Nigeria: Collateral Damage

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July 30, 2011: In the northeast, Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno, is in a state of panic because of frequent Boko Haram terror attacks. At the same time, the police have admitted they have a problem with being too brutal and corrupt, and not sufficiently professional. This has been hurting the police in their efforts to track down and destroy Boko Haram (an organizations that exists, in part, to oppose brutal and corrupt police.) Now that everyone is in agreement about police shortcomings, police commanders are declaring that they will reform the police even while Boko Haram is being run down and destroyed. No one, including Boko Haram, believes that is possible. But the cops are demonstrating better behavior of late, and are getting more leads from civilians as a result. That is largely because Boko Haram is, in many ways, more unpopular than the police. Boko Haram will terrorize civilians it believes are hostile to Islamic radicalism, and are cooperating with the police. Boko Haram also seems unconcerned with civilian deaths as a result of bomb attacks on security forces or government officials. Also unpopular are the lifestyle rules Boko Haram intends to enforce. Already, many schools in the northeast have been forced to close because of terrorist threats. Even religious schools are not allowed if they do not teach the very conservative Islam that Boko Haram espouses. Thus while Boko Haram has many supporters in the Moslem north, it turns them into opponents the longer the Islamic radical group is in an area.

The army also has a reputation for brutality, and not getting along with the police. But the troops are better disciplined, and easier to adapt to new techniques. For that reason, army commanders are confident that they can shut down Boko Haram. All of this talk from the police and army is just that. Boko Haram is still out there terrorizing and recruiting.

Part of the Boko Haram problem is political. As is the case in many Moslem areas, local politicians seek to gain votes by being more Islamic than their rivals. This does not lead to supporting Boko Haram, but it does extend to praising some Boko Haram goals (less corruption, more prayer and virtuous living). Many of the politicians using this approach are still corrupt, both professionally and personally, but appearing more Islamic and radical is undeniably popular.

Despite retraining programs and amnesty, the gangs are making a comeback in the Niger Delta. Oil companies say they are losing over 100,000 barrels a day to organized oil theft gangs (who get less than $20 a barrel). But that's over a million dollars a day to the gangs, and that buys a lot of weapons and gunmen. When there are enough gangsters active, some of them get into politics. It's the Nigerian way.

While job training and amnesty defused the rebellious gangs in the delta, those solutions are not working against Boko Haram. These guys are on a Mission From God and will not be bought off. It's a fight to the death, and local civilians worry that they will provide most of the dead bodies. The army and police talk about a kinder and gentler campaign against the Boko Haram, but there's only been a little evidence of that.

July 24, 2011: At the site of a terrorist bombing in the northeast, police report they were fired on, and returned fire, killing a suspected Boko Haram terrorist.  Meanwhile, a Boko Haram splinter group, Yusufiyya Islamic Movement, announced that it was opposed to large scale attacks on civilians. Boko Haram responded with declarations that there were no splinter factions and that the Yusufiyya Islamic Movement was invented by police. What is known is that Boko Haram has gone through some violent leadership changes in the last few years. The current leadership survived all that, mainly by being more ruthless and homicidal. But leaders of this group are not noted for their long tenure.

July 23, 2011: In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, a bomb went off near the compound of a tribal leader, killing eight civilians. Troops responded by going to a nearby market place and killing more than twenty people. The troops said they were fired on, civilians say the soldiers just began shooting.

July 21, 2011: In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, a bomb went off near a police vehicle, injuring no one. But then there was gunfire, and two people were wounded.

 

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