Nigeria: Obsession Confronts Reality

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July 22, 2021: In the Moslem north state governors and other local politicians complain of the inability of the security forces, controlled by the national government, to restore order and allow essential commerce to resume. It is now claimed, with some justification, that Boko Haram-related deaths in the last decade are not just the 35,000 killed by Boko Haram members, but that number and the collateral deaths resulting from lower living standards, less medical care and infrastructure in general. That puts the total Boko Haram caused deaths in a decade to over 300,000. The Islamic terrorists have had help from the growing number of non-religious gangs and tribal militias that adopt the Boko Haram terrorism tactics but just do it for the money, not as part of some plan to install a religious dictatorship in the north. This mass banditry has been growing in the northwest and spreading south, where it meets stiff resistance from areas that are not majority-Moslem, as is most of northern Nigeria. The northern politicians don’t like to dwell on the fact that in the north Moslem politicians often profit from the growing outlaw culture. Such collaboration was considered normal before the Islamic terrorism proliferated in the last fifteen years.

The national government has improved the effectiveness of the security forces, especially the military. Reforming the national police is still a work in progress. The military has been increasingly effective at defeating Boko Haram and other Islamic terror groups in the north but maintaining order in pacified areas is the job of the national police and local officials, most of whom are inclined to go back to their corrupt ways that caused the popular discontent in the first place.

While half of Borno State, where Boko Haram was founded and grew, has been devastated by violence and chaos, in the rest of the north reports, at most, 20 percent of their territory reduced to an economic and social wasteland. In some states the problem is widespread but has turned areas into lawless areas that civilians increasingly flee.

The Obsession

The national government is obsessed with the threats from the separatist Igbo people in the southeast. This is not a new problem and last time it was a problem there was several years of intense fighting. President Buhari wants to divert military forces to the southeast to discourage another armed rebellion. Northern politicians don’t want to lose the military resources that are keeping the armed anarchy in the north from spiraling out of control. They point out that Igbos want autonomy than a separate state. Igbo may be rebellious but they are also rational and logical. The Igbo realize that a separate state would include little or none of the oil wealth that is concentrated in the Niger River Delta. The Islamic terrorists and bandits ravaging the north want, at worst, an Islamic religious dictatorship that few Moslem Nigerians, and none of the Christians, will go along with. A compromise deal with the Igbo is more acceptable, especially to northern politicians who fear the growing violence up there is getting too close to them and their families.

Unlike 1967 there is not a lot of Igbo support for openly partitioning Nigeria. In the southeast Imo, Enugu and Anambra states are meant to be the core of the independent Igbo Biafra. Pro-Biafra groups began to appear again in the late 1990s, trying to revive the separatist movement. Since the late 1990s over a thousand separatists have been killed, and many more imprisoned, while the government continues to insist that Biafra is gone forever. But as details of the extent of government corruption during the last few decades came out, Biafra again seemed like something worth fighting for. Senior government officials, including president Buhari, paid attention and sought to work out a compromise with the Igbos.

Since 2016 Igbo separatists have been organizing armed militias and threatening to expel Moslems recently arrived from the north, by force if necessary. This is another escalation in Igbo efforts to gain autonomy, if not a separate state. This movement has been around for over half a century and is commemorated every May 30th by a growing number of Igbos who have not forgotten the 1967 war for Igbo independence. This is all about reminding the Nigerian government that the Igbo are still a force to reckon with.

The Biafra separatist rebellion threat has not only returned but is resisting suppression. During 2017 there were thousands of arrests related to the Biafra demonstrations and other pro-independence activities. That simply made Igbos angrier. In 2018 police were ordered to deal with the protests and unrest carefully and avoid bloodshed. Someone in government apparently remembers that the original 1967 rebellion began because in 1966 over 40,000 Igbo in the north were murdered by Fulani groups after a much smaller number of Moslems were killed. The subsequent Biafra rebellion did not end until 1970 and left more than a million dead, most of them Igbo. Yet the Igbo remain a major force in Nigeria, comprising nearly a fifth of the population and dominating even more of the economy. This is particularly resented in the Moslem north, where the Igbo returned in greater numbers after 1970 and are now a key part of the northern economy and, as Christians, a favorite target of Boko Haram.

This time around the separatists face a new problem; many Igbo, especially those living outside of “Biafra” openly oppose the separatist movement. Many Igbo in the southeastern homeland also oppose it but cannot say so publicly because they would be physically attacked by the separatist zealots. Not surprisingly, the governors of the states that comprise the proposed Biafra oppose leaving Nigeria. While the corrupt Igbo politicians oppose Biafra, what everyone is worried about is the large number of Igbo willing to fight for Biafra and a less corrupt government.

There is a similar problem in the Moslem north, where many oppose Boko Haram for practical reasons. Most parents realize that getting a “Western” education is the surest way to future prosperity. Local politicians, tribal leaders and most Moslem clerics agree that education is a good thing. The radical clergy may be a minority, but they are supported by young gunmen willing to kill, and die for an Islamic religious dictatorship. A modern education would have shown them how and why that has never worked in the past.

The Economics of Chaos

In the north most of the violence is not about religion or tribal feuding but about making a living. The Islamic terrorists and bandits cannot steal enough essential supplies to survive and have found that it is more efficient and convenient to concentrate on activities that will raise cash, which can then be used to buy from surviving suppliers, or black markets in the north. The sellers are willing to do business because it buys them a degree of immunity from attack. While the government and media see these suppliers as outlaws themselves, most are not and just trying to survive in areas where the government does little to help anyone survive. Leaning too hard on local businesses will often lead to local politicians who are also getting paid for protection and cooperation.

Security forces currently concentrate on the most common crime, kidnapping for ransom. More than a thousand kidnappings are succeeding a month in the north and the threat of being a victim has further paralyzed commerce and government administration. The army concentrates on liberating captives being held for ransom although liberating civilians enslaved by Islamic terrorists is also worth favorable media mention.

July 18, 2021: In the north (Kaduna State) the air force lost another of its few remaining Alpha Jet ground attack aircraft. In this case the loss was from ground fire but the pilot ejected and landed safely by parachute. He was then able to use his cellphone and the nightfall to avoid known rebel-held villages as he made his way towards army ground forces moving towards him. The air force sent helicopter gunships to successfully discourage local rebels from pursuing the downed pilot who soon linked up with an army special operations unit.

At the start of 2021 Nigeria only had a dozen of the French/German Alpha Jets left. These 7.5-ton twin-jet planes entered service in the 1970s as a trainer/ground attack aircraft. They are armed with a 23mm autocannon and carry about two tons of bombs, rockets and missiles. Nigeria bought 24 in the 1980s and used them heavily for two decades until most were inoperable. Since 2015, fourteen of their remaining Alpha Jets have been refurbished and returned to flying condition. Most of that work is done and the Alpha Jets have been heavily used against rebels and Islamic terrorists in the northeast. The problem is that the elderly Alphas have been hard at work as the only counterterrorism aircraft available. The Chinese J-7s and Alphas are the only combat aircraft Nigeria has, aside from about a dozen armed helicopters. Twelve Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano turboprop counterterrorism aircraft are entering service this year and they are much more effective at ground support than the Alpha.

July 16, 2021: The National Broadcasting Commission issued an order for all media to cease reporting details about ongoing military operations. This was not about keeping operational details of current operations but not reporting tribal or religious affiliation of those involved, especially losses suffered by the security forces or civilian casualties. Media organizations accused the government of trying to suppress misbehavior by the security forces.

July 14, 2021: In parliament there are calls for investigating another instance of suspected corruption in the military. In this case the navy submitted a supplementary list of 44 candidates who passed the entrance exam to join the navy. All 44 were from the north. The navy and air force are the highest paid and safest jobs in the military and there is intense competition for them. When the main list of successful candidates was released, it contained candidates from all parts of Nigeria, with proportionately more from those states that had higher education levels.

July 8, 2021: In the south members of the U.S. Army Special Forces completed a five-week course of instruction for 25 members of the Nigerian SBS (Special Boat Squadron), a navy component of Nigerian Special Operations forces. The five-week course concentrated on how best to deal with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) which Islamic terrorists and bandits, including the coastal pirate gangs increasingly build and use for roadside bombs or remotely controlled bombs for terrorizing and intimidating.

June 24, 2021: In the northeast (Borno State), a week after senior clerics in the Boko Haram leadership confirmed that Abubakar Shekau, the veteran Boko Haram leader was dead. Now the assertion is that the death of Shekau led to a reunification of Boko Haram under pro-ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leadership. ISIL has released a 13-minute video showing Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders shaking hands and expressing agreement about the merger.

Shekau was killed by dissident Boko Haram members that had joined ISIL and considered any Boko Haram who did not do the same as traitors to Islam. Shekau had been active in Boko Haram from the beginning, in the 1990s, and has been leader since 2009. The army claimed to have killed Shekau several times and the “dead” Boko Haram leader soon put a video on the Internet mocking the military and saying they would never kill him. He was right. He was also right about ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) the local ISIL affiliate absorbing Boko Haram. That has now happened because the many remaining Boko Haram members who preferred to fight ISWAP or simply leave the movement, have backed this forced reunification. At the same time the number of Boko Haram and ISWAP members who have abandoned Islamic terrorism has increased. Many of those defectors switch to organized crime with no religious pretensions. Soon after have done in the last few years. Boko Haram has already appointed a new leader; Bakura Modu (or Sahaba). The new leader is half the age of Shekau and has been in Boko Haram for less than a decade. Boko Haram and ISWAP are both dealing with money problems. Over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence in the north have ruined the local economy there are more unemployed young men who can be enticed to join the Islamic terrorist for a “joining bonus” of less than $20 with the promise of more if they can learn to handle an assault rifle and succeed at looting and plundering what is left to steal in the northeast. A merger of economic, not religious, convenience was one thing most Islamic terrorists could agree on.

 

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