Nigeria: January 2024


January 23, 2024: Nigeria is the largest country in sub-Sahara Desert in terms of area and population, with 225 million people. Population was only 120 million in 2000. The economy has grown even faster, with per-person GDP reaching $4,000 by 2024.While that is high for Africa, nearly half the population lives in poverty, barely getting by. One reason for this is the low literacy rate of 62 percent. That explains the high unemployment rate of over 30 percent. Endemic corruption means the national police is not only ineffective but part of the problem. Criminal activity is widespread and often intense. Currently there has been a sharp increase in kidnapping for ransom. If you are wealthy, you can hire expensive, but effective, mercenaries to recover a kidnapping victim alive. Paying the ransom encourages the kidnappers to come after more members of your family. Hiring the mercenaries encourages the kidnappers to go after more vulnerable victims.

All this is a lot different from the situation 14 years ago. Since 2020 the Islamic terrorism groups faded away while tribal violence became responsible for most casualties. The Islamic terror groups’ main activity was staying alive, and they did so via banditry. Back in 2004, Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast appeared and created some lasting problems. There are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in the northeastern Borno State, where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of the local corruption, but more competent leadership in some units of the security forces reduced the violence. All this was caused by a local group of Taliban wannabes calling themselves Boko Haram. Their activity in the capital of Borno State grew for a decade until in 2014 it seemed 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 was 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 was elected in 2023 and made considerable progress in changing the corruption. This included problems with tribal feuds and growing unrest 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 and, at least, more street violence and public anger.

Nigeria’s northern, landlocked neighbor, Niger recently suffered a military coup. The Nigerian military government is seeking Russian mercenaries to help deal with continued resistance from the population in the capital Niamey. Russia agreed to send troops. With enough Russian soldiers with threats around from the growing number of Islamic terror groups in the country. Russian troops could provide security for the capital and allow life in the capital region to return to normal.

The major Islamic terrorist threats are out in the countryside and moving toward the capital. Currently some of these Islamic terror groups are within 40 kilometers of the capital. Russia is willing to send troops and more weapons for the Niger military. Russian mercenaries can take over security in the capital and allow Niger army troops to go out into the countryside, where Niger military knows the territory and speaks the local languages, to deal with the Islamic terrorists. Russia can provide more weapons for the Niger military and the civilian militias Niger wants to organize and arm to defend towns and villages in areas where the Islamic terrorists are approaching.

Russia expects this will assure that Russian companies will get contracts to develop natural resources in Niger. This includes Russian firms carrying out major construction, including building a nuclear power plant. There is a potential problem within the military government, where some officers oppose heavy Russian involvement. If this causes a split in the military government the situation will worsen. Things can always get worse.




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