The army has become more aggressive against Boko Haram and ISWAP
(Islamic State West Africa Province) gunmen still active in the northeast (mainly Borno State).
The Nigerian branch ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is ISWAP, This is actually the more radical faction of Boko Haram and also considers itself the primary ISIL “province” (chapter, division, franchise or whatever) in Africa. As a result, national borders are less important and ISWAP has become a threat to all the countries (Chad, Cameroon, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic/CAR) bordering Lake Chad. This is nothing new because in 2015 these Lake Chad nations agreed to cooperate in dealing with the growing Boko Haram violence along the southern shore of Lake Chad. The Islamic terrorists would steal fishing boats and move along the coast and sometimes occupy small islands as bases. As the Boko Haram groups operating in northern Borno State evolved into ISWAP, ISIL sent experienced personnel from Syria and Iraq who helped ISWAP with technical matters like bomb-building techniques and how to use commercial quadcopters for planning attacks and tracking the local soldiers and police. The ISIL advisors also provided useful guidance on how to raise money, which increased Boko Haram activity with the drug trade, especially aspects of it that crossed national borders. This is something ISIL and al Qaeda in Africa have adopted in a big way and that makes it easier for these two organizations to operate outside their country of origin.
American and French aerial and electronic intelligence in the region and the Middle East have confirmed the ISWAP connection to what is left of ISIL in Syria/Iraq. ISIL leader Baghdadi was known to be hiding out somewhere in Iraq or Syria and under constant pressure from his many pursuers. But contact between ISIL headquarters and ISWAP, while irregular, was maintained. ISWAP is, just from monitoring mass media reports, the most active ISIL faction at the moment and the Nigerian leaders of ISWAP want to keep it that way. This pays propaganda dividends in Nigeria and neighboring countries where it makes recruiting easier and extortion victims more willing to “pay their taxes.” All this has also made ISWAP a primary target for Nigerian and international forces. ISWAP is learning that being in that kind of spotlight makes it a primary target for a lot more attackers. Losing ISIL supreme leader Baghdadi in October and the possibility of a contentious situation with his successor won’t help ISWAP but it is unclear how much it will hurt.
Largely because of the presence of ISWAP, much of the northern portion of Borno state are subject to frequent Islamic terrorist raids and ambushes of convoys or army patrols. There are about a million people living in these contested areas and the army has adapted. Large combat patrols advance into areas where the Islamic terrorists are known to be active. The troops are prepared for a fight and often have air force support. Ambushes are less successful and often defeated, forcing the surviving Islamic terrorists to flee. These combat patrols are also going after local merchants who supply Islamic terror groups in the area. This is a very lucrative business but also risky because of the greater army and air force presence.
Vehicles traveling through northern Borno or adjacent states are sometimes carrying illegal drugs north to the Mediterranean coast and then to Europe. Aiding the passage of these shipments through Nigeria has become a major source of cash for the Islamic terrorists. Much effort goes into concealing the drugs, which change vehicles often as they make their way into the Sahel (northern Nigeria) and then across the Sahara Dessert. In Nigeria, the drug cargo usually consists of heroin, cocaine and a lot of hashish (the concentrated paste containing the active ingredient of marijuana) a popular product in central and north Africa where it has been produced for centuries. Actually growing and using cannabis only became popular in Nigeria during the 20th century. Most of it is grown in southern and central Nigeria but it is used throughout the country and Nigeria has become a major exporter, especially of the more compact hashish form.
In the last century demand from Europe meant hashish smuggling became a lucrative business. Currently at least a third of drugs imported into Europe are hashish or marijuana. Most Africans consider hashish a local custom even if everyone doesn’t use it. In the 1990s there were efforts in several parts of Africa to suppress hashish production and export to Europe. Local governments soon realized that suppression was not going to work and decided to respect tradition and back off. After that Islamic terrorism became more of a problem and the Islamic terrorists found drug smuggling a convenient way to raise cash.
Since World War II Africa has become one of the main sources of hashish for the growing European market. Wild species of cannabis (marijuana) have been used as an edible item in Africa and the Middle East (and elsewhere all the way to China) for thousands of years. Because the use of cannabis and hashish have been a traditional part of the economy seemingly forever, successful local rulers tolerate the cultivation of cannabis for commercial (and export) use.
The Lebanese civil war (1975-90) and years of Syrian interference after that put the largest supplier of hashish to Europe out of business for decades. African suppliers seized the opportunity and by 2003 became the largest supplier. After that Lebanon began making a comeback and Afghanistan drug gangs found it profitable to export hashish as well as heroin to foreign markets. While heroin is worth 3-4 times more much per kilogram than hashish, the cannabis-based product is easier to move and sell because in many parts of the world it is not considered a “hard drug” as cocaine and heroin (both the products of modern or at least 19th century, technology) are. Africa is not the only part of the world where eating or smoking hashish is considered traditional and not worth prosecuting. Meanwhile, customs and technology related to hashish have been changing. The concept of smoking hashish spread from the Americas and Africa 5-6 centuries ago and modern plant breeding techniques have produced more potent (in terms of THC, the main active ingredient) cannabis plants. More efficient methods for turning cannabis into hashish have spread around the planet in the last century. For Africa, this meant less farmland is needed for cannabis but what is produced is more potent and valuable especially for the nearby European market.
The government continues having problems attracting foreign investors to develop major natural gas projects. No such problem exist in neighboring countries where there is less corruption and chaos in areas where the development is to take place. There are over $150 billion worth of gas field development projects available but no progress is being made attracting investors. Too much risk and too many broken government promises in the past have made it difficult to keep oil and gas production projects going. Nigeria has a bad reputation when it comes to foreign investors and has not done enough to change those perceptions.
Chronic corruption in the Niger River Delta, where most of the oil projects are, also cripples efforts provide services to the people there who are always a few incidents (of officials stealing money or assets) away from another active rebellion. In the Delta, corruption has become a local tradition that is very resistant to reform. President Buhari is admired locally for being able to occasionally, with great effort, get the local officials to do their job. Buhari has to run the entire country and is not able to police the bad behavior of Delta politicians and government officials full time.
President Buhari, being an army veteran and retired general, said he would carry out needed reforms in the military. In peacetime, the severe problems in the Nigerian military are largely out of sight to most voters. But since 2013, when the military was called on to deal with Boko Haram violence in the northeast, the usual peacetime corruption (stealing money meant for pay, supplies and weapons) and inept leadership resulted in dismal results against Boko Haram and the army was embarrassed. That helped get Buhari elected because no previous president had much success in fixing these problems. Buhari did succeed, sort of. He replaced a lot of officers, especially senior ones. That in itself was not enough. Corruption had become part of the military culture and it was difficult to change that quickly. Then there were the many civilian officials the military depended on. These were corrupt as well were and more difficult than military personnel to weed out. Buhari concentrated on combat commanders because they were the most important officers for dealing with the performance of troops against Boko Haram. That effort has shown notable progress but has also directed more attention to the corruption in army support services. This is most visible in the army medical services, especially the ability to quickly and effectively treat combat casualties. As troops are more active in combat there are more casualties and the lack of effective medical care in the combat zone has become another scandal.
November 29, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram gunmen raided Lassa (south of the state capital) from several directions and looted the town. The local defense volunteers fought back but several hundred civilians fled the town as the raiders grabbed food and other supplies from homes and shops. The attackers came in vehicles and motorbikes, causing a lot of chaos and confusion. Before leaving the Islamic terrorists set several buildings on fire.
November 27, 2019: In the northeast (Yobe State), Boko Haram gunmen raided Babbangida (near the Borno State border) from several directions and looted the town. Many residents fled until the raiders departed before dawn.
November 22, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the state government has hired 150 Cameroonian mercenaries to help police sections of the Nigerian border where Boko Haram groups are active and often moving between Cameroon and Borno State. The Cameroonians gained their combat experience by working as armed local defense volunteers and proving themselves very effective. In addition to salary, the Cameroonians were supplied with some vehicles and communications equipment. The Cameroonians will work their Nigerian counterparts on the Nigerian side of the border. The Nigerian government has long had Nigerian local defense volunteers on the payroll, especially groups of local hunters who have good tracking skills.
November 21, 2019: Nigeria ranked third in terrorism-related deaths for 2018. This is according to the GTI (Global Terrorism Index), which counts all forms of terrorism and notes that in 2018 tribal violence (usually Fulani herders versus farmers) again accounted for more deaths than Boko Haram and other Islamic terror groups. Nigeria has held third place for five years in a row. Afghanistan and Iraq have usually been competing for first and second place. The rest of the top ten is Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen, the Philippines, and Congo. India, Philippines, Yemen and Congo all have Islamic terrorism accounting for a minority of the deaths. In the last years, the deaths that are counted for the GTI in Africa are up about five percent.
November 18, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), a clash with Boko Haram gunmen left four soldiers and one CJTF (civilian defense volunteers) man dead.
November 17, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), Boko Haram raiders mounted on camels attacked a farm village stealing cattle and other supplies. Six members of the local defense volunteers were killed.
November 15, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), Boko Haram raiders killed eleven civilians during two raids over the last two days.
November 13, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the air force attacked an ISWAP camp on the Lake Chad coast and killed at least five of the Islamic terrorists.
November 12, 2019: The head of the army revealed that years of fighting Boko Haram had reduced the Islamic terror group to a force of under 5,000 gunmen. At its peak about five years ago Boko Haram had about 35,000 armed men at their disposal. The army claims to have killed the majority of Boko Haram over the last five years. There are no precise figures on Boko Haram deaths because the Islamic terror group did not keep a lot of records. The government is currently holding about 5,500 suspected Boko Haram members but many of these may have deserted from Boko Haram or, in many cases, been falsely accused. The government has released nearly a thousand suspects recently after concluding they had no connection to Boko Haram. Some of these had been held for three years. The army is unsure of exactly how many people years of Boko Haram violence killed. Their best estimate is 30,000-100,000 deaths. Many Boko Haram victims died in unrecorded raids on rural villages or were captured to be used as slaves and died because of it. Thousands of these slaves were exported to other countries. Many African Moslems consider slavery acceptable, especially if the victims are infidels (non-Moslems).
November 7, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram ambushed an army patrol near Damboa, killing nine soldiers, wounding nine and with twelve missing. The retreating soldiers claim to have killed nine of their attackers. The troops were actually returning to base from a patrol and were not as alert as usual when on patrol. Damboa in the northern half of Borno state, an area that borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The main road to this area has been contested by Boko Haram since 2013. Whoever controls Damboa has easy access to the northern half of Borno state. Boko Haram activity has always been heaviest around Damboa and points north. Those areas have lost most of their population, who fled to refugee camps or other parts of Nigeria. The local economy is largely gone but the Islamic terrorists remain. The army is again trying to clear the road north of Boko Haram presence. The ambush was one of several clashes between troops and Boko Haram in this area over the last two days.
November 4, 2019: In the last three days three ships operating in the Gulf of Guinea were attacked by pirates, who stole potable items and kidnapped 13 sailors for ransom. These attacks did not take place off the Nigerian coast, as they usually do, but to the west of the smaller neighbors Benin and Togo. It is believed that the pirates involved were Nigerian, who felt the trip to offshore areas of Benin and Togo were worth it because the security forces presence there is smaller and not as quick to respond as in Nigeria.
November 2, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the air force twice attacked ISWAP camps on the Lake Chad coast over the last two days and killed several of the Islamic terrorists. In addition, several vehicles and other equipment were destroyed. The army was also busy to the west finding and disabling roadside bombs Boko Haram had planted on the road to neighboring Yobe State. This route is also used by drug smugglers Boko Haram works with. In fact, that’s the main reason Boko Haram has a presence in this area. The drug smuggling routes go through central Nigeria (like Jos state) and then north but west of Borno state, where Boko Haram is most active. Boko Haram had proved to be more effective in protecting drug smuggling than more conventional criminal gangs.
October 30, 2019: In the northeast (across the border from Borno state in southeast Niger), Boko Haram gunmen launched a 3 AM attack on an army base near the border town of Diffa, killing twelve soldiers and wounding eight. The attackers burned some equipment and structures and left with as much loot as they could carry. Diffa has been the scene of clashes between the Niger troops and Boko Haram forces for years.