Nigeria: Road Warrior Woes

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December 23, 2020: The army is doing a better job of fighting Boko Haram in the northeast, especially Borno state. The Islamic terrorists continue disrupting commerce in Borno state by attacking road traffic and occasionally even army bases. The army has set up a convoy system and even these escorted convoys are attacked. Boko Haram continues to raid rural towns and villages for supplies and prisoners. The captured civilians are either convinced (if they are teenage boys) to join the fight or used as slaves. This was especially the case when Boko Haram took large numbers of teenagers from rural boarding schools. Criminal gangs are now trying mass kidnapping and demanding ransoms. Prisoners from families with money can be ransomed and that means boarding schools are popular targets. The threat of attacks on civilians keeps the northern half of Borno state a chaotic combat zone. Since 2009, when Boko Haram turned violent, the Islamic terrorist violence, largely in Borno state, has left 30,000 dead and nearly three million people driven from their homes. The economy in the northern half of Borno state was devastated and continued Boko Haram violence has crippled efforts to revive the economy.

Despite heavy losses, the two major Boko Haram factions continue to operate, raise money and attract new recruits. The larger faction is also called ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) and is the cause of most of the violence near Lake Chad. ISWAP was once a faction of Boko Haram that declared its allegiance to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in 2016. Many of these new ISIL members had been with Boko Haram since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mainly in northeastern Nigeria with smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. What remains of the original Boko Haram is about half the size of ISWAP and operates in northern Borno state areas that are not near Lake Chad. The two factions have fought each other in the past but in the last two years appear to have established some form of ceasefire in an effort to stay out of each other’s way.

Boko Haram also tends to stay away from the tribe-based violence in northern and central Nigeria. This conflict is between nomadic herders and farmers over who controls land and water resources. This tribal warfare was a growing source of violence even before Boko Haram showed up in 2004. For a few years (2015-17) Boko Haram was killing more people but since 2018 Boko Haram has declined while the farmer-herder violence has increased. Overall Nigeria has been suffering 400-500 deaths a month from the Islamic terrorists and tribal violence. Most of the dead are civilians. Because of all this violence in the north, local and national governments are losing control of much of the Moslem north. While that loss of control is seen as a national crisis, it is not as important as the oil fields in the far south, in the Niger River Delta. Security in the oil producing states gets far more attention than anywhere in the north. The semi-desert north has long been less prosperous than the moister south, with its oil, more rainfall and access to the sea. There is also a growing problem with pirates. Insurance rates for ships are going up and those costs are passed on to local firms that hire those firms to handle seaborne commerce.

December 22, 2020: In the south (Delta state) two armed robbers were captured by an angry mob and burned to death. This sort of thing only works against criminals who are unaffiliated with a gang. There are more of these freelance criminals in the south where there are more people with good jobs in the oil industry. The gangs take a large cut of their members’ earnings but do provide protection from vigilantes. The locals could never really depend on the police, who tend to be poorly trained and very corrupt.

December 21, 2020: The government extended the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card registration by three weeks. Last week the government ordered cellphone network operators to register two million unregistered SIM cards by December 30 and deactivate the unregistered ones that missed the deadline. This involved linking every SIM card with a national ID card, which a lot of people in Nigeria, most of them illegal immigrants, do not have. The main target of this SIM registration is to make it more difficult for criminals, especially Islamic terrorists, to use their cellphones.

There were protests but it is not the first time this has happened. Back in 2016 the government went to court over the matter and won. The court action was required for South African firm MTN to comply. Nigeria finally got the attention of MTN one of the, largest cell phone companies in Africa, by convincing a judge to enforce a large fine ($250 million) because MTN did not disconnected five million unregistered cell phone SIM cards as ordered in 2015. Other companies did disconnect over ten million illegal SIMs but MTN thought they could beat this in court. Because the SIM card shutdown order was mainly directed at a murderous Islamic terror group (Boko Haram) and not just a lot of lesser criminals the courts agreed with the government and MTN was forced to comply and pay the fine. This is not a problem unique to Africa and is one of the unpleasant side effects of cell phones.

December 18, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen attacked many vehicles on the highway to Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe State. The attacks took place 20-40 kilometers outside Maiduguri, the state capital. Before the security forces showed up the raiders killed ten travelers and kidnapped 35. This route is normally well protected because it is heavily used. Since 2014 at least a hundred vehicles have been attacked and 370 people killed. The security forces received a lot of harsh criticism for this lapse in road security.

December 16, 2020: In the south, Nigerian pirates boarded and seized control of cargo ship off the coast. The pirates looted the vessel of portable valuables and escaped with eight of the crew, including six Ukrainians. The remaining crew had made it to a protected safe space before the pirates could seize them. The pirates expect to obtain a multi-million-dollar ransom for the Ukrainians, which include most of the officers and specialists on the ship.

December 14, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) a large group of Boko Haram, in 15 trucks, emerged from the Sambisa forest and sought to attack civilian targets for loot and to terrorize the population and local government. The army responded quickly and disrupted the attacks, destroying four trucks and killing at least twenty of the Islamic terrorists and pursuing the survivors back to the Sambisa forest. One solider was killed and three wounded during the fighting. The Sambisa forest has remained a popular base area for Boko Haram even though much of 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 looting raids. Now Sambisa based Boko Haram have to travel farther, along roads in open terrain, to find 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 air strike and hastily abandoned by the survivors.

In the northwest (Katsina state) bandits kidnapped 80 female students who were participating in a procession to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. Soldiers pursued and the next day found and rescued the kidnapped girls, four other hostages and 12 stolen cows. Katsina state has become something of a combat zine because of warring tribes and unaffiliated gangs that take advantage of the chaos to steal what they can. Local leaders are again calling on the government to legalize ownership of weapons. Many people already have such weapons but are subject to arrest if caught with them. Since 2014 there has been growing pressure on the government to adopt the self-defense model that has worked in many other parts of the world. This involves recruiting and arming locals to defend themselves. Modern firearms are strictly controlled in Nigeria but there are a lot of illegal ones out there anyway and even more locally made ones, usually single shot pistols and shotguns fabricated by rural blacksmiths. The government is reluctant to encourage more weapons ownership among civilians. This is a legitimate concern in Nigeria were tribal disputes, usually ancient feuds or recent disagreements over land, water or trade, often turn large and violent. But the self-defense militia concept has worked in numerous recent instances of Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile the tribal militias, Islamic terrorists and bandits can easily get weapons, especially cheap AK-47s, from black market arms dealers.

December 11, 2020: In the northwest (Katsina state) gunmen arriving on motorcycles raided a government boarding school and kidnapped 344 teenage boys. Boko Haram released a video showing some kidnapped boys and offered to negotiate. It turned out that Boko Haram was not involved but was trying to benefit from the incident before it was resolved. The army soon tracked down the kidnappers and their hostages and surrounded the area and called on the kidnappers to surrender without violence. The bandits were well organized and set up two ambushes, which the troops detected and eliminated without taking any casualties. The bandits did have some dead and wounded and eventually fled, possibly with some of the hostages. Most of the boys were rescued by the troops. It was later discovered that some of the missing children had fled the school during the initial raid and had not reported in yet. The surviving bandits have not demanded ransom for any of the boys and it is believed those still missing are the ones who fled into the night during the kidnapping. Local civilians have been very helpful to the troops in finding the bandits and locating any of the boys still missing. Banditry and tribal feuds have gotten worse in Katsina state this year.

December 2, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state), the air force carried out many airstrikes against Boko Haram targets in and near the Sambisa forest over the last few days. Targets included the homes of some Boko Haram leaders. For the senior leaders their families are vulnerable targets and often sent out of the country or live in a secret location. Most of the airstrikes were against Boko Haram camps, some of them newly established to replace camps that had been bombed or attacked by ground forces.

November 29, 2020: In the south, Nigerian pirates boarded and seized control of cargo ship off the coast. The pirates looted the vessel of portable valuables and escaped with eight of the crew. The captives included three Lebanese (one of them the captain) and two Egyptians. The others were from African countries. The pirates demanded a $1.3 million ransom for these five captives.

November 28, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram massacred at least 70 rice farmers that were accused of supporting the government. This occurred in an area where the security forces did not provide security and to survive local famers make deals with Boko Haram to pay for protection and not provide any information to the government.

November 25, 2020: In the south, Nigerian pirates boarded and seized control of cargo ship off the coast. The pirates looted the vessel of portable valuables and escaped with ten of the crew. The captives included three Lebanese and two Egyptians. The others were from African countries. The pirates will try to get ransom for their hostages.

November 21, 2020: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram once more ambushed a convoy that included the state governor. The is the fourth time the current governor, who has been in office since May 2019, has had his convoy attacked. Nine soldiers were killed. The governor was not hurt because he now travels by helicopter for visits outside the capital while his security detail and staff travel via a convoy that is guarded by additional troops.

 

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