…was it the lack of clarity on Nigeria’s philosophy of engagement with terrorists that led to the rise in kidnap incidents? Did ISWAP kidnap Hauwa on the hope of a ransom payoff? Was she detained for seven gruesome months as part of the negotiation strategy? What of the timing of the execution?


On October 15, 2018, Hauwa Mohammed Liman, a humanitarian aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross, was executed by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a faction of the Boko Haram, after seven months in captivity. Hauwa and two of her colleagues, Alice Loksha Ngaddah and Saifura Husseini Ahmed, were abducted from a Nigerian military facility in Rann, Borno State on March 1, 2018. Saifura was executed in September 2018.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, in response to the incident, announced that the government was shocked by the killing. He, however, did not explain why the shock, as Boko Haram is known to kill its abductees. Or is it that the negotiations with the terrorist organisation fell apart?

What is not clear to observers is Nigeria’s policy on negotiating with the terrorists. There are indications that the government had, in the past, paid ransoms for the release of abductees. Indeed, according to a statement by Boko Haram, Hauwa Liman was executed because the government ignored their demands. A recent study by Mellon, Bergen, and Sterman (2017), provides evidence that a lack of an effective and well-coordinated hostage policy contributes to the death of abductees. Ransom payments creates a market for kidnapping, and such payments finance the activities of terrorist groups.

This is the ninth year since the Boko Haram unleashed violence against Nigeria and its neighbours. The group has carried out about 1,639 violent attacks with 14,436 fatalities, 6,051 injured victims, and 2,063 hostages captured in North-East Nigeria. Attacks by Boko Haram have become more sophisticated since it pledge allegiance to Islamic State, a global terror organisation, Notwithstanding, Nigeria’s military forces have continued to push back their aggression, resulting in some sort of stalemate, in which the terrorists do not hold any territory, but the former has not completely obliterated their threat. Boko Haram continues to carry out successful attacks at mostly soft targets across North-East Nigeria.

With the execution of Hauwa Liman, it is obvious that the Nigerian government is not yet in full control of the situation in the North-East. While it was successful in negotiating the release of the kidnapped Dapchi girls, it wasn’t able to save Hauwa and Saifura. The government still has an opportunity to redeem this situation by ensuring the safe release of Alice and Leah.


Nigeria’s security agencies blame their inability to defeat Boko Haram on the fact that their force is underfunded and they lack the necessary military equipment and arms. This is contrary to a report in PREMIUM TIMES, an investigative news media, revealing that a total of N4.62 trillion had been allocated to the federal security sector between 2011 and 2015. In the 2017, the Nigerian Army budgeted N5 billion for the procurement of weapons to prosecute the anti-terrorism war, and in 2018 increased the budget to N38 billion for the purchase of ammunition, fighter jets and helicopters. These large sums of money were approved by the National Assembly to provide the military all the support it needs to defeat the insurgency. However, PREMIUM TIMES reported that funds meant for the welfare of the security forces and procurement of arms had been misappropriated by the upper echelon of the military and intelligence agencies, senior bureaucrats, and friends of the government. There are other news reports of millions of dollars recovered from the bank accounts of senior military officers, and properties purchased by these officers both in Nigeria and abroad.

The transformation of the Boko Haram sect and its ability to carry out attacks with sophisticated weapons seems sustained by the monetisation of violence through the activities of conflict entrepreneurs both within and outside Nigeria. While not refuting the religious and sociological causes of the conflicts, more often than not the economic interests of the political elite have been shown to play a fundamental role in the exacerbation or irresolution of the conflict. Kidnapping for ransom has become a revenue stream for Boko Haram, as it was for the earlier insurgents in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. A United Nations Report, which accuses the Nigerian government of paying ransom for the release of the abducted Dapchi school girls, has affirmed that the key factor driving the activities of Boko Haram has been the prevalence of the cash economy.

There is no doubt that the Buhari administration has reclaimed most of the territories initially annexed by Boko Haram, forcing the insurgents deeper into the Sambisa forest and Gwoza hills. However, the illicit flow of cash in the country and an open market for kidnapping, extortion, and smuggling have all served as financial support systems exacerbating the conflict.

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Nigeria and its allies had relied mainly on repressive strategies to contain the Boko Haram insurgency, that is through: dragnet arrests, detention, assassinations, etc… Despite several claims of Boko Haram’s defeat, including the assassination of its leader, the insurgents remain resilient.


Another lift to the group’s operation is its free access to the borders and numerous natural resources in the region. A recent report by Washington D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency shows a link between Boko Haram activities and the illegal logging of “Rosewood” by unscrupulous Chinese merchants. Most of the bloodiest and most protracted conflicts, especially in Africa, are usually linked to the illegal exploitation of natural resources.

Nigeria and its allies had relied mainly on repressive strategies to contain the Boko Haram insurgency, that is through: dragnet arrests, detention, assassinations, etc. This “stick” approach of the government has included the operations of a Multinational Joint Task Force, a Civilian Joint Task Force, and even a South Africa-based private security firm. Despite several claims of Boko Haram’s defeat, including the assassination of its leader, the insurgents remain resilient. Nextier SPD Weekly Vol. 1, Issue 2 provides evidence and further explanation on the escalating violence from Boko Haram.

With the execution of Hauwa Liman, it is obvious that the Nigerian government is not yet in full control of the situation in the North-East. While it was successful in negotiating the release of the kidnapped Dapchi girls, it wasn’t able to save Hauwa and Saifura. The government still has an opportunity to redeem this situation by ensuring the safe release of Alice and Leah.
In conclusion, was it the lack of clarity on Nigeria’s philosophy of engagement with terrorists that led to the rise in kidnap incidents? Did ISWAP kidnap Hauwa on the hope of a ransom payoff? Was she detained for seven gruesome months as part of the negotiation strategy? What of the timing of the execution? Was she killed to put pressure on President Buhari, especially in light of the 2019 election calendar? Does ISWAP hope for a public uproar that would force the presidency to negotiate and pay up for Alice and Leah? Whatever the case, there is need for a robust debate on Nigeria’s position on negotiating with terrorist. Nigerians need clarity.

Nextier SPD is a development consulting firm.