Nigeria: Disarm, Disperse And Hide

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February 14, 2018: Expansionist Fulani tribesmen have replaced Boko Haram as the major source of terrorism related deaths in Nigeria. Unlike Boko Haram violence, which was mostly in Borno state and two others in the northeast the Fulani violence is spread throughout states from the north to the far south (interior areas of Ondo state, which is on the Gulf of Guinea). So far this year the violence has been heaviest in Adamawa, Nasarawa and Benue states. Adamawa is one of the three northeastern states where Boko Haram has been a major problem since 2014. In all of 2017 this Fulani violence left 549 dead but so far in 2018 the death toll is nearly 200 and at that rate deaths could be three times what they were in 2017.

As of 2017 year Boko Haram activity declined in Adamawa (which borders Borno) to the point where the Fulani violence was more common. While Boko Haram was primarily an Islamic terrorist operation the Fulani are of a largely Moslem tribal organization seeking to obtain more land and water for their animals. This is often at the expense of Christian farmers and a growing number of Fulani, who are Moslem, have turned their land grab into another way of “defending Islam.” This religious angle in most frequently found in Moslem majority states like Adamawa where most of the attacks on churches take place and Christians in general, not just Christian farmers, are attacked and killed. In one cast, Fulani and other Moslem students at a university in Adamawa state attacked Christian churches on the campus, burned property of Christian students. The excuse for this was a Facebook post by a Christian student in December that was interpreted as insulting Islam. The real reason for the campus violence was that most of the recent elections for student government were won by Christians and the Moslem students insisted there must have been fraud.

In Benue State Moslems are not a majority but the state government has been slow to respond to continuing Fulani violence. That is changing because other political parties are gaining support for a more “anti-Fulani violence” policy and this threatens to put the current state government out of office. While the current Nigerian president (Muhammadu Buhari) is a Moslem, a retired general and a Fulani who cracked down hard on Boko Haram but has been more reluctant to take on the Fulani. That is changing, if only because Buhari is running for a second term and won’t make it without support from Christian voters. As expected some northern politicians warn against the use of the army to curb Fulani violence as that is widely accepted, in the north, as another example of “Christian persecution.” The army has to move in, at least to seize the many illegal weapons (many of them assault rifles) the Fulani have obtained since the 1990s and now use frequently during their attacks on Christians.

Given the number of farmers killed so far, 2018 will be the third year in a row that deaths from the Fulani conflict exceed those from Boko Haram. For every dead farmer there are several others wounded and over a hundred refugees. But while Boko Haram killed mainly Moslems (largely because there were so few Christians in the northeast) the Fulani herders are all Moslem and nearly all their victims are Christian farmers. In a country where the population is half Christian (mainly in south, where the oil is) and half Moslem (mainly in the north, where Boko Haram and most Fulani are) this creates a volatile national dispute that the federal government can no longer ignore.

The aggressive intrusions by Moslem Fulani raiders against largely Christian farmers in Central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) have been getting worse as the farmers arm themselves and organize against the armed and dangerous Fulani herders seeking more grazing land for their cattle. The Fulani insist they are following traditional seasonal patterns of moving their herds, patterns that have existed for centuries. But there is no record of the Fulani ranging this far south before. Fulani leaders insist there can be peace only if the farmers surrender some of their land to the Fulani. There are also demands that farmers who killed Fulani attackers be prosecuted. The Fulani see themselves as the victims. The government currently plans to set up “ranches” for Fulani herders and end the centuries of nomadic behavior. That is proving difficult to do.

In 2016 the Fulani violence escalated and it got worse in 2017 as more farm communities organized armed defense groups and some states tried to pass laws regulating the relationships between herders and farmers. The Fulani herders have become more deadly than Boko Haram but that has not become a major issue because the Fulani problem has been around for centuries and is not as organized and media savvy as Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram. The Fulani are seeking to adapt by using a national cattle owners association speak for them and push the Fulani view that the herders are the victims here and are attacking in self-defense.

The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community to recognize the escalating (since 2010) threat from the Fulani herders. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene. This has the desired effect and in many areas the police and soldiers only go through the motions of trying to disarm or arrest the guilty Fulani. Both sides blame the government of taking sides but in general the government officials are mainly interested in looking out for themselves. The current Nigerian president, a successful reformer, has taken on the Fulani issue now that Boko Haram and his recent health problems are handled.

Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. Tribal violence of this sort has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along and, according to many Moslem clerics and religious teachers, never will. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and as it got worse in 2016 and 2017. The prompted officials from both states to meet with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal. That has not worked, at least not for long. There are always factions among the Fulani who are willing to violate a peace deal. And then there is the underlying problem of the Fulani being righteously wrong.

The Great Escape

There are over 600,000 illegal migrants stuck in Libya and over 90 percent of them are African. The largest source of illegal migrants reaching Europe in 2017 was Nigeria (37,000, with another oil-rich state, Iraq providing 27,000 also in the top five). That does not include the 6,000 Nigerians who were stopped in Libya and flown back to Nigeria. These Nigerians had used people smugglers in a failed effort reach Europe illegally. Another few thousand have returned so far in 2018. The Libyans and the EU (European Union) finally managed to disrupt many of the smuggling operations and persuaded (threatened, bribed, embarrassed and so on) the countries the illegals came from to take them back. This process intensified during 2017 and reached the point where so many illegals are being returned that fewer people were willing to risk the cash, and their lives, to make the trip. But the illegals are still coming, even though Libya is even more dangerous for illegal migrants. But now this effort is falling apart as the smuggling gangs are again able to get boatloads of illegal migrants to Italy. On the plus side most of the Nigerian illegals are Christians because the Christian half of the population has always been more affluent and in the last few years the economy in the largely Moslem north has been heavily damaged by Boko Haram violence. This means that a lot of radicalized northerners cannot afford the smuggler fees to go north and get to Europe. Some will but not as many as are getting in from Middle Eastern nations and Afghanistan. Syria and Afghanistan send more illegals to Europe than Nigeria. .

Oil, Corruption And The Economy

World oil prices are increasing but they are still less than half of what they were in 2014 and that price rise was largely the result of OPEC (the oil cartel most producers belong to) members obeying agreed on production limits. That is helped by major producers like Venezuela and Libya not being able to maintain normal production because of internal disorder (and the usual corruption.) Nigeria recognizes (according to local media and most politicians) that corruption is the major economic problem and has crippled every effort to improve the economy. But Nigerian leaders also recognize that the American fracking revolution (which is making the U.S. the largest oil and gas producer) will keep oil prices down and the only salvation for Nigeria is to use its oil revenue more effectively. There has been lots of talk about doing something about the corruption but actual progress is slow. Too many Nigerians are unwilling to give up their corrupt ways. One proposal to work around that is privatizing many of the industries that are government owned mainly so they are easier for politicians to plunder. There are few attractive options here because most Nigerians now know that most of the oil incomes since independence in the 1960s was stolen and left the average Nigerian poorer than Africans in many countries with no oil or other natural resource generating a lot of cash.

War On Piracy

The Nigerian Navy says it will reduce pirate activity off Nigeria to zero by mid-2018. There were more than three times as many pirate attacks off Nigeria (and the Gulf of Guinea in general) than off Somalia during 2017. Actually most of the pirate attacks in 2017 were in Southeast Asia (Indonesia and the Philippines). Despite that word wide pirate activity hit a 22 year low (188 attacks) in 2017 and most of it was far away from Somalia, where the piracy boom there ended in 2012. Those 188 attacks created damage worth $7 billion, most (80 percent) of it was absorbed by the ships and their owners. Higher insurance rates and operating costs were the major additional costs. This is especially true off Nigeria where there is a lot more commercial shipping than off Somalia.

February 13, 2018: In the southwest (Ondo State) Fulani tribesmen attacked a government compound seeking officials who had ordered Fulani herders to behave. Police were called and when they arrived the Fulani attackers fled but not before they injured one officials with machetes.

February 10, 2018: In the northeast (Borno state) 13 people kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2017 were freed after long negotiations with a Boko Haram group based in Cameroon. No terms were given for the release. Ten of the captives were wives of policemen captured during a 2017 ambush while the other three were civilian oil exploration personnel (from the faculty of the University of Maiduguri) who were kidnapped in the aftermath of a July ambush in Borno State. All 13 captives were held by the Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. This faction is recognized by ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and has access to resources Islamic terror groups use to get large ransoms for hostages, especially foreign hostages. There was never a specific demand made in public but the government paid for high value captives, like the May 2017 agreement that got 82 of the Chibok captives (from 2014) released in exchange for the freedom of eight Boko Haram leaders being held and awaiting prosecution for mass murder, terrorism and so on. Many Nigerians believed these men should have at least stood trial before being traded for hostages. As expected some of the freed Boko Haram leaders promptly went back to Islamic terrorism. At the same time Boko Haram had very visibly divided into factions. Back in March 2017 Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video to boast that he was still alive and operating in the northeast. At that point security forces had claimed Shekau was dead at least five times since 2011 but so far had 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 with each other and continues to operate.

The Boko Haram split began in August 2016 when ISIL announced that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with Abu Musab al Barnawi. 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. That has become an issue in Nigeria because the use of children as suicide bombers has tripled during 2017. While the new Boko Haram leader has concentrated attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems he has also used children, especially females, as suicide bombers. 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.

February 9, 2018: In the northeast (Yobe State) a group of Boko Haram attempting to leave their refuge in the nearby Sambisa Forest and were intercepted by soldiers who killed four of them and forced the others to flee. This group was apparently attempting to try and pass for civilians by hiding their weapons and dispersing to settlements or refugee camps. Some Boko Haram have managed to do that, and been caught when one of the dispersed was arrested, confessed and escaped punishment by leading troops to where the weapons were hidden and providing what information he had on the other members of his group. More Boko Haram are attempting this “disarm and disperse” approach because months of constant army patrols and aerial surveillance by the air force has made it impossible to continually evade discovery and attack.

February 8, 2018: The UN is seeking over a billion dollars from major aid donor nations to deal with the refugee and economic crises in northeast Nigeria (mainly Borno State). Potential donors have to be assured that most of the aid will not be stolen, as is often the case in Nigeria. This reluctance to donate has become a major problem because there is more demand for such aid than there is supply and the donors prefer to put their money into situations where most of it will do what it was donated for and not stolen by local officials. Last year the UN was only able to get 70 percent of what it sought for Nigeria and the Nigerian government made a major effort to curb the corruption that usually compromises major foreign aid efforts in Nigeria. There are still over two million displaced people in northeast Nigeria.

February 6, 2018: In the southwest (Oyo state) Fulani tribesmen killed a police commander who was investigating violence by Fulani tribesmen.

February 2, 2018: In the northeast (Borno state) police rescued herders and their 200 cattle from Boko Haram. The Islamic terrorists were demanding ransom for the herders and planned to eat the cattle. But police and local defense volunteers were able to find the Boko Haram camp and seize some weapons and equipment the Boko Haram men left behind as they fled. Elsewhere in Borno police killed female suicide bombers that were attempting to attack a police station.

February 1, 2018: In the north a major operation to clear remaining Boko Haram out of the Sambisa forest seized a major Boko Haram base called Camp Zairo. Large quantities of weapons, ammo and other equipment were seized along with many vehicles. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau later released a video to prove he was still alive and would keep fighting. But he also mentioned that he was tired and wanted to die in combat. That is as much of an admission of defeat you are ever going to get from Islamic terror group leaders. Yet the Shekau faction is still active and some of his men attacked and burned down much of a village outside the state capital Maiduguri several days later.

Meanwhile the Sambisa forest continues to be monitored. This 60,000 square kilometers of hilly, sparsely populated woodland straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and until 2016 was largely inaccessible to the security forces and served as a base area for Boko Haram. But that safety was only temporary and by late 2016 it was clear to everyone that the Sambisa was no longer safe and many Boko Haram began to leave. During 2017, as Boko Haram suffered many defeats in Borno State and other areas the survivors returned to Sambisa and established themselves in a few large base areas. The Nigerian Air Force used UAVs and manned aircraft to track down the camps and now they were being attacked.

The forest has long been a hideout outlaws of all sorts. Boko Haram used it as a base area for training camps and a safe place for the Boko Haram wives and children. 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 requires to survive as a combat organization. Since mid-2016 the army has been encountering a growing number of emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly to find food. The Sambisa has basically been surrounded since early 2016 and the remaining Boko Haram groups in there could not easily get out to raid nearby towns and villages for supplies.

January 26, 2018: In the south (the Niger River Delta) five hundred former tribal rebels assembled in Ondo State to protest government inability to deliver what it promised in an amnesty deal the rebels agreed to in November 2017. The government accuses most of these 500 protestors as not being former rebels but instead locals trying to get in on the amnesty list to receive benefits. Many of the tribal rebels have accepted amnesty because the military, especially the navy, has been very effective in the last year at finding rebel camps and destroying them. The main objective of these raids is not to capture tribal rebels but to shut down the stolen oil operation the rebels use to sustain themselves. Since mid-2017 the military has been finding and over 1 hundred illegal oil refineries that supply refined petroleum products to several million people in the Niger River Delta and work for thousands. Such refineries are common in the Niger River Delta where they using stolen crude oil. For decades gangs have punched holes into pipelines and gathered oil for use in crude illegal refineries that produce low grade kerosene and diesel. In 2016 the security forces destroyed 181 of these illegal refineries and seized oil and refined products worth about $1.3 billion. The government proposed to legalize many of these improvised refineries allow them to be set up all over the country to deal with the chronic shortage of refined petroleum products (another side effect of decades of corruption). The government would supply the crude oil to the legal mini-refineries (that would pay their taxes and not pollute the neighborhood). In the meantime illegal refineries continue to be found and destroyed. The illegal refineries continue to be foud and destroyed but legalizing these improvised refineries never got far.

January 22, 2018: The government arrested and returned to Cameroon 47 Cameroonian separatists. This included separatist leader Sisiku Ayuk Tabe. The Nigerian government owes Cameroon a lot because of Cameroonian aid in dealing with the Boko Haram crises. Thus the Nigerians are willing to do whatever Cameroon wants to help deal with the separatist crises. Meanwhile over 30,000 Cameroonians have fled to Nigeria to escape the separatist violence in Cameroon. This is all happening in the southeast where, during late 2017 there was growing violence across the border in southwest Cameroon where a separatist movement has turned violent and dozens of people had been killed by the end of 2017. At that point several thousand Anglophone (English speaking) Cameroonians had fled to Nigeria and they kept coming in 2018. The issues are more linguistic than tribal and the separatists are largely English speaking Cameroonians (about 20 percent of the 23 million Cameroonians) who protest the bad treatment they receive from the French speaking majority. The English speakers of southwest Cameroon used to be part of Nigeria but as part of the process by which colonial rule ended in the 1950s some groups on proposed new borders were given an option on which nation to belong to. The Cameroon English speakers thought they would be better off as a linguistic minority in Cameroon but subsequent generations developed different attitudes. Ironically the separatist Cameroonians are adjacent to the separatist Nigerian Igbo areas that want to be a separate state called Biafra. The people in these two separatist areas have a lot in common but operating together to form a single new state has never been a priority.

January 16, 2018: In the northeast, across the border from Borno, Boko Haram attacked a Cameroon town, destroyed two Christian churches and burned down dozens of other structures. The Islamic terrorists were mainly seeking loot to live on but at least four civilians were killed during this operation. Boko Haram will, if given a choice, go after Christian villagers first because that is one of the primary Boko Haram objectives (converting or killing non-Moslems).

 

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