Despite a huge backlash, officials said the nationwide ban was a necessary sacrifice to deal with a proliferation of terrorist groups and armed gangs that threaten to overwhelm the giant West African country.
In recent years, Nigeria’s security services have struggled to deal with armed bandits staging hundreds of attacks in the northwest of the country. This adds to the decades-old fight against al-Qaeda linked jihadist groups in the northeast.
The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter group of Boko Haram, attacked a prison in Abuja earlier this month and freed more than 800 inmates. It is one of only a few times that terrorists have attacked Nigeria’s capital city – in a worrying sign that security forces have failed to keep marauding jihadists at bay.
In March, armed bandits attacked a train travelling from Abuja to the northwestern Kaduna State, taking hundreds of passengers captive. Reports suggest that the bandits cooperated with Boko Haram in what officials have called “an unholy handshake”. Kidnapping for ransom has snowballed into a widespread security threat in the region as hundreds of children and babies have been taken from schools in Kaduna State over the last year.
The nationwide ban is the latest in a string of failed attempts by the government to restore peace and security to the troubled nation.
In 2017, officials earmarked $1 billion from Nigeria’s vast oil wealth to buy weapons and security equipment to fight terrorists in the northeast. The government bought six A-29 Super Tucano planes for $593 million from the US last year, in a controversial deal that critics said would not address the root causes of jihadism and insecurity.