Boko Haram, a local Islamic terror group that appeared two decades ago claiming it was the African incarnation of the Afghan Taliban, continues its rapid collapse. This began in July and accelerated after the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan during mid-August.
Boko Haram originated in Borno State, in northeast Nigeria adjacent to other Moslem African countries like Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso that have more experience dealing with Islamic terrorists and some of that experience is spreading to the Nigerian military. The decline in popular support for Boko Haram came from the failure of the group to offer anything better than the existing corrupt political system. Doing that was the principal reason for founding Boko Haram two decades ago. Boko Haram reached its peak in 2014, the same year ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) did in Iraq and Syria. Like ISIL, Boko Haram lost all its territory by 2017. By then a growing number of Boko Haram had declared they were now an affiliate of ISIL. That made matters worse because there were now two major Boko Haram factions. Neither faction had any success in gaining control over territory and came to be regarded by people in Borno as bandits. For some Borno politicians and businessmen both Boko Haram factions had become a lucrative business opportunity. This is an old Nigerian custom, where politicians make mutually beneficial agreements with organized crime groups. In 2004 the newly organized Boko Haram condemned that cooperation as a major problem. By 2014 it survived only by using those same practices. The newly formed Boko Haram ISIL faction used the same corrupt financial practices. This caused problems in Nigeria because the national government refused to “name and shame” local officials and businessmen known as financial supporters of Boko Haram and would be prosecuted once enough evidence was gathered that would make prosecution.
The collapse of Boko Haram has been percolating for several years and peaked in mid-June when
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was killed by a large ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) raiding party and the factional dispute declared over because of the ISIL faction raid. It wasn’t. The death of veteran Boko Haram leader Shekau did not lead to a reunification of Boko Haram under pro-ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leadership.
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 had been leader since 2009. Shekau was correct about ISWAP, the local ISIL affiliate, seeking to absorb Boko Haram and seemed to realize more than ISIL leaders that many Boko Haram members preferred to fight ISWAP, or simply leave the movement. ISWAP leaders backed this forced reunification idea without realizing the impact the death of Shekau would have on most Islamic terrorists in the northeast. This became obvious when the number of Boko Haram and ISWAP members abandoning Islamic terrorism increased after the “merger” and death of Shekau was first announced. Many of those defectors are switching to organized crime and ditching their religious pretensions. This has already been happening in the last few years but the “merger” caused the trend to spike. By the end of August over 8,000 Boko Haram/ISWAP members, including many family members who lived in Islamic terrorist camps, had officially surrendered, something which merely resulted in an update of government records and agreeing to answer questions about their experience with Boko Haram. Nearly all the Boko Haram/ISWAP already named as criminals and wanted for specific crimes, are leaders and could negotiate a surrender deal that could spare them any punishment at all. That has upset a lot of northern political and business leaders, but these men know that if you have enough cash and connections, you can avoid conviction. This has been the case during the last decade as more and more notorious (they often flaunted it) politicians and business magnates were prosecuted, often with the help of foreign countries, like the UAE and many other Western nations, who provided evidence of financial activities locally.
Boko Haram quickly appointed a new leader; Bakura Modu (or Sahaba) who had much less experience than Shekau and he moved Boko Haram headquarters from the Sambia forces to Rijana forest in neighboring Kaduna State. These changes did not stem the defections. Boko Haram and ISWAP are both beset by 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.
Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders tried to turn this collapse around by declaring the recent success of the Taliban in Afghanistan was still possible in Nigeria. The Islamic terrorist violence has been going on for over fifteen years in Borno state and portions of central and northern Borno where Boko Haram and ISWAP remained active are now depopulated economic wastelands. The Islamic terrorists are not strong enough to expand and, unlike the Afghan Taliban, Boko Haram does not have a powerful Moslem neighbor like Pakistan supporting them and providing sanctuary. There is also no massive drug production operation, like the heroin cartels of southern Afghanistan. While Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders insist prospects are great, that really only applies to the leadership. Most Islamic terrorists in Nigeria have destroyed their own communities for a decade and have nothing to show for it. Their leaders are seen as another bunch of corrupt officials who prosper while the majority sinks deeper into poverty.
The Taliban Effect
The recent ouster of an elected government by the Taliban in Afghanistan had African governments and media fretting about Islamic terrorism in Africa, especially the ISIL ultraviolence. It took a few weeks for everyone to note that Africa is not Afghanistan. ISIL is at the top of the food chain when it comes to Islamic terror groups. That means ISIL is always at war with all other Islamic terror groups. In other words, the Taliban has long had problems with the local ISIL affiliates and even cooperated with the elected Afghan government and American forces to greatly reduce, but not eliminate, the ISIL presence in Afghanistan. In Africa most of the local Islamic terrorists are affiliated with al Qaeda. Africa also has a multitude of small ISIL affiliates. Since
2018 there have been two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one is ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), which showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP, which is actually a faction of Boko Haram. ISWAP personnel were concentrated in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. There is also ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province) which is actually most present in southern Africa and only really active in the southeast African state of Mozambique. The problem with ISIL in southern Africa is that Moslems are a small minority there and the Christian and pre-Christian religions are the majority and fight back, often while ISIL is trying to get established locally.
Another tiny ISIL affiliate is ISS (Islamic State in Somalia) which was never popular with the local Islamic terrorists (al Shabaab). ISS spends most of its time and effort trying to survive in the northern mountains.
In Africa, corrupt local governments are a far greater threat but those same governments appreciate Islamic terrorists, especially ISIL, because it gives the local leaders something to blame all the economic and political problems on.
What Makes A Difference In Africa
In Africa most of the local Islamic terrorists are affiliated with al Qaeda in addition to a multitude of small ISIL affiliates. Since
2018 there have been two ISIL “provinces” in central Africa. The smaller one is ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara), which showed up in 2018. ISGS is currently active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The other, slightly older and larger, ISIL province was ISWAP, which is actually a faction of the Nigerian Boko Haram Islamic terror group, which saw itself as the “African Taliban” and has been around since 2004. For a few years Boko Haram was, in terms of people killed, more of a problem than any other ISIL group, including the combined ISIL operations in Syria and Iraq.
ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Earlier in 2021 ISWAP killed the Boko Haram leaders and is trying to absorb Boko Haram. That is encountering a lot of resistance. There is also ISCAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province) which is actually mostly present in southern Africa and only really active in the southeast African state of Mozambique. The problem with ISIL in southern Africa is that Moslems are a small minority there, while the majority Christian and pre-Christian religions fight back, often while ISIL is trying to get established. Another tiny ISIL affiliate is ISS (Islamic State in Somalia) which was never popular with the local Islamic terrorists (al Shabaab). ISS spends most of its time and effort trying to survive in the northern mountains.
Most independent media in Africa, including Nigeria, openly accept that their own politicians and businesses keep Islamic terrorists going as long as it is profitable. This raises the question, who is terrorizing who. Islamic terror groups declare war on the corrupt politicians and soon become their paid employees or partners. This is an ancient phenomenon that takes time, effort and resolve to overcome. In the last few centuries more and more nations have done it and managed to hang onto clean government. Despite that, the majority of people still live in areas where the elected or unelected gangsters are still in charge.
September 22, 2021: In the south (Ondo and Delta States) the state governors warned northern governors that the new anti-grazing laws would be enforced. The northern governors defend the violent actions of
expansionist Moslem Fulani tribesmen herders who attack southern farmers who try to protect their crops from the herds of hungry animals. Since 2016 these clashes have killed more people than Boko Haram violence. Unlike Boko Haram violence, which was mostly in Borno state and two others in the northeast, the Fulani violence has spread throughout states from the north to the far south, mainly interior areas of Ondo and Delta states, which are on the Gulf of Guinea. The heaviest losses still occur in the north and central Nigeria (Adamawa, Nasarawa and Benue states). Adamawa is one of the three northeastern states where Boko Haram has been a major problem since 2014. The other two states are in central Nigeria. The federal government has failed to deal with the problem and the southern states passed local laws banning the illegal grazing and supporting armed resistance by their citizens. In Nigeria the federal government controls the security forces, especially the police via a national police force. The police and military have long been criticized for being corrupt and ineffective.
The other major crisis, which has not been as fatal, yet, as Boko Haram and the Fulani herders, is in the southeast, where Christian Igbo seek to revive the movement to partition Nigeria and let the Igbo for a separate state of Biafra.
Unlike 1967, when a bloody civil war over the demand ended, 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. That has slowed the escalation towards another war, but if the federal government proves unable to work out an acceptable compromise, the Igbo anger will continue escalating.
September 20, 2021: In the northwest (Zamfara State), a
cross the border in Niger, local security forces caught a large group of tribal gangsters fleeing from a recent defeat in Nigeria. Niger is a favorite place to find sanctuary but that has become more dangerous and this time the Niger forces ambushed the Nigerian gunmen, killing 43 of them while losing seven soldiers. The smaller number of armed Nigerians who got away are also being pursued.
The violence in the northwest and central Nigeria is more about tribal animosity or feuds over territory. Since 2016 this has been killing more people than Islamic terrorism.
September 17, 2021:
In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram gunmen once more used explosives to bring down electricity transmission towers (four of them) and cut power to much of the state capital (Maiduguri). This is the fifth time this year that Boko Haram has done this, which is a form of terrorism and takes days to repair and get the power flowing again. It is unclear if Boko Haram is offering to halt such attacks if the government will pay them a monthly fee to keep the electric power flowing . Technically such payments are illegal but that law is more frequently obeyed as Boko Haram power wanes.
September 16, 2021:
In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram gunmen ambushed a military convoy carrying supplies from the state capital Maiduguri to Monguno, 135 kilometers to the northeast. Twelve soldiers were killed and the gunmen were able to drive away with considerable loot.
September 13, 2021: In the UAE (United Arab Emirates) the government released a list of 53 individuals and entities that the UAE knew were supports of Islamic terrorism. Six of them were Nigerians, who were prosecuted in the UAE and serving prison terms for sending $782,000 to Boko Haram in 2015 and 2016. There may have been more money involved but the UAE prosecuted based on what they could prove. The six Nigerians were detected and arrested in 2017 and prosecuted for raising and sending money to Nigeria. Expatriate Nigerians have long been a source of cash for Boko Haram. For a while, until about 2015, Boko Haram was seen as a realistic solution to the corruption and bad government the group was founded to deal with. Founded in 2004, Boko Haram tried peaceful means at first. Violence police responses to that turned the group to violence in 2009 and by 2015 most Nigerians saw Boko Haram as a cure worse than the disease.
September 1, 2021: The coalition of international shipowners’ associations officially reduced the HRA (High Risk Area) off Somalia while expanding the HRA off the Nigerian coast and the surrounding Gulf Of Guinea. Pressure from the ship owners led to the creation of an International Piracy Patrol off Somalia and within a few years the pirates were reduced from major threat to chronic nuisance. That piracy problem had its greatest impact on East African ports and potentially to the economically crucial Red Sea and Persian Gulf shipping. That promoted the creation of the continuing International Piracy Patrol.
Meanwhile the piracy problem had been going from nuisance to a major threat for ship owners who deliver goods and take away mineral and oil exports along the West African coast. The piracy threat off the West African coast, mainly in the Gulf of Guinea and off the Nigerian coast was noted and that led to the new HRA off West Africa that will encompass over 3.2 million square kilometers (910,000 square miles). Within the area the risk is rising and some shipping companies refuse to send their ships into waters near the Niger River Delta, an area controlled by Nigeria that has experienced the most attacks. Some crews are demanding double pay to enter this area. While the Nigerian Navy has established guarded anchorages and purchased coastal patrol UAVs the risk remains. Nigeria will not allow any armed security teams on merchant ships, as has become common in the Somali HRA. This makes the crews feel even more vulnerable.
In the Gulf of Guinea piracy is becoming a major problem and shipping companies warn that this will increase maritime ship insurance and other piracy related costs that will be passed on to consumers in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Off the Nigerian coast the pirate activity is increasing despite growing Nigerian efforts to curb the threat.
Nigeria will not get as bad as Somalia, which was the only place in the world where pirates could, for nearly a decade, take a large ship and anchor it off a small coastal town controlled by pirates. With no threats from local authorities, the pirates threatened to murder hostages, especially the ones taken ashore, if the anti-piracy patrol attempts to take back the ship. This lack of any Somali coast guard or government control of the entire coast was why Somalia was the only region seriously enough threatened by pirates that armed guards were allowed on large commercial ships passing through the most dangerous areas. In the other pirate hotspots, like Nigeria/Gulf of Guinea, the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, and parts of the Caribbean, local police, navies and coast guard keep the pirates under control and usually forbid armed guards on ships. The main risk outside Somali waters is nighttime raids by local pirates who rob the crew of valuables and the ships of anything portable.
These “robbery” tactics escalated in Nigeria since 2016 because the pirates realized that kidnapping key crew members and holding them for ransom was safer and more lucrative than hauling away portable valuables. Kidnapping was slow to catch on because initially local security forces could locate the kidnappers’ hideouts and free their hostages. That changed in Nigeria because pirates made deals with local political and military officials to share the large ransoms paid for kidnapped foreign sailors. Once these ransom sharing deals were in place it became more difficult to find the pirate hideouts where hostages were held. This corrupt profit-sharing arrangement is nothing new in Nigeria and has been a component of the crippling corruption Nigeria has suffered since independence in the 1960s. Currently about five million dollars in ransoms are being paid each year and that is increasing. This is what is threatening to raise ship insurance rates and the cost of shipping anything in or out of the Gulf of Guinea. Ultimately the customer pays, otherwise shippers could not continue doing business in high-risk areas.
These robberies and kidnappings are common in areas where a lot of large ships have to anchor off a busy major port and await their turn to dock for loading or unloading cargo. What enabled the Nigerian pirates to become more of a menace was the entrenched gangster culture in the Niger River Delta. This is where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced. More of the oil is coming from offshore rigs and these became attractive targets for pirates. The seemingly entrenched gangster culture is made possible by the culture of corruption among local politicians and local security forces. Many politicians adopt a local gang to provide muscle for ensuring voters select the most corrupt candidates. Nigeria has been undergoing increasingly vigorous and effective reform efforts since 2000 but the gangster culture is so pervasive and entrenched that progress is slow in the more profitable areas. Nigerian leaders don’t like being compared to Somalia, but there are similarities. One difference is that there is more to steal in Nigeria and that many Nigerians, unlike Somalis, consider the outlaw culture a flaw not a feature.
August 31, 2021:
In the northeast (Borno State) several hundred ISWAP gunmen raided Rann, a town on the Cameroon border, killing 17 people and driving off towards Cameroon with lots of loot. The raid included an attack on a small army base, where the troops withdrew and called for reinforcements. The raiders knew this and limited their loot to what they could quickly find and put in a truck.
August 24, 2021:
In the northeast (Borno State), across the border in Niger over a hundred Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Niger border town of Diffa, killing sixteen soldiers and wounding nine. They came by boat and landed on the Lake Chad coast. The army had detected this and hastily organized an ambush that left at least fifth of the attackers dead and many wounded who were able to get away with the unwounded. Diffa has been the scene of clashes between the Niger troops and Boko Haram forces for years.