How Are Terrorists In Nigeria Funding Their Violent Campaigns?

  • Money makes the world go round. But in the hands of terrorists, it has ruined millions of lives. How are they getting so much of it to sustain their operations?

Nigeria has been in a long-drawn battle with violent terror organisations for over a decade. These groups break up, expand, contract, and form new alliances as their strength either intensifies or wanes. Whatever happens, they have remained a threat to the safety of lives and property, and one key reason is their access to funding. 

In 2009, the country only had to deal with Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram, which had established a base in the Northeast and became more vicious following the founder’s death. 

Now, there are other jihadi extremism groups, such as Ansaru and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which have gradually made inroads into other parts of Nigeria. There is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in southeastern Nigeria, which launched a militia in 2020. There are also unyielding terror groups in the Northwest and North-central regions, known locally as bandits and identified by the authorities as ‘Yan Bindiga (gunmen) and ‘Yan Ta’adda (terrorists).

Because of how widespread these groups are and other kinds of unrest, the bulk of Nigeria’s military personnel is deployed across all of its 36 states.

Recognising that it needs to cut terror organisations’ financial lifelines as part of counterterrorism efforts, Nigeria passed the Terrorism Prevention Act, which outlaws financing acts of terrorism. The law, initially passed in 2011, was updated this year with attention paid to the problem of financing.

Despite existing laws, terror groups scattered all over the country continue to oil their engines of violence with money from various sources. So, how are they getting this access? Some answers are in the latest National Inherent Risk Assessment of Terrorist Financing report published by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

Some of the sources identified are wide and varied. There are donations from followers and sympathisers who operate in the legitimate part of society, the proceeds of paid ransoms, and money from involvement in arms trade. Criminality contributes, with terrorist groups getting involved in car snatching, cattle rustling, and human and drug trafficking. Money also comes from supporters who make their livelihoods in the “grey economy”, like artisanal mining, begging, market control, and unofficial land leases. Terror groups leverage their reputation for violence with extortion rackets and protection levies. 

The report noted that the money spent by terror groups flows through banks, Point of Sale (POS) operators, money changers (bureau de change), gold dealers, car dealers, and lottery companies. They are also known to transport cash using trusted couriers. Moving funds between countries is made easier because of Nigeria’s porous borders as well as ongoing conflicts in neighbouring Sahel countries.


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