The government currently has more economic and public health problems to displace the usual headaches caused by Islamic terrorists and tribal raiders. The global recession triggered by covid19 and made worse by a concurrent collapse in oil prices hit Nigeria hard; GDP will shrink 5-6 percent in 2020. It could be worse. The other economic powerhouse in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, is suffering an eight percent GDP decline. That means less money to buy some peace among the warring tribes and not as much financial support for the army and national police fighting Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists in the northeast.
The major problem with continued Islamic terrorism and the growing tribal violence is that the security services are ordered to deal with the violence while the politicians do nothing about the political issues that got these violent movements going in the first place. Fifteen years of Boko Haram violence in the northeast has usually been blamed on the army for not suppressing the Islamic terrorists and halting the violence. It has finally become fashionable to admit that it was political corruption that caused the Islamic terrorists to gain followers and support for their war on the government. Corrupt politicians and government officials have been taking advantage of the chaos by either doing business with Boko Haram or stealing money and supplies meant to help the two million people displaced by the violence. The military has also been corrupt but as that corruption hit the troops fighting Boko Haram there were a growing number of embarrassing mutinies along with lots of personal testimonies by troops detailing how the corruption worked against them and Nigeria in general.
The corruption is still there but it has fewer places to hide. Many former state governors are now being prosecuted for their corrupt ways, some senior army officers are also being called to account. It’s no longer possible to blame the troops for the continued violence, religious or tribal, in the Moslem north. Corrupt politicians and local leaders have turned out to be more difficult to deal with than armed Islamic terrorists and outlaw tribesmen. One thing Islamic terrorists, angry armed tribesmen and troops can agree on is corrupt politicians and local businessmen and leaders being the source and stimulant for all the local anger and anguish. While that is a major step forward, finding a way to deal with this malignant and persistent behavior has proved elusive.
The internal problems of Nigeria have hurt neighboring countries. The Boko Haram violence has caused nearly 300,000 Nigerians to apply for asylum in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. There are still over two million internal refugees from the Islamic terrorist and tribal violence in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram is turning intro a permanent presence in northern Borno State. It is still considered a national disgrace but the longer the Boko Haram presence persists the more likely the Islamic terror problem will be accepted as another, “Just the way it is“ situations.
There has been progress in dealing with the decades of corruption (and mass theft) of oil revenue. More independent audits are being performed although this is still a work in progress. Audits for 2018 were only recently delivered. These audits put light on past mistakes, like not building enough refineries to produce refined products for the local economy. For decades this meant most of those refined products had to be imported and this was a huge opportunity for graft and embezzlement. Even the oil theft (via punctured pipelines) is down over 40 percent this year. That is more a matter of better enforcement and prompt repair of all leaks and pipeline malfunctions. Oil income is way down because world prices have plunged because of the covid19 triggered recession.
Coronavirus (Covid19) reached Nigeria in March and so far there have been 16,200 confirmed cases and 573 confirmed deaths. There are probably more of both because Nigeria does not have a national health system capable of widespread testing for covid19 or treatment of all those found to have it. Most cases detected so far have been down south in the port city of Lagos or the capital Abuja. A densely populated and relatively prosperous place, Lagos gets lots of foreign visitors and it was expected that this was where covid19 would first show up in Nigeria. For most of the country the virus will probably not show up at all and if it does will cause some additional “fever” related deaths. There are a lot of afflictions in Nigeria that result in a fever and eventual death. Efforts to deal with covid19 were based on those in industrialized and urban nations, but were quickly abandoned in most of the country because there were so few covid19 victims. The most useful advice was warning people to stay away from anyone who appears to be infected. This resulted in some mistaken identity incidents but without widespread testing, it will never be known how many were infected and died from this virus. That is what happened with earlier pandemics which passed through and were hardly noticed. So far Nigeria has had 122 confirmed cases per million people and three deaths per million. Neighboring Niger has had 44 and three while Chad has had 53 and 5, Cameroon 475 and 12. The global numbers are 1,336 cases per million and 65 deaths per million.
Nigeria has been lifting quarantine restrictions and reopening schools. The quarantine only applied in a few urban areas and because so many people violated the quarantine that effort did more damage to the economy than it did to the spread of the virus. There are also genetic factors found in most Africans as well as the strains of covid19 that have evolved in Africa and cause most of the infections. What it comes down to is covid19 has had far less impact in African than in other parts of the world. The worst aspect of covid19 in Nigeria is the low world oil prices. Reduced GDP growth means more Nigerians fall back into extreme poverty and increases death rates.
June 27, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram gunmen ambushed a convoy traveling from the state capital to
Damboa. Fourteen soldiers died along with a local one CJTF (civilian defense volunteers) commander. Damboa in the northern half of Borno state, an area that borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The main road to this area has been contested by Boko Haram since 2013. Whoever controls Damboa has easy access to the northern half of Borno state. Boko Haram activity has always been heaviest around Damboa and points north. Those areas have lost most of their population, who fled to refugee camps or other parts of Nigeria. The local economy is largely gone but the Islamic terrorists remain. The army is constantly fighting with groups of Boko Haram who frequently attack traffic on the road.
June 22, 2020: In the north, the army response to the growing number of attacks was to remind all commanders that they were expected to spend most of their time out in the countryside with their troops. The current president is a retired general, one of the few uncorrupted ones, and knows that unsuccessful commanders are usually the ones who spend most of their time at their headquarters. President
Buhari is admired locally for being able to occasionally, with great effort, get local officials to do their jobs. Buhari has to run the entire country and is not able to police the bad behavior of all politicians and government officials full time. Buhari has been able to build a network of officers he can trust to go take a look and report back who was out leading and who was hiding out in headquarters. It has taken a few years but this has shaken things up with more officers retiring or at least trying to do what they are supposed to be doing. This makes it easier to spot the corrupt officers who are still out there stealing.
President Buhari, being an army veteran and retired general, said he would carry out needed reforms in the military. In peacetime, the severe problems in the Nigerian military were largely out of sight to most voters. But since 2013, when the military was called on to deal with Boko Haram violence in the northeast, the shortcomings in the military became very visible. Corruption (stealing money meant for pay, supplies and weapons) and inept leadership resulted in dismal results against Boko Haram and the army was embarrassed. That helped get Buhari elected because no previous president had much success in fixing these problems. Buhari did succeed, sort of. He replaced a lot of officers, especially senior ones. That in itself was not enough. Corruption had become part of the military culture and it was difficult to change that quickly. Then there were the many civilian officials the military depended on. These were corrupt as well were and more difficult than military personnel to weed out. Buhari concentrated on combat commanders because they were the most important officers for dealing with the performance of troops against Boko Haram. That effort has shown notable progress but that has only directed more attention to the corruption in army support services. This is most visible in the army medical services, especially the ability to quickly and effectively treat combat casualties. As troops are more active in combat there are more casualties and the lack of effective medical care in the combat zone has become another scandal. Buhari, to his credit, has kept the pressure upon the military to get straight and more effective. As a former military man, he gets more cooperation from military leaders and the troops back Buhari big time.
June 18, 2020: Nigeria has been officially declared polio free. This comes after three years with no new cases of polio. That means all of Africa is now free of polio, along with Europe, the Americas and most of Asia. Only Afghanistan and Pakistan still suffer from polio. In those two nations, the same Moslem intolerance and paranoia that delayed Nigeria becoming polio-free are in play. Another complaint was that the organization mainly responsible for the “polio free” movement,
Rotary International, is an American fraternal charity whose members are largely responsible for the $5 billion effort to eradicate polio by vaccinating enough children so that the polio virus no longer has a human host and, like smallpox, becomes extinct. This polio free effort began in the 1980s and a decade ago ran into problems in northern Nigeria, where conservative Islamic clergy and Boko Haram spread the rumor that the polio vaccine was actually a plot to poison Moslem children. This has delayed eradication of polio in Nigeria for nearly a decade.
June 17, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State) the military found and attacked a Boko Haram base in the
Sambisa forest. This area has remained a popular base area for Boko Haram even though the forest is regularly patrolled by soldiers, local defense volunteers and surveillance aircraft. Sambisa is 60,000 square kilometers of hilly, sparsely populated woodland that straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and until 2016 was largely inaccessible to the security forces and served as a major base area for Boko Haram. No longer safe enough for many major Boko Haram bases it still shelters hundreds of the Islamic terrorists operating in smaller groups. The additional forest cover makes it safer for Boko Haram raiders and as a result, few civilians live near the forest because of the Boko Haram raider problem. Now Sambisa based Boko Haram has to travel farther, along roads in open terrain, to find raiding targets. The raids are often timed to occur at dusk, so the raiders can escape in the dark. Even this tactic is losing its effectiveness because the growing number of air force attack and surveillance aircraft have night vision capabilities. There are also heat sensors, which can find people in forests, especially at night when the atmosphere and trees get cooler but people don’t and are easier for heat sensors to detect and track. The airstrike today was followed by ground troops who found the remnants of a major Boko Haram base area that had been heavily damaged by the airstrike and hastily abandoned by the survivors.
Elsewhere in the north two other army raids left about 40 gunmen dead and over 40 kidnapped civilians rescued. Civilians are regularly taken for ransom, to intimidate local leaders or to serve as slave labor.
June 14, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State), Boko Haram carried out more than half a dozen raids and attacks, most of them against civilians as part of looting operations. One attack was against a police base and that one freed 18 Boko Haram facing trial and long prison terms.
June 13, 2020: In the north, more than 250 people were killed by Boko Haram and armed tribesmen in the last week. As has been the pattern over the past few years, Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists accounted for not quite half the casualties. While all that carnage makes for compelling news and press releases demanding action, it does little to address the corruption and poor leadership that caused so much to be angry about before some of the angry got armed and dangerous.
June 11, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State), local politicians gathered to discuss how Boko Haram had evolved from a group of armed Borno religious zealots to an international criminal organization. Boko Haram still contains some religious zealots from Borno but most of the members, and leaders, are from elsewhere and see Borno as a target for plunder and profit, not reform or transformation into a religious dictatorship.
Boko Haram still exploits religion, often using it as a justification for mass killings of civilians who were declared “heretics” or worse, if they were Christians. This has had repercussions and most tribal or ethnic organizations in the region have developed vigilante forces to track down and kill the attackers and rescue anyone who was kidnapped. This has made Boko Haram hesitant to attack some areas and that has made the tribal vigilante forces, although technically illegal, more popular. The military will work with the vigilantes that have a reputation for being legit and not gangsters pretending to be good guys.
June 6, 2020: Europe based Islamic terrorism researchers found that not all the organized mayhem in African, specifically Nigeria was motivated primarily by religious elements. A prime example has been Fulani herders attacking Christian and Moslem farmers in northern and central Nigeria. The researchers found that in the last three years the Fulani had carried out 654 attacks, killing 2,539 people and kidnapping 253. Over the last three years, the Fulani have become more interested in emphasizing the religious angle and have concentrated more on Christian farmers, which is where most of the kidnap victims come from.