Nigeria: The Sleepless Nights Of The Generals

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January 17, 2014: Over the last two days the government replaced the four senior military commanders. There is now a new chief of staff (head of the entire military) and the commanders of the army, navy and air force. This was done because of popular dissatisfaction with efforts to deal with Islamic terrorists in the north. There the Boko Haram, who model themselves on the Taliban, are trying to establish a religious dictatorship, first in the Moslem north and then in the Christian south. This change at the top comes after an earlier housecleaning. At the end of 2013 there was a major shakeup in lower ranking army leaders. Those who were not getting results were replaced, with the implication that the new commanders would lose their new jobs if they did not make significant progress against the Islamic terrorists in the northeast. Also replaced were several intelligence commanders. Keeping tabs on the enemy is crucial in dealing with an organization like Boko Haram. The government has also quietly let commanders know that one sign of failure (and cause for demotion or dismissal) is civilian casualties. Nigerian soldiers and police have long been infamous for their casual attitude towards civilian casualties. This was always a cause for popular animosity against the security forces and with the Boko Haram uprising over the last few years the misbehavior, and public anger got worse. The government was forced to finally do something about it and now commanders at all levels are being held accountable for civilian deaths due to carelessness or a desire for revenge. This has made a difference, but this casual brutality has been the norm for so long that it is uncertain if the changes will stick.

Meanwhile president Johnson is distracted by the defections of many political allies and how that could impact national elections in 2015. This dissention is in part caused by increasingly successful corruption prosecutions, which have many dirty politicians seeking new alliances to stay out of jail and hang onto their stolen wealth. This, for many politicians, is more important than religious terrorism in the north. The new military leadership is expected to try some new ideas, but nothing major.  

Despite a major counteroffensive against the Boko Haram in early 2013 that put the Islamic terrorists on the defensive this effort has not destroyed the religious fanatics. Having been chased out of its urban and suburban bases in the three northeast states they were most active in, surviving Boko Haram members set up operations in the mountain forests along the Cameroon border. The army has moved most of its operations to the rural areas along the border. There are still some armed Boko Haram members in the cities, especially Maiduguri. There they are sheltered by civilians and are difficult to root out.

January 16, 2014: Cameroon troops were in a brief gun battle with Boko Haram fighters who were chasing some Nigerian civilians into Cameroon. On the Cameroon side one civilian was killed and five wounded. The Boko Haram men retreated back into Nigeria when the Cameroonian troops confronted them and opened fire. Boko Haram had attacked a village just across the border and many civilians fled to Cameroon to escape the violence. The shooting could be heard on the Cameroon side and local troops were alerted.

January 14, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) a bomb went off in a market in the state capital killing 43 people.

January 11, 2014:  In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen attacked a village outside the state capital, killing five people.

January 10, 2014: In the Niger River Delta pirates attacked a passenger boat and killed two passengers in the process.

January 9, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen attacked an army unit conducting a search operation and were repulsed, losing 38 men. The army had been warned of the attack and were ready and lost only one dead while two soldiers were wounded. The troops took off after the retreating Islamic terrorists, many of whom were wounded and captured three vehicles, one of them loaded with bombs and the other with food. The army had recon aircraft overhead and this led to the capture of many weapons and other military supplies. .

January 6, 2014: Tribal violence continues in central Nigeria (Plateau State) as Moslem gunmen attacked a Christian village killing at least 30 people and destroying much property. Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers outside the city of Jos for years. The violence has gotten worse now and there were over a thousand casualties in 2013. Boko Haram has recently claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal. The Fulani have long claimed that the government was sending Christian police to persecute them because of their religion (not because they were constantly attacking Christian farmers). The settled (farming) tribes have been there a long time and in the last few decades more Fulani have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.

January 1, 2014: The religious violence in Nigeria is becoming a major factor globally. Worldwide nearly half (47 percent) of the terrorist deaths were caused by just six organizations. Last year 22.4 percent of terrorist deaths were caused by Pushtun tribal radicals (16.2 percent from the Afghan Taliban and 6.2 percent by the Pakistani Taliban). Al Qaeda in Arabia (mainly Yemen) caused 6.2 percent of terrorist deaths while Al Qaeda in Iraq caused another six percent. In Africa the Somali al Shabaab caused 4.7 percent while Boko Haram in Nigeria accounted for 7.8 percent. Most (52.9 percent) of terrorist deaths are caused by over a hundred organizations, many of them operating in the same area (and sometimes against) the “Big Six”.

The “Pirate Coast” (where pirates are most active) is now off West Africa in the Gulf of Guinea and not off Somalia in northeast Africa. Most of the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are Nigerians and they attacked 31 ships and briefly hijacked nine of them in 2013. The Nigerian pirates have no safe place to keep captured ships while a large ransom is negotiated. Instead they rob ships they attack and quickly leave. In some cases they arrange to hijack much of the cargo, usually at sea, by transferring to another ship at night and then scampering away before the navy or police show up. Sometimes a few of the ships’ officers are kidnapped for ransom.

December 30, 2013: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers carried out a series of raids against Boko Haram camps, killing 63 Islamic terrorists and capturing many weapons and much other equipment and supplies.

 

 

 

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