Hezbollah in Nigeria – A Potential Problem

Hezbollah in Nigeria

by Chris Martin

In February 2018, I met with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to discuss irregular warfare concerns, more specifically, the intrusive and merciless groups that are currently destabilizing Nigeria. Boko Haram is located in the North East, the Fulani Herdsmen in the middle belt states, and the Niger Delta Avengers [1] are situated in the south. Another emerging threat group is the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) – a Shiite Muslim organization. A developing situation surrounds the future employment by Iran of Hezbollah in Nigeria (or perhaps present employment). My concerns surround the possibility of the Hezbollah providing training to the Nigerian Shiites; resulting in more devastation to the country. Should this occur, it is my estimation that the security situation will be alarmingly more serious to Nigeria than the havoc of Boko Haram. Further substantiating my concerns, it was recently reported in the Daily Nigerian [2] and Amebo Nation [3] that the Hezbollah are training select Shiite Muslims in Lebanon and Hezbollah wants to expand its operations in Nigeria and West Africa. The introduction of Hebollah in Nigeria has some serious security implications for Nigeria’s stability.

Leadership of the Shiite Movement

As is the case with many religions, Islam cannot be declared monolithic. Numerous traditional branches of Islam exist. For example, the Sunni Muslims are the majority Islamic faction in Nigeria. The Shiite Muslims are the minority. Many of the Shia in Nigeria are currently under the aggressive leadership of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who is the primary cleric leading the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). Zakzaky established this religious society in the late 1970s during the time of the Iranian revolution was led by the influential religious and political leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.  In the subsequent decades, discontent between the opposing religious groups in Nigeria has escalated. In addition, Zakzaky’s promotion of pro-Palestinian idealism was characterized by the Nigerian military as rebellious and threatening. [4]

It has been reported in the Nigerian media, that the Nigerian military targeted Zakzaky during the 2014 Zaria Quds procession and in a raid of his home in December 2015. In 2015 Zakzaky and his wife, both suffered seriously bodily harm, and three of his sons along with countless followers were massacred. The Nigerian military detained Zakzaky following the 2015 raid. The President of Iran publicly reproached the Nigerian government on their heavy-handed tactics and indicated that he hopes the Nigerian government will release Zakzaky and compensate the Shiite family members for their losses.

Tactics

Grasping the complex intricacies of irregular warfare is a challenging, yet necessary task. Essentially, when opponents clash, a small war ensues but not always along conventional norms. Many factors need to be considered when attempting to understand the tactics of insurgent and violent groups or movements. The history, geographical location, religion, ethnic alignment, and politics of a particular group should be studied when attempting to understand insurgent groups or violent extremist movements. Another consideration is recognizing that the practitioners of irregular warfare (especially insurgents, terrorists, etc.) enjoy several tactical advantages – travelling short distances swiftly on familiar territory, agile mobility due to lack of heavy weapons (artillery), equipment, and supplies, and operating with a reduced amount of technological dependency.

In Nigeria there are several groups using irregular warfare tactics to further their goals and objectives. For instance, in the northeast Boko Haram uses basic guerrilla warfare tactics and weapons including Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED), suicide bombers, kidnappings, attacks on villages, attacks on military/police installations, and the use of propaganda and information operations (IO). The Fulani Herdsmen attack villages and shoot security forces at will in central Nigeria. Niger Delta Avengers attack oil pipelines and, occasionally, attack urban centers like Abuja with IEDs.

Hezbollah in Nigeria

Hezbollah in conjunction with Iran will likely deploy all of the above tactics as well as utilize sniper attacks on police and military. Hezbollah are masters of guerrilla warfare tactics – and can pass on lessons on how to attack police and military leadership in Nigeria. If the Nigerian security forces are powerless against Boko Haram, the Niger Delta Avengers, and the Fulani Herdsmen, how will they counter militant Shiite Muslims (the IMN perhaps)? This is especially troubling given the sophisticated training they are receiving or will likely receive in the future.

U.S. and Israeli Interests at Risk in Nigeria

In the event of a strike on Iran by either Israel or the United States, Iran will certainly retaliate. One retaliation option is with the use of surface to surface missiles against Israel or U.S. targets in the Middle East. Certainly Syria and Hezbollah would be likely allies in such a retaliation (or larger conflict). While this conventional response is an option; so is the use of asymmetrical warfare or irregular warfare. There are U.S. and Israeli citizens located in Nigeria who live and / or work there, including government employees. Many of these citizens (U.S. and Israeli) are ‘soft targets’ frequenting hotels, eateries, and venues in Abuja – Nigeria’s capital city. Hezbollah in Nigeria and Iran (assisting from afar) could use the IMG to conduct attacks on Israeli and US targets and citizens in Nigeria.

Nigerian Security Forces and Hezbollah in Nigeria

The Nigerian Security forces are reactive or ‘right of bang’. They need to be ‘left of bang’ or proactive. The potential of Hezbollah in Nigeria working with the IMN warrants closer monitoring. If the Nigerian government does not want a more serious and deadly problem on their hands, they need to put a halt to this the IMN’s questionable activities immediately. Keeping the leader detained is not the complete answer to the problem; leaders can be replaced. When the Nigerian security forces killed Yousef Mohammed, the founder of Boko Haram, he was replaced with another leader. The new leader of Boko Haram – Shekau – proved to be very brutal and not restrained in the deadly use of force. So taking out the leadership of the IMN is not the fix to the potential problem. The entire group has to be reckoned with and possibly dismantled.

Conclusion

In closing, Nigeria is a powder keg ready to explode. Economic issues, high unemployment rates, people angry with the government of Nigeria, and several insurgent groups in existence all contribute to a serious security situation. If this Shiite Muslim group – the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) – becomes active it will possibly be more deadly than Boko Haram, especially with the possibility of Hezbollah in Nigeria providing advice, training, and assistance. Nigeria with all of its instability has the potential of collapsing into a failed state.

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About the Author: Chris Martin was a Police Officer with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington D.C. He has 25 years of law enforcement experience domestically and internationally. He was assigned to Special Operations Task Force South in Afghanistan, working as a Law Enforcement Advisor for the United States Department of State. He was also a United States Department of Defense Advisor / Law Enforcement Professional (LEP) assigned to ISAF- SOF in Afghanistan. He has worked as a Tactics / Training specialist for Academi Training Center, training Nigerian Security forces on a Department of State Contract. He is the President of Martin Group International LLC, an irregular warfare consulting firm from the Washington D.C. area. He has spent the last 19 months in Nigeria, the last eight in Abuja.

Footnotes:

[1] The Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) is a Nigerian militant group that has been attacking oil-producing facilities. The groups aim is to create a sovereign state in the Niger Delta. Read more in a Wikipedia entry.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niger_Delta_Avengers

[2] “Hezollah gives military training to Nigerian Shiites – MEI report”Daily Nigerian, July 5, 2018.

[3] “Militant Group, Hezbollah gives military training to Nigerian Shiites in Lebanon”Amebo Nation, July 7, 2018.

[4] For a more detailed description of Ibrahim Zakzaky see a Wikipedia webpage.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahim_Zakzaky

Photo: Map image by SOF News, derived from maps of Nigeria from Central Intelligence Agency, July 28, 2018.


 

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