Nigeria: State Of Siege

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May 29, 2016: In the last year the military effort against Boko Haram has finally managed to defeat the Islamic terrorists in the northeast and allow the government to do more for the two million people driven from their homes as well as the massive destruction to schools and other infrastructure in Borno State. All this was because the new government, in power since March 2015, moved quickly to deal with the corruption, especially among military officers, that had had hampered previous efforts to deal with Islamic terrorism in the north. The Boko Haram violence began in 2009, even though the group had been around since 2002. Boko Haram switched from preaching to violence in 2009 and at first appeared to have been shut down by the security forces. But the police employed their usual methods, which involved killing or arresting a lot of innocent civilians. That crackdown generated more popular support for Boko Haram and in 2010 the violence reappeared and escalated until, by 2014, Boko Haram controlled nearly half of Borno State . President Buhari, a Moslem and a retired general from the north got elected in early 2015 largely on the hope that he would and could deal with the corruption and failure to deal with Boko Haram.

In the last year Boko Haram has been defeated but not destroyed. The security forces took back most of the territory Boko Haram controlled in late 2014 and freed over 11,500 civilians the Islamic terrorists had captured and enslaved to provide support (labor, sex, suicide bombers). Buhari also played a key role in making the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) work. Formed by the previous government in early 2015 MNJTF consisted of over 8,000 troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria.

Buhari sided with the most Nigerians and foreign observers in admitting that the inability to deal with Boko Haram was largely because of the rampant corruption, especially in the military. Buhari also realized that this problem made Western nations, especially the United States and Britain, reluctant to sell Nigeria modern weapons. The corruption in Nigeria, epic even by African standards, was always denied by the Nigerian military. Buhari knew, as did many Nigerians, that since 2013 more and more evidence of the military corruption was being published. As soon as Buhari was in power he knew where to look and who to question to confirm the source of the problem. There followed the replacement of dozens of senior officers. The new commanders were ordered to do the same with their subordinates and within months many of the officers responsible for the military shortcomings were replaced. Neighboring countries, who had smaller but more effective security forces because of less corruption, were relieved. The better performance of troops from Cameroon, Niger and Chad against Boko Haram was always attributed to the better quality (less corrupt) officers they had. Now Nigeria also benefitted from more competent (or at least much less corrupt) military and police commanders.

The corruption in Nigeria was so bad that political and military leaders have long been reluctant to admit it, much less do something about it. This led to strained relations with the United States, which demanded that Nigeria make some effective efforts to deal with the military corruption and resulting battlefield incompetence. Before Buhari got elected in 2015 Nigerian generals and senior politicians resisted reform, mainly because many politicians believe the loyalty of corrupt senior officers were essential for keeping corrupt politicians safe from increasingly angry Nigerians who suffer the most from the corruption. Unlike his predecessors, who promised to do something about corruption but didn’t, Buhari actually did something by exposing massive corruption, firing incompetent (and usually corrupt as well) officers and prosecuting more corrupt officials than any other Nigerian leader. Corruption is still a problem and rebuilding the military will take time but the United States was sufficiently impressed to drop its ban on arms sales. The U.S. also sent in trainers, intel experts and commandos, something they had been reluctant to do in the past (and corrupt Nigerian general were reluctant to accept). But the American troops became aware of the improved situation and reported what they saw.

In April the United States also agreed to sell Nigeria twelve A-29 Super Tucano warplanes, and other military equipment the Nigerian military had wanted but the U.S. refused to provide because of the corruption. The A-29 can be used for pilot training as well as air support of soldiers and police. Such support includes surveillance and reconnaissance as well as bombing. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs, rockets, camera/signal collection pods or even a 20mm autocannon pod. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain and cheap. These cost about $18 million each when you include training, spare parts and support equipment. These aircraft are more useful than jet fighters, which are much more expensive to buy and operate and are not as effective for ground attack.

May 28, 2016: In the Niger River Delta renewed violence by local rebels damaged a major oil pipeline and further reduced oil production to 1.1 million barrels a day. This is part of a dismal trend. At the end of April production was 1.69 million, the lowest it has been since 1994. The fall in production is rather recent as in September 2015 it was at 2.1 million barrels a day. In 2013 oil theft and violence got so bad that daily production fell from 2.3 million barrels a day to about two million in early 2016. This was despite years of efforts to fulfill government demands to increase production to 3.7 million barrels a day. The previous peak was 2.6 million barrels a day in 2006 (before the Niger Delta rebels got going and oil theft became a much larger problem). It proved impossible to get back to 2.6 million because of corruption, government incompetence, oil theft and new rebel groups like NDA (Niger Delta Avengers).

The government thought it had solved the Delta rebel problem with a 2009 amnesty deal. Like everything else in Nigeria, corruption prevented that arrangement from working. Many former rebels accepted government sponsored security jobs. These jobs were basically a payoff for gang members to ensure they observed the “no more violence” part of the amnesty deal. The violence against oil production declined substantially in 2009 because of the peace deal that over 30,000 local rebels accepted. That eventually changed as corruption caused the government payoffs to the former rebels to gradually disappear. In 2015 the violence began to reappear and by early 2016 there was 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 who accepted the amnesty) were believed to be behind most of the new attacks but the former MEND rebels formed a new group; the NDA, which is now responsible for the most damaging oil infrastructure attacks. NDA demands a separate state in the Delta, just as MEND used to do. That will never happen because the oil is the most valuable natural resource in the country. In April the government began shifting as many police and troops as it could to the oil producing areas in the delta. That was not enough because by the end of May NDA make good on its threat and oil production is in big trouble. It’s not only NDA the government has to worry about but also the fact that most of the Delta population supports NDA.

People in the Niger Delta have long complained that they never saw many benefits from the multi-billion dollar a year oil industry operating in their midst. The reason for that is simple. Since 1972 the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,300 billion) in oil revenue, most of which has been stolen or misused. This corruption is the main cause of the unrest in the country, especially the oil producing areas. Since 1980, the poverty rate (the percentage of people living on less than $400 a year) has gone from 28 percent to over 60 percent today. About five percent of the population lives on over $1,000 a year, and these are usually connected with the corrupt politicians who have stolen all that oil wealth. For over four decades, the oil money has been going to about twenty percent of the population, leaving most of the rest worse off today than they were in the early 1960s, before the oil exports began. The people in the Niger Delta are up in arms because most of them have not benefited from the oil production, but have suffered from the oil spills and other disruptions that accompany oil drilling and shipping. The four decades of theft have left the national infrastructure (roads, water supplies, power production, and so on) in ruins.

May 25, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram deserters fleeing the Sambisa forest confirmed that Boko Haram supreme leader Abubakar Shekau had ordered the execution of his chief bomb maker for trying to desert. The man Shekau appointed as new chief bomb maker then had an accident while building a bomb and was blinded. It was unclear who the third new chief bomb makers was or exactly where in the Sambisa forest Shekau and his shrinking force of Islamic terrorists were. Deserters confirm that the main reason for the low morale and increasing desertions is the constant military pressure. The large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated Sambisa Forest straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and has long been a hideout for the Islamic terrorists and, before that, bandits. One problem with living in the Sambisa is that there is not a lot of food or any of the other supplies (fuel, batteries, ammunition) Boko Haram needs to survive. Since January the army has been encountering more and more emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted to find food. The Sambisa is basically surrounded and the remaining Boko Haram groups in there cannot easily get out to raid nearby towns and villages for supplies. In effect the military has besieged Boko Haram in the Sambisa and is starving them out.

May 24, 2016: In the northeast (central Borno state) a group of Boko Haram raided and looted five villages. This was done at night and was the first such Boko Haram activity in months. Soldiers and police are trying to track down this group, which was apparently forced out of hiding by the need for food and fuel. These attacks left 13 civilians dead.

May 19, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) a group of Boko Haram crossed into Niger and raided a village for supplies. The looters killed six civilians and wounded seven.

May 17, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) a girl collecting firewood on the edge of the Sambisa forest was spotted by a group of local defense force men on patrol and rescued. The defense volunteers went and seized her husband (suspected to be Boko Haram) who was nearby. The woman, Amina Ali, turned out to be the first of the “Chibok girls” to be rescued. 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. Amina Ali reported that at least six of the Chibok girls had died so far and that most appear to be with various groups of Boko Haram still in the Sambisa forest. Amina Ali and her baby were reunited with her family while her “husband” remains under arrest.

May 14, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) a temporary army camp in the Sambisa forest was attacked at dawn by some Boko Haram. At least two of the attackers were killed and driven off. Part of the attack involved several mortar shells fired into the camp, which wounded five soldiers. The troops in the camp were one of dozens of small units searching the Sambisa forest for remaining Boko Haram trying to avoid detection.

May 13, 2016: It was revealed that three days ago in the northeast (Borno State) a MNJTF force of troops from Cameroon and Nigeria raided a Boko Haram base near the Cameroon border, killed 58 Islamic terrorists, captured a senior leader (Boukar Kaou) and several of his followers and freed 46 civilian captives. No soldiers died in the operation.

 

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