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Plot to displace Nigeria's president exposed

Fred Muvunyi
May 9, 2021

Security challenges in Nigeria have sparked anger and calls for President Buhari to step down or be removed from office. Analysts say disgruntled military members and politicians want to overthrow the president.

Parents of kidnapped students at a protest in Abuja, Nigeria
Family members of kidnapped students in Nigeria are calling for their loved ones to be freedImage: Uwais Abubakar Idris/DW

Nigeria's secret police say they have uncovered a plot to remove President Muhammadu Buhari from office. According to the investigators, disgruntled politicians and religious leaders are behind it. 

The presidency also raised the alarm, accusing ― without mentioning names ― former and present leaders working with foreign powers of trying to remove President Buhari from office forcefully. 

"They are plotting to hold conferences, which would pass a vote of no confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari, a man they so much love to hate," Femi Adesina, President Buhari's special media advisor, said.

The report published by The State Security Service came just a few days after the army pledged its loyalty to the constitution and subjected itself to civilian rule, warning its members to stay away from politics. 

"If the coup is going to occur, it won't be carried [out] by the serving generals for the simple reason that they're benefiting from the system," security analyst Kabiru Adamu told DW. He added that a coup could be staged, however, by a group of officers that "feels disfranchised and unhappy" with the current situation. 

If these unhappy military members work together with political players interested in changing the government, the possibility of a coup is "huge," according to Adamu. He pointed to the recent military takeover in neighboring Chad as an example that could inspire a revolt in Nigeria. 

The military junta took over power in Chad in the aftermath of the death of President Idris Deby. It dissolved both the parliament and the government and announced they would hold an election in 18 months. 

President Buhari in December 2020, speaking to school boys who were freed from kidnappers. Image: Sunday Alamba/AP/picture alliance

Why is President Buhari a target? 

Boko Haram insurgents, believed to be headquartered in Sambisa forest in Borno State, have long terrorized the country, killing and abducting many in Nigeria's north. 

In 2015, the militant group began using girls as young as 10 to carry out suicide attacks. That same year the incumbent president promised Nigerians that he would wipe out the militants. 

Nigerians say the situation has deteriorated under Buhari's administration. He came to power in 2015, and his second and last term in office ends in 2023. 

Last year, Boko Haram murdered at least 76 farmers in Borno State. In most cases, the government failed to mount an effective counter-response, Buhari critics say. 

But Adamu said it's unfair to put all of the blame on the president. He pointed a finger at the governors and senators, saying that they could have initiated needed security reforms, not the President. 

Kidnappings in Nigeria


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A violent business model

Organized crime syndicates have recently adopted a kidnap-and-ransom tactic. The business model has drawn the international community's attention while forcing state officials to negotiate with criminals and pay them millions of dollars in ransom to secure freedom for many school children. 

President Buhari has spoken out against the practice and insinuated that state governors were fueling the crisis. 

Criminals ― locally known as bandits ― confided in DW that they borrow weapons from state security officers and then share the income with them after 'work.' 

"Even the so-called police, you see, we hire their guns and return them later," one member of a criminal gang in Niger Delta told DW. 

His account is corroborated by retired Admiral John Nicholas Bakpo, a long-serving Nigerian military officer.  

"We know them [the bandits], we know where they stay, we know who they are. But the issue is this: Some of these boys were dragged into what they are doing by us. Either because of our political interests or what we wanted to gain," Bakpo said.

Kidnapping, torture and death

Fatima Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, spent 57 days in the hands of her kidnappers . She was one of 27 students abducted in March from a forestry college in Nigeria's Kaduna state. "I have been beaten and tortured, especially when they [the bandits] spoke to our parents and came back without good news," Mohammed told DW. 

"We were beaten with sticks or with their guns," she added. 

Because of torture, Mohammed said, she lost her pregnancy. Her father also died while she was in captivity. Neighbors said Mohammed's father's death was a result of shock due to the abduction of his daughter.  

"I have never lived such life, but God allowed that to happen," Mohammed said, adding that all abductees were sleeping in an open space under the trees. 

Uwaisu Idris: Nigeria kidnapping 'indication of the growing insecurity'


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Mohammed's ordeals mirror the lives of many women and men in northern Nigeria subjected to the kidnappers.

More than 800 students, the majority of them young girls, have been abducted from schools in the region in recent months.  

"Children are afraid of going to school, parents are no longer comfortable sending the children to school. That's going to be a serious setback to the educational development in Northern Nigeria, and education is the backbone of everything," human rights activists Auwal Aliyu said. 

Many of the students were released, others are still in captivity, and scores have been killed because their parents or the government could not pay ransom money. 

Is Nigeria a failed state?

The deteriorating security has sparked fear among Nigerians and foreigners alike. Some scholars and political analysts go as far as calling Nigeria a failed state.

"If you look at the economy, you find out that people are no longer going to the farms, people are afraid of moving from point A to B because of the possibility of being kidnapped, and then you're asked to pay a heavy ransom. If you don't have it ― then you lose a member of your family," activist Aliyu said. 

Former US ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell tweeted that he would argue that Nigeria is a failed state. 

Security analyst Kabiru Adamu said it's too early to call Nigeria a failed state, though he admits that state institutions are weak and, in most cases, not able to fulfill the constitutional mandate. 

"To conclude that the state is failed is going too far," Adamu said. 

Nigeria is Africa's biggest economy in Africa, and many of its neighbors' economies hugely depend on Africa's most populous nation. Scholars urge that business opportunities and innovations are the backbone of Nigeria's economy. Should the state fail, then Nigeria's neighbors are mostly like to fall apart as well. 

Tracking Nigeria's human traffickers

DW reporters, Jan-Philipp Scholz and Adrian Kriesch, follow the dangerous journey of human traffickers from Nigeria to Italy. They discover how young Nigerian women end up on Italian streets as sex slaves.

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Fleeing poverty

Our investigation began in Benin City, capital of Edo State. Almost everyone we spoke to has at least a friend or a family member in Europe. More than three-quarters of illegal prostitutes in Italy are from this region. Due to high unemployment among the youths in Edo state, many young women see fewer prospects here. They seek for a better life in Europe instead, not fully aware of the dangers.

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False promises

Catholic Sister, Bibiana Emenaha, has tried for years to warn young Nigerian women before they ended up in Europe. "Many are lured with false promises," she told us. The traffickers promise jobs such as babysitting or hair dressing, but that quickly turn out to be a lie. Once the young women are in Europe, they end up on the streets.

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"The people are greedy"

After long negotiations, a trafficker agreed to an interview with us. He called himself Steve and claimed he has already transported more than 100 Nigerians all the way to Libya. He wouldn’t speak about the people behind his business. He said he was simply a service provider. "The people here in Edo State are greedy. They are willing to do anything for a better life," Steve said.

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Dangerous Sahara journey

For 600 euros ($666) per person, Steve organizes the journey from Nigeria to Libya. "Most people know how dangerous the journey is through the Sahara," the human smuggler told us. Many people die very often along the way. "That is the risk," Steve said, who brings the migrants personally to Agadez in Niger. A colleague then takes over from there.

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Agadez: A hub for human traffickers

The desert town of Agadez was the most dangerous part of our research trip. The town thrives on human and drug trafficking and foreigners are often kidnapped for ransom. We could only move around with armed guards and had to wear traditional head cover to be less visible.

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Solving the migration crisis

Like many others in the desert town, Omar Ibrahim Omar, the Sultan of Agadez, sees human trafficking as a problem that cannot be solved in Agadez. He is asking for more money from the international community. His argument: If Europe does not want more migrants to keep coming through the Mediterranean Sea, Europe should give more support to Niger.

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The "Monday Caravan" to Libya

For months now, several trucks with migrants from Agadez set out every Monday shortly before sunset towards the north. The crisis in Libya has contributed to human traffickers being able to reach the Mediterranean Sea without the usual controls. And we soon learned that the authorities here in Niger have little interests in their activities.

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"The girls are getting younger"

Many of the migrants from Nigeria land on the streets in Italy. Social worker Lisa Bertini works with foreign prostitutes. "They are coming more and more," she told us. According to official figures, about 1,000 Nigerians went to Italy across the Mediterranean in 2014. In 2015, the figure climbed to 4,000. "And the girls are getting younger," the social worker said.

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Looking for a "Madam"

With help from a Nigerian colleague, we discovered an alleged "Madam" in northern Italy. A Nigerian host in Italy is referred to as "Madam," she is at the top of a smaller trafficking network. The madam we found lived in a suburb of Florence and one victim made serious accusations against the her: "She has been beating us and forced us into prostitution," the victim said.

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'Madam' and her girls

As we confronted the supposed "Madam" about the accusations, she admited accommodating six young Nigerian women in her house, but denied forcing them into prostitution: "It's just something young Nigerians here do." After our interview, we handed our research to the Italian public prosecutor's office.

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Cheap sexual satisfaction

Sister Monika Uchikwe has long been criticizing the inactivity of the Italian authorities. For eight years, she has cared for victims of human trafficking. She explained in rage as we asked about the customers. The men always want cheap satisfaction – sex with a Nigerian woman on the streets costs only 10 euros. "Without this possibility, this problem would not exist," she said.

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