Nigeria: Bandits Rule Roads And Rails

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April 29, 2022: Despite having some of the more active Islamic terror groups in Africa, Nigeria continues to suffer more from gangster violence and tribal feuds. There are also victims of political violence, as corrupt politicians often employ local gangsters to ensure their reelection or silence critics. There are also some separatists growing in power.

All of these maladies are common throughout Africa but because of its larger population and GDP, Nigeria excels when it comes to needless violence. These afflictions don’t just repeat themselves, but evolve and paraphrase themselves as the years go by.

For example, Africa is currently home to six major ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) factions. These are currently present in Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria. Mali, and Mozambique. There are smaller ISIL factions in other African countries, some so small that they regularly cease to exist because of heavy casualties and are sometimes revived with reinforcements from a larger ISIL faction in a nearby country. The Mozambique ISIL affiliation was not universally accepted by all members of the Mozambique Islamic terrorist coalition. That sort of response is not unusual and sometimes leads to the demise or reduction in the size of an ISIL faction and weakening of all Islamic terror groups in the area.

Another example is found in southeast Nigeria where the dominant Igbo tribe is pushing two issues. One is the growing presence of cattle herders and cattle markets. The herds infringe on Igbo farmers and Igbos in general. There have been a growing number of anonymous attacks on the cattle herders as well as the police, who are seen as siding with the Moslem cattle herders and merchants.

Igbo are more open about their efforts to revive the movement seeking an independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia. 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.

April 25, 2022: In the north (Kaduna state) armed men, believed to be Fulani, attacked several villages, killing 25 residents and burning down over fifty structures after they finished looting. The raiders concentrated on taking food and animals. The security forces concentrate on Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram and ISWAP. The tribal violence is more widespread and continues to be the major source of casualties, property theft and damage in general.

April 23, 2022: In central Nigeria (Kogi State) unidentified gunmen attacked a rural police station at 2 AM in an effort to loot the place of weapons and other useful equipment. These attacks have become increasingly common and the national police have implemented safety measures. This includes fortifying some stations and training the police assigned, who often sleep in the station, to respond quickly and effectively to these night attacks. That included establishing many RRFs (rapid reaction forces) that can be on the road in minutes with heavily armed reinforcements. In this case the attack failed because the local police put up a fight, and lost three officers killed and several more wounded. There was an RRF nearby and it arrived quickly and drove off the attackers who had attacked the station from two directions. The attackers took their dead, if any, and wounded (who left blood trails) with them and disappeared into the night. The attackers were believed to be local Fulani, who regularly attack Christian famers and police who are supposed to prevent these attacks.

April 22, 2022: 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. The oil theft has been so successful and extensive that overall production has been reduced and today there was a major disaster for the oil thieves when one of their improvised oil refineries caught fire and exploded, leaving over a hundred dead.

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.

April 21, 2022: In the north, near Lake Chad MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) carried out a major operation against Boko Haram and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups that have been attacking civilians. The current sweep found and killed 27 Boko Haram or ISIL gunmen and freed six female hostages who were taken in late 202 or early 2021. There had been increased activity by the Islamic terrorists and the MNJTF in 2021 and the Islamic terrorists lost. The Islamic terrorists are still attacking with the more radical Boko Haram members joining ISIL while a growing number of less enthusiastic Boko Haram members are accepting the government amnesty program and being resettled elsewhere.

Since 2015 the MNJTF has proved very effective against Boko Haram and ISIL. The 8,700-man MNJTF force maintains bases and camps near Lake Chad in northern Borno state and concentrates on hunting down and killing Islamic terrorists. MNJTF has taken the lead in containing local ISIL groups and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to once more control territory in the region.

The increasing violence across the border in Borno state led to the creation of the MNJTF, which consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas, especially the Lake Chad coast. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to deal with the MNJTF. This played a role in the 2016 Boko Haram split that turned Boko Haram operating near Lake Chad into ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there.

Neighboring Chad and Niger have also recently increased operations against Boko Haram, especially near Lake Chad, which all three nations border. The reason why there is so much Islamic terrorist activity near Lake Chad is because Boko Haram has quietly cut itself in for a large share of the income from the smoked fish and agricultural products from Lake Chad and coastal farms. Boko Haram charges fishermen and farmers “taxes” (extortion payments) to avoid being attacked by Boko Haram. This provides several million dollars a year, plus payments in kind (fish and crops) that keep Boko Haram operational. Since 2014 many fishing and farming families near Lake Chad have fled, leaving those who remain and pay tribute to Boko Haram, actually better off economically.

The 2021 Boko Haram offensive is not as bloody as the 2014 one and is aimed at Christian majority southern Nigeria. Christian political and religious leaders have warned that if the religious violence moved south and the government was incapable of handing it, there would be another civil war. Boko Haram has been homicidally anti-Christian and most of the Christians in Borno state have fled south since 2014.

There has been less for the Islamic terrorists to attack in areas where they have long operated and some Islamic terror groups have established partnerships with criminal gangs to expand the list of targets they can take on. In some areas where rival tribes are fighting, the Islamic terrorists are working with tribal militias to go after targets belonging to the other tribe. ISWAP prefers to operate alone and concentrate on Christians or local Moslems who drink alcohol and spend a lot of time in taverns and clubs that feature booze and un-Islamic entertainment. In these cases, ISWAP takes no prisoners or hostages.

Boko Haram and their gangster partners will often carry out attacks on railroad traffic, which involves a lot more planning because the trains often carry valuable goods. ISWAP has not got the resources for that sort of thing and most outlaws concentrate on halting road traffic and robbing or kidnapping drivers and passengers.

March 28, 2022: In the north (Kaduna state) local bandits did something unusual; used two bombs and gunfire to halt a passenger train carrying nearly a thousand people. The violence that halted the train left at least sixty dead, many more wounded and after security forces reached the scene it was discovered that about 150 passengers were missing and believed kidnapped. Over the next month the bandits released photos of hostages and demanded ransoms. The government promised to hunt down and kill the bandits and free the hostages. So far neither task has been accomplished. Paying ransoms is discouraged so families do it quietly to get victims released. There was a similar railroad attack in late 2021. A train was halted when a bomb damaged the track. Bandits fired on the train but no one was killed and the bandits fled without any hostages. Kaduna State has the highest number of bandit attacks on trucks and passenger vehicles traveling the highways and secondary roads.

March 26, 2022: In the north (Kaduna state) local bandits attacked the main airport outside the state capital. Two airport employees were killed and several others kidnapped.

 

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