Nigeria: Religious War Looming


April 2, 2018: Islamic terrorism, in the form of Boko Haram, has become endemic in the northeast. The security forces have, for two years, been trying to crush Boko Haram once and for all and have failed. Boko Haram violence, while much lower than before 2016. Has caused about the same amount of mayhem (and casualties) in the northeast during 2016 and 2017. At the same time life is hard for the Boko Haram. Those who are captured or killed often show signs of malnutrition and prisoners admit that just staying alive in the northeast is a struggle. But enough desperate young men in the northeast join Boko Haram or other criminal groups in the hope that they might get enough cash to change their lives for the better. Because of this this persistent hunger and the stalemate between the well paid and well fed security forces and the threadbare Boko Haram the government believes that long-term (another five or more years) they can grind Boko Haram down to nothing. This is what the security forces did to the Igbo (Biafra) rebellion in south during the 1960s. The civil war portion of the Biafra war was over in a few years but it took longer to eliminate remaining resistance. Igbo separatists have recently tried to revive their armed struggle but has not had much success.

Boko Haram activity in the northeast (mainly Borno state) has proved impossible to eliminate entirely because unemployed young men find that they can turn to banditry and justify it by declaring themselves defenders of Islam (Boko Haram). This enables the Boko Haram bandits to cooperate and exchange tips on how to survive. For example troops regularly raid suspected Boko Haram camps and often find weapons, ammo and equipment (as well as hostages) but the Islamic terrorists themselves generally get away by using lookouts and knowing that the troops will be delayed by the need to check out the captives (to ensure that none are Boko Haram pretending to be hostages) and make sure there are no landmines or other traps along the escape path. Unlike the Fulani Boko Haram have no herds to protect or need to occupy land for grazing. Given the always dire state of the economy in the northeast there is not likely to be any alternative employment available and the corruption that justified the original (2005) Boko Haram uprising is still present. But the security forces, with the help of civilian volunteers and a military coalition from neighboring countries, are hunting down significant numbers of Boko Haram and eventually that will reduce Boko Haram to a loose association of individuals and very small groups.

Boko Haram is going after locals who are prominent in the paramilitary defense groups. Most of these militias are mainly defensive and Boko Haram concentrate on terrorizing (by killing, kidnapping or threatening) members of those militias who assist the soldiers and police in tracking down Boko Haram camps and hideouts. Most people in the northeast just want to get on with their lives but the continued Boko Haram violence is preventing that. The federal government has offered amnesty or ceasefires. While some Boko Haram factions are willing to consider this the more hardcore ones are not. Meanwhile neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon have been successful in discouraging Boko Haram from crossing the border to set up camps (that were, at one time, safe from attack by Nigerian security forces. Some Boko Haram still cross the borders but they find that the response is quicker and more deadly than in Nigeria. Despite that these neighboring countries have to maintain additional security forces on their side of the border for as long as Boko Haram is still active in Nigeria.

This form of terrorism is not unique with Boko Haram. Since independence in the 1960s state governors often get elected with the help of gangs who will terrorize political opponents, including anti-corruption groups (from the government or simply local protest groups. Boko Haram began as an anti-corruption group and escalated as they encountered opposition from gangs working for politicians and, eventually, the security forces (who often protected corrupt activities.) The federal government blames corrupt local officials for aiding the violence and profiting from it. That is nothing new but it shows how much endemic corruption makes everything more difficult.

Farmers And Herders

Meanwhile in central Nigeria the violence between nomadic Fulani herders and settled farmers is getting worse. Part of the problem is that the Sahara Desert has been expanding to the south for over two thousand years (according to written and archeological evidence) but this got worse since the Europeans moved in during the 18th century and gradually introduced medical and other innovations (massive food aid during periodic famines) in the 20th century that caused the population to grow faster and higher than it had ever been before. The Fulani violence is growing because the herders are losing their livelihood and in a time-honored tradition are raiding farmers to the south to take over their land for the Fulani herds

The Economy

Now that the recession, triggered by the collapse of oil prices in 2013-14, is over the government is trying to diversify the economy by investing in agriculture, manufacturing and mining. The main problem is the corruption and the threats and violence that are often used to carry out extortion and theft. And then there is the prevalence of bribes. Many Nigerians with money to invest prefer to do so overseas there investing is more profitable and less dangerous.

April 1, 2018: In the northeast (Borno state) a large number of Boko Haram gunmen tried to get into the state capital Maiduguri but were detected and halted at two villages outside the city. There was a lot of gunfire at night but it never got into the city. No reports of casualties yet.

March 30, 2018: In the northeast (Borno state) four Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked in the state capital Maiduguri and, besides themselves, killed one person and wounded 13 others. All the bombers were teenage girls, apparently coerced into carrying out the attack which largely failed because of poor training and alert security measures.

March 29, 2018: In the Niger River Delta a military operation against oil stealing gangs found six high-capacity oil refineries that, together, can refine over four million liters (about a million gallons, or 25,000 barrels) a day. One of these improvised refineries could refine a million liters a day. Most of these small refineries handle far less oil a day.

March 28, 2018: An American investment bank said it had withdrawn its offer to invest a billion dollars to revive a major Nigerian bank (Unity Bank) because the Americans had received anonymous threats. Aware of the violence other foreign investors often encounter, the American bank backed away.

March 23, 2018: In the northeast, across the border in Niger, a group of Boko Haram gunmen attacked a market place, killed five people and grabbed as much food as they could and fled before the security forces showed up.

March 22, 2018: The army began withdrawing troops from the northeast. The army describes this as a rotation for morale purposes since some of these troops have been on “temporary duty” in the northeast for years. While individual troops are allowed some leave to visit their families the units want to return to their bases for a while and the army says it has found the troops to start doing this. This initial rotation will involve 3,000 troops.

March 21, 2018: In the north (Yobe state) Boko Haram released 100 of the 110 female students they had kidnapped on February 19th. The one girl who was not released was Christian and apparently refused to convert to Islam. The returning girls said that several (apparently four) of the girls were killed during the abduction and no one is sure what happened to the four others who were not returned. All the other kidnapped girls, but one, were Moslems. Boko Haram had raided the Girls Science and Technical College in rural Dapchi and kidnapped 110 female students and drove them away using stolen trucks. The success of the attack was blamed on the fact that the army had withdrawn troops a week earlier, eliminating many checkpoints and small garrisons in towns like Dapchi. The government was later accused of secretly paying a ransom and releasing some imprisoned Boko Haram in order to get the girls back quickly. Boko Haram denied that any ransom or exchange was involved and pointed out that the girls were not sexually molested and all they asked is that the girls not go back to school. “Boko Haram” means, literally, Western education is forbidden, especially for women. The kidnapping incident is still in the news because Boko Haram held onto the one captive who was Christian. Half the population of Nigeria is Christian and these Christians have showed remarkable restraint as most of the Christians in the northeast were killed or driven out of the area by Boko Haram over the last ten years. But those Christians who remain are determined, which is why the 15 year old Christian girl who is defying Boko Haram is a big deal and Boko Haram is not sure how to handle it. While Christians are tolerant of many religious practices Boko Haram is not and enforces the Islamic law mandating execution for any Moslem who converts. That is actually enforced in Saudi Arabia, while countries like Iran and Pakistan prosecute but rarely execute converts. Islamic radical groups like Boko Haram execute, which is one reason why the Christian girl held captive did not take her fellow captives advice and pretend to convert to get free and then renounces that conversion. That earns “apostates” a death sentence and she know her family would have to flee the north and even then she would be at risk for years. So she is holding out and the Christian half (and many of the Moslems) in Nigeria are demanding action.

Elsewhere in the northeast (Kaduna state) 11 soldiers were killed and nine members of local defense militia were wounded when Boko Haram carried out an intimidation attack after the security forces hunted down and killed a local Boko Haram leader who specialized in kidnapping. His loss meant a lucrative source (kidnapping) of cash and supplies would become much more difficult. Today’s attacks were repulsed but Boko Haram took their dead and wounded with them.

March 16, 2018: In the northeast, across the border in Cameroon security forces arrested 31 Boko Haram personnel (25 of them wives of Boko Haram fighters) who had been buying food in Cameroon and transporting it across the border into Nigeria where many Boko Haram are short of food. Sometimes the women were accompanied by children and it wasn’t until proof of what was going on was obtained that the Cameroonian security forces acted. It was a clever scam, as no violence was involved and mostly women were buying and supervising the movement of the food across the border. This is what many refugees in Nigeria do and Boko Haram saw an opportunity.

March 14, 2018: In central Nigeria (Plateau State) Moslem Fulani raiders have killed about 25 Christian villagers in the last few days. At least two villagers were badly hurt and many buildings were burned down. The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community to recognize the growing (since 2010) threat in central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) from the Moslem Fulani herders moving south. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. Thus there were over 800 Christians killed in 2016 along with extensive property damage. The violence has declined since then but not eliminated. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene to protect the farmers. Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. Tribal violence in this area 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. The violence has gotten worse lately. 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 yet.

The attacks on farming villages continued through the end of the month, leaving nearly 40 farmers dead. At least fifteen Fulani were killed as well and probably more.

March 13, 2018: President Buhari fired the former officer he had appointed to run the amnesty program, in the Niger River Delta. Apparently the fired official was unable to deal with the corruption and inefficiency that has long plagued amnesty program in the south.




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