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ISWA ‘forming Jihadist Proto-State’ in Northern Nigeria – Report

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A new study report from the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-Belgium based NGO committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts, says the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram offshoot, is employing its  “growing power and influence to establish a ‘jihadist proto-state’ in northern Nigeria.

It said: “Three years after Boko Haram broke apart [in 2016], one faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province, is forming a proto-state in northern Nigeria.

“The crisis in north-eastern Nigeria is about more than the military balance of power, as underscored by the support ISWAP has won by creating a proto-state providing a measure of governance and services.

“ISWAP poses a particular challenge to the Lake Chad states because it represents more than aggressive fighters, rumbling pickups with mounted guns or proclamations of the caliphate’s rebirth. It is filling a gap left by decades of poor governance and neglect in the region. It has cultivated stronger ties with local residents than Boko Haram ever could by helping recover lost cattle, settling disputes over grazing and fishing rights, fending off rustlers, providing care to expectant mothers in rural areas, and imposing swift if terrible justice upon criminals, sometimes including when they are ISWAP members.

“ISWAP is often cruel and arbitrary, even with civilians whose support it ostensibly seeks to gain. But for now, in the eyes of many locals, what it has to offer is often better than what came before.”

The report also reported how SWAP is “expanding across Africa’s Sahel region as well, where jihadi groups like al-Qaeda have been affiliated with Latin American drug cartels seeking to move narcotics into Europe and beyond.”

Quoting Egypt’s state-run Ahram Online, it said: “The vast Sahel-Sahara region, which spans Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, has become home to such terrorist organizations as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Islamic State group (or Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, ISGS) and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF).

These groups have close and extensive relations inside Libya which have enabled them to obtain material and financial support across Libya’s southern borders, an area that has become one of their preying grounds for abducting migrants, human trafficking and arms smuggling.”

The ICG advised the federal government to “press its military offensive against the jihadists but also try undercutting their appeal by improving governance and public services.”

It added: “If the Lake Chad states hope to dislodge the group and prevent its expansion, they therefore will have to do more than challenge ISWAP in battle. To make inroads, authorities will need to demonstrate that they can fill gaps in governance and service provision in areas of weaker ISWAP influence.”

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