Nigeria: Then As Now


February 15, 2023: This year, as i n 2022 the Islamic terrorists continued to fade while tribal violence was responsible for more casualties than Islamic terrorists, whose main activity now is staying alive and survive via banditry. Back in 2004, Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast appeared and created some lasting problems. There are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in the northeast (Borno State), where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of the local corruption, but more competent leadership in the security forces reduced the violence. All this was caused by a local group of Taliban wannabes calling themselves Boko Haram. Their activity in the capital of Borno State grew for a decade until in 2014 it seemed unstoppable. It took over a year for the government to finally muster sufficient military strength to cripple but not destroy Boko Haram. This did not get much media attention outside Africa, even though in 2014 Boko Haram killed more people than ISIL did in Syria and Iraq. The main reason for Boko Haram gains in 2014 and 2015 was corruption in the army, which severely crippled effective counterterror efforts. By itself Boko Haram was too small to have much impact on a national scale but the inability to deal with this problem put a spotlight on the corruption that has hobbled all progress in Nigeria for decades. A new president (a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and made progress in changing the corrupt army culture but that is still a work in progress even though he was reelected in early 2019. More bad news is expected because of too many tribal feuds, not enough oil money and too much corruption creating growing unrest throughout the country. This is especially bad down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta). Violence against oil facilities continues. Worse, local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business. Northern Moslems want more control over the federal government and the oil money. In northern and central Nigeria there is increasing violence as nomadic Moslem herders move south and clash with largely Christian farmers over land use and water supplies. For the last few years these tribal feuds have killed more people than Boko Haram. The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars, over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least, more street violence and public anger.

February 14, 2023: In the southeast (Imo state) the major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) is responsible for local efforts to prevent people from voting in the 2023 national elections. The army and the federal government are seeking to block these IPOB efforts. In Imo and surrounding states there is an increased army presence because renewed demands for an independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia is once again an issue. Local politicians advised the federal government to keep the army out of this and that the best, and most possible, solution to the Biafra/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-Biafran 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, IPOB 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.

Many Igbo politicians urge IPOB to become more political than militant to achieve their goals. The Igbo, because of their higher education levels and entrepreneurial skills are a growing presence in the national economy and senior civil service. Many prominent Igbo see the possibility of an Igbo president of Nigeria because there is an Igbo politician running in the next presidential election in February 2023. That did not happen even though many Igbo backed this because they believed it would do more for the Igbo than another war for an independent Biafra. Not all Biafrans agree with that assessment, but most see a Biafran president of Nigeria as a good thing. The 2023 election has a religious aspect to it because one of the leading candidates is Moslem and selected another Moslem to run for vice-president. For decades the Nigerians custom was to always have a Moslem president elected with a Christian vice president and vice versa.

February 10, 2023: The army reported that nationwide soldiers had killed 76 Islamic terrorists, rebels or tribal raiders and arrested 236 suspects in the last two weeks. The purpose of many of these operations was to find and free kidnap victims held for ransom. This was accomplished in many raids and 81 hostages were rescued.

February 9, 2023: In central Nigeria (Benue State) Fulani raiders attacked a major town, expecting to do looting but encountered unexpected resistance from soldiers and armed locals. The Fulani quickly retreated but not before six people were killed and even more wounded. Some Fulani were casualties but most were local residents caught in the crossfire. The state government reports that over 6,000 people have been killed by this kind of violence since 2017.

February 7, 2023: In the northeast (Borno State) ISWAP (Islamic State of the West African Province) and Boko Haram resumed attacking each other with ambushes and raids on each other’s camps. Several of these clashes left at least twenty gunmen dead. This sort of violence between Islamic terrorists has been going on since 2016 when an internal struggle triggered by Boko Haram members who believed more radical measures were required for Boko Haram to survive. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and most Boko Haram members resisted this but the radicals managed to organize ISWAP and eventually (2021) kill Shekau when a large ISWAP raiding party attacked the remote camp where the Boko Haram leader was staying. The factional dispute was declared over because of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction raid. It wasn’t. The death of veteran Boko Haram leader Shekau did not lead to a reunification of Boko Haram under pro-ISIL leadership.

Shekau was killed by dissident Boko Haram members that had joined ISIL and considered any Boko Haram member who did not do the same as traitors to Islam. Shekau had been active in Boko Haram from the beginning, in the 1990s, and had been leader since 2009. Shekau was correct about ISWAP, the local ISIL affiliate, seeking to absorb Boko Haram and seemed to realize more than ISIL leaders that many Boko Haram members preferred to fight ISWAP, or simply leave the movement. ISWAP leaders backed this forced reunification idea without realizing the impact the death of Shekau would have on most Islamic terrorists in the northeast. This became obvious when the number of Boko Haram and ISWAP members abandoning Islamic terrorism increased after the “merger” and death of Shekau was first announced. Many of those defectors switched to organized crime and ditched their religious pretensions. This has already been happening in the last few years but the “merger” caused the trend to spike. Two months after the death of Shekau over 8,000 Boko Haram/ISWAP members, including many family members who lived in Islamic terrorist camps, officially surrendered, something which merely resulted in an update of government records and agreeing to answer questions about their experience with Boko Haram. Nearly all the Boko Haram/ISWAP already named as criminals and wanted for specific crimes, are leaders and could negotiate a surrender deal that could spare them any punishment at all. That has upset a lot of northern political and business leaders, but these men know that if you have enough cash and connections, you can avoid conviction. This has been the case during the last decade as more and more notorious (they often flaunted it) politicians and business magnates were prosecuted, often with the help of foreign countries, like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and many other Western nations, who provided evidence of financial activities locally.

Boko Haram quickly appointed a new leader; Bakura Modu (or Sahaba) who had much less experience than Shekau and he moved Boko Haram headquarters from the Sambia forces to Rijana forest in neighboring Kaduna State. These changes did not stem the defections. Boko Haram and ISWAP are both beset by money problems. Over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence in the north have ruined the local economy so there are more unemployed young men who can be enticed to join the Islamic terrorist for a “joining bonus” of less than $2, plus the promise of more if they learn to handle an assault rifle and succeed at looting and plundering what is left to steal in the northeast. A merger of economic, not religious, convenience was one thing most Islamic terrorists could agree on.

Up until this latest series of clashes the army had reported that in January they had killed over fifty ISWAP and Boko Haram gunmen and disrupted the supply and recruiting efforts of both groups. February 6, 2023: In the southeast (Anambra state) a local tribal feud escalated into armed violence, leaving at least ten dead and many more wounded before police arrived and the armed tribesmen scattered.

February 5, 2023: In the northwest (Katsina state) the military has organized a joint force of soldiers, police and the air force to hunt down and capture or kill bandits who attacked local villages seeking loot and livestock. In some cases, the raiders were confronted by armed vigilantes who caused the raiders to flee empty handed, Villagers and vigilantes gave information on who some of the raiders were and where they were likely to be found inside nearby forests. The air force is often called in to put an area under aerial surveillance, apparently using a UAV, because the surveillance often has to continue for hours to confirm where the bandits were. The air force can then send one of their jet fighters to attack any assembled bandits using rockets and autocannon fire. Meanwhile ground troops were sent to the area to confirm the damage. This tactic often eliminates the need for a gun battle. For several years Katsina state has been the scene of some of the worst criminal activity in the country, including kidnapping and mass attacks to loot towns and kill any civilians or police who resisted.

January 26, 2023: In central Nigeria (Nasarawa state) a bomb killed 27 Fulani tribesmen. Mo one took credit for this but it is apparently related to the ongoing feuds between the Moslem Fulani and local Christian tribes. Many of the nomadic pastoralists are Fulani, a Moslem group noted for their resourceful, opportunistic and aggressive behavior. Moslem herders have been fighting Christian farmers who refuse to allow herders to graze their animals on farmland and seize control of water supplies. Nasarawa is just north of Plateau state where such violence between Moslem herders and Christian farmers is more common and has been around a lot longer. A decade ago, that violence began showing up in Nasarawa and that kept getting worse. Early in 2014 the army deployed a task force to Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states to deal with the growing activity of armed groups. The army reduced violence but did not eliminate it and the Christians accuse some army commanders of giving in to threats, or bribes, by herders to leave the armed herders alone or even assist them in their attacks on farmers. Nasarawa leaders, tribal and political, have united in supporting opposition to armed tribesmen, especially groups from other states.


Article Archive

Nigeria: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close