Nigeria: Autonomy, Anarchy and Abandonment

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November 18, 2021: Local officials in the northwest (Niger state) claim that more Boko Haram gunmen have been arriving and have taken control of five villages. A security task force is being organized to eliminate that Boko Haram problem. For over a decade Niger State has seen increasing tribal violence and banditry. Both usually involve Fulani tribesmen, who have been active in raiding throughout northern and central Nigeria for generations. The violence is mainly about land use disputes between the nomadic Fulani herders and local farmers. The banditry and raiding are often opportunistic, with locals taking advantage of the chaos, which keeps the security forces occupied, to steal cattle to raid a remote village of another tribe and carry off anything portable of value.

In the last five years the fatalities from this tribal violence have exceeded those caused by Boko Haram, which suffered obvious and massive defeats between 2015 and 2017. That eliminated Boko Haram control of any territory and the group has been surviving through banditry ever since. Boko Haram suffered even greater losses from internal battles. In 2015 a large portion of Boko Haram declared itself part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) as ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). In 2018 a smaller ISIL group ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) occasionally showed up in Borno.

Since 2016, declines in Islamic terrorist violence and growth of tribal violence made the tribal feuds more of a security problem than Islamic terrorism. That trend has continued and Boko Haram or ISWAP efforts to establish themselves anywhere in the country fail. In Borno State there continue to be a lot of surrenders by Boko Haram members who are starving and done with the outlaw life. A major cause of this is more effective military leadership in the northeast as well as more aerial surveillance and airstrikes provided by a re-energized air force. Boko Haram and ISWAP are still fighting each other as well as accusing each other of sabotaging the jihad (struggle) to defend Islam.

In northern and central Nigeria, tribal violence and attendant banditry have been present for centuries. This violence grows or declines depending on how the regional economy is doing, plus Islamic terrorist violence and continued government corruption and mismanagement limit economic progress and keep the tribal feuds going.

Islamic terrorists are most active in parts of the northeast where Boko Haram has driven away most of the population. This is especially true in northern Borno State, between the capital Maiduguri and Lake Chad. Most of the remaining population have armed militias and reliable police and soldiers nearby. Foreign and Nigerian economists agree that this area has suffered an economic collapse and that recovery has been slow because of the continued presence of Islamic terrorist raiders. Since 2018 the Lake Chad region, especially northern Borno but also portions of neighboring Adamawa and Kaduna states, have seen a 50 percent decline in economic activity since 2018. Northeastern areas where Boko Haram has not shown up have shown economic declines of 10-14 percent.

Boko Haram must travel farther to find a vulnerable place to raid and plunder, which often means outside of Borno. That keeps the remaining Boko Haram men busy most of the time, yet they still have local fans in the north, just not in the north.

A side effect of this is that millions of people still in the north near Lake Chad are not getting regular deliveries of food and other essentials. A growing number of people are going hungry and unless the government does something more people are going to flee their homes for areas where food is available.

Oil Production Disgrace

Because of declines in Nigerian production, Libya became the largest oil producer in Africa, with 1.24 million BPD (barrels per day) last month. Meanwhile Nigerian production fell by nearly 40 percent in the last 18 months to 1.23 million BPD in October. During the first three months of 2020 Nigerian oil production reached two million BPD. That was up a bit from the last three months of 2019. During 2019 production declined. Daily production in 2019 was 2.32 million BPD, up from 2018 (2.09 million BPD) and 2017 (2.03 million BPD). For 2020 production was expected to be a little lower (2.18 million BPD) to allow for needed oil field rehabilitation work to proceed. Those predictions did not consider covid19 and subsequent lower demand worldwide. For the rest of 2020 the worldwide economic impact of covid19 will probably hurt Nigeria with GDP shrinking by three percent or so.

Normally the largest producers in Africa are Nigeria, Angola and Libya. Angola suffers from some of the same corruption and internal violence problems as Nigeria and for October is in third place behind Libya and Nigeria.

Given the investments in oil production, mainly by foreign companies, Nigeria can produce 4 million BPD. That has not happened. The reasons are continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs, especially of the pipelines, in the Niger River Delta. Then there are the decades of government inability to deal with these problems. That led to a growing number of foreign oil companies selling their Nigerian assets and going elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries. For example, in 2020 it cost $23 per barrel to produce oil in Nigeria but without all the violence and corruption that could be $15 a barrel or less. The new oil production firms will demand better terms from Nigeria meaning less oil income for the government. The effort to explore for oil in the Moslem north is also crippled by the bad reputation Nigeria has when it comes to foreign oil companies.

November 16, 2021: In the southeast (Taraba State) armed Cameroonians crossed the border and attacked several villages, killing a local chief and several villagers and setting fire to the villages. The attackers were believed to be members of the Cameroonian separatist Ambazonia organization. It is unclear why the Ambazonia gunmen invaded Nigeria. Taraba state is not part of the separatist Biafra. This is important because back in 2018 that leaders of the separatist IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) group and a similar Ambazonia separatist organization across the border in Cameroon met and agreed to cooperate and support each other in their shared goals of more autonomy for Igbo in Nigeria and the minority English-speaking people in Cameroon, where most people use French as a common national language.

The close links between Igbo separatists and nearby like-minded Anglophone (English speaking) Cameroonian separatists has grown during the last decade as both separatist movements grew despite efforts of local political and military forces to shut down these increasingly violent movements.

The Nigerian Igbo want a separate Igbo state of Biafra, while the Cameroonians want a separate state of Ambazonia, consisting of terrain in southwest Cameroon dominated by the English-speaking minority of largely Francophone (French speaking) Cameroon. Unlike Biafra, which has never existed legally, Ambazonia was separate from French speaking Cameroon as one of the two former German colonies that France and Britain administered from 1919 (the end of World War I) until 1961 when it was agreed by Britain, France and the UN that the two Cameroons could either merge as one Cameroon or the smaller (and less economically developed) Ambazonia could choose to join either Nigeria or Cameroon as one of the federal states each nation was using for their new governments. Most Ambazonia would have preferred to be an independent state. Ambazonia was considered too small (42,000 square kilometers), poor and sparsely populated (under a million people) for independence. French Cameroon offered more autonomy and economic assistance and that persuaded most to vote for joining Cameroon. The language difference was not believed to be a problem because the English speakers tend to treat the language as a tool, not something more. The Ambazonians soon discovered that adopting the French language meant a more hostile attitude towards other languages, especially English. By 1972 the French speaking majority removed most of Ambazonia’s autonomy and were vigorously trying to get the Ambazonians to adopt French. That caused more resentment and by the 1980s the two million Ambazonians were getting more enthusiastic about regaining their autonomy, or even independence. Now there are nearly four million Ambazonians and they have a substantial separatist movement going.

November 15, 2021: In the southeast, local politicians told the federal government that the best, and most possible, solution to the Biafra and the Igbo separatist movement threat was to offer some autonomy instead. The Biafra (separatist) movement was revived in 2015 and at first the government ordered police to crack down. By 2016 nearly 200 Igbo had been killed by police attacks on demonstrators and anyone suspected of separatist activity. The violent response was obviously making it worse and after 2018 a gentler approach was tried.

The pro-Biafra separatists have been around and increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria considered establishing a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal war followed before the separatist movement was crushed and the Igbo were warned not to try it again. Separatist attitudes were silenced but not extinguished. Pro-Biafra groups began to appear again in the late 1990s, trying to revive the separatist movement. Since then, over a thousand separatists have been killed, and many more imprisoned, while the government continues to insist that Biafra is gone forever. But as details of the extent of government corruption during the last few decades came out, Biafra again seemed like something worth fighting for. Senior government officials, including president Buhari, are paying attention, and seeking to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani are less amenable to any compromise, especially since the Fulani are Moslem and consider themselves defenders of Islam against non-believers like the Christian Igbo.

In response to the threats of violence, a major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) took the lead in protecting Igbo from anti-Biafra violence. In areas where peaceful defense measures do not work IPOB formed an armed security component, the ESN (Eastern Security Network), to defend Igbos in Imo State from Fulani and government violence. The government has responded by sending a battalion of infantry to an area thought to be a base for ESN members. This was unpopular with the locals as Nigerian soldiers are notorious for their violent behavior. These troops had been ordered to behave but that proved difficult for them to do so in the face of Igbo contempt and hostility.

November 13, 2021: In the northeast (Borno State) Brigadier General Zirkushi, who commanded a successful army task-force, was ambushed and killed, along with three soldiers, by ISWAP gunmen. This was believed to be a revenge attack because the task force had recently killed an ISWAP commander. More likely it was just a coincidence because Zirkushi was constantly moving about to check on operations. He was popular with his troops and senior political leaders for demonstrating what good leadership could accomplish. That’s one reason why the task force launched a search for those who killed Zirkushi and killed another ISWAP leader along with over two dozen other ISWAP members.

November 4, 2021: On the southern (Gulf of Guinea) coast the navy has concentrated 13 armed ships, two helicopters and 1,50o personnel for an anti-piracy exercise. Ocean going patrol vessels from Britain and France are also taking part. This exercise was already scheduled before the September announcement by International ship owners’ associations declaring the Gulf of Guinea a HRA (High Risk Area). In fact this is one of the largest HRAs in the world, with about 3.2 million square kilometers (910,000 square miles) involved. Within this HRA the piracy risk is rising, yet Nigeria reports that piracy incidents had declined 77 percent in 2021 compared to 2020. There have been sharp drops in piracy before, which did not last and the piracy returned. The new Gulf of Guinea HRA accounts for about a third of piracy incidents worldwide, including those that involve kidnapping senior crew and taking them ashore to hidden camps where they are held until a ransom is paid. If the piracy problem discourages enough foreign ships from using Gulf of Guinea ports, the nations involved, especially Nigeria, will have to cooperate with the growing number of nations sending patrol ships to operate in international waters to assist ships under attack by giving those ships another source of assistance when they send out a distress call.

 

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