Nigeria: Fresh Prey for Pirates


May 23, 2023: The Niger River Delta is where most of the Nigerian oil is found and extracted. Most of the rest comes from a growing number of off-shore wells. For over half a century all that oil has brought a lot of economic activity to the Delta and that was followed by lots of criminal activity, largely by locals. Dealing with crime in the Delta was a major problem and beyond what the state government could handle. The federal government sent in the armed forces and now the army and navy have substantial forces based in the Delta where they often coordinate campaigns against criminal activity. The criminal activity usually involves stolen oil, either from taps in pipelines or bulk thefts from trucks or barges transporting oil. The stolen oil is then either moved to a neighboring country for re-sale or turned into commercial fuels (usually kerosene) via crude rural refineries that produce cut-rate fuels for rural customers. These illegal refineries are easy to spot from the air and when they are located the army moved in via road or the navy via boat to shut down the refinery, The illegal refining business is so lucrative that losing several refineries every month or so is an affordable cost for a full time refining operation. The refinery personnel usually escape when the army gets the refinery equipment and builds another refinery. The outlaws are armed, although they rarely fight back against the military raids. Rival gangsters or troublesome civilians are another matter. The military raids in the Delta collect lots of stolen weapons and munitions. A lot of this weaponry originally belonged to the military but was either captured during fighting or sold by military personnel. Occasionally the serial numbers of recovered weapons are traceable to police or military units that reported them lost or stolen. Other weapons and explosives are obviously of foreign origin and imported by arms smugglers and traders who see Nigeria as an active and lucrative market. Gangsters, tribal militias and Islamic terrorist groups from the north or central Nigeria often go to the Delta to buy weapons. When the army captures Boko Haram or ISWAP Islamic terrorists in the north they are often armed with weapons from the Delta dealers.

Neighboring countries, especially nearby Cameroon, complain of fighting local rebels and separatists armed with weapons from the infamous Delta arms dealers. In remote areas of northern Cameroon, where Boko Haram groups cross the border to raid in Cameroon or establish camps safe from the Nigerian military, the Nigerian outlaws are often using weapons obtained from the Delta dealers. Cameroon soldiers and police often find themselves facing superior firepower used by the Nigerian outlaws.

May 22, 2023: In the separatist southeast, some locals are celebrating “Biafra Day” which does not celebrate the failed Biafran civil war in the 1960s but rather the 23rd anniversary of the establishment of a new Biafra independence movement. The major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) was responsible for local efforts to prevent people from voting in the 2023 national elections. The army and the federal government sought to block these IPOB efforts. In Imo and surrounding states there is an increased army presence because of renewed demands for an independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia. 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 attempted to establish a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal civil war followed before that rebellion was crushed. 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 outgoing president Buhari, paid attention, and sought to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani living in the southeast 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 did 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 saw the possibility of an Igbo president of Nigeria because there was 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.

May 21, 2023: In central Nigeria (Benue State) about fifty Fulani tribesmen raided a rural village, killed over 40 villagers, looted the place and set fire to most of the buildings. Four soldiers responded to a call from a villager for help. The soldiers didn’t know how many Fulani were involved. The soldiers were killed soon after they arrived. The Benue State Emergency Management Agency reported that over 5,200 Benue residents have been killed by armed Fulani men from nomadic herding tribes since 2015. This violence also created over two million internal refugees. The Federal government was accused of ignoring the situation and not taking action after repeated requests.

May 19, 2023: The two American Consulate officials kidnapped in the southeast (Anambra state) on the 16th were located and rescued by police less than three days later. Thousands of Nigerians are kidnapped each year, most for ransom while some are taken to be exchanged for something other than cash. Nearly a hundred Nigerians a week are taken by criminal gangs, terrorists or personal enemies. The police are not called in unless the victim gets a lot of media attention.

May 17, 2023: In central Nigeria (Plateau state) during the last two days, over a hundred people, most of them women and children, have been killed by raiders attacking rural towns and villages seeking loot. Such violence has been going on for over a decade. In the beginning the attacks were carried out by tribal militias (Moslem Fulani herders and local non-Fulani Moslem and Christian farmers) because of disputes over land use (access to water and grazing territory). This eventually evolved into raiding by criminal gangs. Similar raids in the last few months have left over 200 dead. Local and federal security forces have been unable to track down and identify the attackers. Similar attacks have taken place in nearby Nasarawa State, where the attackers were identified as armed (with rifles) Fulani tribesmen who regularly attacked Moslem Hausa or Christian villages.

May 16, 2023: In the southeast (Anambra state) members of ESN, an Igbo (Biafra) separatist militia, ambushed a convoy carrying members of the American Lagos consulate who were evaluating recent erosion damage to local communities. They were traveling vehicles marked as belonging to the United Nations (UNICEF), which has been active in providing help to victims of local violence or natural disasters. Three of the consulate officials were killed along with four members of their police escort. Two of the consulate officials were missing and presumed kidnapped. Nigerian police, soldiers and naval personnel began checking known or suspected locations of ESN camps seeking the kidnapped men or information on who carried out the attack and where the missing officials were.

May 14, 2023: In the northeast (Borno State) soldiers found a hidden arms cache belonging to ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) Islamic terrorists. The cache contained several rifles, RPG launchers, ammunition and various explosive devices used to make roadside bombs. One Islamic terrorist was spotted and killed as the troops were removing the weapons and explosives.

May 8, 2023: Six merchant sailors kidnapped from a tanker in March were found and rescued by Nigerian security forces today from a kidnapper hideout somewhere in the Niger River Delta. This is a popular place for pirates to hold crew members that have been kidnapped from tankers and freighters anchored offshore in the Gulf of Guinea wanting for a berth to open in a nearby port. Sometimes a ship is taken to another location to be looted, but most of the time the pirates just kidnap members of the crew and hold them for ransom. There is now an international coalition providing safe passage routes and safe anchorage zones for ships to use. This is often inconvenient for some ships so there is always fresh prey for pirates.

April 24, 2023: In the northeast (Borno State) soldiers, assisted by local CJTF (Civilian JTF, or Joint Task Force, after the military organization of the same name) as guides located and raided a dozen Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest over the last few days. The troops killed or captured at least 35 Boko Haram members, including a commander. The Sambisa Forest is a large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated area where the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states meet. It has long been a hideout for Boko Haram and outlaws of all sorts. There is no cell phone service in most of the forest and only in a few villages on the edges of the Sambisa. Some Boko Haram bases in the forest have one or two satellite phones of captured army radios, which can at least provide some warning of an army attack if the troops are sloppy about how they use their radios.




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