Nigeria: When The Cure Is Worse Than The Disease


December 13, 2012: Boko Haram members have killed nearly 800 people so far this year. The military and police have killed more in response, but about half the police victims were civilians, the rest were Boko Haram or criminals mistaken for Islamic radicals. As the military and police increase their operations in the north, so does Boko Haram.  Northerners are growing tired of all this, even though Boko Haram tries (more so than the security forces) to avoid civilian casualties. This doesn’t always work and Boko Haram bombs and gunfire kill a growing number of innocent civilians. Support for Boko Haram is declining, despite all the efforts of the security forces.

While the government proclaims the massive oil thefts in the Niger Delta and the growing Islamic terrorism of Boko Haram in the north as under control, the reality is quite different. In both cases the federal government sees sending in the military as the solution. But it isn’t. The Nigerian military is a blunt instrument. Although well trained and led, at least by African standards, the military relies too much on brute (and often excessive) force and can be bought off by oil thieves and Islamic radicals. In the Niger Delta the military, especially the navy, is being bribed to let the oil theft continue. The government does not want to discuss that problem openly. In the north Boko Haram has much less cash and is instead using terror tactics against the military leadership. Death squads seek out key military leaders and kill them. At the same time, all army commanders in the north are made aware of the fact that the Boko Haram assassins concentrate on the officers who are most energetic and effective against Islamic radicals.

Boko Haram is particularly brutal with the national police. In part, this is because the police tend to be quick to kill Boko Haram members along with friends and family of the Islamic radicals. This is illegal but the police are notoriously corrupt and inclined to break the law themselves.

In the north local tribal and religious leaders, who still have some standing among the people, place the blame for Boko Haram on the northern politicians. This is especially true of the state governors, who use fraud and force to get elected and once in office steal as much as they can. Federal level anti-corruption efforts have concentrated on the governors and ex-governors (all of them much wealthier than they were before becoming governors). But these savvy and corrupt politicians have been difficult to prosecute, convict, and jail. The justice system favors those with a lot of cash and few scruples. And that’s why you have Boko Haram up north, who exist, by their own admission, mainly to reduce corruption and crime.

The government has asked for American help in dealing with Boko Haram, and the commander of AFRICOM has made it clear that Boko Haram is not going to be defeated by military action alone. If the U.S. provides major assistance to Nigeria it will be via AFRICOM. “Africa Command” (AFRICOM) is similar in organization to other commands (Central, or CENTCOM, for the Middle East, and South, or SOUTHCOM, for Latin America, etc).  AFRICOM coordinates all American military operations in Africa. Before 2007, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering Latin America). The establishment of AFRICOM meant more money for counter-terror operations in Africa and more long range projects. One thing most African nations wanted from AFRICOM was military and counter-terrorism trainers. The problem with this is that the people so trained are often then employed as enforcers for the local dictator. Even providing training for peacekeepers can backfire, for those peacekeeping skills can also be used to pacify your own people. This will be a problem in Nigeria as well, as long as there is so much corruption in the government and military. But at the same time the U.S. cannot ignore the growing cooperation between Boko Haram and al Qaeda type organizations (especially those in northern Mali, which has become a new sanctuary for al Qaeda). Boko Haram is becoming part of the terrorist threat to the U.S. and the West.

December 10, 2012: In the northeast (Yobe state) Boko Haram attacked a police headquarters and were repulsed. A dozen (or more) Islamic terrorists and one policeman died. Yobe state has become one of the main battlegrounds in the campaign against Boko Haram.

In the south (Delta State) the 82 year old mother of the Finance Minister was kidnapped. The victim, who is an MD and college professor, was taken from her home by at least ten armed men. Two days later, in the west (Yobe State), the wife of a retired army general was also taken. These two cases got a lot of publicity but many other kidnappings did not. Taking people for ransom has become a big business in the south and the police are often involved. In the case of the Finance Ministers mother, two policemen were soon arrested and accused of being involved in the kidnapping. This did not lead to the release of the victim and the kidnappers are demanding $1.27 million in ransom (20 percent of their original demand).

December 9, 2012: In the northern city of Kano, several days of raids have led to the arrest of 28 Boko Haram members and the seizure of many weapons and other terrorist material.

December 6, 2012: In the northern city of Kano police arrested eight Boko Haram men who sought to attack a police patrol with a bomb. But the thrown bomb did not go off and the police went after the attackers.


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