Nigeria: Unexpected Losses


July 11, 2017: President Buhari has been in Britain receiving medical treatment since early May. The vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has officially been “acting president” for the last two months because the 74 year old Buhari had been incapacitated and unable to communicate. This has happened before but this is the longest Buhari has been on medical leave and the 60 year old Osinbajo (a popular and highly regarded lawyer) has filled in competently. But there is growing unease over the lack of information about exactly what Buhari is suffering from, the extent to which he is disabled and how long it will last. Some lawsuits have been filed to compel the government to provide answers.

Buhari and Osinbajo are both similar in that they are reform minded politicians and willing to carry out some long delayed changes. For example, since independence in the 1960s many African countries supported everything but agriculture in the belief that industrialization was the key to economic success. This ignored the lessons of history that showed agriculture was the basis for any sustained economic success. That message has finally been received in Nigeria and the government is at least promising to make it easier for farmers to prosper and do what successful farmers always do (make further economic growth possible). Because of the current recession and a much less corrupt new government, agriculture is rapidly becoming a major force in the economy. While only about 30 percent of the population are full time farmers, over half of Nigerians know how to farm and often do it part-time to supplement income and the family diet. With more government support (or, as many farmers see it, less government interference) Nigeria is now becoming a major exporter of food to the rest of Africa and beyond.

Temporary Oil Truce

In the Niger River Delta local rebels have agreed to suspend their threatened offensive against the oil facilities that are concentrated in the area. This is mostly about the recession and the growing nation-wide anger at those who impede, or threaten to reduce oil production and make the recession worse. Moreover the security forces have been particularly active at finding and destroying makeshift refineries hidden in the delta. About twenty a week have been destroyed so far in 2017. This has hurt the gangs that prosper off stolen oil. The gangs tap pipelines and bring the crude oil to portable refineries hidden in the delta, where it is refined into kerosene or diesel and sold locally. Refined fuels have long been imported because corruption prevented the construction and operation of refineries that could produce this fuel on a large scale locally. The new government has actually done something about fuel supplies. In addition the government payments to rebels, as part of the 2009 amnesty deal, are now actually being paid, a side-effect of the more effective anti-corruption efforts since 2015. However, Delta residents know that their own politicians and government officials are still basically corrupt and will revert to stealing all they can as soon as the anti-corruption pressure is off.

Meanwhile oil production has grown to about two million barrels per day (BPD). That has been the trend for the last few months. Production rose 22 percent in April to 1.48 million BPD. Production was 1.53 million BPD at the start of 2017 but then declined to 1.43 million in February and 1.21 million BPD in March. The April increase is largely the result of the federal government making acceptable peace deals with the local tribal rebels who have been bombing pipeline and other oil facilities. That violence returned in 2016 because of corruption in the local state governments that became an issue once more. Back in late 2016 the government proclaimed the 1.56 million BPD in November 2016 put Nigeria on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020. Then reality intervened as promises to the locals were broken. Peace and more oil production is unlikely to be achieved much less sustained unless there are some fundamental economic and political changes in the Niger River Delta oil fields.

Corruption, theft and sabotage continue to hamper oil production or at least threaten to. There is also a growing problem with unexpected competition. The drop in world oil prices after 2013 was largely because of the huge quantities of oil and gas coming on the market in North America. There the decades old fracking techniques had been perfected after 2000 and changed the world oil market. Arab oil states offered to make a deal that involved the frackers becoming unofficial members of the OPEC oil cartel in order to get production low enough to keep the prices high. That did not work because there is no “fracker cartel” and the attitude among the new North American producers is to rely on their technical prowess, and not market manipulation to stay in business and prosper.

All this makes little difference to most Nigerians because most of the oil money in Nigeria has been stolen over the last half century. There is still an incentive to make peace in the Delta as that will be one less factor that prevents growth in production or even maintaining high levels of production. That tribal unrest is largely the result of corruption and battles between tribes and clans over the many illegal opportunities in the delta. These include gangs that act as private armies for local politicians (usually state governors) or otherwise work for local politicians or even police commanders. In return for this political violence-on-demand the gangsters get government jobs, most of which don’t require much effort. You also get some protection from the security forces if you are stealing oil (as long as a percentage goes to your patron).

The Phantom Fulani Menace

The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community to recognize the growing (since 2010) threat in central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) from the Moslem Fulani herders moving south. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. Thus there were over 800 Christians killed in 2016 along with extensive property damage, including 1,422 houses, 16 churches, 19 businesses and one school destroyed. State governments often refuse to believe that the Fulani raiders are local (and thus the responsibility of the state government.) Instead the violence is blamed on Fulani from a different state, despite evidence that the Fulani raiders are locals. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene.

Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. For example such a deal in Benue State collapsed within months as Fulani herders attacked Christian farming villages in April and May leaving over a dozen dead and many more wounded. That came about back in January when Benue and neighboring Nasarawa state agreed to end the four years of violence created by Fulani tribesmen fighting Benue state Christian farmers who opposed Fulani attempts to use farmlands to graze and water their herds. Since 2012 nearly 4,000 Benue farmers have been killed fighting with the Fulani. The peace deal allowed unarmed Fulani herders to graze and water their animals at certain locations and then leave. The agreement explicitly forbade the Fulani from settling in Benue lands farmed by Christians for centuries. The Fulani long resisted such an agreement but since 2015 soldiers have been more frequently catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing many of the Fulani and returning stolen cattle and other goods to the Benue farmers. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along and, according to many Moslem clerics and religious teachers, never will. The violence has gotten worse lately. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and as it got worse in 2016. The prompted officials from both states to meet with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal.

The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was deliberately sending Christian soldiers and 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 Moslem tribesmen have come south looking for pasturage and water and increasingly used force to get what they want. After all, Moslems have been doing that for centuries. The federal government does not want to push back in a big way because that is part of the unwritten pace pact between Christian and Moslem politicians. Such violence was always to be described as a “local problem” and handled as quietly as possible. But the recent outbreak of Boko Haram violence in the northeast has made it extremely difficult to keep quiet about the problem. The mass media have given the anti-Christian violence more attention than in the past. The new president (Buhari) is a Moslem but he is also incapacitated by an illness and unable to act on this sensitive issue.

Boko Haram has claimed involvement with the Fulani violence but that always appeared to be marginal and likely to fade away now that Boko Haram has suffered such heavy losses in the northeast. But recently tribal leaders in the south (Edo State) reported that Fulani herders in the area were acting suspiciously and that led to the army arresting 24 of the Fulani for being members of Boko Haram and trying to establish a base in the south. For centuries the Fulani have been feuding with farmers over land use and in the last few years some of the younger Fulani have turned to groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. There have been signs of this. Nigerian Fulani have been showing up in other African states where al Qaeda and ISIL are active and always seeking new recruits from throughout the region. Another sign is the recent increase in attacks by Fulani herders on Moslem farming villages. One recent attack killed 27 Moslems, most of them in a mosque. While most of the Fulani violence is aimed at Christian farmers the Fulani have no problem with going after Moslem farmers who get in the way. This gets worse when the young Fulani men are encouraged by Islamic terrorists to go after Moslem heretics (anyone who disagrees with al Qaeda and ISIL) as well as infidels (non-Moslems.)

July 6, 2017: Military and political leaders from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria met and agreed to continue using the 8,700 man MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) to eliminate any Boko Haram presence in the region. Of all the threats they face what scares the Boko Haram most is the MNJTF. Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF 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. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF forces. The recent meeting developed a new military strategy and details of that were not released.

July 5, 2017: In the south (Cross River state) a tribal dispute over land left about a hundred dead in nearly a week of fighting. Thousands of civilians fled the area while more police were sent to calm things down. Last month another land dispute left at least twenty dead.

July 4, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) small groups of Boko Haram fighters made three attacks on military targets, leaving one soldier dead and causing some property damage. These attacks were later claimed by the ISIL faction of Boko Haram as a reminder that they were still operating, at least in this area near the border with Yobe state. The army reported that all three attacks were repulsed and three Boko Haram men were killed and one was captured. Although generally regarded as defeated Boko Haram is still active in the north and responsible for about two attacks a week so far this year.

July 3, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) the University of Maiduguri in the state capital has spent about $150,000 to build a 27 kilometers long trench on the east side of the campus to make it more difficult for Boko Haram to enter the campus from that direction. The trench will stop a vehicle and slow down anyone sneaking in on foot.

July 2, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen attacked a village just across the border in Niger, killed nine people, looted the place and kidnapped 37 women and girls. Survivors of the attack said Boko Haram had threatened them with this sort of violence if they did not cooperate with the Islamic terrorists. That meant not reporting Boko Haram activities to the police and paying a “tax” to Boko Haram in the form of food and other supplies. This took place in southeast near the border towns of Diffa and Bosso. This area is near Lake Chad and been the scene of Boko Haram violence for several years. There are several hundred thousand Nigerian refugees living in the area, providing Boko Haram with a source of new recruits. Nigeria is screening returning refugees and finding that Boko Haram members or their dependents will often comprise ten percent or more of the returnees. That means about one percent of the returnees are actual Boko Haram members.

June 27, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attempted to attack a village near the state capital using five suicide bombers. All the attackers were detected and killed before they could reach their targets. The bombers, four of them women, were the only casualties.

June 26, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attacked a village south of the state capital and near Damboa, a market town astride the main north-south highway. The Boko Haram raiders killed six villagers and looted the place. This group of Boko Haram men have been operating in this area for several months, using motorbikes to make raids and avoid the security forces searching for them.

June 25, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram used seven suicide bombers to attack the state capital. These attacks left nine dead and 13 wounded. In most cases police or civilian defense volunteers spotted the bombers and got people out of the way. In two cases the bombers only killed themselves.

Further west in Kano state police carried out raids today and yesterday and arrested over 30 suspected Boko Haram members. Several were not suspected but wanted and one of those was a notorious Boko Haram leader who had been active for several years. This investigation also disrupted planned Boko Haram attacks in Kano and other northern states. The raids also found large quantities of weapons, explosives and Boko Haram literature and documents.

June 24, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers from Chad lost at least eight dead as they drove Boko Haram from islands in Lake Chad. These islands, near the Nigerian coast, have long been used by Boko Haram as hideouts. This operation concentrated on five of these islands and killed, captured or wounded over a hundred Boko Haram fighters.

June 21, 2017: The government admitted that half the food aid sent to the millions of people in Borno state displaced by Boko Haram never makes it to the hungry refugees. The food is stolen, either by aid officials or bandits (including Boko Haram) who steal whatever they can in the chaotic northern part of Borno State. In response more of the aid has been in the form of seed and other farming suppliers. These are more useful to the refugees (80 percent of them who farm full time or just to supplement their food supply).

In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a village in neighboring Cameroon, killing six civilians and the two bombers. Northern Cameroon got hit with multiple Boko Haram suicide bomber attacks since late May, involving at least nine suicide bombers and killing more than twenty people. Most of the bombers and victims were Nigerians from refugee camps in Cameroon. This violence is one reason the government wants to close the camps and send the 70,000 or so refugees back to Nigeria.

June 20, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) a Boko Haram landmine killed three loggers when their truck ran over the device and exploded. Elsewhere in some Borno Boko Haram gunmen briefly fired on a convoy killing a policeman and a civilian and wounding six other civilians. The Islamic terrorists then fled.

June 18, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attacked a village outside the state capital using at least five suicide bombers. Three of the bombers reached their targets and left at least 17 people died and over 30 were wounded.


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