Nigeria: On The Verge Of Civil War

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March 30, 2015: The national elections are over but the counting takes time and results won’t be known until April 1 st at the earliest. Unfortunately the opinion polls indicate a very close, as in “too close to call” vote. This time around religious tensions are very high because of the Boko Haram Islamic terrorism in the north and the plunging price of oil which has caused money problems. This in turn has made corruption more of an issue. The financial and religious tensions combine to produce fears that if either the Moslem north or the Christian south (where the oil is) lose and feel it was because of cheating there could be another civil war. The last one was half a century ago but the damage was so great that many remember and do not want another. But the unofficial agreement for northerners and southerners to alternate as president is coming apart and the Moslems are not happy. This deal was so ensure equal distribution of money because the president tended to favor his half of the country. Thus while the “alternating elections” were not real contests this one is and that is rare in Nigeria. Add that to the anger over government inability to deal with Boko Haram and you have a very volatile situation.

Once more national elections lead to violence and lots of people killed by armed men working for competing politicians. Throughout the country, politicians are patrons of criminal gangs which, during elections, do street level dirty work to ensure that their patron (a local candidate, often for governor) gets elected, or re-elected. A lot of the stolen (by politicians) government funds goes to pay off these gangs. This is not a unique situation. Saddam Hussein and many other dictators had street gangs on the payroll. Even the Soviet Union, one of the more "professional" police states, had many gangsters working for the secret police. This time around there appear to be far fewer deaths in Nigeria and many of them (nearly fifty) the result of Boko Haram trying to halt the elections in the north.

The 2011 national elections were held in April and the political violence left 520 dead, nearly all of them in the northeast (Kaduna state). Property damage was also extensive, with 157 churches, 46 mosques and 1,435 houses destroyed, along with over 650 vehicles. The politically motivated violence was largely carried out by Moslems angry that they did not gain the presidency. When attacked, local Christians often retaliated. In 2015 Boko Haram announced their intention to disrupt the elections, at least in the three northeastern states where they have thousands of gunmen. All Boko Haram has to do is inflict some major defeats that the government and army cannot hide to wreck president Jonathan’s plan. In response to this the president delayed the elections for six weeks, This was seen by many Nigerians as a cynical ploy by corrupt politicians to give themselves time to do something impressive against Boko Haram and garner enough support to win. The incumbents are also desperate to prevent too many reform-minded candidates from getting elected (despite all the corrupt practices used to rig elections). In short, Boko Haram is not the only revolutionary movement Nigeria’s corrupt leaders have to worry about but the Islamic terrorists get the most headlines and the most attention from the voters. It’s not just corrupt politicians who fear the elections, the many corrupt army officers (especially the generals and colonels) know they have to win in order to change (temporarily) their image as incompetent and brutal thieves in uniform. Thus recent operations against Boko Haram have noticeably fewer incidents of abuse (killing or wounding innocent civilians and looting). The Americans are not impressed and still refuse to supply Nigeria with weapons (that would later be identified as American when sold by corrupt officers or used to commit atrocities by soldiers). This is a painful truth that the government would rather not discuss openly. In contrast the United States is supplying neighboring Cameroon with weapons and other military equipment, in recognition that the Cameroon military is much less corrupt and noticeably more effective than their Nigerian counterparts. This rankles in Nigeria but the subject is not brought up openly because recent events have shown the American assessment to be accurate.

The government is silent on reports that several hundred mercenaries from Europe and South Africa were hired to lead the offensive that, for the last month, has been liberating towns from Boko Haram control. The government does admit that there are “military contractors” from Europe and South Africa hired to help with training and the operation (piloting) of warplanes and helicopters. The government also refuses to comment on reports that Nigerian military commanders are often incompetent, corrupt and that the army and air force seem unable to coordinate or cooperate well.

Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people since 2009 and most of those were killed in the last year. That figure is now rapidly increasing as troops searching recently liberated towns are finding recent mass graves as well as dead (and recently killed) civilians lying about. In such situations it is common to find that most civilians fled as Boko Haram prepared to leave, often leaving behind those too young or infirm to flee. At its height a month ago Boko Haram controlled over 25,000 square kilometers in northeast (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states) Nigeria. That’s nearly three percent of Nigeria. Since the counterattack most of that area has seen Boko Haram chased from villages and urban areas. Even though the offensive was led by foreign troops (from Niger, Chad and Cameroon) and mercenaries (from Europe and South Africa) the Nigerian troops were involved as well and as a result of the successful operation morale in the Nigerian military is higher than it has been for years.

The good news began of this offensive arriving on February 21st when Nigerian and foreign troops recaptured Baga (on Lake Chad in northeastern Borno state). This town was taken by Boko Haram in early January and the Boko Haram men emptied the town out by continuing to loot the place and rape any women they find until no one or nothing was left. Civilians who were captured were used as slaves to bury the dead and gather loot. When the troops stormed into Baga most Boko Haram panicked and fled leaving behind much of their loot as well as many weapons and much ammo.

March 29, 2015: Because of technical and personnel (incompetence) problems at many voting stations the government has extended voting into today.

In the northeast (Bauchi state) the governor imposed a 24 hour curfew to help deal with election related violence. Some of it was Boko Haram related but most seemed to come from local rivalries.

March 28, 2015: Boko Haram made good its threat to use violence to disrupt elections. But the Islamic terrorist violence was not nearly as widespread as expected. Boko Haram managed to kill about fifty in election related violence and is believed to have scared several thousand voters away. With 60 million registered voters nationwide, this is not a lot. The thugs hired by many politicians for elections are killing and discouraging far more voters than Boko Haram.

March 26, 2015: Several witnesses, from towns recently liberated from Boko Haram control report that the Islamic terrorists had orders to kill their “wives” rather than leave them behind. These women were mostly kidnap victims and hundreds had been taken in the last year. Many had escaped and apparently Boko Haram leaders believed many more would flee during the confused Boko Haram retreat and that the best solution was to order most of these wives killed. Boko Haram has also been reported using civilians as human shields to protect them from attack as they flee. Sometimes that does not work because the pursuing troops don’t notice (especially if they fire on the Islamic terrorists from a distance) or believe the civilians are simply Boko Haram as most Boko Haram do not wear uniforms and include women and children (usually as suicide bombers). Towns and villages liberated from Boko Haram control often were the scene of recent mass murders with the victims (almost all of them civilians) killed using knives or bullets. Early on many northerners supported Boko Haram because the group sought to reduce corruption. But now with so much evidence of what horrors Boko Haram was going replace a corrupt democracy with, few northerners remain fans of the Islamic terror group.

March 25, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) troops from Chad and Niger leading the effort to liberate towns along the Niger border. The troops have driven Boko Haram out of Gachagar and then moved on to Malam Fatori and others. Chad is using armed helicopters to find and often attack Boko Haram in towns along the border. The helicopters then radio for nearby ground troops (in trucks and wheeled armored vehicles) to come in and clear the place. Boko Haram rarely stays to fight non-Nigerian troops.

March 23, 2015: A court ruled that the government could not deploy troops around voting stations. That was because the troops could be in the employ of one politician or another and be used to discourage voting who rivals of the guy bribing the troops.

March 21, 2015: Southeast of Maiduguri, on the Cameroon border, Nigerian troops in Bama defeated a Boko Haram effort to retake the place. Bama (the second largest city in Borno) was taken by Boko Haram in early September 2014 and the Islamic terrorists were driven out on the 16th.

March 19, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram returned to the town of Gamboru and killed eleven people. This was apparently the same group of Boko Haram gunmen that had raided nearby Bama and killed as many as 40 civilians, most of them women. This made clear a problem with the current offensive. Although the advancing troops are numerous enough to drive Boko Haram out of towns the Boko Haram men tend to take few casualties while retreating and head for hiding places in the bush. The advancing force usually does not pursue but goes on to the next town. Nigerian security forces (soldiers and police) are supposed to come in to protect the newly liberated towns but the usual corruption and incompetence of the army and police means that this often results in towns being lightly guarded or not protected at all. All Boko Haram has to do is send some scouts to check out liberated towns and now the Islamic terrorists are raiding the unguarded towns for loot and to kill those they believe “betrayed” them.

March 17, 2015: The army announced that Boko Haram had been driven from over 80 percent of the towns and villages they held in early February.

In northern Cameroon several Boko Haram gunmen road into the village Golfo (three kilometers from the Nigerian border), fired into a crowd (killing one civilian) and rode off.

March 15, 2015: In the southeast (Benue state) Fulani tribesmen attacked a farming village and used AK-47s to kill 45 villagers. There was a similar attack three months ago that left six dead. That was one of many such clashes in 2014 that have left over 400 dead in Benue state. 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 got worse in 2014. Boko Haram has sometimes 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.

 

 

 

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