Nigeria: Promises Not Kept


August 22, 2018: With the recovery of all the territory Boko Haram once controlled and the ability to interview more victims it has been possible to get a better idea about the impact of seven years (2011-2018) of Boko Haram violence. The death toll is now believed to be about 35,000, nearly double earlier estimates (about 20,000). The new estimates include all dead (Boko Haram, security forces and civilians) in over two thousand incidents. A little over half the dead were Boko Haram, with civilians comprising 42 percent and security forces about six percent. Actually, a lot of the civilian deaths were local security forces, some of them recognized and supported by the military. Taking that into account about ten percent of the dead are security forces and 39 percent civilians. By 2015 most of the Christians in the northeast had been killed or, more frequently fled. A minority in the northeast the Christians were a prime target but by 2016 religion-based attacks turned to mosques and Islamic clerics that openly opposed Boko Haram.

Most of the victims of the Boko Haram related violence were from a small fraction of the Nigerian population. The three northeastern state where most of the mayhem occurs have a population of 13 million (Borno; 5.5, Yobe; 3.1 and Adamawa; 4.3). That’s about seven percent of the national population. There is some Boko Haram activity in other northern areas making Boko Haram a problem for about 14 million Nigerians. There are nearly as many people in neighboring countries who are still terrorized (although to a lesser extent) by Boko Haram. The security forces in these neighboring countries have proved more effective at dealing with Boko Haram, which remains mainly a Nigerian organization.

In addition to driving out the Christian minority (who were better educated and ran many businesses) Boko Haram violence did major damage to the educational system in the three northeast states. Borno was the hardest hit but all these states suffered from attacks on schools and teachers. More than 2,300 teachers {staffing some 3,000 schools in the area} were killed and nearly 20,000 teachers fled their schools and often left the northeast. Over 1,500 schools were destroyed and over a thousand students were kidnapped. Over half the school-age children in the area still have no access to education. There is little indication that schools will be repaired or rebuilt very quickly either.

The violence peaked in 2014-15 and for a while Boko Haram was killing more people than ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In 2016 Boko Haram was on the defensive and lost control of most of its territory by 2017. Now Boko Haram has spilt into two major factions and concentrates on terror attacks (a third of them using suicide bombers) and survival as bandits and raiders. In some cases, Boko Haram operates a protection scam in which locals pay a fee to ensure they, or their property, are not attacked. This sort of thing is particularly popular in the far north, on the coast of Lake Chad where fishermen in some areas pay the local Boko Haram for protection so they can fish. Most Boko Haram activity remains concentrated in the northeast, specifically Borno State. There is still some Boko Haram presence in Cameroon and Chad but there are no longer many attacks outside northeast Nigeria (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states).

Boko Haram persists in the northeast in part because one of the two rival factions has adopted more effective tactics. The Barnawi (or “Albarnawi”) faction is recognized by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and follows the current ISIL doctrine of concentrating attacks on security forces and government officials (preferably the corrupt ones). That makes it easier to extort (raise taxes) cash and other goods from the local population. The Barnawi faction has several thousand active gunmen and operates mainly in the far north of Borno state near Lake Chad. The smaller Shekau faction has about half as many armed men and operates further south near the Borno State capital of Maiduguri and the Sambisa Forest.

Money matters and one reason the Barnawi faction has been more successful is their emphasis on raising cash, especially via large ransoms for hostages, especially foreign hostages. There was never a specific demand made in public but the government paid for high-value captives, like the May 2017 agreement that got 82 of the Chibok captives (from 2014) released in exchange for the freedom of eight Boko Haram leaders being held and awaiting prosecution for mass murder, terrorism and so on. Many Nigerians believed these men should have at least stood trial before being traded for hostages. As expected some of the freed Boko Haram leaders promptly went back to Islamic terrorism. At the same time, Boko Haram had very visibly divided into factions. Back in March 2017 Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video to boast that he was still alive and operating in the northeast. At that point, security forces had claimed Shekau was dead at least five times since 2011 but so far had always been wrong. In late 2016 there was hope that a recent split in Boko Haram might lead to Shekau getting killed by other Islamic terrorists but that hasn’t happened either and the two main factions appear to have achieved some kind of truce with each other and continue to operate.

The Boko Haram split began in August 2016 when ISIL announced that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with Abu Musab al Barnawi. ISIL believed Shekau devoted too much effort to killing fellow Moslems (especially civilians) rather than the real enemies of ISIL (local security forces and non-Moslems in general). ISIL leadership was also unhappy with the Boko Haram use of children and women as suicide bombers. That has become an issue in Nigeria because the use of children as suicide bombers has tripled during 2017. While the new Boko Haram leader has concentrated attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems he has also used children, especially females, as suicide bombers. Barnawi is a son of Mohammed Yusuf, one of the ISIL founders. Barnawi was appointed the main Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Although Barnawi has developed a following in Boko Haram Shekau refused to accept the ISIL decision. The Barnawi faction has also been more successful at online recruiting (via encrypted messaging systems like Telegram and frequently shifting presence on social media sites like Facebook.)

The national government has occasionally carried on unofficial talks with the Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. This faction is also known as ISWA (the Islamic State West Africa province) and has access to resources Islamic terror groups use help negotiate large ransoms for hostages, especially foreign hostages. These hostage negotiations apparently evolved into discussions about a peace deal but appeared to get nowhere.

Inept Iranian Interference

Like most Sunni Islamic terror groups Boko Haram will go after other Moslem factions. The most frequent targets are Shia Moslems. There is a Shia minority in Nigeria which, with Iranian help, tried to organize a militant faction. That did not go well and by 2018 Nigerian police managed to eliminate most armed members of the Shia IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria). There has not been much violent activity from the Shia since 2016 when the security forces cracked down hard. There are about seven million Shia in Nigeria and since the 1980s a growing number of them have joined IMN, a group founded and quietly supported by IRGC. While relations between Shia and Sunni Moslems have generally been good in Nigeria, local Sunni radical groups like Boko Haram practice the anti-Shia attitudes so common in Sunni terror groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. IMN always proclaimed itself a peaceful group that welcomed all Moslems but over the years it has become all Shia and a lot more militant.

President Accused of Tribal Bias

President Buhari, in addition to being a reformer, a northern Moslem and a retired general is also a Fulani and seen as reluctant to have the security forces hold the Fulani tribesmen accountable for the violence the Fulani continue to instigate across northern and central Nigeria. So far this year Moslem Fulani raiders are increasingly active with their attacks on local tribes (most of them Christian) that rely on farming. That means the Fulani violence in 2018 accounted for more than five times more deaths than Boko Haram. Despite growing pressure from the Christian community to recognize the escalating (since 2010) threat in a band stretching from the northwest (Zamfara state) through central Nigeria (Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) and the southeast (Taraba State) Buhari refuses to order a crackdown on the attackers.

This is largely about Fulani herders moving south to find more grazing land and water for their animals. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani are seen as the source of constant tension and violence. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. This has been going on for a while and Fulani suffer far fewer losses because they are usually the attacker. The violence declined a bit in 2017 but nothing was done to diminish or eliminate it. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene to protect the farmers. Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. In the last three years, the Fulani violence is believed to have left nearly 9,000 dead. Buhari is currently running for reelection.

August 20, 2018: A World Bank study detailed how Nigerian governments wasted opportunities from 1970 through 2014 to invest a trillion dollars of oil income into development. Instead, most of it was stolen or squandered. During that 44 year period, there were five spikes in oil prices and demand. These “oil booms” brought in extraordinary amounts of income which made it easy to spend most of it on infrastructure, and other long-term investments in the economy. That was rarely done and all the oil income has made a few Nigerians (most of them corrupt politicians) fabulously rich but otherwise has done nothing for Nigeria.

Oil has been a curse not a blessing for Nigeria and one thing nearly all Nigerians can agree on is reducing corruption and theft of most oil income. Since 1972 the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,300 billion) in oil revenue, most of which has been stolen or misused. This corruption is the main cause of the unrest in the country, especially the oil producing areas. Since 1980, the poverty rate (the percentage of people living on less than $400 a year) has gone from 28 percent to over 60 percent today. For over four decades, the oil money has been going to less than twenty percent of the population, leaving most of the rest worse off today than they were in the early 1960s before the oil exports began. The people in the Niger Delta are up in arms because most of them have not benefited from the oil production, but have suffered from the oil spills and other disruptions that accompany oil drilling and shipping. The four decades of theft have left the national infrastructure (roads, water supplies, power production, and so on) in ruins. In short, oil has not helped Nigeria at all.

August 19, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) a wanted Boko Haram leader was identified and arrested in a refugee camp. The Boko Haram leader was apparently no longer active and willing to cooperate with police. There are still over two million refugees in the northeast, mainly Borno State.

August 18, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) armed Boko Haram arrived outside a village late at night and after midnight attacked. Police in the village did nothing and dozens of villagers were killed while most of the rest fled to a nearby refugee camp (that had better security). The Boko Haram looted the village for two hours then drove off into the darkness.

August 12, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) there was another public demonstration (at the Maiduguri airport) by soldiers as several hundred protested that they had been stationed in a battle zone (Borno) for several years and away from their home base (and families) down south. Units are supposed to be rotated at least once a year to give the troops some rest and opportunity to train and integrate new recruits. Despite repeated promises that this would be the policy, it hasn’t been. Getting rids of incompetent officers has also been promised but it is an effort that is far from complete. The government, led by a reformist former general, is aware of the problem but the military has a hard time carrying out basic reforms or enforcing policies (like rotation of troops) they are ordered to carry out. President Buhari has held officers in charge of operations in the north responsible for their failures. As a result, there have been four commanders in the northeast during the last 14 months, replaced in turn when they failed to make needed changes. The military has been notoriously corrupt and inept for decades and change has not come easily or quickly.

August 8, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram ambushed a group of soldiers and killed fifteen of them. Incidents like this continue to occur and recently there has been at least one a month.

August 6, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram attacked a village 13 kilometers outside the state capital and beheaded the village chief, his wife and five others. This was part of an effort to encourage village leaders to cooperate with Boko Haram and not with the security forces.

July 29, 2018: In the south (Niger River Delta) three naval officers were arrested for taking equipment seized from oil thieves and operators of illegal refineries. The officers then sold the equipment on the black market, or directly to other oil theft gangs. The military, especially the navy, has been very successful in finding and shutting down oil theft gangs. In the last two years, this effort has found (via more than 16,000 patrols) and shut down over 1,800 illegal refineries. Much of the refinery equipment is destroyed where found but the navy has seized over 1,5oo weapons, 1,600 boats, 198 barges, 258 outboard engines, 133 tanker trucks, 349 vehicles, 95 generating sets and much more recoverable equipment. The navy is supposed to sell off this stuff with the proceeds going to the government.

July 26, 2018: In the northeast (Borno State) several dozen vehicles carrying over a hundred Boko Haram gunmen attacked a police outpost 3o kilometers outside the state capital. After an hour of fighting the outpost was taken and looted. Yesterday, elsewhere in Borno, another group of Boko Haram ambushed an army convoy and killed at least 23 soldiers.


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