While Boko Haram appears to be undergoing a revival in the north, many Boko Haram leaders are unhappy over the cost and what it means for the future. Boko Haram has been inflicting a lot of casualties on the security forces and civilians (especially Christians) in the last year, but the Islamic terror group has itself suffered heavy losses; not just members killed in combat but the many lost through disease and desertion. Recruiting new members has been difficult and Boko Haram has resorted to kidnapping boys (young teenagers) and coercing them (often successfully) to join. A growing number of Boko Haram commanders were demanding some fundamental changes before Boko Haram fell apart and faded away. This apparently led to a change of leadership in the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) branch of Boko Haram, with leader Khalid al Barnawi suddenly no longer in charge and his whereabouts or fate uncertain. He apparently “abdicated” in late February or early March. The new leadership is apparently demanding even more violence and a “go for broke” approach to deciding the fate of the larger Boko Haram faction. Barnawi was thought to be too timid and that was believed responsible for heavy losses suffered recently. The smaller faction, about half the size of the ISIL one, is accused of gradually turning into bandits with religious pretensions. That is a common fate for many militant organizations.
While Barnawi lost his current job, to the west (Zamfara State) one of his earlier ideas (Ansaru) has apparently reappeared. Fighting between Fulani herders and local farmers in Zamfara has been going on for years and there were nearly 200 dead this month and even more people kidnapped. The kidnapping was a favorite tactic of Ansaru. Earlier in the year, the Zamfara death toll was less but growing since late 2018. The other thing that was growing was the incidence of kidnapping.
There are indications that the increasing violence in Zamfara is the result of Nigerian Ansaru Islamic terrorists returning from years of exile in Libya. Islamic terrorists in Libya have suffered an unbroken series of defeats since 2016 and recently the LNA (Libyan National Army), the strongest military force in Libya, has destroyed or chased away most of the Islamic terror groups still operating in southern Libya. The LNA and several local militias had earlier driven the Islamic terrorists away from the coast where most of the population lives. The coastal region is not desert and there is sufficient water for forests and some farming. At the same time one of the founders of Ansaru, Barnawi, has apparently been forced out of his Boko Haram. There is nothing, yet, to connect the reappearance of Ansaru with the coup against Barnawi. But both developments indicate hard times for Islamic terrorists in Africa.
Barnawi has been a prominent factor in the rise and fall of these African Islamic terrorist groups. By mid-2014 the U.S. announced a $5 million reward for the capture of Barnawi, at the time a former Boko Haram leader who broke away in 2012 to found the even more radical (and openly allied with al Quaeda) Ansaru. The feud between Boko Haram and Ansaru became more public in 2013 when criticisms of Boko Haram appeared on pro-terrorism websites. Ansaru (for Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, or "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa") is a Boko Haram splinter group that became more active after it declared its existence in 2012. Ansaru and Barnawi objected to the Boko Haram tactics of killing lots of Moslems and wanted to concentrate on just killing foreigners or non-Moslem Nigerians. It is unclear how large Ansaru was back then and how much violence within Boko Haram, if any, resulted from the split. Ansaru appears to have always been very small, perhaps only a few hundred members, and more interested (than Boko Haram) in working closely with Islamic terror groups operating elsewhere in Africa. It was this interest in attacking or kidnapping foreigners (especially Americans) that got the Ansaru leader on the U.S. most wanted terrorists list. Shortly after the Americans put the price on his head, Barnawi rejoined Boko Haram as chief spokesman while what was left of Ansaru headed north to Libya. By mid-2016 Barnawi was declared head of Boko Haram by ISIL leadership. That caused a split in Boko Haram as the fellow he replaced, Abubakar Shekau, took his loyalists (nearly half of Boko Haram) and continued to lead it.
Meanwhile, in Zamfara State the root cause of the violence is not religion but herders and farmers fighting over land (for grazing or crops) and water (for cattle or crops). Both herders and farmers carry out revenge attacks but the Fulani are generally the aggressors. Zamfara state is experiencing the same sort of tribal violence as central Nigeria except in Zamfara nearly everyone involved is Moslem. This generally involves fighting between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers. To make matters worse the area is notorious for groups of bandits that steal cattle as well as raid farming villages just for the money. The bandits are mainly Fulani but a growing number of Hausa are joining in.
The security forces are supposed to seize illegal arms, especially the cheap AK-47s that became common back in the 1990s. The reality is that only the farmers are hurt by this because local defense militias must either bribe local police to keep their AK-47s or be at constant risk of having them seized. Herders are more mobile and better at hiding their weapons. Villagers are demanding that the government allow defense groups to have firearms. Even without that, the Fulani violence has caused nearly 4,000 deaths in the last three years. Most of the attacks are raids for the purpose of looting and leaving the area. The Fulani raiders often run into Hausa self-defense militias and the resulting battles leave many on both sides dead or wounded. The Fulani raids are usually after cattle and other loot. Moslem leaders want attention paid to the growing tribal feuds between Moslem tribes, especially like the battles between Fulani and Hausa in Zamfara. In response, the federal government has ordered the national police to send in additional paramilitary personnel to deal (or try to deal) with that situation. The police have not had much impact and usually, leave after conducting some operations that are avoided by the local bandits. Soldiers are now being sent in as well but the violence continues to spread.
The great fear of many Nigerians is that the continued Islamic terrorist attacks on Christians in the north will lead to a civil war. About half the Nigerian population is Christian and most of them are in the south, where they are the majority. The south is where the oil is. The Christians are better educated, but no less corrupt, than their Moslem neighbors. Nigeria was founded and survives because of an understanding that Christians and Moslems would get along. Leaders of both communities have largely striven to make that work. But Islamic radicalism is one aspect of Islam that is difficult to control and now that militantly anti-Christian (and anyone not the right kind of Moslem) disease has infested parts of the Moslem north. Most Nigerians want the original compromise to survive but the radical Islamic terrorist minority are unconcerned with such “un-Islamic” compromises and are willing to burn the entire nation down to prove their point. This will not end well for the Islamic terrorists but it is uncertain how badly it will end for Nigeria as a whole. More Christians are questioning the policy of patience and forbearance while so many Christians continue to die for being Christians. Nigerian Christians are also dismayed by the widespread apathy among Western Christians to the plight of Christians being sought out and murdered by radical Moslems. Nigerians don’t need foreign help to organize and carry out a crusade to protect themselves. This puts more pressure on Nigerian politicians to stop posturing and get serious about ending the sectarian murders in the north.
President Buhari won reelection in February in what was largely considered a free and fair vote. The same cannot be said for the state elections (to select governors) which continue and often end up in court. The state-level elections have always been the most corrupt, with rival candidates deploying bribes as well as gangs of hired thugs to persuade people to vote for them and not for an honest government. Buhari and his APC party have tried to get more honest (or at least less corrupt) governors elected but that is very difficult because the corruption is most entrenched at the state level.
March 25, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), Boko Haram attacked Kopa, a town on the border with Borno state, and were repulsed by nearby soldiers.
March 22, 2019: In the northeast (across the border from Borno state in southern Chad), Boko Haram gunmen killed 23 Chad soldiers. The next day the head of the army and his two key subordinates were replaced. Chad is not accustomed to seeing its armed forces his this hard by Islamic terrorists. Chad is also suffering problems with former rebels returning (being chased out of) Libya because they have nowhere else to go and nothing to lose.
March 21, 2019: In the northeast (across the border from Borno state in southeast Niger), Boko Haram gunmen killed eight people when they attacked near the border town of Diffa, which has been the scene of clashes between the Niger troops and Boko Haram forces for years.
March 19, 2019: In central Nigeria (Benue State), Fulani raiders killed at least ten farmers.
March 18, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), a Boko Haram attack on a Christian village was repulsed with at least twenty of the Islamic terrorists killed. The army lost five dead.
In central Nigeria (Benue State), more violence between Fulani herders and Christian villagers left at least two dozen dead.
March 17, 2019: In the south (Cross River state), violence between Moslems and Christians left four dead.
March 16, 2019: In the northeast (Kaduna State), Fulani raiders clashed with villagers leaving ten dead.
March 12, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), troops of the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) killed 39 Boko Haram gunmen. The 8,700 man MNJTF is still actively attempting to eliminate any Boko Haram presence in the region. Of all the threats they face what scares the Boko Haram most is the MNJTF. Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first, the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF forces.
March 11, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), at least five Boko Haram men died during a clash with soldiers.
March 10, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), two Boko Haram suicide bombers died during a failed attack (no one else died).
March 9, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), soldiers clashed with a large group of Boko Haram and killed 23 of the Islamic terrorists.
In the south (Bayelsa state), pirates attacked a ship offshore, looted the vessel and kidnapped five of the crew.
March 8, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), soldiers attacked a large group of Boko Haram gunmen, killing over twenty of them as the Islamic terrorists fled.
In the northeast (across the border from Borno state in southeast Niger), Boko Haram gunmen fought with Niger troops near the border town of Diffa, leaving 38 of the Islamic terrorists dead along with seven soldiers.
March 6, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State), a Boko Haram landmine killed five people outside Maiduguri (the state capital).
March 5, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State), tribal violence left about a hundred dead in the last three days.
March 4, 2019: During February Islamic terrorist violence left led to 60 attacks and over 200 deaths nationwide. Worldwide Nigeria is still considered one of the top three nations when it comes to the amount of Islamic terrorists violence it suffers. Nigeria has held that ranking since 2014 and while Boko Haram violence has diminished it has largely been replaced by Fulani Moslems attacking and killing Christian and Moslem farmers who will not surrender land and water to the Fulani herders. From all this sectarian violence comes a growing number of small groups that are just bandits but pretend to be doing it for religious reasons.