Nigeria: Boko Haram War Moves To The Border


June 28, 2013: In northeastern Borno and Yobe states young men have formed a pro-government militia called the “Civilian JTF" (Joint Task Force, after the military organization of the same name) to provide security against Boko Haram and provide information to the security forces about who Boko Haram members are and where they are living. In response Boko Haram openly declared war on Civilian JTF members and threatened to come to their homes and kill them. Most Civilian JTF members cover their faces while assisting the security forces. While this threat certainly terrified some Civilian JTF members (who generally have no firearms), the leadership publicly defied the Boko Haram threats. The Civilian JTF often operate with heavily armed police or soldiers nearby (ready to move in and arrest Boko Haram suspects the vigilantes identify or fire back if Boko Haram attack). The army has begun to use the volunteers to replace troops at checkpoints. There are still some armed soldiers nearby, in case Boko Haram tries to attack the civilians, but this new policy has enabled more checkpoints to be set up and more through searches of vehicles to be conducted. This makes it more difficult for Boko Haram to move around, plan, and carry out attacks or to resupply the few men they still have in the cities.

Most of the people in the northeast are fed up with Boko Haram, even though they agree with the anti-corruption/clean government goals of the group. What has turned most people off are the terrorist tactics, which kill an increasing number of innocents. At the same time, the government has had some success in getting the army to restrain it troops, who often practiced what amounted to terrorism (random violence) against civilians perceived as hostile (or possibly hostile or simply uncooperative). Boko Haram is still a major threat, but the recent army pressure has forced the terrorists to scatter and spend a lot of time and effort regrouping, rather than making terror attacks in urban areas. The army will have to ease up on the curfews and numerous roadblocks soon or the three northeastern states will suffer economic collapse and widespread hunger.

Boko Haram temporarily took control of two towns (Bama and Gwoza) near the Cameroon border. Christians and government workers were given a week to get out after the Islamic terrorists arrived last week. The two towns are being looted by the Boko Haram men, who still maintain camps in the nearby hills. A month ago Boko Haram was chased out of its urban and suburban bases in the northeast by an army offensive. Several hundred Boko Haram members who avoided arrest or getting killed then set up operations in the mountain forests along the Cameroon border. This has included raiding villages in the thinly populated region as well as stealing cattle and anything else they could use. When they encountered Christian churches they burned them down and killed any clergy they found. The terrorists have moved deep into the mountains, set up camps, and gotten in touch with Boko Haram camps known to exist across the border in Cameroon. The army visited some of the raided villages and is searching for the new Boko Haram camps. There are not enough troops to be everywhere and at all times along the border, and this gave the Islamic terrorists the opportunity to spend a week plundering Bama and Gwoza. A month of Boko Haram violence along the border has sent several thousand people from their homes and fleeing, often for over a hundred kilometers, to Maiduguri. There are still some armed Boko Haram members in the cities, especially Maiduguri. There they are sheltered by family or sympathetic civilians and are difficult to root out.

Recent army operations along the Cameroon border have found several camps, including one containing the computers and video cameras apparently used by Boko Haram to produce the videos they post on the Internet. Several of the camps contained vehicles, weapons, and bomb making equipment. The Boko Haram men usually detected the approaching troops and fled on foot carrying what they could. The vehicles were too easy to spot from the air, so if the army had helicopters or aircraft overhead, or the vehicle routes were blocked, the Islamic terrorists would abandon their vehicles. These sweeps have led to some arrests, including several wanted Boko Haram leaders. 

A government investigation into Boko Haram has concluded that about 80 percent of the members are from the Kanuri tribe. This ethnic group contains about four million people, with three million living in northeastern Nigeria and the rest in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. The leader of Boko Haram (Abubakar Shekau) is believed to be a Niger Kanuri, not Nigerian as was earlier thought. The Kanuri have lived in the region (centered on the city of Maiduguri in Borno State) for over 3,000 years. At times during this period the Kanuri had their own kingdom, but most of the time they were ruled by some stronger tribe as part of a local empire. Kanuri separatist movements generally died out after Nigeria became independent half a century ago.

The Boko Haram men chased out of the urban areas (where they preferred to make attacks, to ensure maximum publicity) are still carrying out terrorist activities in rural areas where they have set up operations. Schools and Christians in the countryside are now being hit. There are not a lot of attacks because there aren’t many Boko Haram out in the thinly populated countryside. But eventually news of these attacks makes its way back to the mass media and get publicized more widely.

The government admitted that nearly half of the 75 people prosecuted for terrorism in the last two years were not convicted. Most of those who escaped conviction did so because their fellow terrorists raided the prison they were in and freed the suspects before their trial could be concluded. These raids are still a major problem, despite improved security around prisons and moving Boko Haram prisoners out of the north to Christian areas in the south.

In the Niger River delta police arrested 473 oil thieves in the first half of the year. So far 32 have been convicted. Over two million liters (over half a million gallons) of oil and refined products (usually kerosene) were recovered and four small refineries were seized and destroyed. It is feared that the police are concentrating on small operators, as the larger oil theft and refining operations operate with the protection of senior government, police, and military officials.

June 27, 2013: In central Nigeria (Plateau State) several days of violence between Christian and Moslem tribes has left at least 32 dead. This outburst was about cattle stealing and retaliatory attacks.

June 21, 2013: Northeastern Borno state announced it would hire several hundred armed security guards for primary and secondary schools to provide some protection against Boko Haram attacks.

June 20, 2013: The military has banned the use of satellite phones in the three northeastern states currently under martial law. Boko Haram uses a lot of the cash it gets from extortion, kidnapping, and robbery to buy and use the expensive satellite phones. These can be monitored but by using code words they can still be useful. The new ban will not shut off the satellite phones in the northeast but does make it illegal to sell them or the additional minutes needed to make them work. Boko Haram will now have to wait longer and pay more to have the phones and minutes cards smuggled in from Cameroon. Meanwhile, the military will seize any satellite phones it finds in the northeast. Legitimate owners will eventually get them back.





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