Nigeria: Putting The Problems Into Perspective


February 17, 2017: Boko Haram is in bad shape and 2016 was its worst year ever. Casualties were heavy, attacks were way down and the organization split into two major factions and a few smaller ones. Cash needed to pay full-time Boko Haram members (so they can support families) is no longer available for everyone. A growing number of Boko Haram deserters claim they left because of no food and no cash. Fewer admitted they left because their prospects were dismal. There are also shortages of ammunition and everything else. There have been growing problems recruiting suicide bombers and by the end of 2016 most of them were women and children (some as young as ten). As a result most suicide attacks now fail. Not just because of inept attackers but also because the security forces (including civilian volunteers) have adopted more effective security measures, especially for screening people quickly. Boko Haram responded by using women with infants to get by the screeners but that has not worked either. Worse, most of the remaining Boko Haram have been confined to Borno State in the northeast and in camps in Cameroon (which is Borno’s eastern border). Thus some 70 percent of Boko Haram violence during 2016 took place in Borno and just across the border in Cameroon. But the attacks were smaller than in previous years and much less successful. Cameroon has been more effective in fighting this foreign invader, and has lost 200 of its soldiers and police doing so, as well as some 2,000 civilians. But northern Cameroon, which borders Borno, is thinly populated and the border areas have a lot of places to hide. Yet the pressure from Cameroonian troops has forced Boko Haram to disperse into smaller groups and stay close to the Nigerian border. Thus most of the Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon are very small scale and often the result of a raid (for food and fuel) or clash with an army patrol.

Borno was where Boko Haram began and where most of the recruiting and terrorist activity has always been. Aa a result most of the damage has been there. Since 2009 nearly three million people (90 percent of them Nigerian) were driven from their homes by Boko Haram and at least a third of those are still living, and often starving, in government run refugee camps or areas where there is no food. Most of those displaced fled before 2015. Six years of Boko Haram violence depopulated over 30,000 square kilometers in northern Borno State. Few of the refugees have returned. The depopulation led to the collapse of the local economy and it is proving difficult to get the economy going again. Instead refugees face chaos and corruption when they return to the depopulated area. That chaos is partly because there are more groups of organized outlaws up there. Most are not Boko Haram but the security forces don’t find that out until a gun battle is over. What makes this worse is that the Nigerian security forces still tend to shoot first and investigate later, if at all. For this reason people prefer to live away from the main roads, where bandits and Islamic terrorists will lie in wait for aid convoys or anyone worth robbing. Troops driving by will shoot at anything that might be an ambush. In most of the depopulated areas aid groups demand armed escorts for aid convoys. But the more troops to assign to convoy escort the less are available for going after and eliminating the remaining Boko Haram and the growing number of bandits. Meanwhile several hundred thousand refugees in Borno are in danger of starving to death. In 2016 the several thousand deaths from disease and malnutrition were far more common than the 300 or so caused by Boko Haram attacks. Since 2009 Boko Haram has killed over 10,000 civilians by direct action (raids, executions, used as suicide bombers or human shields) but that number might be exceeded by the economic aftereffects among the refugees and those still living in economically devastated areas of Borno.

Economic Damage

The decline in oil prices, persistent corruption and inept government have triggered a nationwide economic crises, The Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast has had little to do with the fact that nationwide Inflation is still close to 20 percent and unemployment 14 percent. More telling is that the underemployment rate is 33 percent. Thus just having a job means little if it does not pay enough keep you alive. Noting this, and other indicators, foreign experts like the IMF and World Bank have revised their predictions for Nigerian economic performance downward. This is bad news because the economy apparently shrank 1.5 percent in 2016. Thus the IMF now sees it likely Nigerian GDP will grow .8 percent (if at all) in 2017 rather than one percent.

The government is desperately trying to avoid increases in unemployment and inflation that could trigger widespread unrest. Economic recovery is only possible if the government can control enough of the corruption (that usually cripples such investment efforts) and actually generate an increase in oil revenue. The federal government normally gets 70 percent of its budget from oil income. Oil is normally responsible for 40 percent of all economic activity in Nigeria and 90 percent of foreign exchange (to pay for imports). But now the government has less oil money available and is trying to replace that by going after and halting the massive corruption that had diverted so much oil income in the past. Some progress has been made there and the government also managed to reduce government spending seen as non-essential. Yet foreign lenders and investors are backing off, mainly because of the corruption. In 2016 Chinese economists visited Nigeria and saw the extent of the corruption and economic problems that bad behavior created. China is still willing to work with Nigeria, but only if Nigerian officials can halt an economic collapse corruption has caused. Foreign economists also pointed out that, despite getting oil production back to 1.7 million barrels per day (BPD) at the start of 2017 (up from 1.56 million BPD in November) the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020 was unlikely to be achieved much less sustained. All this comes after production fell to a low of 1.4 million BPD in early 2016. Without all this violence and corruption it would be over 2.2 million BPD and the government says that level must be reached in 2017 if the economy is to recover. That is unlikely to happen. As always tribe based gang violence in the Niger Delta (where most of the oil is) prevents growth in production or even maintaining high levels of production. That tribal unrest is largely the result of corruption.

Nigeria, even before it was created by British colonial officials in the 1900s, was always notoriously corrupt. Currently Nigeria is not rated as one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. Instead Nigeria is 136 out of 176 countries for 2016 and somewhat better off than the worst. In 2015 Nigeria was 136 and in 2013 was 144, so there has been some improvement but has stalled. Somalia was rated the most corrupt nation in the world and has held that dubious distinction for a decade. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea, Somalia or, since 2011, South Sudan) have a rating of under fifteen while for the least corrupt (usually Denmark) it tends to be 90 or higher. The current Nigeria score is 28 compared to 40 for China, 26 for Cameroon, 20 for Chad, 35 for Niger, 36 for Benin, 43 for Ghana, 45 for South Africa, 21 for Congo, 45 for Senegal, 40 for India, 72 for Japan, 37 for Indonesia, 53 for South Korea, 17 for Iraq, 41 for Turkey, 46 for Saudi Arabia, 28 for Lebanon, 29 for Iran, 66 for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 64 for Israel, 25 for Afghanistan. 32 for Pakistan, 29 for Russia, 11 for South Sudan, 12 for North Korea, and 74 for the United States. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. Fixing an existing culture of corruption has proved a most difficult challenge.

Foreign Invaders

In the northeast officials complain that armed Fulani herders from Mali have showed up in northeast Nigeria and joined local Islamic terrorist groups or other criminal gangs. In Mali (along the Niger River) there has long been violence between Peul (Fulani) and Bambara tribesmen. This tribal feuding got worse since 2015 when the Peul became widely known as a source of recruits for Islamic terrorist groups and for generally supporting al Qaeda and Boko Haram. The more numerous Bambara (who tend to be pro-government) live north of the Niger and are about a third of the population. The Fulani (who tend to be more rebellious) are largely from south of the Niger. Some of these Fulani are taking their bad attitudes with them when they travel outside Mali.

February 13, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) about thirty Boko Haram gunmen attacked a village near the Sambisa Forest but only went to the local mosque and killed an Islamic scholar who had preached against Islamic terrorism. A teenage boy was also killed. Attacks like are part of an effort to intimidate civilians to assist, or at least tolerate Boko Haram activities. That is not working but the remaining Islamic terrorists keep at it.

February 9, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) a convoy with 250 soldiers (recruits who had recently finished basic training) was ambushed by Boko Haram near the Sambisa Forest. Seven soldiers died, 20 were wounded and three (one of them female) are missing. The Boko Haram fled, taking their dead and wounded with them. The Islamic terrorists also managed to loot some of the trucks.

January 31, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) a UN aid employee and four others were killed by bandits or Boko Haram just across the Cameroon border. The five were working on a border survey project. The UN pointed out that it could not pay for this kind of work if the people involved were not safe.




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