Nigeria: Boko Haram Falls Apart

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August 22, 2016: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)  announced on August 3 rd that it was appointing a new leader for Boko Haram. The existing leader, Abubakar Shekau, was accused of mismanagement. ISIL believed Shekau devoted too much effort to killing fellow Moslems (especially civilians) rather than the real enemies of ISIL (local security forces and non-Moslems in general). ISIL leadership was also unhappy with the Boko Haram use of children and women as suicide bombers. ISIL appointed Abu Musab al Barnawi the new leader for Boko Haramwho and he promptly announced that he would focus Boko Haram attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems. Barnawi is a son of Mohammed Yusuf, one of the ISIL founders. Barnawiwas appointed chief Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Although Barnawi has developed a following in Boko Haram Shekau refused to accept his demotion and ISIL appears to have split into two major factions. This is nothing new as their have always been some factions, but not to this extent.

This all began back in March 2015 when Boko Haram posted a message on the Internet pledging allegiance to ISIL. This was believed to be an effort to avoid a split in Boko Haram as more radical members declared themselves followers of ISIL or even tried to go to Syria to join ISIL. Few African Islamic terrorists have done that, largely because of the cost and difficulty travelling from Africa to areas where ISIL is dominant. But in many parts of the world older Islamic terror organizations are fracturing because their more enthusiastic members prefer the ISIL style of ultra-violence.

Barnawi is in his 20s and similar to his father, Mohammed Yusuf, who was well educated, an Islamic conservative and murdered by police in 2009 just before he turned 40. That murder was one of the reasons Boko Haram turned to widespread and ruthless violence rather than just depending on agitation and education.

Boko Haram may be largely defeated but the seven years of fighting in the northeast (mainly Borno State) has caused enormous destruction to nearby areas as well, especially the south shore of Lake Chad, where the borders of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria meet. Nearly 20,000 people died from Boko Haram related violence since 2009 and more than two million were driven from their homes. About ten percent of the casualties and refugees were in neighboring countries.

The extent of the Boko Haram defeat can be seen in things like the Operation Safe Corridor amnesty program the military began in April. In four months over 8,000 Boko Haram have accepted the amnesty and surrendered. The military has also found and rescued over 10,000 civilians being held captive by Boko Haram. Many known (and wanted) Boko Haram leaders have surrendered or been captured or killed based on information obtained from Boko Haram who have given up.

Now that Boko Haram is no longer active in most of Borno State local associations can assess the overall losses from seven years of violence. The local branch of the Cattle Breeders Association found that nearly 2,000 of its members had been killed and herders had lost over 230,000 cattle, sheep and goats to Islamic terrorist violence.

There are still armed Boko Haram operating in the northeast, but at the level of a criminal gangs and are being hunted down by the large force of soldiers and police that will remain in the north east for some time. The government is assigning armed guards to air convoys, which are a large and popular target for bandits as well as Boko Haram. There are still over half a million refugees in the northeast in desperate need of food and medical assistance.

Oil Wars

The continued violence in the Niger River Delta has reduced oil production by a third and caused an economic crises for the federal government, which gets 70 percent of its budget from oil income. Production is now about 1.5 million barrels per day (BPD) but without all this violence it would be over 2.2 million BPD. That, plus the much lower (since 2013) world prices for oil has officially pushed the country into an economic recession. Not all the violence in the Delta is from gunfire and bombs. Many oil facilities are being shut down by local civilians who are demanding some benefit from the decades of oil production. The security forces are too busy with the armed groups in the area to break up these blockades. The oil companies involved are foreign contractors and do not want to pay off the locals since that only encourages more extortion efforts.

Meanwhile the government is trying to deal with a national economic crises because of the lost oil income. The usual cure for a recession is for the government to borrow lots of money and create more economic activity. That won’t work for Nigeria because decades of corruption and uncertainty about the impact of renewed rebellion in the oil producing areas has damaged the national credit rating. The recently elected reform (and anti-corruption) government has to deliver. Oil is normally responsible for 40 percent of economic activity and 90 percent of foreign exchange (oil income to pay for imports). But now the government has less oil money available and is trying to replace that by going after and halting the massive corruption that had diverted so much oil income in the past.

August 21, 2016: In the west (Niger state) the military admitted that they had recently suffered eleven dead during raids on rural hideouts used by a criminal organization that specialized in dealing illegal weapons and ammo. The raids also left eight gangsters dead and 54 arrested as well as large quantities of weapons and ammo seized. This gang provided illegal weapons and ammo throughout central Nigeria, including the national capital (Abuja) and the Fulani tribesmen who have been responsible for much of the violence against farming communities. The Fulani tribe has been raiding throughout northern and central Nigeria and these raids have left thousands dead over the last few years and sometimes have religious overtones because the Fulani are mainly Moslem while most of the farmers are Christians.

In the northeast (Borno State) a Boko Haram suicide bomber was believed responsible for an attack in neighboring Cameroon that left four dead and several wounded. In the last year Boko Haram has left over a hundred dead in the parts of Cameroon next to Borno State

August 20, 2016: In the south The NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) unexpectedly offered a ceasefire deal that, if accepted by the government, would involve negotiations and a halt to military and police efforts against the NDA and its supporters. This comes after several weeks of rumors that NDA was secretly negotiating with the government but was unwilling to admit this to its followers. NDA has been responsible for most of the recent violence in the oil producing Delta. Back in July NDA threatened to declare the Niger Delta independent on October 1st. None of the major independence groups down there agreed to work with NDA on that. Both political and armed independence groups were more willing to negotiate with the government.

Until recently NDA refused to discuss compromise and wanted the federal government out of the Niger Delta. That is not going to happen but NDA knows that the government is in a desperate position. Desperate or not the government brought in more troops and declared a ceasefire deals with any dissidents in the delta who were willing to talk. The military was told to go after anyone else. For the moment NDA is isolated, but still dangerous because they threatened violent retribution against all “outsiders” who did not leave the delta region by today. So far there is no widespread separatist violence.

August 19, 2016: In the south two more oil pipelines were shut down by bombs. Another attack, on an unused gas pipeline was claimed by a new group; NDGJM (Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate). NDGJM demanded that the government agree to negotiate payments to local communities for damage done by oil companies and threatened further violence if attempts were made to repair the inactive, but now damaged, pipeline. NDGJM accused the government of tolerating corrupt politicians stealing such compensation in the past. Local officials believe NDGJM is just another example of the scam NDGJM says it is against.

August 16, 2016: In the northeast (Kaduna State) Fulani herders raided a Christian village and killed ten people. This was the fourth such raid in the area this month.

August 14, 2016: Boko Haram (the Shekau faction) released a video showing fifty of the “Chibok girls” and offered to exchange them for captured Boko Haram men. 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. Nearly 80 percent of these women are still considered alive and missing. Chibok was the first mass Boko Haram kidnapping and families of these girls have been pressuring the government to rescue these girls ever since. In May 2016 Amina Ali was the first of the Chibok girls to be rescued. 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” remained under arrest. Boko Haram has also claimed that dozens of Chibok girl have been killed by air raids and army artillery and that the military should stop these attacks to prevent any more Chibok girls from being hurt. The government refuses to negotiate a prisoner swap and the military refuses to halt its air and artillery attacks. Releasing the video and demanding negotiations is seen as a ploy by Shekau to persuade ISIL to reverse its recent decision to replace him with the more practical Abu Musab al Barnawi.

August 11, 2016: Despite recent announcements that Nigeria had eliminated polio, two cases were found in the northeast among people recently living under Boko Haram control. Nigerian health officials had reduced polio infections from over 1,200 in 2006 to none in 2014. But that did not include large areas of Borno State where health officials could not go because of Boko Haram. Decades of effort to eradicate polio are still being compromised by Islamic radicals in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. There are only small populations in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria where polio is still found. In Nigeria Islamic conservatives up north have been preaching against polio vaccinations for years (on the assumption that the medicine is actually a Christian plot to poison Moslems). Polio can be wiped out, like smallpox was back in the 1970s, if you can vaccinate everyone in areas where the disease still exists (as polio and smallpox are diseases that can only live in human hosts). But the Islamic conservatives have been a major barrier to eliminating polio. The current wave of Islamic conservatism was only getting started back in the 1970s, and it continues to grow. The government is making yet another effort to wipe out polio in the Moslem north. Boko Haram opposed this because some in Boko Haram agree that the polio vaccinations is part of a war against Islam. Some members of Boko Haram understand that the polio vaccination campaign actually reduces the number of children getting polio, but are unwilling to get into a fight over this with their more fanatical fellow Islamic radicals. This feud is apparently over, but some of the polio virus has survived because of Boko Haram and that will take another year or so to deal with.

August 4, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram groups operating just across the border in southeastern Niger have suffered heavy losses in the last week, including the arrest of several local civilians who were supplying Boko Haram with fuel and other supplies. For much of early 2016 Boko Haram violence hit this rural corner of Niger hard, leaving over a hundred dead, most of them local civilians. Much of this violence takes place near the Borno State border around the Niger towns of Diffa and Bosso. This has led to increased joint (Niger and Nigerian) and MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) efforts to find and destroy Boko Haram groups that still operate on both sides of the border. Earlier in June over a hundred Boko Haram gunmen crossed the border into Niger and attacked Bosso. The attack was repulsed but 32 soldiers (two of them Nigerian) died. There was a similar, but larger, attack in February and since then troops from Niger and Nigeria have jointly provided patrols and town garrisons in the area.

 

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