Nigeria: The Great Fade

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December 22, 2021: There is less Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) activity in the north, particularly Borno state, where both Islamic terrorist groups were founded and thrived for several years. The two groups turned much of northern Borno into an economic wasteland, full of local self-defense groups, anti-terrorist vigilantes and a much more effective military. The Islamic terrorists have experienced heavy personnel losses because of a lack of new recruits while suffering higher losses from sickness and desertion. A combination of hunger, fewer places to loot and more danger from the security forces or armed civilians Boko Haram and its more radical spinoff ISWAP a less attractive career option for the many young Moslem men who are poor, unemployed, and angry.

A major source of disappointment with Islamic terrorism was the civil war within Boko Haram, which escalated in 2021 to the point where there were major Boko Haram and ISWAP losses from desertion, particularly those true believers who had family members with them, surrendering to the army. This was encouraged by an army process for housing and sustaining surrendered Islamic terrorists until they could move on. This encouraged more Islamic terrorists to officially surrender rather than just walk away, which many still do. By the end of 2021 about 20,000 Boko Haram and ISWAP men, including family members living with them in remote camps, had turned themselves in. This is remarkable because the total was only 8,000 in August. The rapid increase in surrenders overwhelmed the system and exhausted the resources available. Some of the former Islamic terrorists went back the group they deserted and were accepted. This led to rumors that the massive increase in surrenders was largely a ploy by those clever Islamic terrorist fellows to let the army provide paid vacations for themselves and their families. That was a myth. Most of those surrendering, especially the women and children, were starving and many were ill. The family members wanted nothing to do with returning to life in the forest.

There is also the problem with unemployment and lack of economic opportunities in the devastated northern half of Borno State. It was a lot easier to destroy the local economy than rebuild it. The social and economic infrastructure built up over many generations is gone and something new, and less effective, will have to replace it in the short run. Reliable law and order have returned to a growing number of areas in northern Borno, but there are still thousands of armed outlaws up there. Many, if not most, still belong to Boko Haram and ISWAP. Many of the better organized Islamic terrorist factions have moved to neighboring states or countries. This provides more to steal but also more armed opposition. Boko Haram or ISWAP showing up in other parts of Nigeria is big local news initially but soon fades along with the threat. The local gangsters are hostile to newly arrived brigands who believe they are on a Mission From God. It’s no longer fashionable to be a religious zealot, although careers in banditry or mercenary violence are still available. It was initially believed that some of the surrendered Islamic terrorists could join the army, which was always looking for recruits with experience in military matters. So far, the military policy is that no former Islamic terrorists can enlist although some do find employment as contract employees for military intelligence. This is a dangerous job and those who take it are constantly monitored for loyalty. You and your family may end up on an Islamic terrorist “shoot on sight” list. This career option appeals to a small percentage of the surrendered.

Another factor that keeps the surrendering Islamic terrorists honest is that they must answer questions about their career, however brief, in Boko Haram or ISWAP. Army intel troops have a lot of experience with this because knowledge of who key leaders are, where they or their families live and where camps and weapons stashes are can all earn a surrendered Islamic terrorists a clean bill of health and entitlement to benefits or even a job offer as a regular informant. It also earns rewards for the interrogators who are most productive. This is another one of those dangerous jobs that few people want.

The army is particularly eager to find out where the Islamic terrorists are holding hostages, especially soldiers or police, for ransom. There have been a lot more hostages rescued this year, along with Boko Haram arms and other stashes recovered. Civilians who have deals with the Islamic terrorists to supply fuel, ammunition, and other essential items are being arrested and prosecuted. Some Borno politicians and religious leaders have been implicated as well.

Boko Haram and ISWAP are still around, but as a minor security problem compared to feuding tribal militias and an increased number of aggressive gangsters. For several years these non-terrorist groups have accounted for more violence and death than the Islamic terrorists. During 2021 the Islamic terrorists faded more quickly and lost most of their allure as a solution to Nigeria’s problems with corruption. That was how Boko Haram began two decades ago, as a nonviolent movement. Reforming the national police, whose gratuitous violence against any disagreeable group turned Boko Haram into a major Islamic terrorism movement, is still a problem. It is now recognized as a problem and there is growing pressure for major reforms in the police, as well as the Nigerian government in general. That is a much larger and entrenched problem than a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism.

Other more immediate problems include large scale criminal activity in the oil industry and the areas where oil is pumped. There is also a resurgence of Igbo separatism in the southeast.

December 19, 2021: In the northeast (Borno State), Boko Haram raided a town in the far northeast of Borno that was the hometown of a senior Borno politician. There were many casualties and buildings were burned after they were looted. The raiders were gone by the time the military arrived. It was probably a coincidence that Boko Haram raided this village because a senior politician had family there. The village was an attractive target because it was remote and still largely intact.

December 18, 2021: In the northeast (Borno State), across the border in Cameroon, there has been a major outbreak of fighting between farmers, herders and fishermen over who gets access to what of the remaining water in Lake Chad. Since the 1960s drought and overuse has caused Lake Chad to lose 90 percent of its surface area. The much smaller Lake Chad became more important to much larger populations in all the nations that border it. Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria all border Lake Chad and all three nations share the problem of farmers, fishermen and nomadic herders fighting over access to the lake to water crops, catch fish, and provide water and pasture for herds of cattle the nomads depend on. So far most of the water wars around Lake Chad have taken place in Nigeria, which has a higher population density because the further north you go (into Chad and Niger) the more desert and semi-desert areas you encounter. Cameroon has the shortest Lake Chad shoreline and less population in the area. The tensions over water were there and since early December the violence has caused over a 100,000 people to flee their homes to avoid the fighting, which often consists of armed raids by one group or another. Most of the refugees fled into Chad while about 15,000 took shelter further south in Cameroon.

December 17, 2021: In the south, at a Lagos (largest port city in Nigeria and West Africa) cargo container facility, a random customs inspection of containers found one full of weapons instead of the flat screen TVs listed on its manifest. Police are still counting the contents and seeking to identify the smugglers. A container like this can contain up to 25 tons, which means for over three thousand rifles and machine-gun and many more pistols. Given the profit margins on illegal arms, the container was worth several million dollars to the smugglers. There is a growing black market for these weapons from tribal militias, gangsters and Islamic terror groups.

December 15, 2021: In November Nigeria regained its position as largest oil producer in Africa with 1.33 million BPD (barrels per day), up eight percent from October. Normally the largest producers in Africa are Nigeria, Angola and Libya. Angola suffers from some of the same corruption and internal violence problems as Nigeria and for October is in third place behind Libya and Nigeria.

October production was so low (1.23 million BPD) that for one month Libya became the largest oil producer in Africa, with 1.24 million BPD. Nigerian production fell by nearly 40 percent in the last 18 months to reach 1.23 million BPD in October. During the first three months of 2020 Nigerian oil production reached two million BPD. Daily production in 2019 was 2.32 million BPD, up from 2018 (2.09 million BPD) and 2017 (2.03 million BPD). For 2020 production was expected to be a little lower to allow for needed oil field rehabilitation work to proceed. Those predictions did not consider covid19 and subsequent lower demand worldwide.

Production declined worldwide but now demand is rising again and so have oil prices, which are now about $70 a barrel, up over 70 percent from $40 a barrel a year ago.

Nigerian production should be much mightier and more profitable. Given the investments in oil production, mainly by foreign companies, Nigeria can produce 4 million BPD. That has not happened. The reasons are continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs, especially of the pipelines, in the Niger River Delta. The pipelines are regularly punctured by oil thieves, who take what they can carry (in a tanker truck or truck full of empty barrels) and leave the puncture to further pollute local water and land until the oil company can locate the leak, shut down the pipeline and repair the puncture. This is a major extra expense for the oil companies and a major source of local anger against the oil production. Yet there is never a shortage of local recruits for the oil gangs. Then there are the decades of government inability to deal with these problems. That led to a growing number of foreign oil companies selling their Nigerian assets and going elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries. For example, in 2020 it cost $23 per barrel to produce oil in Nigeria but without all the violence and corruption that could be $15 a barrel or less. The new oil production firms will demand better terms from Nigeria meaning less oil income for the government. The effort to explore for oil in the Moslem north is also crippled by the bad reputation Nigeria has when it comes to foreign oil companies. Meanwhile a lot of the oil revenue that should go to the government budget continues to disappear along the way because corrupt politicians and officials find ways to get around new laws and regulations meant to reduce the losses. Audits revealed that Nigeria has lost a trillion dollars in oil revenue to corruption in the last sixty years and Nigerian living standards and poverty rates are worse now than in the 1960s, especially compared to other African countries that had no oil or similar natural resource bonanza.

December 3, 2021: Senior Christian leaders, especially Catholic and Anglican bishops, are now speaking out about the organized Moslem violence against Christians and the threat it poses to Nigeria as a united nation. Nigeria has the largest population (211 million) of any country in Africa and more Christians (nearly a hundred million) than any other African nation. In that respect Nigeria is surpassed by only five other nations; United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and the Philippines. About half the Nigerian Christians are Roman Catholic or Anglican and the bishops of those two global religions speak not just for their Nigerian believers but for much larger numbers of Christians worldwide. Because of this the bishops were reluctant to call what Boko Haram and the Fulani raiders were doing in the north a deliberate effort to eliminate all Christians from Nigeria. This was a stated goal of Boko Haram from the beginning and especially after they turned much more violent after 2008. It wasn’t until after 2014 that Fulani violence became openly anti-Christian. Before that it was just about water and grazing land.

Until 2014 the major violence was between Hausa and Fulani, the two major Moslem tribes in the north. In response to the increased violence the government sent several thousand troops to north central Nigeria (Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau States) in an effort to shut down the tribal gunmen who had been raiding each other’s villages for most of 2014 and causing over a thousand casualties and much property damage. The army task force has been ordered to find and destroy several large armed groups responsible for most of the mayhem. Most of these marauders were Fulani. The Moslem nomadic Fulani have long been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in central and southeastern Nigeria as well as raiding rival Moslem tribes in the north. There are fifteen million Fulani in Nigeria, most of them in the north. There are about five million Fulani in nearby countries doing the same thing. This violence in Nigeria got worse and sending in thousands of additional police did not halt the fighting. The Fulani long claimed that the government was sending Christian police to persecute them because of their religion, not because they were constantly attacking Christian farmers. The settled (farming) tribes have been there a long time and in the last few decades more Fulani came south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want. Christian militias fight back, but the Fulani do most of the damage. Government effort to shut down the Fulani raiders brought forth accusations from mainstream Moslem groups that the army was picking on Moslems by concentrating on the Fulani raiders and not the Christians self-defense groups and tribal militias the Fulani raiders often run into. Moslem leaders want attention paid to the growing tribal feuds between Moslem tribes, like the 2014 battles between Fulani and Hausa. Attacks on Christians got more attention because half the population of Nigeria is Christian and Boko Haram has declared war on all Christians, especially the shrinking Christian minority in the largely Moslem north. Boko Haram is still at war with Christians but there are far fewer Boko Haram now than there are armed Fulani. This is not the first Islamic Jihad against Christians in what is now Nigeria. Islam reached northern Nigeria long before Christians showed up along the coast. Christians are more effective missionaries than Moslems, who prefer to demand submission from non-Moslems while Christians seek willing converts. Christianity was also the foreign faith that believed in education, tech and economic opportunities. Boko Haram literally means; Western education is forbidden.

 

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