Nigeria: Bad Times For The Bad Boys

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April 22, 2016: Down south in the Niger River Delta there has been a noticeable increase in violence against oil facilities. This had largely ended in 2009 with a peace deal. So far this year there have been one or more major attacks a month on oil facilities. This comes after hardly any such violence since 2013. Former members of MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) are believed to be behind the worst of the new attacks. One new group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), has taken credit for some of the worst recent infrastructure attacks. It is unclear exactly who is running the NDA but some gang leaders are suspected. Remnants of MEND are still around despite the 2009 amnesty deal and a 2015 extension of the amnesty by newly elected president Buhari. After most MEND members accepted the government amnesty and left the organization some MEND hard core remained in touch with each other. Since early 2015 these MEND remnants has been demanding that the army withdraw from the Delta and all imprisoned MEND members be freed or else there will be a new wave of attacks on oil facilities. The attacks are now happening but the government does not believe this is all organized by MEND and refuses to give in to MEND demands. Not much else has come of these threats despite some minor MEND violence every week or so. The MEND rebels also want the terms of the 2009 amnesty deal enforced, and corrupt officials running the program removed. In response to those threats, the military keeps attacking remote criminal hideouts in the Niger delta, seizing lots of weapons and equipment, but not making many arrests. The gangsters tend to hear the troops coming (usually by boat), and slip away into an area of numerous creeks and islands they know well. Many criminals in the delta support MEND goals (for more autonomy in the Delta, less corruption and spending additional oil money locally). Even through the government has screwed up their end of the amnesty deal they insist that the rebels keep the peace. But corruption and mismanagement have kept many rebels from getting the amnesty benefits and the government is still seen as unreliable, corrupt and hostile. The MEND threats have been much more ambitious than the actual attacks and it is believed that only a few people are involved in attacks on oil facilities (which are well guarded these days.) Whoever is behind the latest violence is determined and effective. The government has been forced to deploy more troops and police to the oil producing areas of the delta because recent attacks had seriously reduced production (by about 67,000 barrels in March) and repairs are taking longer than expected.

There is a new urgency in increasing oil production and production. That is because one of the new anti-corruption measures has worked quite well. This involved sending all tax and oil revenues to a single government account (the Treasury Single Account or TSA) which is closely watched and audited. In the past all this money went to over 10,000 government accounts, most of them unaudited and not available for public scrutiny. So far this year the TSA has taken in $14.57 billion. The new government estimated that in the last decade corrupt politicians and government officials stole an average of $15 billion from the government each year.

The navy has been a lot more active along the Niger River Delta this year, using aerial reconnaissance to spot illegal refineries and then sending patrol boats to make arrests and destroy the refineries. For decades gangs have punched holes into pipelines and gathered oil for use in crude illegal refineries that produce low grade kerosene. There are also brokers who will buy stolen crude oil and use bribes to ship it to neighboring countries where it eventually becomes “legal” crude oil and can be sold at full price. The navy is interrupting this more frequently. The military long complained that while they could destroy illegal refineries and seize trucks and other items needed to plunder pipelines and move stolen crude, the corrupt and inefficient justice system made it nearly impossible to put oil thieves and pirates into prison for long periods, if at all. The gangsters consider bribes, seized or destroyed equipment and legal fees a cost of doing business and keep at it because the outlaw life works for them. The new government said it would fix this and some progress has been made. But the current corrupt judiciary has been around for decades and is not be easy to fix.

In the northeast active Boko Haram groups have become less of a problem while over a million refugees from Boko Haram violence have been getting more attention. Many of these refugees have not been getting food and other aid, usually because they were in remote areas or because local aid officials were corrupt. That last problem is being addressed, or at least an attempt is being made to find and remove the corrupt aid officials. Improved security has made it possible to get aid convoys into areas that were previously off-limits without a substantial armed escort (which was often not available).

April 18, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram ambushed an army convoy on its way to set up a new base near the Niger border. The ambush was defeated and the Islamic terrorists fled but 24 soldiers were wounded during the ambush and subsequent battle.

April 15, 2016: In the southeast (Taraba State) clashes between farmers and herders (who are often Fulani) have left over fifty dead this month. The Fulani are angrier than usual because for over a year soldiers have been catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing some of the Fulani and returning stolen cattle and other goods. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along. The violence has gotten worse lately. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and it looks like it is going to worse in 2016. Boko Haram has claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal. The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was sending Christian soldiers and 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 Moslem tribesmen have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want. The Fulani will also attack Moslem farmers.

April 14, 2016: In the northeast (Yobe State) refugees from recent Boko Haram raids complain that nearly all the troops and aid workers are in neighboring Borno State leaving those in rural parts of Yobe vulnerable to the growing number of Boko Haram men who are fleeing Borno. No matter where they are the Boko Haram groups must raid to survive and now more of them are in Yobe.

April 12, 2016: In the south, off the coast of Niger River Delta, a navy patrol boat responded to a distress call from a large (159,000 DWT) tanker. The patrol boat showed up quickly and the pirates fled before they could get aboard the tanker (and grab portable valuables and kidnap some of the senior officers).

April 11, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops from the Joint Forces (a 9,000 strong force from Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Benin) made a surprise sweep into a rural area on the Cameroon border that had a Boko Haram presence and killed 22 of the Islamic terrorist, destroyed several Boko Haram camps and freed over 1,200 civilians held captive. Several suspected Boko Haram men were arrested including three believed to be leaders. Operations by the Join Forces in the last month have led to at least 800 Boko Haram surrendering. These men report shortages of weapons, ammunition and food since mid-2015 have led many more Boko Haram to desert.

April 8, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops at a checkpoint shot dead four teenage girls who refused orders to halt and put their hands up. As suspected the four were wearing explosive vests.

April 5, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops from the Joint Forces completed a three day sweep along both sides of the Cameroon and Chad borders. This resulted in the arrest of over 300 Boko Haram members and freeing over 2,000 of their captives. On the Nigerian side of the border, near the town of Kumshe, a Boko Haram training and supply base was discovered and destroyed. As they have since late 2015 the Islamic terrorists did not stand and fight but rather fled at the approach of Joint Forces troops. But some Boko Haram hid their weapons and tried to pass as civilians. The locals were quick to point out who was possibly a Boko Haram member. That has been happening more often this year as Boko Haram loses its ability to deliver on the threat of retaliation against those who inform on them.

April 4, 2016: In the south (Bayelsa State) troops caught up with a group of pirates operating along the coast, killed four of them and freed a soldier who had been captured by the pirates in late March. The pirate gangs operate from bases in the Niger River Delta, which has thousands of kilometers of waterways.

April 3, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops and local defense volunteers repulsed a Boko Haram attack on the town of Izghe. This place has been fought over several times since early 2014 and largely destroyed. But in 2015 troops drove the Islamic terrorists out and allowed residents to return and rebuild. While the attackers took a lot of casualties before they fled (taking their dead and wounded with them) the defenders lost three soldiers and two volunteers.

 

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