Nigeria: Shortsighted Decisions

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May 21, 2014: The government has over 20,000 troops and police in the northeast looking for over two hundred school girls Boko Haram kidnapped a month ago. Most Nigerians are not optimistic that the army and police will be successful in finding and rescuing the girls. While the government constantly boasts of the prowess of its security forces, on the ground the average Nigerian sees the army and police as undisciplined, inept and corrupt. Nigerian politicians tend to get very indignant at this criticism of the security forces, which is partly due to the fact that the army and police ultimately protect a very corrupt government. If foreigners bring up this subject the average Nigerian will ruefully agree and often mention a personal encounter with the brutality and corruption of the security forces. But mention any of this to a Nigerian politician and you get a hostile reaction, including denials and, if you are from outside of Africa, accusations of racism. This makes it very difficult for Western nations to help carry out reforms in Nigeria. The problem is that the corrupt politicians do not want honest and efficient police and soldiers because that would be a very direct danger to the political elite. All this makes it virtually impossible to accept much foreign military assistance.

The soldiers in the northeast are even more concerned with the bad attitudes and lack of skills and determination among their leaders and there have been several recent incidents of troops demonstrating their anger and frustration. In one case the car of a division commander was fired on by troops who believed (probably accurately) that shortages of fuel and other supplies they were experiencing were caused by the general stealing money meant for purchasing the supplies. The government plays down these incidents.

The government has admitted that it really doesn’t know exactly what happened when the girls were taken last April. So today a presidential commission has started work in the area where the kidnapping occurred and is interviewing witnesses and people in the area. Apparently there is now general agreement that 276 girls were present in the school when Boko Haram attacked and that at least 57 have escaped and reported that to authorities. The government also fears that Boko Haram will apply pressure on the government to release Boko Haram prisoners and pay lots of cash to get the girls released. The government apparently has a link to Boko Haram leaders via cooperative clergy and local politicians in the northeast and that is the deal being proposed. It is a bad deal because it would provide Boko Haram more cash to keep their operations going and expand and also give the Islamic terrorists an incentive to kidnap more children. Officially the government rejects demands for prisoner exchanges or ransom but because of the secret discussions with Boko Haram it is possible that Boko Haram prisoners could be “released” by a cooperative judge and ransom could be paid secretly to get the girls mysteriously released. This would get the government and army leaders out of the negative media spotlight for the moment but would, long-range, only make the situation up north worse. Unfortunately such shortsighted decisions are the norm, not the exception, in Nigeria.

Nigeria has asked the UN to add Boko Haram to their list of international terrorist organizations. There is some resistance to this among Moslem nations and some Western countries (like the United States) where senior politicians want to play down the role of Islam in many terrorist groups. There is no doubt in Nigeria that Islam is a crucial component of Boko Haram, but the wealthier Moslem oil states have spent a lot of money and diplomatic effort over the last few decades to play down the role of religion and to discourage the use of the term “Islamic” terrorism. Many leftist politicians in the West have bought into this and adopted the attitude that it’s all about poverty and social problems, not religion. This annoys the Moslem victims of Islamic terrorism but the victims have got neither the distance nor the PR budget to make the religion angle disappear.  With the Boko Haram mass kidnapping the global uproar and Boko Haram constantly talking about the religious reasoning behind their actions, the UN will probably put this Islamic terrorist group on the list of international terrorists. This will make it more difficult for Boko Haram to raise money worldwide or for known Boko Haram members to travel internationally.

There is growing pressure on the government to adopt the self-defense model that has worked in many other parts of the world. This involves recruiting and arming locals to defend themselves. Modern firearms are strictly controlled in Nigeria but there are a lot of illegal ones out there anyway and even more locally made ones (usually single shot pistols and shotguns fabricated by rural blacksmiths). The government is reluctant to encourage more weapons ownership among civilians. This is a legitimate concern in Nigeria were tribal disputes (ancient feuds to recent disagreements over land, water or trade) often turn large and violent. But the self-defense militia concept has worked in numerous recent instances of Islamic terrorism. The U.S. is apparently encouraging this, while also providing the government with all the satellite and aerial recon data available for northeast Nigeria. Some American Special Forces troops are apparently in Nigeria. These troops are respected by the Nigerian military for their many skills, including knowledge of Nigerian languages and culture. U.S. Special Forces soldiers have trained many Nigerian troops for peacekeeping duties.  

It is becoming obvious that the army and police are intimidated by Boko Haram and the fanatical fighting style of the Islamic terrorists. It’s not just poor leadership and training that prevents the army from mounting more patrols and road checkpoints. Commanders fear that their troops will be killed or, worse yet, flee, when they encounter large groups of Boko Haram. Thus Boko Haram has been able to use the roads and move convoys of stolen cars and trucks containing over a hundred gunmen. Especially at night, the Boko Haram convoys rule the roads, and much else, in the northeast.

May 20, 2014: In central Nigeria (Jos) two car bombs went off at a bus station, killing over 120 people. No one took responsibility for the attack. The bombing appeared to be the work of Boko Haram, but that group has not been active in this area. What has been happening a lot is tribal violence in which Moslem and Christian gunmen attack each other’s villages killing hundreds of people a year 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, unless this car bombing was a Boko Haram action. 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.

The legislature extended the state of emergency in the northeast for another six months. The state of emergency began a year ago months ago with a major military operation in the northeast. That offensive, and the Boko Haram resistance to it has caused over 200,000 people in rural areas to flee their homes. Most have returned but at least 60,000 have fled the country, most of them to Niger and Cameroon.

May 19, 2014: Dozens of Boko Haram attacked a northeastern town (Shawa) and burned half of it down and killed at least even residents. Shawa is only 25 kilometers from where the schoolgirls were kidnapped last month. Locals considered this attack as just another example of how useless the army and police are.

A group of professional hunters in the northeast volunteered to search for the girls but the government turned down the proposal pointing out that such an effort would probably get the lightly armed hunters killed once they found Boko Haram camps and might even cause the Islamic terrorists to slaughter some of the schoolgirls. This was another missed opportunity as many Western and some African armies use local hunters and trackers to good effect. But to do this the troops must be competent enough to keep quiet and keep up as the trackers spread out to follow the clues left behind on the ground. There are some battalions in the Nigerian with troops well enough trained and led for this but the government has, so far, not found the will to force the army commanders to admit that there are such wide differences in capabilities between army units as that would admit that most of them are crippled by corruption and poor leadership.

May 18, 2014: In the northern city of Kano a suicide car bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood, killing four people. Several hours before the explosion police had found and disabled another car bomb in Kano. Christian neighborhoods in northern (mostly Moslem) cities are a particular target for Islamic terrorist groups because these Christian enclaves feature drinking, Christian (and some Moslem) women walking around in Western clothing and lots of behavior that is, in general, anathema to Islamic conservatives.

May 17, 2014: In France a meeting of leaders from Nigeria, Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger led to agreement that there would be more cooperation to defeat Boko Haram. In part this was prompted by news of yesterday’s attack in Cameroon. The most impressive aspect of all this was the press release, because the key problems are the corruption and poor leadership within Nigeria and international cooperation will do little to fix that. The corruption and poor government is common throughout Africa although some countries are better run than others. The leaders of the less corrupt states now have an opportunity to impress on their Nigerian counterparts how important it is to reduce the corruption and expect more competence from government officials. There is an anti-corruption and “good government” movement in Nigeria but it is under constant attack by corrupt politicians who do not want their lucrative illegal practices to be interrupted. The mass kidnapping and general ineptness of the security forces in the northeast has put the spotlight on the bad behavior at the top in Nigeria and that never hurts.  Meanwhile back in Nigeria president Jonathan was criticized for going to France rather than visiting the north. He has not been up there since the mass kidnapping and he and his wife both tried to play down the kidnapping until it became an international cause. Jonathan is seen as playing catchup and not really in control of the situation.

Britain offered Nigeria military advisers and trainers. Britain was the colonial power in Nigeria and trained the post-colonial Nigerian armed forces and police.

May 16, 2014: In neighboring Cameroon some 200 Boko Haram (apparently from a camp in Nigeria) attacked a Chinese construction camp, killing one Cameroon soldiers and kidnapping ten Chinese. Nearby in Nigeria another village was attacked by a smaller Boko Haram force.

May 14, 2014: In the north (Bauchi state) about 30 Boko Haram gunmen entered two villages at night and burned down the primary schools there.

May 13, 2014: Outside the northeastern city of Maiduguri Boko Haram ambushed a convoy of soldiers returning from patrolling the area where the schoolgirls were kidnapped last month. Four soldiers were killed as were several Boko Haram. The soldiers later protested to their officers (by firing their weapons into the air) about being ordered to return at night through an area where Boko Haram was known to be active.

Elsewhere in the north (Borno state) villagers got some advanced warning that a forces of Boko Haram was headed their way and prepared an ambush, killing or wounding over a hundred and capturing ten of the Islamic terrorists. The rest retreated.

May 12, 2014: Boko Haram released a video showing some of the kidnapped girls and demanding that imprisoned Boko Haram be exchanged for some of the girls.

The U.S. began using at least one electronic surveillance aircraft (an MC-12) to search for over 200 girls kidnapped in April by Boko Haram. The girls are believed to be held in the hilly Sambisa Forest in northeast Nigeria. The MC-12 could prove decisive in finding the girls.  The MC-12 is a Beechcraft King Air twin engine commercial aircraft converted for use for electronic warfare and reconnaissance against irregular forces. That includes al Qaeda and Taliban and Palestinian terrorists as well as Boko Haram and al Shabaab in Africa. The MC-12 is crammed with vidcams, electronic sensors, jammers, and radios. This version of the MC-12 is called Ceasar (Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance And Reconnaissance) and can spend hours circling an area, keeping troops on the ground aware of enemy walkie-talkie and cell phone use, including location of these devices and translations of what is being discussed. The enemy is often vaguely aware of what the MC-12 can do but have no better way to communicate. Thus the few Ceasar equipped aircraft sent to Afghanistan have proved very useful for the American and British troops that used them. MC-12s were equally effective in Iraq but given the large area (60,000 square kilometers for the Sambisa Forest  alone) to be searched in Nigeria, could take a while to gather enough useful information. Most MC-12s in Africa have been operating out of a Franco-American Special Operations base in Djibouti. The U.S. is also believed to be using UAVs over Nigeria, especially the Global Hawk, which can cross oceans by itself and has spy satellite quality sensors.

 

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