Boko Haram has, like other Islamic terrorist groups adapted to their growing problems recruiting suicide bombers by using more coerced or unknowing bombers. Thus by the end of 2016 most of the suicide bombers were women (often teenagers) and children (some as young as ten). In 2016 the use of young children was increasing. Boko Haram has used at least 117 children (80 percent female) as suicide bombers since 2014 and that sort of thing is increasing in 2017. For the first three months of 2017 Boko Haram used 27 children suicide bombers compared to 30 for all of 2016. Attacks using female suicide bombers tended to use kidnapped girls convinced or coerced to make such attacks. Sometimes young girls (under 10 years old) are used, usually to wear bomb vests that can be detonated remotely. These bombers often do not know they are wearing explosives.
Most suicide attacks using women or children fail or do little damage. Not just because of inept attackers but also because the security forces (including civilian volunteers) have adopted more effective security measures, especially for screening people quickly. Boko Haram responded by using women with infants to get by the screeners but that has not worked either. Worse, most of the remaining Boko Haram have been confined to Borno State in the northeast and in camps in Cameroon (which is Borno’s eastern border). Thus some 70 percent of Boko Haram violence during 2016 took place in Borno and just across the border in Cameroon. But the attacks were smaller than in previous years and much less successful. Cameroon has been more effective in fighting this foreign invader, and has lost 200 of its soldiers and police doing so, as well as some 2,000 civilians. But northern Cameroon, which borders Borno, is thinly populated and the border areas have a lot of places to hide but not much to eat. The pressure from Cameroonian troops has forced Boko Haram to disperse into smaller groups and stay close to the Nigerian border. Thus most of the Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon are very small scale and often the result of a raid (for food and fuel) or clash with an army patrol. The other neighbors with some Boko Haram problems (Chad and Niger) have also been able to inflict major losses on Boko Haram groups operating near the border. Despite that Boko Haram will still operate in Niger or Chad because these areas are also on Lake Chad and the local populations still have food and other things to steal. There is virtually nothing across the border in Nigeria (Borno State). Overall the number of Boko Haram on both sides of the border is shrinking.
The Fanatic Factions
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video in late March to boast that he was still alive and operating in the northeast. Security forces have claimed Shekau was dead at least five times since 2011 but so far have always been wrong. In late 2016 there was hope that a recent split in Boko Haram might lead to Shekau getting killed by other Islamic terrorists but that hasn’t happened either and the two main factions appear to have achieved some kind of truce.
The Boko Haram split began in August 2016 when ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) announced that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with a new leader. 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. In late August the air force claimed it bombed a meeting of Shekau loyalists and killed Shekau. After that Abu Musab al Barnawi, the new leader ISIL had selected, announced that Boko Haram would now concentrate its 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 turned out to have survived the bombing.
Boko Haram is now split into competing factions which is nothing new as there have always been some factions, but not to this extent. At this point many Boko Haram loyalists regret the 2015 decision to become part of ISIL, which 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 by early 2017 ISIL was facing the loss of its primary sanctuary in Syria and Iraq. 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. Barnawi said he was going to serve fellow Moslems, especially those loyal (or at least tolerant) of ISIL. This has worked to a certain extent as in some parts of Borno State locals ISIL tells villagers they will not be attacked if they do not actively work against ISIL. In many rural areas the locals are fine with that. But Boko Haram men have to eat the new less violent approach does not always work when the locals are going hungry and Boko Haram has to steal from these hungry civilians or starve. Barnawi has made good on his pledge to concentrate on killing non-Moslems, especially Nigerian Christians and his faction is believed responsible for several recent attacks on Christians in the northeast. It is still unclear who is winning the power struggle within Boko Haram but both factions appear to be operational and avoiding fights with each other.
Shekau is getting most of the security forces attention at the moment because of his publicity seeking and continued reliance on lots of violence against everyone. By late March the army had ordered units in Kano to revisit former Boko Haram base areas to see if there were signs that Shekau men were in the vicinity. There are still large areas of Borno State that are deserted, with the civilians reluctant to return until order is restored. In these areas Boko Haram groups can survive, if they can find enough to eat. Many die trying as soldiers have come across the bodies of emaciated Boko Haram men collapsed and died while seeking something to eat. Others surrender before they pass out from hunger and their emaciation is pretty obvious. These men provide a lot of details about who is still out there and what their mental and physical condition is.
The Fulani Threat
Christian religious leaders are calling on the government to do more about the growing threat (and deadly attacks) by Moslem herders in central Nigeria (often Jos state) and the northeast (often Kaduna State). Fulani tribesmen are the usual culprits and while these attacks often trigger reprisals by Christian militias the Fulani keep attacking. This violence by Fulani herders against Christian villagers left over 800 Christians dead in 2016 along with extensive property damage, including 1,422 houses, 16 churches, 19 businesses and one school destroyed. Kaduna is majority Moslem state and the state government refuses to believe that the Fulani raiders are from Kaduna (and thus the responsibility of the state government.) Instead the violence is blamed on Fulani from a different state, despite evidence that the Fulani raiders are locals. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who get in their way. This is why the government wants the federal government to get involved. Jos is more Christian and the Fulani make no secret of their desire to change the religious composition of Jos.
The government is making some bold moves to reduce violence in the Niger River Delta. For example there is a proposal to legalize many of many of the illegal oil refineries that supply refined petroleum products to several million people and work for thousands. The illegal refineries operate using stolen crude oil but the government has a plan to deal with that as well. Meanwhile oil production has slipped a bit from 1.7 million barrels per day (BPD) at the start of 2017 (and 1.9 million for February) to 1.67 million BPD in March. Nevertheless all that is up from 1.56 million BPD in November 2016. But the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020 seems unlikely to be achieved much less sustained unless there are some fundamental economic and political changes in the delta.
April 12, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram suicide bombers and several gunmen attacked a checkpoint outside the state capital Maiduguri. One soldier was killed before the gunmen were driven off.
In the south (Lagos) police found $43 million in cash (foreign and Nigerian) stored in an unoccupied four room apartment in a high-rise residential building. Police and anti-corruption investigators were not surprised when it proved difficult to discover who owned the cash, the apartment or even the buildings. There is some evidence that it all belongs to some wealthy and high-ranking people from the north (Bauchi State). The cash was apparently found because of the new reward program that awards informants with 2.5 to 5 percent of the amount of illegal property or cash recovered.
April 11, 2017: The United States and Britain publicly thanked Nigeria how local police and intelligence efforts recently resulted in the arrest six Boko Haram members who were close to carrying out attacks on the U.S. and British embassies in the capital (Abuja) as well as other targets in the city operated by American and British companies. The arrests appear to have taken place in March and such public thanks tend to occur when such an attack was likely to succeed and the locals deserved some public recognition of their efforts. There have been no Boko Haram attacks in Abuja since late 2015 largely because Nigerian police and intel efforts mobilized their resources, and a lot of public support, to stifle numerous Boko Haram efforts to carry out attacks in the capital. In the current case five of the arrested Boko Haram men were operating in central Nigeria (Benue state) which is a lot closer to the capital than the northeast where most Boko Haram remain. The police actually arrested at least 35 Boko Haram men or supporters who were part of larger network of Boko Haram operatives that had established itself outside the northeast and was seeking to recruit more local Moslems as well as planning new attacks. That takedown was impressive by any standard and was a side effect of the new (since 2015) president who, as a former general and long-time reformer, was able to get the security forces to crack down on the Islamic terrorists and criminal gangs. The new president stressed performance over loyalty to some corrupt politician and also had police actually arrest many notoriously corrupt politicians along with army and police commanders who worked for the corrupt politicians. Boko Haram noticed the impact of all this when throughout 2016 they were having a much harder time avoiding the police using bribes or intimidation.
April 8, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram raiders ambushed a truck carrying firewood and nine men who had gathered it. Eight of the men were killed by the Islamic terrorists but one man got away to a nearby village and reported the attack. By the time soldiers arrived the Boko Haram were gone, along with the truck and whatever possessions the victims had. Locals had been warned that a group of Boko Haram were in the area, seeking to steal whatever they could. The nine men ignored the warning and took a chance because they needed the money for food and other necessities.
April 7, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attacked a group of 25 women who were gathering fruit near the Cameroon border. Thirteen women were kidnapped while the rest got away. Elsewhere in Borno Boko Haram ambushed an army patrol, killing five soldiers.
April 6, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram ambushed an army patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding five. Another four soldiers were missing. Elsewhere in Borno (near Lake Chad) a large group of Boko Haram made a night attack on a small army base and the troops were ordered to withdraw. Boko Haram looted what they could and left before reinforcements arrived. There were no casualties on either side.
April 5, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen on motorcycles attacked a farm village outside the state capital Maiduguri and, after killing seven farmers, looted the village and drove off more than 300 cattle with them. This was a risky operation for Boko Haram in the area and was apparently caused by a severe shortages of food and other supplies. Attacks like this make it easier for the security forces to track down and destroy the Boko Haram group.