Nigeria: A Cure Worse Than The Disease

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April 22, 2013:   Boko Haram will not be easy to get rid of because it’s not that unusual an organization in Nigeria. It goes like this. Political power is much sought after in Nigeria, especially being governor of one of the states. There are 36 states and the federal capital district. It is a federal system with the governor having a lot of power and most of them abuse it, as well as the electoral process by which they obtain that power. Therein lies the main problem.

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. Boko Haram got its start as one of these politician supported gangs (used to discourage opposition candidates and encourage voting for their boss) but got out of control when the group became violently anti-corruption. Boko Haram recruited a lot of men who learned how to be gangsters working for these politically connected militias.

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 tragedy of Nigeria is that the billions in oil income over the last half century did not go to build a better country but to construct a network of private armies created by corrupt politicians, mainly the state governors. The oil money has made a few Nigerians very rich and most Nigerians very unhappy.

Northeastern Borno state is where Boko Haram is strongest. This is partly because Borno borders Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, three countries where Islamic terrorists can find sanctuary in thinly populated border areas. The largest city in Borno, Maiduguri, has become one of the main battlegrounds between the Islamic terrorists and the security forces. Boko Haram is holding on in Maiduguri, despite energetic efforts by soldiers and police to shut the Islamic radicals down. Outside of Maiduguri government officials have been driven out of many rural areas by Boko Haram death squads. Thousands of Christians have fled Maiduguri for the same reason. Boko Haram has seized many government vehicles and weapons and are so strong in some rural areas that a major military operation (involving hundreds of troops and dozens of vehicles) must be put together in order to travel there. 

Anti-corruption sentiment has been growing over the last decade. Most Nigerians are fed up with the half century of stealing and mismanagement, and even the government has to pay lip service to the movement. Most politicians are dirty and they protect each other. President Johnson recently pardoned a former state governor who had been convicted of corruption, and the government is trying to ban a 30 minute documentary film that names names and makes it clear how widespread and costly the corruption is.

MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) has threatened to attack Moslems in the south if Boko Haram does not halt its attacks on Christians in the north. MEND is still around despite the amnesty deal four years ago. While many MEND members accepted the government amnesty, the MEND hard core is still in business. Currently, MEND has been demanding that the army withdraw from the Delta and all prisoners be freed or else there will be a new wave of attacks on oil facilities. Not much has come of these threats despite some MEND violence every week or so. The MEND rebels also want the terms of the 2009 amnesty deal enforced and corrupt officials running the program removed. In response to those threats, the military keeps attacking MEND associated camps in the Niger delta, seizing a lot of weapons and equipment, but not making many arrests. The rebels tend to hear the troops coming (usually by boat, usually after some aerial reconnaissance) and slip away into an area of numerous creeks and islands they know well. Many criminals in the delta also support rebel goals (for more autonomy in the Delta, less corruption, and spending additional oil money locally). Even though the government has screwed up their end of the amnesty deal they insist that the rebels keep the peace. But corruption and mismanagement have kept many rebels from getting the amnesty benefits and the government is seen as unreliable, corrupt, and a hostile force. The MEND threats have been much more ambitious than the actual attacks and it is believed that only a few people are involved in attacks on oil facilities (which are well guarded these days).

April 20, 2013: In the Niger Delta troops seized a tanker carrying 2,500 tons of stolen oil. The tanker was caught while taking on more stolen oil. The entire cargo is normally taken to a neighboring country where criminal oil brokers use forged documents to sell the oil as legitimate and split the profits with the thieves and the middlemen who collect and transport the oil. Some of the stolen oil is refined and sold locally in crude rural refineries. Since the amnesty program in the Niger Delta four years ago broke the power of the tribal oil theft/separatist gangs, local politicians and military commanders have taken control of most of the oil theft operations and organized them more efficiently (so that it is more profitable to the politicians to steal the oil than to steal the government share of the oil profits). The amount of oil stolen has increased and is now 10-15 percent of production. The old tribal gangs never got more than 5-10 percent.

Oil theft related arrests in the Niger Delta usually involve shutting down oil theft operations that do not have a politician sponsor (who takes a cut of the profits for providing protection). The foreign oil companies that run the drilling and pipeline operations are threatening to leave if something is not done about the oil theft gangs. The stealing has been so serious that, in the last three months, daily production fell from 2.3 million barrels a day to 2.1 million. This is despite efforts to increase production. The government hoped to increase production to 3.7 million barrels a day. The previous peak was 2.6 million barrels a day seven years ago (before the Niger Rebels got going and oil theft became a much larger problem). It proved impossible to get back to 2.6 million because of the growing oil theft.

Some of the local oil thieves have turned to piracy, attacking the many commercial ships off the Nigerian coast and the surrounding Gulf of Guinea. Shipping companies are responding by putting armed guards on the most lucrative targets. Eventually the pirates will be left with slim pickings and the piracy will fade. This process will take several years, so piracy will be a growing problem for a while.

April 19, 2013: In the northeast (Baga on Lake Chad) 185 people were killed, most of them civilians caught in the crossfire during a Boko Haram attack. It began when troops surrounded a mosque believed to be used as a base by Boko Haram. More Islamic terrorists showed up and attacked the troops. Hours of shooting saw thousands of civilians flee the fishing village as the soldiers chased the Boko Haram men away. The soldiers accused Boko Haram of using civilians as human shields, which may have been the case. The army also has a long history of shooting at everyone in sight when attacked in an urban setting.

Prosecutors charged a man with organizing the 2011 Boko Haram bombing of a church outside Abuja (the national capital) that killed 37. The police are often able to hunt down and kill or capture the Boko Haram men responsible for the major attacks. But because of the widespread popularity of Islamic conservatism (as a cure for the corruption and other ills Nigeria suffers from) in the north, there are always new recruits. It will take a while before it is realized up there that the Taliban approach (which Boko Haram is trying to emulate) is actually a cure worse than the disease.

April 18, 2013: In neighboring Cameroon Boko Haram released a French family (parents, an uncle, and four children aged 5-12) they had kidnapped in the northern Cameroon two months ago. The hostages were apparently taken across the border to Nigeria and later back into Cameroon to avoid police efforts on both sides of the border to find them. Boko Haram at first denied they were responsible. A month ago Boko Haram released an Internet video in which they demanded the release of all Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria and Cameroon, otherwise they would continue holding the French family. The French and Nigerian government would only say that no ransom was paid to get the family released and that there was no raid involved. Boko Haram has not said why they decided to free their hostages. Eventually it will be known if some kind of deal was made or that the police were closing in and the kidnappers made the best they could of the situation by “releasing” their captives.

April 17, 2013: The government announced an amnesty program that would give Boko Haram members 60 days to surrender. A committee of 26 northern notables is being formed to develop an amnesty procedure, including suggestions on how to deal with the causes of the northern unrest (corruption and poverty). While anti-corruption efforts have become increasingly popular and energetic, the corruption is very much still there and not much weakened over the last decade. Most northerners do not want to be ruled by a religious dictatorship (which Boko Haram offers as a solution to everything) but would like peace, prosperity, and honest government. The reality is that many federal and northern politicians see the amnesty program as an opportunity to do some more stealing. That’s what happened with the recent amnesty program in the southern Niger Delta states.

April 13, 2013: In the north (Borno) Boko Haram attacked a secular school and killed several students. The name “Boko Haram” means, literally, that Western education is forbidden.

April 12, 2013: In the north (Borno) Boko Haram men attacked a police station at night. The attack failed, with five terrorists killed, along with four policemen.

 

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