Nigeria: Northern Frights

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May 9, 2013: In the last month Boko Haram violence in the north has left nearly 300 dead. More worrisome is that some of these attacks involved over a hundred armed men using what appeared to be military tactics and more discipline than the terrorists have demonstrated before. There has been some training going on and a lot of recruiting. The army has responded by being more violent to local civilians.

The war against Islamic terrorists (Boko Haram) in the north is not going well. The problem is with the security forces, which operate outside the law while trying to enforce it. The army and police, when faced with a major emergency (like the Boko Haram terror tactics) will react by arresting and torturing a lot of people (especially young men, the most likely Boko Haram recruits), often killing them and denying what had been done. While Westerners act horrified at such behavior, that sort of thing did not largely disappear from the West until the last century or two. When a Nigerian joins the police or army they tend to accept the “traditional” way of doing things. But there are good reasons why many such traditions have been replaced. Indiscriminate torture and murder is not the most efficient way to deal with an outbreak of Islamic terrorism. Many senior government officials understand this, but getting the security forces to change these deadly customs has been very difficult (as have efforts to root out corruption in the army and police). Meanwhile, the security forces are murdering several hundred civilians a month with these brutal and indiscriminate tactics.

Another problem with the Islamic terrorism is that it is largely confined to the Moslem north, where the economy and education levels are not as advanced as in the Christian south. The combination of ethnic and religious differences, in addition to the southerners having been in contact with the West longer, has left the north less educated and less able to deal with modern technological society. Thus the appeal of Boko Haram (whose name means, literally, “Western education is unholy”) for many of the tribes in the north.

There are over 200 tribes in Nigerian, which adds another level of complexity for any government. While most of the tribes belong to half a dozen ethnically related coalitions, all consider themselves culturally different. Thus some tribes are very eager for Western education, economic progress, and honest government. Other tribes swing in the opposite direction. Local politicians succeed in part by getting to know how each tribe in their area operates and making the most of that knowledge. Boko Haram is exploiting the Islamic conservatism (or fanaticism) of many northern tribes, as well as xenophobia (fear of outsiders) that is common in the north.

While Islamic terrorists are difficult to find, oil thieves and their collaborators are easier to spot. The oil theft does not just take place in the Niger Delta (where the oil fields are) but throughout the country. There are other pipelines that carry refined product (especially diesel) and these are being plundered. The refined product is more profitable as you can sell it locally. This is risky, as you have to drive around in tanker trucks, always one unexpected encounter with the police away from prison or worse. Sometimes the cops will take a bribe and sometimes they will kill you and steal your stolen oil.

May 7, 2013: In the northeastern town of Bama, some 200 Boko Haram gunmen attacked the police station and a nearby prison. Some one hundred prisoners were released, most of them Boko Haram men. Over a hundred people died, about 40 of them police, soldiers, and prison staff.

In central Nigeria (Nasarawa state) a tribal militia ambushed a police convoy that was seeking to arrest members of the militia that had been forcing locals to join them. At least twenty policemen were killed.

May 5, 2013: In the north (Adamawa state) Boko Haram was believed behind an attack on a Christian village, which left six dead in a local market and four dead in a nearby church.

May 3, 2013: In central Nigeria (Taraba state) at least thirty people died when fighting broke out between Christians and Moslems. The trigger was the funeral procession that went through a Moslem neighborhood, some of the young men saw this as a provocation and attacked the Christian mourners. The violence escalated until enough police could show up to calm things down.

 

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