Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He now works for a leading airline in Nigeria. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.

Title:  An Assessment of Nigeria’s Security Situation in 2021

Date Originally Written:  January 8, 2022.

Date Originally Published:  January 24, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View: The open-source data on Nigeria’s security-related casualties indicates that insecurity remains a persistent threat in the country. The high number of deaths recorded between October 2020 and September 2021 shows that the nation is at war with itself.

Summary:  Quantitative definitions of armed conflicts relies on measuring casualties over time to determine violence intensity. One of the most popular and influential approaches was developed by David Singer and Melvin Small in the framework of the ‘Correlates of War (COW)’ project at Michigan University. This defines war as an armed conflict where at least 1,000 combatants are killed annually. By this definition, it is indisputable that Nigeria is at war on multiple fronts.

Text:  The recent analysis of combatant casualties compiled by SBM Intelligence paints a grim picture of Nigeria’s security situation[1]. SBM’s report, compiled using open-source data, was summarised with an infographic that listed the number of dead personnel belonging to various security agencies of the Nigerian state and armed groups all over the country. It covers the calendar year period from Q4 2020 to Q3 2021. The findings are summarized in the table below:

SBM’s report correlates with data collected by the Council on Foreign Relations and analysed by HumAngle Media[2][3]. Between January 1 and December 27, 2021, 10,398 persons were killed across Nigeria. This count includes 4,835 civilians, 1,760 Boko Haram members, 890 security personnel, 107 robbers and 92 kidnappers. This count makes 2021 the deadliest year for Nigeria since 2015 when 12, 795 people were killed. The data also indicates that 5,287 people were kidnapped in 2021, almost double the number abducted in 2020.

The Nigerian government is unwilling to disclose accurate personnel losses, especially in areas of major combat operations[4]. This unwillingness has led to the arrest of members of the press[5][6] aside from other punitive measures[7]. There have also been calls on the Nigerian media to tone down their reporting on security matters regardless of the accuracy of such reports[8]. These efforts to stifle frank security discussions aren’t isolated to the military as other law enforcement and security personnel, and violent non-state actors, have violated the rights of journalists carrying out their constitutionally protected duties[9][10][11][12][13][14]. When coupled with the tyranny of landmass and geography, it is safe to conclude that Nigeria’s conflict tolls are underreported.

The casualty statistics tell a tale of a country that has failed to pull itself together after 61 years of independence. They also make clear the inability of the state to exercise its authority over every part of its domain. The availability of ungoverned spaces, coupled with a proliferation of illicit arms[15], have created no man’s lands in various portions of the country where bad actors can dominate and wreak havoc. Political maladministration means that socioeconomic issues are left to fester until they cause violence. Corruption and mismanagement in law enforcement and security agencies mean that these organisations are unable to fulfill their mandates as laid out in the law[16][17][18][19][20].

One feature of governance and security operations in Nigeria is that low-level violence is usually ignored when civil authority and social interventions might still prove useful. Often, the complete breakdown of law and order is reached, necessitating the deployment of the armed forces. The high number of casualties in the military points to the intensity of internal military operations. Despite the proliferation of security services across the country, they have failed to step up and contribute extensively to safeguarding the nation. That airstrikes have been needed to lead attacks on various bandit camps shows how entrenched these non-state actors have become, and the weakness of the ground forces that need to establish a persistent presence and deny them spaces to regroup[21].

Attacks on police stations and checkpoints have become a feature of the secession agitation in the South East and South-South of the country[22]. This inability to protect themselves shows inadequacies in the current policing structure of the country. The aftermath of the Lekki Tollgate Massacre, and continued police brutality, will hamper efforts to build stable relationships between the police and the communities they are supposed to protect. The recent rejection by President Muhammadu Buhari of the devolution of armed police institutions to the various states shows that the deep institutional reforms needed will face significant hurdles[23]. The rejection also ignores the various security arrangements already established across the country including Amotekun, Yan Sakai, Onyabo, Ebube Agu and the Civilian Joint Task Force. Any conversation about addressing the lingering security problems without a thoughtful examination of the problems of policing a country with the size and population of Nigeria will fail.

As general elections approach, Nigeria’s history of political violence, and the focus on the gaining and retaining of political office, means that security issues might be exacerbated by armed groups pledging allegiance and receiving protection from political contestants[24]. However, as a group that derives legitimacy from the conduct of elections, it is hoped that politicians will not allow violent events to disrupt actual election days.

Apart from dealing with security issues, society must identify and deal with the real issues underwriting them. Punishing bad actors, protecting communities, strengthening early warning systems, providing economic opportunities, and investing in physical, social and human infrastructure will go a long way in calming the polity and bringing an end to this current era of open conflict in Nigeria.


[1] SBM Intelligence. (2021, December 16). Chart of the Week: Nigeria at War. Retrieved December 28, 2021 from https://www.sbmintel.com/2021/12/chart-of-the-week-nigeria-at-war/

[2] Campbell J. Nigeria Security Tracker. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483 

[3] Adebanjo, K. (2022, January 4). Insecurity: Nearly 10,400 Killed In Nigeria In 2021, Worst Toll In 6 Years. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://humanglemedia.com/insecurity-nearly-10400-killed-in-nigeria-in-2021-worst-toll-in-6-years/ 

[4] Channel TV. (2018, November 27). ICYMI: All Over The World, The Military Rarely Discloses Figures Of Its Casualties – Adesina. Retrieved January 2, 2022 from https://www.channelstv.com/2018/11/27/all-over-the-world-the-military-rarely-discloses-figures-of-its-casualties-adesina/  

[5] Africanews. (2016, September 6). Nigeria Army Arrest Journalist with links to Boko Haram. Retrieved January 4, 2022 from https://www.africanews.com/2016/09/06/nigerian-army-arrests-journalist-with-links-to-boko-haram//

[6] Haruna, A. (2020, January 31). Nigerian soldiers arrest journalist ‘over Boko Haram report’. Retrieved January 4, 2022 from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/375256-nigerian-soldiers-arrest-journalist-over-boko-haram-report.htmlz

[7] Fatunmole, M (2021, April 3). Insurgency: Nigerian Army punishes journalist for asking questions on arms procurement. Retrieved January 4, 2022 from https://www.icirnigeria.org/insurgency-nigerian-army-punishes-journalist-for-asking-questions-on-arms-procurement/

[8] Onyedika-Ugoeze, M. (2021, October 26). Editors, security agencies, others chart ways to resolving rising spate of insecurity. Retrieved January 4, 2022 from https://guardian.ng/features/media/editors-security-agencies-others-chart-ways-to-resolving-rising-spate-of-insecurity/

[9] Akinpelu, Y. (2021, November 26). Nigerian journalist assaulted by Lagos task force for filming harassment of motorists. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/497543-nigerian-journalist-assaulted-by-lagos-task-force-for-filming-harassment-of-motorists.html 

[10] Adediran, I. (2020, September 10). How Nigeria police attacked, arrested journalists for covering protest. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/413685-how-nigeria-police-attacked-arrested-journalists-for-covering-protest.html 

[11] Okeoma, C. (2021, December, 7). NSCDC operatives brutalise PUNCH reporter, tag him ESN spy. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://punchng.com/nscdc-operatives-brutalise-punch-reporter-tag-him-esn-spy/ 

[12] Ekeanyanwu, O. (2016, February 23). Court to hear suit on ‘assault’ of journalist by customs. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.thecable.ng/suit-assault-journalist-customs-gets-hearing-date 

[13] Amnesty International (2019, October 14). Nigeria: Endangered voices: Attack on freedom of expression in Nigeria. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr44/9504/2019/en/ 

[14] International Press Center. Baseline Audit On State Of Safety Of Journalists In Nigeria. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/jsi_report_for_nigeria_ipdc_project_0.pdf 

[15] SBM Intelligence. (2021, February 22). Small arms, mass atrocities and migration in Nigeria. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.sbmintel.com/2021/02/small-arms-mass-atrocities-and-migration-in-nigeria/ 

[16] Ayeni, D. (2021, August 7).  EXCLUSIVE: Egbunike, Head of Abba Kyari Probe Panel, Joined Others to Approve N1bn for Fake Police Camp Projects. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://fij.ng/article/exclusive-egbunike-head-of-abba-kyari-probe-panel-joined-others-to-approve-n1bn-for-fake-police-camp-projects/ 

[17] Orizu, U (2022, January 3). 2019 Audit Report: 178,459 Firearms, Ammunition Missing from Police Armoury. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/01/03/2019-audit-report-178459-firearms-ammunition-missing-from-police-armoury/ 

[18] Campbell, J. (2019, April 4). Former Director General of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency Arrested. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://www.cfr.org/blog/former-director-general-nigerias-national-intelligence-agency-arrested 

[19] Adepegba, A. (2021, December 24). Ex-NSCDC commandant forfeits 60 buildings, land to FG over corruption. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://punchng.com/ex-nscdc-commandant-forfeits-60-buildings-land-to-fg-over-corruption/ 

[20] News Agency of Nigeria. (2021, October 11). NSCDC boss dismisses fraud, corruption allegations. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://guardian.ng/news/nscdc-boss-dismisses-fraud-corruption-allegations/ 

[21] National Mail Online. Released Captives Reveal: Bandits Reeling Under Military Airstrike, Logistic Blockade. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://nationalmailonline.com/released-captives-reveal-bandits-reeling-under-military-airstrikelogistic-blockade/ 

[22] Adepegba, A. (2021, May 20). 127 South-South, South-East cops killed, 25 stations razed – Report. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://punchng.com/127-ssouth-seast-cops-killed-25-stations-razed-report/ 

[23] Ogundele, B. and Mordi, R. (2022, January 6). Insecurity: Buhari rejects state police. Retrieved January 7, 2022 from https://thenationonlineng.net/insecurity-buhari-rejects-state-police/ 

[24] Ibok, A.K. and Ogar, O.A. (2019, October 16). Political Violence in Nigeria and Its Implication for National Development. Retrieved January 8, 2022 from https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3491888