Nigeria: All Quieter On The Northern Front


March 13, 2017: Boko Haram is done as an organization that can control territory but as a persistent Islamic terrorist threat it is still around and spreading to other parts of the Moslem north. Now the government has to deal with the fact that the continued corruption and bad government (especially when it comes to security and courts) are keeping enough people angry to sustain some Islamic terrorism along with all manner of violent protest. This can be seen in the Niger River Delta, where most of the oil is and the local tribes have become increasingly violent about the corruption, pollution and obvious lack of benefit to living in the midst of all that wealth.

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 seems unlikely to be achieved much less sustained. Production for March is apparently going to be 1.64 million BPD and April is looking like 1.55 million BPD.

The year began with more promise because production had dropped 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. While the government has a chance of dealing with tribe based gang violence in the Niger Delta, they are helpless when it comes to the world price of oil. The drop in world oil prices after 2013 was largely because of the huge quantities of oil and gas coming on the market in North America. There the decades old fracking techniques had been perfected after 2000 and changed the world oil market. All this makes little difference to most Nigerians because most of the oil money in Nigeria has been stolen over the last half century. There is still an incentive to make peace in the Delta as that will be one less factor that prevents growth in production or even maintaining high levels of production. That tribal unrest is largely the result of corruption and battles between tribes and clans over the many illegal opportunities in the delta. These include gangs that act as private armies for local politicians (usually state governors) or otherwise work for local politicians or even police commanders. In return for this political violence-on-demand the gangsters get government jobs, most of which don’t require much effort. You also get some protection from the security forces if you are stealing oil (as long as a percentage goes to your patron).

Since late 2016, with Boko Haram less of a concern, security outside of the northeast has become a priority. This was especially true in the oil region where the security forces have managed to suppress the growing piracy activity off the coast and along the numerous delta waterways. But there is still a lot of oil being stolen. There are over a dozen major gangs, most of them based on one (of many) clans of the Ijaw tribe (which predominates in the oil producing areas.) These gangs often depict themselves as rebels fighting for less corruption and more money for their tribe. But these gangs exist mainly because of the income they receive from criminal activities, with stealing oil from pipeline being the most lucrative one. Then there is extortion, mainly from the oil companies. When the oil companies refuse to pay (if only because it is illegal) the gangs attack oil facilities. A new president came to power in 2015 who, as a former general and reformer, was able to get the security forces to crack down on the gangs while, at the same time, addressing some of the tribal grievances. That is why oil production is increasing. That and the fact that a key factor in dealing with the current economic recession is exporting more oil. To help with this the new government is also addressing the fact that the Ijaw tribe has been causing friction by ignoring the needs of the minority tribes in the oil region. That has been the main cause of increasing violence between the tribes.

Beyond Boko Haram

Most Boko Haram have concluded that trying to survive in large groups in Borno State is not working. The security forces have come to know the area, mainly because some 70 percent of Boko Haram violence during 2016 took place in Borno and just across the border in Cameroon. This border area is thinly populated and 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. For the Islamic terrorists this situation cannot be sustained but that’s all Boko Haram encounters these days.

Borno was where Boko Haram began and where most of the recruiting and terrorist activity has always been. Yet young Moslem men in the rest of Nigeria (and the region) noticed how Boko Haram flourished for while in Borno state but were soon defeated. Boko Haram was unable to spread their appeal, and its violence, to any other parts of the country, even adjacent Moslem majority areas. Borno was where most of the violence (and damage) occurred between 2009 and 2016. In that time nearly three million people (90 percent of them Nigerian) were driven from their homes and at least a quarter of them 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 and that led to the collapse of the local economy. Boko Haram violence caused about nine billion dollars in economic damage nationwide and 68 percent of that was in Borno State. This included destruction of over a million structures, most of them homes. But over 5,500 school classrooms were destroyed as well as buildings containing electrical power generation and distribution as well as communications and water supply. Boko Haram created over 100,000 widows and orphans in Borno alone. The government says over $4 billion has already been sent to repair the damage but the locals see little evidence of that, except that government officials and workers handling the aid are suddenly wealthier.

It proved difficult to get the Borno economy going again even after most of the Boko Haram had been killed or chased away. Refugees faced chaos and corruption when they returned to the depopulated area. That chaos is partly because there are now 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. Meanwhile several hundred thousand refugees in Borno are in danger of starving to death. 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 fatal economic aftereffects among the refugees and those still living in economically devastated areas of Borno.

All this misery makes it easy for radical groups, especially religion-based ones, to start small (as Boko Haram did after 2001) and develop many local groups that terrorize everyone and plunder the rich. It’s not just the Moslem areas, although Islamic scripture is more enthusiastic about this sort of thing. In the Christian south the violence is a response to corruption and bad government, not the need to defend Islam. In many parts of the country tribal disputes (usually over land) trigger raids and gun battles. And then there is magic. Sorcery survives and thrives in much of Africa and disagreements over it often get violent and fatal.

The threat of Boko Haram spreading encouraged local officials in other northern and central Nigerian states to respond. While that did not seem to reduce the corruption much some government services improve. This is especially true with the security forces. This was mainly army and police operating more efficiently but there was also the growing number of local defense organizations that have become more acceptable (to the police) since the Boko Haram rampage in Borno State got going in 2009. But local officials are learning that local gangsters are another matter and that if you are a local thug you can develop useful relationships that enable you to operate where the Boko Haram strangers cannot.

The economic damage done by years of Boko Haram violence has caused regional problems that extend outside Borno State. Not just other parts of Nigeria but also all along the south shore of Lake Chad. This lake is where the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria meet. The economic disruption in that area have left over five million people in need of food and other economic aid. Unlike Nigeria, which has substantial oil wealth, Chad, Cameroon and Niger do not and are less able to finance rebuilding themselves.

March 12, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) the army has managed to kill, capture or chase most of the remaining Boko Haram out of the Sambisa forest. That is a big deal because this 60,000 square kilometers of hilly, sparsely populated woodland that straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states has long been a largely inaccessible (to the security forces) base area for Boko Haram. But that safety was only temporary and by late 2016 it was clear to everyone that the Sambisa was no longer safe and most Boko Haram have fled. As they left the area the desperate Islamic terrorists caused panic in villages surrounding the Sambisa and since February about 2,000 villagers a week have been fleeing their homes to escape the desperate (and hungry) men with guns. There are not enough soldiers, police and local defense volunteers in the area to protect all the villages and chase down all the fleeing Boko Haram men before these fugitives get away and set up operations elsewhere.

The forest has long been a hideout outlaws of all sorts. Boko Haram used it as a base area for training camps and a safe place for the wives and children of Boko Haram men. One problem with living in the Sambisa is that there is not a lot of food or any of the other supplies (fuel, batteries, ammunition) Boko Haram requires to survive as a combat organization. Since mid-2016 the army has been encountering a growing number of emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly to find food. The Sambisa has basically been surrounded since early 2016 and the remaining Boko Haram groups in there could not easily get out to raid nearby towns and villages for supplies. Since January 2017 more and more of these hungry (but still armed and violent) Boko Haram men are fleeing in groups.

March 11, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram female suicide bombers spotted trying enter the state capital Maiduguri were shot dead by police when they refused to halt. Further north in Borno, near the Sambisa Forest an army patrol encountered a group of Boko Haram and killed one of them and the others fled leaving behind equipment and 211 civilians they were holding captive. The troops stayed with the civilians until trucks could arrive to take the former captives to a refugee camp.

March 6, 2017: In the southwest (Osun state) a feud between Hausa and Yoruba clans left ten dead and many more wounded. Several homes and businesses were burned down and many more damaged or looted. The Yoruba tribes are Christian and the dominant ethnic group in the south. The Moslem Hausa tribes are dominant in the north. Both groups have many members all over the country, which often contributes to ethnic and religious misunderstandings that often result in violence. The Hausa have been uniting behind religious leaders, while the Yoruba are forming along tribal lines.

March 3, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) three Boko Haram suicide bombers were spotted trying to sneak past checkpoints and into the state capital Maiduguri. Police tried to capture them but the three tried to hide among some fuel trucks and when spotted at least one of them detonated her explosives. The only casualties were the three bombers.

February 28, 2017: In the northeast (Yobe State) security forces prevented a large group of Boko Haram men from looting a remote village near the Sambisa Forest. At least 18 of the Islamic terrorists were killed and several of those who got away were wounded. These Boko Haram raids have become more common since early 2016. Villages in Yobe state near the Sambisa were better prepared for these attacks because Yobe state suffered much less damage from Boko Haram activity and that is one reason why Boko Haram tended to stay away from Yobe when fleeing the Sambisa. But there have been cases where the Islamic terrorists have no better choice. No matter where they are the surviving Boko Haram groups must raid to survive and that has proved much easier in Borno or neighboring countries than in Yobe.

February 22, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) seven soldiers died defending against an attack by a large number of Boko Haram men. The attack was repulsed after about two hours of gunfire but few other details were available.

February 21, 2017: In the northeast (Kaduna State) Fulani tribesmen attacked several Christian villages and left at least 14 Christians dead. That triggered reprisals and at least ten Fulani were killed by the end of the week. This violence by Fulani herders against Christian villagers left over 800 Christians dead in 2016 along with extensive property damage, including 1,422 houses, 16 churches, 19 businesses and one school destroyed. Kaduna is majority Moslem state and the state government refuses to believe that the Fulani raiders are from Kaduna (and thus the responsibility of the state government.) Instead the violence is blamed on Fulani from a different state, despite evidence that the Fulani raiders are locals. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who get in their way.

February 17, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) nine Boko Haram suicide bombers were sent to attack several different targets in the state capital Maiduguri. Due to the improved security and youthfulness of the bombers (many of them girls) all nine of the suicide bombers were killed. Two civilians died because they were too close to one explosion. Some security personnel were wounded but none seriously.


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