The Niger coup has led to a halt in cross‑border law enforcement cooperation against armed banditry in north-west Nigeria.

West African politics have been thrown into limbo since 27 July 2023, when military leaders in Niger announced the overthrow of the country’s democratic government led by President Mohammed Bazoum. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded by imposing sanctions on Niger, suspending Niger’s ECOWAS membership, and directing its members to shut their borders to the country.1 It also threatened a military intervention to remove the putschists from power.

The Niger coup – and the regional response to it – has also resulted in a halt in cross-border law enforcement cooperation between Niger and its neighbours. The more than 1 600-kilometre border between Niger and Nigeria, now closed, plays host to a range of transnational illicit flows, and it forms the boundary of several of Nigeria’s most insecure regions. International car theft syndicates, human smuggling flows, and trafficked arms, ammunition and drugs all traverse this border (see Figure 1).2

Security sources told the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) that the aftermath of the Niger coup has hindered cross-border collaboration to counter armed banditry in north-west Nigeria. Border towns in the Katsina province have experienced an uptick in attacks by armed bandits, and the increased availability of ammunition – smuggled across the border with Niger – may be a driving factor.

Niger and Nigeria had been improving cross-border security cooperation over the past decade to respond to Boko Haram

Nigeria has closely cooperated with neighbouring states on its northern border against violent extremist groups and armed bandits for the past decade. These cooperative mechanisms arose from a need to counter the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s north-east.

Cross-border cooperation reached a turning point in 2013. Following military offensives by the Nigerian state, Boko Haram was driven out of its urban base in Maiduguri, the largest city of Borno State. In response, the group strengthened its influence over a number of rural areas, including along the border with Niger.

With its increased presence in border areas, the group gained influence over strategic corridors for arms trafficking from outside Nigeria, including in Abadam, which shares borders with Niger and Chad. A former Boko Haram commander said that, at the time, the town Malam Fatori, headquarters of the Abadam Local Government Area and a former Boko Haram stronghold, ‘allowed us to avoid security surveillance at Cameroon or Chad borders when bringing in weapons from Mali and Libya. The route was vital for our weapons supply. (…) Channels through Chad and Cameroon were often disrupted by security forces’.3

Boko Haram’s expansion into these areas posed a threat to border communities in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. In response, Nigerien and Cameroonian forces, in cooperation with Nigerian forces, crossed into Nigeria in 2013 in pursuit of Boko Haram, marking Niger’s first involvement in a cross-border combat mission against the insurgent group.4

To this day, Abadam is still a smuggling hub for arms and drug trafficking across the Niger-Nigeria border.5 Both of the main Boko Haram factions – Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’adati wal-Jihad and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) – strive to control the strategic area.6

In 2014, Boko Haram captured Damasak, another strategically located town on the Niger–Nigeria border in Borno state, further west than Abadam. As its fighters began launching cross-border attacks on Nigerien security forces,7 Niger, which initially was content with mounting containment operations at its border, increasingly became involved in regional efforts against Boko Haram.

Cross-border collaboration crystallized with the formation of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) by Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin in 2015, after which Niger stepped up offensives against Boko Haram, joining Chad to launch a cross-border operation on Boko Haram’s positions in Nigeria. The operation was described by the media as ‘Niger’s first major push into Nigerian territory to combat Boko Haram’.8

MNJTF operations regained control of many of the border areas that were previously under the control of Boko Haram. Niger has dialled back its cross-border operations in the north-east since 2018, focusing instead on patrolling its borders and contributing some troops to MNJTF operations.9 A Nigerian special forces commander told the GI-TOC that border surveillance by Nigerien forces has had some impact on reducing the flow of arms and ammunition across the border through smuggling hubs such as Abadam.10

Nigerien and Nigerian forces have also cooperated to counter armed banditry and arms trafficking in Nigeria’s north-west

Since at least 2011, armed bandits in north-west Nigeria have engaged in kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling and extortion, representing the most significant threat to peace in the region. Drawing on their experience cooperating against Boko Haram in the north-east, Niger and Nigeria have applied a similar approach to fighting these armed bandits, including through intelligence-sharing between national authorities, joint investigations and cross-border operations by Nigerien troops against bandits in Nigeria.

These operations have led to the formation of strong relationships between some Nigerian communities and Nigerien military forces, as they have been able to respond to distress calls from victims of kidnapping, cattle rustling and raids.11 Some of these communities are more likely to call on Niger for help when under attack, according to Nigerian security sources.12 ‘We have the phone contacts of some Nigerien commanders and we used to reach out to them to alert them of attacks on our communities or movement of bandits towards their villages,’ said a local vigilante leader in Jibiya, in Katsina State in north-west Nigeria.13

Cross-border cooperation has also targeted arms and ammunition flows. Between March 2022 and April 2023, over 10 000 rounds of ammunition were seized from traffickers as a result of intelligence sharing between Nigeria and Niger. In one case, an individual was apprehended transporting cash to Agadez in Niger to buy ammunition for the high-profile Nigerian bandit leader Dankarami.14 In August, the Nigerian Air Force reported that air strikes targeting bandit groups in Zamfara and Katsina states had killed 16 members of Dankarami’s criminal network.15

According to security officials, intelligence sharing and joint operations by the security forces of the two countries have underpinned the disruption of some trafficking networks operating through Jibiya, as well.16 Jibiya, a border town in Katsina State, is known as a hub for arms trafficking, human smuggling and the smuggling of a range of everyday goods.17 Traffickers have exploited the porous state of the Jibiya border to supply arms to bandit groups in Nigeria.18 ‘All the weapons used by bandits come from across the border through arms traffickers operating between Jibiya and Niger. It is a lucrative business for the traffickers and crucial to bandits’ operations,’ explained a police chief in Katsina.19

Following the Niger coup, security cooperation has halted

In the aftermath of the coup, security cooperation between Niger and Nigeria came to an abrupt halt. While Nigerien forces have remained part of MNJTF headquarters in N’Djamena,20 they have halted cross-border security patrols and surveillance in north-west Nigeria,21 disrupting attempts to combat arms trafficking and banditry.22

A security official in Nigeria described how the border closure prevented him from crossing into Niger to participate in the interrogation of an arms trafficker he had been tracking: ‘Last week, I tracked an arms trafficker travelling to Mali to buy arms for a Jibiya-based bandit kingpin (…) I contacted the Nigeriens based on the personal relationship that has grown between [us] and he was arrested. But I could not join them over there because of the sanctions and severance of the security relationship between our countries. So, I lost the opportunity to interrogate him and gain some valuable information on his Nigerian dealings, collaborators, fellow traffickers and sponsors’.23

Villages in the Jibiya area have reported an increase in attacks following the Niger coup. One member of a vigilante group in the Jibiya Local Government Area said bandits have increasingly targeted the community since the unconstitutional takeover: ‘We have seen more attacks on our communities and neighbouring villages since late July and the attacks suggest that the groups are hell-bent on establishing a foothold near the border’.24 A resident of the Magama community, another town in Jibiya, also remarked on the increasing attacks: ‘Bandits have obviously taken advantage of this because kidnappings and raids on communities, farms and the highway now happen daily’.25

Data from the Armed Conflict and Location Data (ACLED) project corroborates these claims, showing a significant increase in the number of attacks in Katsina province, where Jibiya is located, as compared to previous months in 2023. Security sources in the area described how, in early 2023, a cross-border clampdown on ammunition trafficking routes into Nigeria seemed to be effective in cutting off supplies to bandit groups and reducing attacks.26 Attacks had slowly begun to increase again in mid-2023 as bandits and arms traffickers had seemingly found a way to circumvent security forces, and they surged following the Niger coup.27

Frequency of political events in Katsina State, Nigeria, 2022–October 2023.

Figure 2 Frequency of political events in Katsina State, Nigeria, 2022–October 2023.

Source: ACLED

Security sources report that, since mid-August, bandits arrested or killed during encounters with security forces in north-west Nigeria have often been found to be better equipped with ammunition than in previous months. Whereas in May and June 2023 a typical bandit might have had one or two magazines of ammunition when arrested, in August this rose to three or four magazines, suggesting that there may have been a resurgence in the flow of ammunition. Some interlocutors suggest that the suspension of the security collaboration in the wake of the coup was one possible factor influencing this resurgence, noting the spike in hostility between the two countries.28

The impact of border closures and sanctions

The ECOWAS response to Niger’s coup has sparked fierce political debate about the appropriate diplomatic response in these situations, the role of sanctions and the role of regional organizations such as ECOWAS in promoting the rule of law. Alongside these conceptual political questions, there are practical challenges in how sanctions are applied on the ground. In border towns in Niger and Nigeria, ECOWAS sanctions have had severe economic and humanitarian ramifications for communities.29 A decrease in law enforcement cooperation – and therefore an increased risk to the safety and security of these communities due to the ever-present threat of banditry – is another challenge in this complex border region.


  1. Martin Ronceray, Can ECOWAS still defend democracy in West Africa after the Niger coup?, ECDPM, 11 September 2023,; Mohammed Yusuf, ECOWAS unity put to test as West African coup crisis deepens, Voice of America, 11 September 2023,

  2. Punch, Northern borders now human trafficking hotbed – NAPTIP, 19 June 2023,; Oluwole Ojewale and Mahmud Malami Sadiq, Why Nigeria’s bandits are recruiting women for gunrunning, Institute for Security Studies, 14 August 2023,; Hassane Koné, Arms trafficking from Libya to Niger is back in business, Institute for Security Studies, 28 July 2022,; The Guardian, Border closure, effects and curbing recurrence, 31 December 2020,

  3. Interview with a former Boko Haram member, August 2023, by phone. 

  4. International Crisis Group, What role for Multi National Joint Task Force in fighting Boko Haram, 7 July 2020,

  5. Lucia Bird and Lyes Tagziria, Organized crime and instability dynamics: Mapping illicit hubs in West Africa, GI-TOC, September 2022,

  6. Africa News, Nigeria: Deadly fighting between rival jihadist groups, 17 March, 2023,

  7. Kyari Mohammed, Boko Haram along the Nigeria-Niger borderlands: Influences, scope, and management, French Institute for Research in Africa, Nigeria, 2020,

  8. Madjiasra Nako and Abdoulaye Massalaki, Chad, Niger launch joint offensive against Boko Haram in Nigeria, Reuters, 8 March 2015,

  9. Interview with a Nigerian special forces commander, Abuja, August 2023. 

  10. Ibid. 

  11. Interviews with residents of Jibiya, 25 August 2023. 

  12. Interview with a Nigerian special forces commander, Abuja, August 2023. 

  13. Interview with a local leader, Jibiya, August 2023. 

  14. Interview with a security operative in Jibiya, 26 August 2023. 

  15. Kingsley Omonobi, NAF air strikes kill scores of terrorists in Zamfara, Katsina, Vanguard Nigeria, 2 August 2023,

  16. Interview with a law enforcement commander, Abuja, August 2023. 

  17. Lucia Bird and Lyes Tagziria, Organized crime and instability dynamics: Mapping illicit hubs in West Africa, GI-TOC, September 2022,

  18. Interview with a law enforcement officer, Jibiya 26 August 2023. 

  19. Interview with a police officer, Katsina, July 2023; Interview with a local government official, Jibiya, July 2023. 

  20. Interview with a senior security officer, Abuja, September 2023. 

  21. Interviews with residents and law enforcement officers, Jibiya, July–September 2023. 

  22. Interview with a Niger-based security expert, August 2023. The security expert explained that any increase or decrease in arms flows to Nigeria would have resulted from significant changes in military patrols influenced by the border closure. 

  23. Interview with a security agent, 3 September 2023. 

  24. Interview with a local vigilante member, Jibiya, September 2023. 

  25. Interview with a resident of Jibiya, August 2023. 

  26. Interview with a law enforcement officer, Jibiya, 26 August 2023. 

  27. Ibid. 

  28. Interviews with security agents, Jibiya and Abuja, August–September 2023. 

  29. Shehu Salmanu and Mimi Mefo Takambou, Niger coup: ECOWAS sanctions hit border towns, DW, 22 August 2023,