Nigeria: Dissidents, Desperation And Disputed Elections


March 31, 2023: A new problem has developed in the wake of the disputed national elections (for president and some state governors) held in late February. There was some fraud and violence, as has been normal. This year was different with a lot more alleged fraud. Corruption remains pervasive despite decades of efforts to combat it. Nigeria is also edging closer to another civil war with the Igbo people in the southeast backing the creation of a separate state or autonomous region called Biafra. Currently, Imo state is where a lot of separatist activity is occurring. The major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) was responsible for local efforts to prevent people from voting in the 2023 national elections. The army and the federal government sought to block these IPOB efforts. In Imo and surrounding states there is an increased army presence because of renewed demands for an independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia. Local politicians advised the federal government to keep the army out of this and 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 attempted to establish a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal civil war followed before that rebellion was crushed. 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 outgoing president Buhari, paid attention, and sought to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani living in the southeast 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, IPOB took the lead in protecting Igbo from anti-Biafra violence. In areas where peaceful defense measures did 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 saw the possibility of an Igbo president of Nigeria because there was an Igbo politician running in the next presidential election in February 2023. That did not happen even though many Igbo backed this because they believed it would do more for the Igbo than another war for an independent Biafra. Not all Biafrans agree with that assessment, but most see a Biafran president of Nigeria as a good thing. The 2023 election has a religious aspect to it because one of the leading candidates is Moslem and selected another Moslem to run for vice-president. For decades the Nigerians custom was to always have a Moslem president elected with a Christian vice president and vice versa.

There has been one Igbo president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who served from 1963 to 1966. Azikiwe was one of the key people working to obtain independence for Nigeria from British colonial rule. What is now Nigeria was a collection of separate kingdoms and tribal territories that Britain got involved with after it outlawed slavery in 1807 and began a decades long campaign to suppress the slave trade between African tribes and the Americas. Slavery was an ancient custom in most of Africa but American and European demand for more slaves led more powerful tribes attacking weaker tribes to capture them as slaves for sale to American and European slave traders. In 1861 Britain took control of some portions of the Nigerian coast to deal with persistent slaving by inland tribes. Twenty years later Britain had control over more territory and installed a colonial government. This led to Nigerian nationalism and talented men like Nnamdi Azikiwe, to work for independence. When the Igbo rebellion broke out he advised the Igbo government for a few years before switching back to the Nigerian government.

After independence the biggest problem was corruption fed by the growing oil wealth coming from the oil fields in the south (the Niger River Delta). It was later calculated that about a trillion dollars of oil income was stolen between the 1960s and the present.

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 northeast (Borno State), where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of corruption, but more competent leadership in 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) 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 (a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and made progress in changing the army’s corrupt culture, but that is still a work in progress even though he was reelected in early 2019. More bad news is expected because of too many tribal feuds, not enough oil money and too much corruption creating growing unrest throughout the country. This is especially bad down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta). Violence against oil facilities continues. Worse, local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business.

Northern Moslems want more control over the federal government and the oil money. In northern and central Nigeria there is 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.

March 27, 2023: In the northwest (Borno State) the commander of ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) executed his deputy for failure to prevent a military operation that left 41 ISWAP members dead. The Nigerian army has been increasingly active and successful at finding and fighting ISWAP members.

March 25, 2023: In the northwest (Borno State) soldiers and members of the CJTF (Civilian Joint Task Force) carried out raids on six Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest. Dozens of Boko Haram men were killed and many more fled, leaving behind large quantities of ammunition and weapons.

March 22, 2023: The disputes over who won the presidential election are apparently going to be decided by the Nigerian Supreme Court. This is not the first time the court has been called on to settle election disputes and the court rulings usually end the post-election violence.

March 20, 2023:EU (European Union) election observers reported that at least 21 people were killed during the recent provincial and national elections.

March 19, 2023: In the northwest (Borno State) soldiers disrupted an attack by ISWAP Islamic terrorists, killing dozens of ISWAP men and pursuing the survivors with the assistance of the Nigerian Air Force. Some of the aircraft were armed and inflicted additional casualties on the ISWAP men.

March 15, 2023: In the northwest, across the border in Niger, the local government announced they had killed 30 Boko Haram members and arrested 960 Boko Haram followers, most of them wives and children of Boko Haram members. Over a thousand Boko Haram members and their followers had fled Nigeria and sought refuge in Niger. The armed members of this group refused to surrender to the Niger army and some fighting ensued before the group submitted to internment. Aerial surveillance spotted the Nigerians crossing the border on March 7th and it took a week for the army to find and confront them. The Boko Haram men claimed they were fleeting armed rivals of ISWAP and were headed for refuge in the Lake Chad area. This movement was the result of fighting between ISWAP and Boko Haram. This resumed in February with the two groups attacking each other with ambushes and raids on each other’s camps. Several of these clashes left at least twenty gunmen dead. This sort of violence between Islamic terrorists has been going on since 2016 when an internal struggle triggered by Boko Haram members who believed more radical measures were required for Boko Haram to survive. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and most Boko Haram members resisted this but the radicals managed to organize ISWAP and eventually (2021) kill Shekau when a large ISWAP raiding party attacked the remote camp where the Boko Haram leader was staying. The factional dispute was declared over because of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction raid. It wasn’t. The death of veteran Boko Haram leader Shekau did not lead to a reunification of Boko Haram under pro-ISIL leadership.

Shekau was killed by dissident Boko Haram members that had joined ISIL and considered any Boko Haram member who did not do the same as traitors to Islam. Shekau had been active in Boko Haram from the beginning, in the 1990s, and had been leader since 2009. Shekau was correct about ISWAP, the local ISIL affiliate, seeking to absorb Boko Haram and seemed to realize more than ISIL leaders that many Boko Haram members preferred to fight ISWAP, or simply leave the movement. ISWAP leaders backed this forced reunification idea without realizing the impact the death of Shekau would have on most Islamic terrorists in the northeast. This became obvious when the number of Boko Haram and ISWAP members abandoning Islamic terrorism increased after the “merger” and death of Shekau was first announced. Many of those defectors switched to organized crime and ditched their religious pretensions. This has already been happening in the last few years but the “merger” caused the trend to spike. Two months after the death of Shekau over 8,000 Boko Haram/ISWAP members, including many family members who lived in Islamic terrorist camps, officially surrendered, something which merely resulted in an update of government records and agreeing to answer questions about their experience with Boko Haram. Nearly all the Boko Haram/ISWAP already named as criminals and wanted for specific crimes, are leaders and could negotiate a surrender deal that could spare them any punishment at all. That has upset a lot of northern political and business leaders, but these men know that if you have enough cash and connections, you can avoid conviction. This has been the case during the last decade as more and more notorious (they often flaunted it) politicians and business magnates were prosecuted, often with the help of foreign countries, like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and many other Western nations, who provided evidence of financial activities locally.

Boko Haram quickly appointed a new leader; Bakura Modu (or Sahaba) who had much less experience than Shekau and he moved Boko Haram headquarters from the Sambia forces to Rijana forest in neighboring Kaduna State. These changes did not stem the defections. Boko Haram and ISWAP are both beset by money problems. Over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence in the north have ruined the local economy so there are more unemployed young men who can be enticed to join the Islamic terrorist for a “joining bonus” of less than $2, plus the promise of more if they learn to handle an assault rifle and succeed at looting and plundering what is left to steal in the northeast. A merger of economic, not religious, convenience was one thing most Islamic terrorists could agree on. Up until this latest series of clashes the army had reported that in January they had killed over fifty ISWAP and Boko Haram gunmen and disrupted the supply and recruiting efforts of both groups. This led some of the Boko Haram men to flee, with their families, via Niger, which they believed would be safer than staying and fighting in Nigeria.

March 13, 2023: In central Nigeria (Benue State) Benue State Emergency Management Agency revealed that over 5,200 people have been killed by armed men from nomadic herding tribes since 2015. This violence also created over two million internal refugees. The central government was accused of ignoring the situation and not taking action after repeated requests.

February 25, 2023: The presidential elections were held and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, of APC (All Progressives Congress) was declared the winner by the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission). This was challenged in the PEPC (Presidential Election Petition Court) by Peter Obi of the Labor Party who came in second and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) who came in third. The challengers claimed that not all the votes were transmitted to the PEPC and the current results were incorrect because of that.




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