Nigeria: This Is No Joke

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April 1, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) the army has completed clearing Boko Haram out of two of the remaining three large areas Boko Haram still controlled. At its peak in late 2014 Boko Haram controlled over 50,000 square kilometers of Borno, an area nearly twice the size of Belgium. Boko Haram has now lost over 90 percent of that. Confirmation of that came in a March 24th video from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. This a video showed up on the Internet, the first such video since January 2015. While earlier videos had been optimistic, bombastic and generally threatening in this latest one Shekau admitted defeat and to denied recent claims that he had been killed. He looked thin and dejected and urged his remaining followers to fight on. Shekau did not mention ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which Boko Haram was now supposed to be part of, but displayed the original Boko Haram flag. The video looked crude and hastily produced. In contrast his last video showed him claiming victory and demonstrating defiance in the face of government efforts to defeat Boko Haram. For once the government and Boko Haram are in agreement, that Boko Haram power was broken. There is still disagreement over whether Boko Haram will be completely gone by the end of 2016. The corruption and bad government that triggered the creation of Boko Haram after 2001 are still present. There is an anti-corruption movement gaining strength throughout Nigeria right now and the new president is part of it. Yet old habits die hard and it will be a while before the northeast is free of Boko Haram type violence and the conditions that create it. Meanwhile the government believes Boko Haram will be gone as a widespread threat by mid-2016.

As more territory is cleared of Boko Haram in the northeast, especially in Borno State, it has been possible to make a more accurate assessment of the losses. Boko Haram got its start in Borno and that’s where the Islamic terror group began its violent uprising in 2009. Since this it appears that since then at least 20,000 people died in Borno and nearly six billion dollars in property damage was done. This includes the destruction of nearly a million homes (about 30 percent of the total). Borno State had about 4.7 million people in 2009 and the Boko Haram violence has driven over a third of them from Borno (to adjacent states, neighboring countries or the largely Christian south.) Even more damage was done to schools and infrastructure (electricity production and distribution in addition to wells and irrigation systems). Roads and bridges were damaged and not repaired and economic activity declined or even disappeared in some areas. For Borno Boko Haram was a catastrophe that will take a decade or more to recover from.

Niger, Chad and Cameroon continue having problems with Boko Haram groups still operating on both sides of these international borders. Nigerian troops are cooperating with their counterparts on the other side of the border to find and destroy these groups. Leading the current offensive against Boko Haram is an 8,700 man international force comprised of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Meanwhile Cameroon is launching its own “final offensive” against areas adjacent to Borno State in northern Cameroon. The border area (the Mandera Mountains) is one of the few areas where some Boko Haram are known to be hiding out. The other two areas are parts of the Sambisa forest in northern Borno State and further north along the coast of Lake Chad. The international force is now concentrating on all three areas while national forces work the Cameroon, Niger and Chad sides of the border. Cameroon in particular wants to stop the Boko Haram suicide bomber attacks carried out by brainwashed female captives. Some 80 percent of the recent suicide bomb attacks have used these young women.

At the moment most Nigerians are not concerned about Boko Haram but rather the chronic and worsening fuel shortage. In 2012 the government tried to eliminate fuel subsidies but had to restore them by 2015 because of widespread anger and unrest. The core problem here is corruption and the need to import refined fuel rather than build refineries (or repairing those that already exist) and make all the fuel in Nigeria. The current situation is made worse by the low price of oil and the shortage of foreign exchange to buy the fuel. There is still the problem with decades old subsidies on fuel. When these were eliminated at the start of 2012 the price for most fuels doubled, with petrol (gasoline) going from 45 cents per liter ($1.70 per gallon) to at least 94 cents per liter ($3.50 per gallon). The subsidies consumed $8 billion a year, about a quarter of government spending. The fuel subsidy cuts caused demonstrations and violence from the start but the government did not back off at first. While the subsidies were still a financial burden and source of corruption they were restored in part because corrupt politicians missed the bribes. Then as now the companies getting the government contracts to import and distribute the diesel and other refined fuels kick back some of their profits to politicians who provided the contracts. The subsidies were also plundered by politicians.

Another interesting new policy is to seek help and advice from South Korea to develop non-oil parts of the economy. South Korea is one of the many East Asian nations that, in the 1960s, were behind most African countries in GDP and economic growth. But since then these East Asian “tigers” (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia) have surged to the top of the economic heap with larger per-capital GDP than most European countries. This has long been pointed out to Africa, which embraced socialism rather than free enterprise in the 1960s. East Asia did it with more education, less corruption and lots of economic freedom. Africa, especially Nigeria, needs a lot of work in all three areas. It was noted that the neighboring states who are helping fight Boko Haram do not have the oil wealth of Nigeria and that meant less corruption and more professionalism in their armed forces. This is a common pattern world-wide and the less developed a nation is when it discovers oil the more corruption and less progress that new wealth creates. Many Nigerians see the plunge (by more than 50 percent since 2013) in the oil price as a blessing as it forces everyone to agree that diversifying the economy is essential. At this point it is a matter of life and death.

March 30, 2016: In the northeast (across the border in southeast Niger) Boko Haram ambushed a Niger army patrol and killed six soldiers. The attack was near the town of Diffa, where there have been several clashes in the last month with Boko Haram groups from across the border in northeastern Borno state. Niger sent an aircraft into the area to see if Boko Haram had established a camp on the Niger side of the border. Nigerian troops are increasing their efforts to find and destroy Boko Haram groups that operate on both sides of the border.

March 27, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops checking into reports of Boko Haram presence found that the Islamic terrorists had taken control of three remote villages. The soldiers attacked and killed 25 of the Islamic terrorists while even more of them were able to flee. While searching the three villages troops found many weapons as well as ammo and other equipment. The soldiers also freed 18 civilians who were being held captive and used as slaves by the Islamic terrorists.

March 25, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops guarding a military base shot and killed two female suicide bombers trying to get into the base. One of the bombers set off her explosives as she was shot while the other tried to run away but was shot dead. No one else was hurt.

March 20, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops found that one of the 19 Boko Haram men they had just killed was a much wanted Boko Haram leader (Ameer Dalore). This clash was the result of an army raid on a remote Boko Haram camp. In the camp soldiers freed 67 civilian captives and seized four vehicles, many weapons and other military supplies. The raid that killed Dalore was part of a larger operation that hit several Boko Haram bases and killed over fifty Islamic terrorists, captured dozens and drove even more deeply into the bush with no food and little ammo. The army suffered about a dozen casualties, including two dead.

Britain revealed that by July 2014 American and British intelligence efforts found where many of the 300 Chibok girls were being held in the Sambisa forest but the Nigerian government kept quiet about this because there was no way to rescue the girls without risking the Islamic terrorists killing them. That’s because it would have taken hours for Nigerian troops to have reach the girls on the ground and an air assault was impossible because Nigeria had neither the helicopters nor trained troops for such an operation. Nigeria at that point would not allow foreign commandos and helicopters in to do it as that would be embarrassing to the corrupt and inept Nigerian military. In January a newly elected Nigerian government ordered a new investigation of what happened to the Chibok girls and additional efforts by the security forces to find and rescue the captives. These are the most famous of the Boko Haram kidnap victims. Although over 3,000 Boko Haram captives have been rescued since last September there has been no sign of the most famous ones. Chibok (located near the Sambisa forest) was where Boko Haram raided a boarding school in early 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenage girls and older women. This was the first mass kidnapping and families of these girls have been pressuring the government to rescue these girls ever since. It was hoped that talking to the several dozen who escaped as well as all the women rescued so far from Boko Haram would provide some hints about where the Chibok girls are. That did not happen. The army later confirmed that some of the captured women had joined Boko Haram and dozens of them were killed while fighting alongside their Boko Haram “husbands” or while serving as suicide bombers. But most of the Chibok girls are still missing. The British revelation was followed by witnesses in Borno coming forward to prove that in the months following the Chibok kidnapping at least 500 more civilians were taken by Boko Haram and the government was largely successful in keeping that out of the news.

March 18, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) a group of Boko Haram, operating on foot, attacked a rural village with explosives, killed five civilians, grabbed all the food they could carry and then burned down the village before fleeing. The army was soon notified and was able to track the group. The soldiers soon caught up with the Islamic terrorists and after a brief gun battle captured four and killed two others. Several Boko Haram appear to have dropped their loot and fled into the forest. The captives confirmed that Boko Haram was suffering shortages of everything because of the increased use of local defense militias and quick response by troops to reports of Boko Haram activity. As a result the scattered bands of Boko Haram were running out of weapons, ammo, fuel and vehicles. Living off plunder was not working out as it long had because poorly armed Boko Haram were often not able to deal with local defense militias as in the past (which a dozen men with AK-47s were more than most militias could handle).

 

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