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September 12, 2016: The military continues to investigate the impact of an August 19 th air strike on a possible Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa forest. It turned out that this camp was for the senior Boko Haram leadership. Once troops went in to search the site of the attack they found that the wreckage was not just another temporary Boko Haram camp but one being used for a meeting by senior Boko Haram leaders. There were a lot more Boko Haram gunmen there than suspected. Among the hundred or more killed were several senior Boko Haram leaders who were there for a meeting with supreme leader Abubakar Shekau. Apparently Shekau was among the many wounded and now the military believes he has soon died from his wounds. Shekau has been reported dead before but this time the intel experts are pretty certain he is gone. Survivors of the air attack support that as do participants of the subsequent fighting between Boko Haram factions over who will be the new leader.

Since 2015 a lot of key Boko Haram personnel have been hiding out in Sambisa forest. This is a large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated area that straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states, The forest has long been a hideout outlaws of all sorts. 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 mid-2016 the army has been encountering a growing number of emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly 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.

For most of 2016 the military has been using the air force to fly aerial reconnaissance missions over the Sambisa forest, usually following up on tips that Boko Haram are active in a certain remote area. Those tips often turn out to be true and several suspected Boko Haram campsites will be found. The camps are often laid out to be difficult to spot from the air but the military has worked out a system for selecting the most likely locations of an actual Boko Haram camp and bombing it. What often gives these camps away is the use of solar panels, which Boko Haram needs to power their phones, night lights and other electronics. Once a site is bombed more aerial photos are taken and the aftermath of the bombing will indicate exactly what was down there. Boko Haram knows about the aerial reconnaissance and often moves their rural camps regularly, or immediately if they suspect the air force has found them. Because of this the air force is increasingly bombing the remote camps. Sending in ground forces instead is risky because it can take days (between the time air recon spots a camp, the army is notified and troops sent to attack). Boko Haram has sentries and spies protecting the camps and that means a ground attack usually encounters an uninhabited camp or one that has just been moved. But once a major camp has been hit the evidence is visible from the air and the ground troops go in to obtain more details, as well as prisoners, documents and the like.

While the Nigerian military is certain that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is dead that has not halted a civil war going on inside Boko Haram since early August. This began when ISIL announced on August 3rd that it was appointing a new leader for Boko Haram. The existing leader, 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. The Boko Haram gathering the air force spotted and bombed on August 19th was apparently Shekau assembling his loyalists to deal with the ISIL announcement.

ISIL had appointed Abu Musab al Barnawi the new leader for Boko Haram and he promptly announced that Boko Haram would now attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems. Barnawi is a son of Mohammed Yusuf, one of the ISIL founders. Barnawi was appointed chief Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Although Barnawi has developed a following in Boko Haram Shekau refused to accept the ISIL decision and even with Shekau and many of his most loyal supporters dead Boko Haram is now split into warring factions. This is nothing new as there have always been some factions, but not to this extent. Now many Boko Haram loyalists regret the March 2015 decision to become part of 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. By the time Boko Haram joined ISIL was already on the defensive in the Middle East and so far in 2016 ISIL has suffered one major defeat after another. 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.

Some clashes between the two factions have been reported in Borno State, near the Chad border.

Aftermath

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 Boko Haram terror (bombings, assassinations, raids) depopulated a large (over 30,000 square kilometers) area of northern Borno State. The depopulation led to the collapse of the local economy. In effect so many people fled the combat zone that there are too few people for Boko Haram to prey on for loot and recruits. That aided in the defeat of Boko Haram but it is an example of the old “create a desert and call it peace” technique. The opportunity here, which the government is unlikely (based on past performance) to take advantage of, is to quickly rebuild the economy and infrastructure (everything from roads and utilities to schools and markets) to quickly get the local economy going again. Just muddling through the mess in the northeast will create conditions for a repeat in a few generations or less.

Foreign aid organizations are reporting growing chaos in the depopulated area, where many of the refugees are trying to return and rebuild their lives. That chaos is because there are a lot more outlaws up there. Most are not Boko Haram but the security forces don’t find that out until a gun battle is over. What makes this worse is that the Nigerian security forces still tend to shoot first and investigate later, if at all. For this reason people prefer to live away from the main roads, where bandits and Islamic terrorists will lie in wait for aid convoys or anyone worth robbing. Troops driving by will shoot at anything that might be an ambush. In most of the depopulated areas aid groups demand armed escorts for aid convoys. But the more troops to assign to convoy escort the less are available for going after and eliminating the remaining Boko Haram and the growing number of bandits.

To deal with the remaining Boko Haram and criminal gangs operating in the northeast a large force of soldiers and police that will have to remain in the area for some time. There are still over half a million refugees in the northeast in desperate need of food and medical assistance. The more areas of this disaster zone that get visited by aid officials the more hungry survivors are encountered. Meanwhile several million people fled to urban areas just to get away from the threat of Boko Haram violence. Most of these internal refugees are destitute and malnutrition and disease are the result.

Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, attracted most of these refugees. The city is in the middle of Borno and most of the Boko Haram violence was north of the city. Maiduguri is also where Boko Haram began over a decade ago. Now the city is the center of the aid and reconstruction efforts. Over three million people came to the city since 2013, mainly to escape the Boko Haram threat. While some (especially Christians) eventually fled Borno altogether, most want to get back to their homes in the north. In the meantime they have to eat and that will be even more important when home is safe enough to return to. But unless the government comes through with the several billion dollars of economic aid the economy won’t revive in time and a lot of those people will head for other parts of Nigeria.

The new government has the will and the money but it is uncertain if the corruption can be controlled. Even in a disaster zone officials have been caught stealing refugee aid. In some cases the officials are caught in the act and call on soldiers and police to protect them from angry civilian. A lot of soldiers are reluctant to do that because the troops have long complained about corruption among their own officers. The new government got elected in part because it was led by a retired general (Muhammadu Buhari) from the north with a reputation for reducing corruption. Buhari delivered in that respect and several dozen officers have been prosecuted for stealing cash and other goods entrusted to them, usually at the expense of the troops under their command. The worst cases involved officers who sold weapons to Boko Haram. The troops knew this but the previous government insisted it was not happening. The problem is that it is more difficult to prosecute northern officials because many get elected or appointed because of tribal ties and as long as they share some of the loot with their tribes they retain some local support.

The Recession

The continued violence in the Niger River Delta has reduced oil production by a third and threatens to trigger a nationwide economic recession that could lead to widespread unrest. The government is arranging billions of dollars in loans from foreign sources (mainly the World Bank, China and Japan) to spur economic activity and avoid the recession. This will only succeed if the government can control the corruption (that usually cripples such investment efforts) and seen an increase in oil revenue. The federal government normally gets 70 percent of its budget from oil income. Oil is normally responsible for 40 percent of all economic activity in Nigeria and 90 percent of foreign exchange (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. Some progress has been made there and the government also managed to reduce government spending seen as non-essential.

Oil production is now about 1.6 million barrels per day (BPD) but without all this violence it would be over 2.2 million BPD. Foreign oil companies operating in Nigeria believe the violence and crime in the Niger Delta is costing the country a million BPD in lost production. At least 150,000 barrels of oil a day are being stolen by thieves who tap into oil pipelines. That’s over five billion dollars a year in lost oil revenue. 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. The government is currently operating at an annual deficit of nearly $20 billion.

September 7, 2016: In the south (Rivers and Bayelsa states) the army reported that several days of intense searches in the Niger River Delta had resulted in finding several dozen camps used by local gangs that stole oil from pipelines. The troops destroyed the camps, including the stolen oil and 74 crude (and often portable) refinery operations (for turning crude oil into more useful kerosene). A growing number of these oil gangs are reorganizing as rebels demanding that the government agree to negotiate payments to local communities for damage done by oil companies. These rebel groups want the payments to go through them, so they can ensure the right people (especially rebel leaders and local politicians who protect them) get their fair share.

The government is tempted to negotiate with the Delta rebels but past experience has shown that this is only a temporary solution. The Delta gangs know this well and are willing to take a large payoff from the government to keep quiet for a year or so. Security experts point out that it might be better to spend the money on the armed forces, which are now have combat experience and are losing a lot of their corrupt and incompetent officers because the new president is a retired general who has long supported these reforms and is now carrying them out. The oil gangs also respond to punishment.

September 4, 2016: Health experts confirmed a third case of polio in the northeast among people recently living under Boko Haram control. This is a major disappointment because earlier in 2016 it was announced that Nigeria had eliminated polio. As part of a worldwide effort, Nigeria 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. Islamic conservatives up north have been preaching against polio vaccinations for years insisting that 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. 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 government is making yet another effort to wipe out polio in the Moslem north. Some of the polio virus has survived because of Boko Haram and even with the Islamic terrorists gone it will take another year or so to deal with the polio problem.

September 3, 2016: In the northeast (across the border in southeast Niger) Boko Haram gunmen riding camels raided a village near the town of Diffa, killed five people, looted the place, burned several buildings and left before the army or police showed up. Several groups have found it easier to survive in neighboring countries like Niger and Cameroon. The neighbors are responding and Boko Haram diehards are being treated like another bunch of bandits to deal with.

September 2, 2016: The military confirmed that a recent air strike in the northeast (Borno state) killed the Boko Haram supreme leader Abubakar Shekau.

August 30, 2016: In the south (the Delta State) a group calling itself the NDGJM (Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate) took credit for a damaging an oil pipeline. NDGJM is one of more than a dozen new rebel groups to appear in the Niger River Delta this year. All of these new groups appear to sense an opportunity to extract some cash and other concessions from the government.

August 29, 2016: The NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) implemented a ceasefire and prepares to negotiate with the government to halt the military and police efforts against the NDA and its supporters. This comes after months 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.

August 23, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) the air force revealed that an August 19th airstrike on a suspected Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa forest turned out to be more important than it first appeared.

 

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