Nigeria: Reasonable, Responsible, Rapacious or Radical

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March 16, 2022: More Nigerians are realizing that they have to decide what is the most effective way forward for themselves and Nigeria. Some approaches are more popular or more successful than others. Since independence in the 1960s created the most populous and potentially the most prosperous nation in Africa, Nigerians have not been able to agree on which approach is both very effective as well as achievable. Being responsible and responsible are popular, but usually only as it applies to family or tribe, not all of Nigeria or Nigerians. Easier to adopt was the criminal rapacious or radical approach. It is now generally agreed that the rapacious or radical approach has been the main reason why a trillion dollars in oil revenue since the 1960s and made a few percent of Nigerians very wealthy while making life harder for most Nigerians, especially compared to average living standards in the 1960s. Attitudes are changing faster than effective efforts to make the needed changes.

In 2022 the Islamic terrorists continue to decline as a source of violence while tribal violence continues to cause more casualties than Islamic terrorists. Borno State, in the northeast, continues to be where most of the Islamic terrorism takes place. There are still clashes with the security forces, but the Islamic terrorists usually lose these battles and far more Islamic terrorists are surrendering than terrorizing. Eighteen years of Boko Haram violence in Borno created some lasting problems. There are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in Borno State, where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of the local corruption, but more competent leadership in the security forces reduced the violence. All this was caused by a local group of religious militants modeling themselves on the Taliban and calling themselves Boko Haram. Corruption in the army and police severely crippled effective counterterror efforts for over a decade. By itself Boko Haram was too small to have much impact on a national scale but the inability to deal with this problem put a spotlight on the corruption that has hobbled all progress in Nigeria for decades. A new president (Muhammadu Buhari. a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and began changing the corrupt army culture. That is still a work in progress but enough improvements in the military were achieved for Boko Haram to be defeated. This was one reason Buhari was reelected in early 2019. Two terms as president are the limit and Buhari is old and in declining health. It is unclear who might prevail in the 2023 elections although more candidates are promising to continue Buhari’s work.

Down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta) decades of violence against oil facilities have become a regular source of income for thousands of bandits. Local politicians and business leaders have become partners with the oil theft gangs. Stealing oil usually involves punching holes in pipelines, which slows production and limits the ability to expand it. This was recently made clear when Nigeria admitted that it could not use the higher OPEC production limits granted to make up for American and Russian oil removed from global production in the last year.

One reason for unrest among Northern Moslems is that they want more control over the federal government and the oil money. In northern and central Nigeria, you have increasing violence as nomadic Moslem herders move south and clash with largely Christian farmers over land use and water supplies. Since 2018 these tribal feuds have been killing more people than Boko Haram. The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worst, another civil war and at least more street violence and public anger.

Violence in the north includes kidnapping for ransom, wives or slave labor. Extortion is another widespread practice. Boko Haram and their dissident faction and rival ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) survive but often fight each other. These clashes are often caused by gangster rather than religious disputes. The Islamic terrorist attacks still make spectacular headlines, but are rare compared to the gangster operations the Islamic terrorists carry out to survive.

Islamic terrorism survives in Borno State because that is where it began, in response to the violent government response the initial, non-violent, Boko Haram generated. Boko Haram was initially about reducing corruption and improving the economy in Borno. For governments and gangsters, it’s all about money and power. ISWAP has evolved into a profitable criminal enterprise with a fading veneer of religious fanaticism.

The tribal, bandit and Islamic terrorist violence have the same long-term effect on local economies that suffer a lot of this malevolent activity. Large areas lose population, including hundreds of smaller communities, usually rural villages, being abandoned. There are millions of refugees, mainly in Borno, where they live in camps near large cities waiting for their depopulated region to be cleared of bandits and Islamic terrorists so they can return. Many do not and this has changed local economies and population levels throughout the north. In the military, where only a small portion of the army is in Borno, officers have found that it is easier to get promoted if their personnel records show they have served with a combat unit in Borno State.

March 14, 2022: In the northwest (Katsina state) the military received information that the leader of one of the major criminal gangs Katsina and over fifty members of the gang were assembling near a rural town for the festivities. The air force quickly put the area under aerial surveillance, apparently using a UAV, because the surveillance continued for hours to confirm that the bandits were assembling. The air force then sent one of their jet fighters to attack the assembled bandits with rockets and autocannon fire. Meanwhile ground troops were sent to the area to confirm the damage. About half the assembled bandits were killed or badly wounded. The remainder got away, but many were wounded. For several years Katsina state has been the scene of some of the worst criminal activity in the country, including kidnapping and mass attacks to loot towns and kill any civilians or police who resisted.

March 13, 2022: In the southeast (Anambra state) leaders of an Igbo separatist militia, the Bakassi Boys have been meeting leaders of a separatist Southwest Cameroon group the Ambazonian Boys. The Bakassi Boys militia was revived in 2021. The original Bakassi Boys appeared in the late 1990s as teen-age boys following a charismatic leader who claimed magical powers. Popular initially for their efforts to fight crime, the group eventually became criminals and soon disappeared after becoming a local legend. These two groups are small and more likely to turn into bandits than successful separatists. Yet there has been cooperation between Biafran and Cameroonian separatists, like the older and larger Ambazonia organization. Back in 2018 leaders of the separatist IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) group and a similar Ambazonia separatist organization across the border in Cameroon met and agreed to cooperate and support each other in their shared goals of more autonomy for Igbo in Nigeria and the minority English-speaking people in Cameroon, where most people use French as a common national language.

The close links between Igbo separatists and nearby like-minded Anglophone (English speaking) Cameroonian separatists has grown during the last decade as both separatist movements grew despite efforts of local political and military forces to shut down these increasingly violent movements.

The Nigerian Igbo want a separate Igbo state of Biafra, while the Cameroonians want a separate state of Ambazonia, consisting of terrain in southwest Cameroon dominated by the English-speaking minority of largely Francophone (French speaking) Cameroon. Unlike Biafra, which has never existed legally, Ambazonia was separate from French speaking Cameroon as one of the two former German colonies that France and Britain administered from 1919 (the end of World War I) until 1961 when it was agreed by Britain, France and the UN that the two Cameroons could either merge as one Cameroon or the smaller (and less economically developed) Ambazonia could choose to join either Nigeria or Cameroon as one of the federal states each nation was using for their new governments. Most Ambazonians would have preferred to be an independent state. Ambazonia was considered too small (42,000 square kilometers), poor and sparsely populated (under a million people) for independence. French Cameroon offered more autonomy and economic assistance and that persuaded most to vote for joining Cameroon. The language difference was not believed to be a problem because the English speakers tend to treat the language as a tool, not something more. The Ambazonians soon discovered that adopting the French language meant a more hostile attitude towards other languages, especially English. By 1972 the French speaking majority removed most of Ambazonia’s autonomy and were vigorously trying to get the Ambazonians to adopt French. That caused more resentment and by the 1980s the two million Ambazonians were getting more enthusiastic about regaining their autonomy, or even independence. Now there are nearly four million Ambazonians and they have a substantial separatist movement going.

An independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia is once again an issue. Local politicians told the federal government that the best, and most possible, solution to the Biafra/Igbo separatist movement threat was to offer some autonomy instead. The Biafra (separatist) movement was revived in 2015 and at first the government ordered police to crack down. By 2016 nearly 200 Igbo had been killed by police attacks on demonstrators and anyone suspected of separatist activity. The violent response was obviously making it worse and after 2018 a gentler approach was tried.

The pro-Biafran separatists have been around and increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria considered establishing a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal war followed before the separatist movement was crushed and the Igbo were warned not to try it again. Separatist attitudes were silenced but not extinguished. Pro-Biafra groups began to appear again in the late 1990s, trying to revive the separatist movement. Since then, 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, are paying attention, and seeking to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani are less amenable to any compromise, especially since the Fulani are Moslem and consider themselves defenders of Islam against non-believers like the Christian Igbo.

In response to the threats of violence, a major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) took the lead in protecting Igbo from anti-Biafra violence. In areas where peaceful defense measures do not work IPOB formed an armed security component, the ESN (Eastern Security Network), to defend Igbos in Imo State from Fulani and government violence. The government has responded by sending a battalion of infantry to an area thought to be a base for ESN members. This was unpopular with the locals as Nigerian soldiers are notorious for their violent behavior. These troops had been ordered to behave but that proved difficult for them to do so in the face of Igbo contempt and hostility.

Many Igbo politicians urge IPOB to become more political than militant to achieve their goals. The Igbo, because of their higher education levels and entrepreneurial skills are a growing presence in the national economy and senior civil service. Many prominent Igbo see the possibility of an Igbo president of Nigeria. This would do more for the Igbo than another war for an independent Biafra.

March 8, 2022: In the northwest (Kebbi state) gunmen attacked a convoy that included the deputy state governor and a military escort. The armed escort fought back and the attackers fled without harming the deputy governor. The armed escort suffered 18 soldiers and one policeman killed plus eight soldiers and policemen wounded. The attackers took their dead and wounded with them to prevent identification of the group responsible for the attack. Earlier in the day gunmen also ambushed a local defense militia and killed 62 before leaving the scene. These large-scale attacks are meant to intimidate opponents, including the state government, into being more cooperative with the outlaws. That sometimes works but generally it just gets a lot of people killed and others angry enough to rm themselves and organize militias.

What is happening in Kebbi is not unusual and is a problem throughout the Moslem north. The violence is caused by a combination of tribal, religious and economic disputes. In Kebbi the population of 3.3 million is largely Moslem and composed of different tribal groups, some with many kinsmen in neighboring Niger or Benin. The Fulani minority is the most aggressive. The Fulani are particularly active in Nigeria as well as nearby nations like Mali. The growth of Islamic radicalism in the last few decades has not helped, nor has rapid population growth during the same period. All this made land ownership or land use disputes more frequent, and bloody. In the last decade there have been an increasing number of mass killings which cause more groups to arm themselves and get organized to fight back. This is often just about seeking revenge. Additional police and soldiers have been sent to more and more parts of the north to deal with Boko Haram, tribal disputes and in areas the numbers of Christians and Moslems are more equal, to keep armed Christians and Moslems apart. A temporary large presence by security forces can calm things down for a while. Because the fundamental causes of the disputes are still there, the violence eventually breaks out again.

The situation reached the point where, in late 2021 the British government warned its citizens to avoid going anywhere within 20 kilometers of the Niger border while in Kebbi State. Kidnapping in the north, usually by bandits rather than Islamic terrorists, has grown into a major problem with over a thousand people taken in 2021. In the last few years fighting between tribal militias plus a proliferation of banditry has created a chaotic and violent atmosphere that has created outrange among people living in the northwest. The federal and state governments said they would do something about the lethal anarchy but not much is changing.

 

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