incidents can escalate quickly into car-jackings or kidnaps-for-ransom.  

These issues are not confined to Nigeria’s bustling metropolises – economic hardship also drives crime in rural north-western states such as Kaduna, Zamfara and Sokoto. While the wealth profiling and motivation of the perpetrators has much in common, the tactics used are very different. Here many incidents occur along major roads where criminal actors conduct rapid, unpredictable and often very violent attacks. Showing no fear to directly engage potential security forces, and a relative disregard for any post-incident recourse, these attacks have often resulted in fatalities and high-profile abductions, such as the attack on a mining site in Kaduna state on 28 April, which killed 14 and injured 30 others. 

The discrepancies between threat actors necessitate differing mitigation measures. In many urban areas a ‘high-profile’ approach, utilising police escorts, has proven effective at deterring would-be attackers who wish to avoid directly confronting security forces. In rural locations, where attackers are more brazen and aggressive, a more robust approach is required, likely including active threat monitoring, atmospherics checks and a proven crisis response mechanism, in addition to an effective armed deterrent.   

As Nigeria moves towards the inevitable turbulence of the 2019 elections, these patterns of insecurity, driven by complex threat drivers, will continue. However, the localised nature of these threats creates an opportunity for businesses to refine and adapt their traditional approaches to security management, ensuring solutions are right-sized, cost effective, and commensurate with the threat posed. 



  • Mikolaj Judson, Analyst

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