Nigeria: The Islamic Empire Strikes Back

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June 24, 2015: The new president (Muhammadu Buhari) has been in charge for 26 days and Boko Haram has responded with attacks killing about 200 people. Buhari’s biggest problem is not Boko Haram but the endemic corruption that led to Boko Haram and lawlessness all over the country. While the people of the northeast see Buhari (a Moslem) as a man who will do more to crush Boko Haram, most Nigerians see Buhari as the cure for corruption. When it comes to battling corruption Buhari is considered the underdog. Not because he does not have position and power, and the support of most Nigerians, but because the corrupt politicians, businessmen and gangsters have lots of money, gunmen and determination to keep their corrupt practices functioning. Based on past experience in Africa, defeating Boko Haram will be easier than making a serious dent in corruption.

The new president is already getting a lot of criticism for the resurgence of Boko Haram violence even though the previous government proclaimed a major victory over the Islamic terrorists in May. While dozens of Boko Haram camps were found and destroyed between February and May, especially in the Sambisa Forest (where the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states meet) this did not end the war. While Boko Haram took heavy losses over a thousand of the Islamic terrorists fled with weapons and vehicles and have been on the run, and rampage, ever since. Boko Haram leaders went public after the May defeats to proclaim that Boko Haram was still intact and active and seeking revenge for recent losses. While Boko Haram violence is less than it was before the May defeats, the group has made good its promise to keep killing. Now it’s up to the government to respond effectively. That will be difficult because the May victories were made possible largely because of South African mercenaries and more competent troops from neighboring countries (mainly Chad, Cameroon and Niger). The Nigerian military is as inept and unreliable as ever, especially when compared to forces from neighboring countries. It’s no longer possible for government and military leaders to deny these problems and the new president is under a lot of pressure to do something.

The military commander of forces in the Niger River Delta admitted that despite major military efforts to halt oil theft in the thefts the stealing was still common and costing the country over $2 billion a year in lost oil income. The military has no comment on allegations that a major reason for the continued oil thefts was the ability of the oil theft gangs to bribe military and police commanders to concentrate their efforts on oil thieves who do not pay bribes (or large enough bribes). A side effect of the corruption in the Delta is threats from former tribal rebels who had accepted a 2009 amnesty deal but have since gone back to stealing oil and other misbehavior. These tribesmen complain that they are not receiving the regular payments that were part of the amnesty deal and that those payments were being stolen by local politicians. So far the police have been blocked (by federal officials) from investigating most of these complaints because many rebel leaders who accepted the amnesty got elected or went into business and are now among the most corrupt, and influential, people in the Delta.  

The growing use of women, often as young as twelve, as suicide bombers appears to rely more on coercion than conviction as investigators found that most of the women carrying these bombs had remote detonators. This was the case in a recent Borno State attack that involved two teenage girls wearing explosive vests. One went to the target area near a mosque and her vest exploded. The other girl ran away and her explosives went off when she was away from others and the bomb only killed her. Interrogations of captured Boko Haram members and kidnapped girls and women revealed that Boko Haram had a program to brainwash women, especially teenagers, into becoming suicide bombers. Even with minders nearby the female “volunteers” were not as reliable as males and thus were usually equipped with remote control detonators which the minders triggered from a distance.

June 23, 2015: In the northeast (Yobe State) a 12 year old female suicide bomber killed ten people in a market place.

June 22, 2015: In the northeast (Maiduguri, capital of Borno State) two female suicide bombers killed at least 20 people near a mosque. Elsewhere in Borno (250 kilometers from Maiduguri) Boko Haram gunmen attacked a village with guns and knives and killed over twenty civilians.

June 18, 2015: Warplanes from Chad bombed six Boko Haram bases in Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

June 17, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) members of a local defense militia found a large bag of metal containers while searching a captured Boko Haram base. Not knowing what the objects were they took them back to their village and a crowd gathered to observe the examination. It turned out that the bag contained recently built bombs and one of them went off while being examined. That detonated the other bombs and the explosions killed 68 people, most of them young militiamen.

Boko Haram gunmen attacked two villages in Niger leaving 30-40 people dead and about a hundred structures burned down.

June 15, 2015: Boko Haram carried out a suicide bombing attack in the capital of Chad, killing over 30. The three targets were military and police facilities and suicide bombers were the main weapon. Boko Haram had threatened such an attack in revenge for the defeats the Islamic terrorists had suffered recently because of Chadian troops joined the fight in northeast Nigeria, and were the most effective force against the Islamic terrorists. This was the first time Boko Haram had attacked the Chad capital. In response the government banned women from wearing the burqa and imposed more scrutiny on foreigners. Reprisal attacks were ordered.

June 11, 2015: Reluctantly the members of the anti-Boko Haram military coalition of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin agreed to allow a Nigerian general to remain commander of coalition forces. Since February coalition forces have been fighting Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and have been displeased with the poor performance of Nigerian forces (soldiers and police). Nigerian officers were found wanting as well and coalition members proposed that command of coalition forces be rotated among the member states. This was very unpopular in Nigeria and Nigerian officers feared what would happen to their reputations and careers if they were supervised by more competent foreign commanders. The newly installed Nigerian president assured coalition members that he would clean up the mess in the Nigerian army leadership and provide the most reliable generals he had to command the coalition forces. Given that Buhari was elected as a reformer and is himself a retired general the coalition leaders agreed to continued Nigerian command. Buhari is now expected to make some quick improvements in Nigerian military leadership. This is long overdue and there are some good Nigerian officers. But it is unclear if there are enough good officers to promote into key positions and whether Buhari has a clear idea of who is good and who is not.

June 10, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram men in vehicles raided and looted six villages killing 40 or more people. Some of these places were raided again later in June.  

June 9, 2015: In the northeast (Borno State) three young women blew up on a highway 18 kilometers from Maiduguri. Police investigators quickly discovered the three women (the only victims of the explosions) were all Boko Haram suicide bombers and one of their explosive vests had malfunctioned (or been mishandled or triggered on purpose) and set off all three. The three women appeared to be the only casualties.

 

 

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