Nigeria: Nigeria May 2024 Update


May 10, 2024: In the north, the MNJTF (Multinational Joint Task Force) has, since 2015 played a major role in destroying Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist groups in Borno State. Boko Haram translates to western education is forbidden. The group was originally inspired by the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

MNJTF strength varies from 7,500 to 10,000 troops and 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups, mainly ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to once more control territory in the region. 

Increasing violence by Boko Haram and Islamic terrorists in neighboring countries 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. Because of that Boko Haram has 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. MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there.   

Recently the Nigerian Air Force has been using its ground attack aircraft to carry out frequent air strikes against ISWAP during April and early May. Soldiers enter an area hit by an air strike as quickly as possible to count the dead, capture the wounded and pursue the survivors and walking wounded. Badly wounded men are often carried away and would often not survive a rapid pursuit.  The dead are searched to obtain identification and any useful information in the form of documents or stored on cell phones or laptop computers. The fleeing terrorists often leave behind large quantities of equipment and supplies, including motorcycles, trucks, large amounts of grain and grinders to turn the grain into flour. Documents recovered, and interrogations of captured terrorists and local civilians, sometimes reveal that a major supply base for Islamic terrorists in the region was captured.

ISWAP is the sole survivor in a civil war among Islamic terrorist factions that took place in the northern Sambisa Forest. This remote and thinly populated area has long been a refuge for bandits and currently Islamic terrorists. There is still violence in the far north caused by Boko Haram and Islamic terrorists. Some battles between Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters left over a hundred dead. Most of these skirmishes were less deadly.

Another new problem in the north is the nomadic Fulani, who have long skirmishes with farmers and each other over access to water and grasslands for their herds in northeastern and Central Nigeria. The Fulani are armed, mainly with AK-47 assault rifles and not much ammunition. The Fulani have learned how to use the AK-47 in single shot mode, which requires the user to quickly release the trigger after one of two shots. The nomadic Fulani have long lived frugal lives along with their cattle in the relatively dry Sahel region. The Sahel forms a transitional region between the dry Sahara Desert to the north and the humid savanna region to the south. The Sahel is a semi-desert area south of the Sahara Desert that covers much of northern Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the east coast of Africa.

A growing Fulani population and the need for more cattle to support more Fulani meant the Fulani needed more grazing land and water. The only major source of water in northeastern Nigeria is the Niger River, which makes its way through several countries, including Sudan, Chad, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria. West of the Niger River, there is a lot less water and more competition between the Fulani herders and farmers occupying and working arable land south of the Sahel.

Most Nigerians want a long standing compromise with the Fulani to survive but the radical Islamic terrorist minority among the Fulani were unconcerned with such un-Islamic compromises and were willing to burn the entire nation down to prove their point. The Fulani violence has been escalating for years and overall has killed five times as many Christians as Boko Haram. That’s because the majority of Nigerians the Fulani attack are Christians. With Boko Haram in the north, the Christians are a minority who are quick to leave when threatened and move to the Christian south. Boko Haram killed as many Christians as they could catch but most northern Christians were not eager to become martyrs. In Central Nigeria the Christians are defending their ancient homeland and livelihoods from invaders.

In 2023 Nigerian President Tinubu backed a compromise plan between the Moslem Fulani and the Christian and Moslem farming communities south of the Sahel that the Fulani nomads were moving into. Tinubu had problems getting all factions of the Fulani to cooperate.

When the Christians fight back against aggressive Fulani or Islamic terrorists, the Islamic terrorists take heavy losses and are often driven away while the more numerous Fulani remain. This is why there is this north-south religious divide in Nigeria and several other African nations. Islam had been slowly moving south in Africa for over a thousand years when the Europeans showed up and moved inland early in the 18th century. The Europeans, like the Arabs before them, had no resistance to the many local diseases, especially in areas with more rainfall. The advancing Arabs married into the local tribes and slowly developed immunity to the local diseases.

Since 2020 the Islamic terrorist violence has declined while tribal violence grew to be the largest source of violent deaths in central and northern Nigeria. The Islamic terror groups were not just fighting to expand the territory they controlled. This was not about conquest but staying alive. Most of the violence could be described as banditry on a large and growing scale. By 2024 violence throughout Nigeria had become endemic, especially in the northeast, where nearly five million people were suffering from severe and growing hunger. Similar but less severe problems were felt by nearly 40 million Nigerians. The government denied the extent of the problem and did so from the capital or other major cities where the food shortages were minimal. You had to go out into the countryside to witness the full extent of the crisis. The government advised foreigners to avoid such areas because they weren’t safe. 

By 2024 the Christians in northeastern Adamawa state had rebuilt 87 churches destroyed by Boko Haram after 2014. Boko Haram came and went while the more numerous Christian communities prevailed.  The problems with Boko Haram can be traced back to 2004 when Islamic violence in the northeast began as protests and escalated into larger and persistent problems. The violence became so extensive and intense that there are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in northeastern Borno and Adamawa States, where it all began.

There seems to be no end in sight because of the corruption among local government and tribal leaders. For a while some competent leadership in the security forces reduced the violence but that did not last. Historically local police and the national armed forces have been crippled by corrupt and inept leadership.  All this when a small group in northeastern Borno State calling themselves Boko Haram sought to emulate the Taliban in Afghanistan and impose order using Islamic law and ruthless violence. This activity grew for a decade until 2014 and appeared unstoppable. It took over a year for the government to finally muster sufficient military strength to cripple but not destroy Boko Haram.

This did not get much media attention outside Africa, even though in 2014 Boko Haram killed more people than ISIL did in Syria and Iraq. The main reason for Boko Haram gains in 2014 and 2015 were corruption in the army, which severely crippled effective counterterror efforts. 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, Bola Tinubu, was elected in 2023 and made considerable progress in reducing corruption. This included dealing with growing instances of tribal feuds and similar violence throughout the country. This has been especially bad down south in the Niger River Delta oil-producing region. Violence against oil facilities continues, in part because local politicians and business leaders were part of the oil theft business.

Northern Moslems 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. For the last few years these tribal feuds have killed 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 worse, another civil war or at least more street violence and public anger.




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