As scary as the Boko Haram violence is nearly all of it is concentrated in just three of the 36 Nigerian states. These three states are in the semi-desert north and contain only twelve million people, which is only seven percent of Nigerians. The violence has caused over 1,200 deaths so far this year and disrupted the lives of over six million people. A third of the people in the three northeastern states have had their lives disrupted by the Boko Haram violence and the military response. Over 360,000 people have fled these three states and 17 percent of these refugees moved out of Nigeria. Most of the violence is in Borno state, where 27 counties (including the state capital Maiduguri) have Boko Haram activity. In Adamawa state it’s only six counties and in Yobe state it’s only five. Thus 71 percent of the counties troubled by Boko Haram are in Borno. In the last week alone at least a hundred people have died from Boko Haram related violence.
The northern government blame the federal government for mishandling the counter-terrorism effort. The federal government accuses the governors of the three northeastern states of being corrupt and tolerating officials who actually cooperate with Boko Haram. Both sides are right, but neither the governors nor the president of Nigeria wants to dwell on the corruption issue. That is the big problem. Boko Haram is able to sustain its support because so many northerners are fed up with the corruption and ineffective government and the poverty that combinations produces for most Nigerians. Even the president is finding himself besieged by more and more evidence of his own corrupt behavior (and massive theft of oil income). There are few heroes in all this and lots of villains pretending to be victims.
Niger, Chad and Cameroon border the three Nigerian states where Boko Haram is most active. All three countries border Borno state along a 500 kilometer stretch of frontier where the Boko Haram activity is most intense. All three nations fear that the Boko Haram form of Islamic radicalism will spread to their populations, but that has not happened yet. Ominously, some pro-Boko Haram clerics from Nigeria have been preaching in Niger and Cameroon mosques. Islamic conservative clergy are not unusual in either side of the border, but those who do not denounce Boko Haram are suspected of quietly recruiting young men to join the “jihad” (struggle). These preachers have to recruit quietly because otherwise police in Niger or Cameroon will arrest and deport them, sometimes after a vigorous interrogation.
Many Nigerians are dismayed that Western nations, while condemning Boko Haram violence do not denounce the endemic corruption in Nigeria that is the cause of all the violence. Interrogations of captured Boko Haram men has revealed that the Islamic terrorists are continuing to operate in part because they practice what they preach; much less corruption and more efficient administration. Compared with many soldiers and police Boko Haram gunmen are better paid and paid on time. Boko Haram leaders make sure their gunmen are fed regularly and see to it that the families (especially widows) are paid death benefits and great efforts are made to care for the wounded and remove the dead from the battlefield so the army can’t identify Boko Haram men and go after family. Even worse, most of these resources (cash and weapons) appear to come from Nigeria, not foreign sources. The Islamic terrorists mostly use weapons captured from the security forces and obtain cash via kidnapping, robbery and plunder. The preferred targets are Christians and anyone working for the government. In contrast soldiers and police often find themselves getting paid late, or not at all. Army and police commanders still steal pay and sell off weapons and supplies meant for their subordinates. Such officers tend to be poor leaders all around and the soldiers and police they are in charge of have low morale and poor performance. As a result checkpoints are often abandoned at the least sign of danger and many soldiers and police are intimidated by the Islamic terrorists. Boko Haram propaganda puts it quite accurately when corruption and bad government are accused of being the two things most wrong about Nigeria. Until the government can scrounge up some army and police commanders who are honest and competent the security forces are going to continue to fail in their attempts to eliminate the Boko Haram terror. The Boko Haram violence began in 2010 and since then over 2,800 have died, most of them in the last year. While Boko Haram attacks have increased so have the number of civilians killed during army operations. This has long been a problem with the army and years of government pressure to persuade the army to be less lethal to innocent civilians has not worked.
Meanwhile the government further damages its credibility by again setting a date by which they assure people they will have suppressed Boko Haram terrorism. The current date is May 2014 and few people in the affected areas believe that. The government ignores problems with corruption and bad leadership and instead blames Cameroon for not allowing Nigerian forces to purse fleeing Boko Haram gunmen into Cameroon and not finding and shutting down Boko Haram camps in Cameroon. The government ignores the fact that Cameroon has far fewer resources (population, GDP) and does not want Nigerian troops in Cameroon because of the Nigerian Army reputation for randomly killing and abusing civilians and bad behavior in general. On the Cameroon side of the border there are many places to hide and few people living in the area to provide information. Many Nigerians, especially those living along the Cameroon border in the northeast, understand this. The Nigerian government probably does as well, but excuses are needed to explain the continued Boko Haram terror.
The security forces are doing some damage to Boko Haram. The Islamic terrorists are hated by a lot of the people the Islamic terrorists presume to be “liberating” and the police get plenty of tips. Arrests are made and Boko Haram operations are often blocked by soldiers or police who arrive in time and fight back. Boko Haram is having a hard time reestablishing itself in the cities because their many terror attacks there have made them lots of enemies among the population. Informing on suspected Boko Haram is a popular activity in urban areas and even corrupt and incompetent cops can get lucky.
March 30, 2014: In the capital, not far from the presidential residence there was a two hour gun battle inside a special police prison holding many Boko Haram men. At least 21 people were reported killed, the result of a prisoner receiving a smuggled gun and trying to use it to get himself, and perhaps others, out. Police would not say how many police were killed. Locals reported that the fighting stayed within the police compound indicating that no prisoners escaped. Often Boko Haram will launch an attack from the outside at the same time prisoners get loose inside because of corrupt guards. But this is the capital and if Boko Haram had sent an assault force they did not make it in time.
Boko Haram has been very active in trying to get its members out of prison and the government has had a hard time halting the use of bribes to assist these jail breaks. In response the unofficial policy if for honest prison guards to use their weapons liberally and this has resulted in lots of prisoners, including those being held for trial and not convicted of anything, getting killed in a desperate effort to limit the number of escapees. This policy appears to have limited the success of Boko Haram prison break efforts recently, but increased the number of people killed during the attempts.
March 29, 2014: In the southeast (Benue state) Fulani tribesmen attacked the village of a rival tribe, killing 19 people and kidnapping fifteen. This one of many such clashes this month in Benue state that have left nearly 300 dead. The Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in central and southeastern Nigeria for years and also raiding Moslem farmers in the north. The violence has gotten worse now and there were over a thousand casualties in 2013 and it looks to be worse this year. 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.
March 27, 2014: In the south soldiers arrested two Nigerians who tried to bribe (with $6,500) an officer to provide an armed boat to escort a small tanker full of stolen oil across the frontier. Police later rounded up the rest of the gang which included two British citizens. The economic opportunities for stealing oil are so great that some expatriate Nigerians are returning to participate. As much as 250,000 barrels a day are being stolen. That’s over $10 million a day for the thieves and about $16 million lost to the government. Then again, the oil thieves put more money back into the economy than the corrupt officials do. The politicians have stolen far more than the oil thieves have and more and more details of that gigantic theft are coming to light. The profitability of oil theft, and the fact that most of the thieves are local, is one reason the security forces have a hard time recruiting informers in the Niger Delta oil fields, at least with regard to oil theft.
March 26, 2014: Boko Haram has released videos their men took during the March 14th attack (in Borno state) attack against a military camp (Giwa Barracks) outside the state capital (Maiduguri) apparently in an attempt to free several hundred Boko Haram men being held there. The army initially reported that the attack was repulsed and after two hours the Boko Haram gunmen withdrew, taking their dead and wounded with them. The army said four soldiers were wounded but that even more Boko Haram were killed or wounded because the Islamic terrorists were attacking. The army and the Boko Haram video apparently agree that the air force showed after about an hour and got a sense of how the Boko Haram force was deployed and attacked the terrorists from the air. After this attack the army imposed a 24 hour curfew on Maiduguri to make it easier to hunt down fleeing Boko Haram men. In contrast Boko Haram, and local civilians, report that over 500 people were killed when troops and the air force opened fire on the prison portion of Giwa Barracks. Most of the resulting dead prisoners were not Boko Haram but simply young men rounded up for questioning. Journalists (both local and foreign) are finding that the army is not accurately reporting all losses from their counter-terror operations. More soldiers and civilians are dying than the army will admit. That is nothing new, as it’s an old Nigeria Army tradition to try and cover up the number of civilians killed during operations. Popular outrage against that sort of violence has been building for years and has reached the point where senior politicians no longer automatically accept the army version and are now openly demanding that the army treat civilians more humanely. Senior military commanders are repeating these admonitions, but when you get down to brigade, battalion and company commanders the old rules still seem to apply. Thus losses to Boko Haram violence have been higher than the army reports and a larger percentage of the victims are innocent civilians killed by soldiers. For many civilians in the north there are two terrorist organizations to fear; Boko Haram and the army.
Boko Haram videos promise more violence and its leader declared that he and Boko Haram are at war with the world because only when everyone has submitted to Sharia (Islamic law) will there be peace. The guy featured in most of these videos is Abubakar Shekau, who has been Boko Haram leader since 2010. Nigeria offers a $300,000 reward for his capture or death while the U.S. offers $7 million.
March 25, 2014: In the northeast (Maiduguri) two suicide car bombs killed eight soldiers. Boko Haram was suspected and it appears the bombers feared detection by soldiers and set off their explosives before reaching their intended target. Three or four terrorists died in the attacks.
March 24, 2014: In the northeast (Borno state) the military announced that operations over the weekend had left 18 Islamic terrorists dead and 16 AK-47s captured. The army has been aggressively patrolling the Lake Chad area and several hilly areas along the Cameroon border.
March 22, 2014: Northern religious leaders have caused a political firestorm in the south by claiming that Moslems now comprise 60 percent of the population. This was in response to president Johnson (a Christian) for selecting Christians for 62 percent of the positions on the 492 member national conference of notables summoned to come up with ideas on how to reform the country. Christians are insisting that the 2016 census include a question on religion to settle this matter.
March 21, 2014: In the northeast (Borno) troops captured a Cameroonian man identified as a major arms smuggler and supplier for Boko Haram. That led to the discovery of some major arms caches, one of them in a burned out church. Cameroon has been the source of arms because of its excellent ports on the Gulf of Guinea. There’s lots of truck traffic going north to landlocked Chad and that provides opportunities to hide weapons and ammo among legitimate cargo. Somewhere near the Nigerian border the illegal arms are transferred to smaller trucks and run across the lightly guarded frontier. Interrogations of captured smugglers also indicated that much of the smuggling is now run by Boko Haram and that is apparently a major source of their income. Since Boko Haram is constantly crossing the border, taking over the smuggling routes makes sense as Boko Haram is armed and ruthless and the smugglers don’t want to lose their jobs. It’s also suspected that Boko Haram is receiving cash from foreign sources, but there is no definitive proof. For the moment all that is certain is that Boko Haram still loot extensively during their raids, but also have expensive weapons and equipment that was not stolen from civilians or police. The cash is coming from somewhere.
Officials in northeastern Borno state announced that all public and private schools will close before the end of the month. This is to protect the children from the growing number of Boko Haram attacks on schools. This is a major victory for Boko Haram, whose name is translated as “Western education is forbidden.”
March 20, 2014: In the north (Borno state near the Cameroon border) a bomb went off in a village market killing 32 people. It took over a day for the word to get out because the army has shut down cell phone service along the border to aid in operations against Boko Haram.
Cameroon revealed that it had sent another 700 troops to parts of the Nigerian border used by Boko Haram.