Nigeria: Range Wars Revival


January 15, 2018: Given the number of farmers killed (nearly a hundred) by Fulani herders so far this month, 2018 will be the third year in a row that deaths from the Fulani conflict exceed those from Boko Haram. For every dead farmer there are several others wounded and over a hundred refugees. But while Boko Haram killed mainly Moslems (largely because there were so few Christians in the northeast) the Fulani herders are all Moslem and nearly all their victims are Christian farmers. In a country where the population is half Christian (mainly in south, where the oil is) and half Moslem (mainly in the north, where Boko Haram and the Fulani are) this creates a volatile national dispute that the federal government can no longer ignore.

The aggressive intrusions by Moslem Fulani raiders against largely Christian farmers in Central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) has been getting worse as the farmers arm themselves and organize against the armed and dangerous Fulani herders seeking more grazing land for their cattle. The Fulani insist they are following traditional seasonal patterns of moving their herds, patterns that have existed for centuries. But there is no record of the Fulani ranging this far south before. Fulani leaders insist there can be peace only if the farmers surrender some of their land to the Fulani. There are also demands that farmers who killed Fulani attackers be prosecuted. The Fulani see themselves as the victims.

In 2016 the Fulani violence left 2,500 dead and it got worse in 2017 as more farm communities organized armed defense groups and some states tried to pass laws regulating the relationships between herders and farmers. The Fulani herders have become more deadly than Boko Haram but that has not become a major issue because the Fulani problem has been around for centuries and is not as organized and media savvy as Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram. The Fulani are seeking to adapt by using a national cattle owners association speak for them and push the Fulani view that the herders are the victims here and are attacking in self-defense.

The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community to recognize the escalating (since 2010) threat in central Nigeria from the Fulani herders. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene. This has the desired effect and in many areas the police and soldiers only go through the motions of trying to disarm or arrest the guilty Fulani. Both sides blame the government of taking sides but in general the government officials are mainly interested in looking out for themselves. The current Nigerian president, a former general who is Moslem and a reformer, has taken on the Fulani issue now that Boko Haram and his recent health problems are handled.

Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. Tribal violence of this sort has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along and, according to many Moslem clerics and religious teachers, never will. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and as it got worse in 2016 and 2017. The prompted officials from both states to meet with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal. That has not worked, at least not for long. There are always factions among the Fulani who are willing to violate a peace deal. And then there is the underlying problem of the Fulani being righteously wrong.

Boko Haram Becomes Bandits

While the Fulani violence is growing the Boko Haram activity in the northeast (mainly Borno state) has proved impossible to eliminate entirely because unemployed young men find that they can turn to banditry and justify it by declaring themselves defenders of Islam (Boko Haram). This enables the Boko Haram bandits to cooperate and exchange tips on how to survive. For example troops regularly raid suspected Boko Haram camps and often find weapons, ammo and equipment (as well as hostages) but the Islamic terrorists themselves generally get away by using lookouts and knowing that the troops will be delayed by the need to check out the captives (to ensure that none are Boko Haram pretending to be hostages) and make sure there are no landmines or other traps along the escape path. Unlike the Fulani Boko Haram have no herds to protect or need to occupy land for grazing. Given the always dire state of the economy in the northeast there is not likely to be any alternative employment available and the corruption that justified the original (2005) Boko Haram uprising is still present. But the security forces, with the help of civilian volunteers and a military coalition from neighboring countries, is hunting down significant groups of Boko Haram and eventually that will reduce Boko Haram to a loose association of individuals and very small groups.

Returned Unwanted

In the two weeks of 2018 the government flew 1,590 Nigerian illegal migrants from Libya back to Nigeria. For all of 2017 6,000 Nigerians were flown back. These Nigerians had used people smugglers in a failed effort reach Europe illegally. Another few thousand are to follow quickly over this month. The Libyans and the EU (European Union) finally managed to disrupt many of the smuggling operations and persuaded (threatened, bribed, embarrassed and so on) the countries the illegals came from to take them back. This process has intensified during 2017 and has reached the point where so many illegals are being returned that fewer people are willing to risk the cash, and their lives, to make the trip. But the illegals are still coming, even though Libya is even more dangerous for illegal migrants.

January 11, 2018: In the south (Delta State) there was another explosion in a major natural gas pipeline, days after it went back into service once earlier fire damage was repaired. This pipeline supplies power plants that supply about 16 percent of the national electrical supply. Corruption has led to an inadequate and unreliable power supply and that has limited economic growth. Nigeria is predicted to have annual GDP growth 2.5-3 percent for the rest of the decade, which is below average even for Africa.

January 10, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram raiders crossed the border into Cameroon and attacked several villages seeking supplies. Four villagers were killed and the Islamic terrorists fled back to their base in Nigeria. In Borno state the Boko Haram have had a difficult time finding any unguarded villages to raid and cross the border until too many Cameroonian police and soldiers show up.

January 9, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) three teenage girls sent by Boko Haram to make a dawn suicide bomber attack on a town were spotted by soldiers. Two of the girls were shot dead when they refused to halt while the third took off her explosive vest and was arrested. In 2017 there were at least 135 instances of Boko Haram using children (usually teenage girls) as suicide bombers. That was five times more than in 2016.

January 8, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram raiders attacked villagers on the outskirts of the state capital leaving 20 dead and another fifteen missing (and presumably kidnapped for use as slaves.) The civilians were out collecting firewood, to be sold so they could buy food. Collecting firewood has become a more common occupation in areas years of Boko Haram violence have depopulated. But Boko Haram has noted the presence of the loggers and wood gatherers and is attacking them.

Further north along the Lake Chad shoreline several days of patrols and raids have left over a hundred Boko Haram dead and several of their camps captured along with many weapons and supplies of ammo. In at least one case Boko Haram tried to counterattack but were defeated. One captured base was apparently a major supply storage site considering the large quantities of fuel, food and vehicles captured. Troops also freed over 700 civilians from Boko Haram captivity. These operations left four soldiers dead and nine wounded. Similar operations in December did major damage to Boko Haram groups operating near Lake Chad, leaving several hundred Islamic terrorists dead or captured.

January 3, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a mosque leaving 14 worshippers dead.

January 2, 2018: In the south there was a major electrical blackout as a fire shut down a natural gas pipeline supplying power plants.

December 31, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram raiders attacked villagers on the outskirts of the state capital leaving 25 dead and three truckloads of firewood burned.

December 30, 2017: In the southeast there has been growing violence across the border in southwest Cameroon where a separatist movement has turned violent and dozens of people have been killed since October. Several thousand Anglophone (English speaking) Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria. The issues are more linguistic than tribal and the separatists are largely English speaking Cameroonians (about 20 percent of the 23 million Cameroonians) who protest the bad treatment they receive from the French speaking majority. The English speakers of southwest Cameroon used to be part of Nigeria but as part of the process by which colonial rule ended in the 1950s some groups on proposed new borders were given an option on which nation to belong to. The Cameroon English speakers thought they would be better off as a linguistic minority in Cameroon but subsequent generations developed different attitudes. Ironically the separatist Cameroonians are adjacent to the separatist Nigerian Igbo areas that want to be a separate state called Biafra. The people in these two separatist areas have a lot in common but operating together to form a single new state has never been a priority.

December 21, 2017: In the south, six armed pirates attacked a large merchant ship 50 kilometers offshore and kidnapped ten crew members after stealing anything valuable and portable. There were 36 attacks like this off the coast in 2017, with ten attacks involving kidnapping (of 65 sailors). Most of the captives were found and freed by police ashore but some were ransomed. Piracy is more of a problem off Nigeria than it is off Somalia.




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