Boko Haram goals are vague but they involve turning Nigeria and neighboring countries into a religious dictatorship. Boko Haram appeals to many young men (and some young women) because of the religious angle and the use of violence “in the name of God.” This sort of thing breaks out periodically in Moslem areas as such unrestricted “jihad” (struggle) is part of Islamic doctrine. These violent outbreaks eventually die out, but not before doing a lot of damage.
So far this year Boko Haram has taken control of many rural areas in the northeast (Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states). There have been over a hundred attacks Boko Haram attacks this year and this has left over 2,600 people (most of them unarmed civilians) dead. Most of these attacks have been in the northeast but a growing number are in the Christian south. This year there were bombings in four of Nigeria’s five largest cities (which prompted a massive anti-Boko Haram reaction by local police and civilians). Police have uncovered Boko Haram supporters among the Moslem minority in the south and this could lead to the Christian majority turning on the Moslem minority with uncontrolled violence. Not just because of the terror bombings but because of the hundreds of Christians Boko Haram has killed in the north and over 100,000 Christians who have fled the northeast because Boko Haram is going after Christians up there and there are new attacks every week. Most Islamic clerics in the north oppose Boko Haram violence, often in the face of Boko Haram death threats. This helps Christian clergy in the south make the case that all Moslems are not guilty for the sins of Boko Haram. This has kept anti-Moslem violence under control in the south, but the anger keeps growing among southern Christians.
Boko Haram has succeeded in creating a sanctuary in the northern half of Borno state, an area that borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The main road to this area is now blocked by Boko Haram. This was accomplished in early July when Boko Haram gunmen attacked traffic on the road and raided the town of Damboa, which is on this highway. This drove out soldiers and police and most government officials. Since then Boko Haram has controlled Damboa and easy access to the northern half of Borno state. The army has been unable to clear Boko Haram out of Damboa and open the road. Over 600,000 civilians have (so far) fled the northeast. Most refugees are now coming from areas around Damboa and points north, because they are not willing to live under such Boko Haram created chaos. But most of the refugees were created before May and the number fleeing has increased since then. The government has been quiet about what the army is going to do about all this.
As long as Boko Haram can escape the security forces by running back to a sanctuary the security forces will not be able to deal with the constant raids. The Boko Haram violence actually has a goal, and that is to terrorize civilians, officials and security forces in the region sufficiently so that no one will oppose whatever the Islamic terrorists want to do. Most people stay where they are and submit to the Islamic terrorist demands for cash, goods and services. Boko Haram loots at will and takes what they want. Boko Haram does not have competent people to actually administer the territories they control meaning that these areas will become zones of chaos and violence as Islamic terrorists, armed militias and criminal gangs do whatever they want and battle each other for scarce resources. Tribal leaders have militias they can arm and deploy to provide some security, as can politicians who tend to keep lots of gangsters on the payroll to ensure winning the next election. Just because the government fails does not mean total failure of order up there. Many will organize to defend themselves, but without the relative security a government provides travel will be difficult and things like electricity and cell phone service will be difficult to maintain. At the moment Boko Haram is the most powerful gang in the northeast and all the other power brokers in the area are being told to cooperate or die. No one but Boko Haram has suicidal bombers and assassins. What gives Boko Haram their edge is that they are not just willing to kill, they are also willing to die while doing so.
The government is unable to defend the population in the north because the security forces (national police and military) are corrupt and inept. This has long been a problem which has been no secret. Years of media criticism have led the government to say changes will be made but the changes never happen. The main problem is corrupt officers. Stealing army funds and taking bribes (from gangsters, corrupt politicians and even Boko Haram) has cost many officers the loyalty of their own troops. This is especially true when these officers steal funds (sometimes including pay or money for food and fuel) meant for their own troops. As long as this behavior is tolerated the army and police commanders will be ineffective and unreliable. To make matters worse videos have recently appeared showing soldiers slitting the throats of Boko Haram suspects and Nigerians were not surprised. The army has behaved this way for years. The big fear here is that Boko Haram will trigger a major tribal/religious war that will kill millions before everyone turns on the Islamic terrorists in a big way and agrees to a peace. This sort of thing has happened before and despite a general aversion to another round of widespread mayhem there does not appear to be any obvious way to stop it. The willingness is there but not the means. Everyone hopes that ultimately the political, police and military leaders will stop stealing long enough to deal with Boko Haram. Not everyone believes this radical change in behavior will actually happen.
Despite the problems with troop reliability Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon are proceeding to implement a July agreement where each country will contribute 700 troops to form an international force to patrol the area where all their borders meet in northeast Nigeria.
August 3, 2014: In the northeast (Kaduna state) gunmen from a local Moslem Fulani tribe attacked a Christian worship service killing a security guard and wounding several worshippers before being driven off. This sort of violence predates Boko Haram by several centuries. Moslem nomadic Fulani tribesmen have been fighting with Christian and pagan farmers in the north and in Central Nigeria (especially around the city of Jos) for decades. The violence has gotten worse in the last decade and there were over a thousand casualties in 2013. Boko Haram has recently claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal. The Fulani have long claimed that the government was sending Christian 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 Fulani have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want. The Christian and pagan tribes fight back.
Off the coast pirates abandoned a 3,200 tanker from Singapore after seizing it on July 26th and looting the cargo and any portable valuables belonging to the ship or its crew. The crew of 21 was not harmed but such thefts are becoming increasingly common off West Africa. This ship was taken off the nearby coast of Ghana by a Nigerian gang and then moved to Nigerian waters for a more through looting. Ship location devices were disabled and crew locked up while the looting took place. The pirates do not kill the crews as this might trigger an international response as it did off Somalia. The pirates just want the money or anything (like maritime electronics and oil) that can quickly be turned into cash (via known merchants operating along the coast).
July 30, 2014: In the northeast (Kano city) a female suicide bomber killed six people at a college campus. This was the fourth local use of a female suicide bomber in the last week.
July 29, 2014: In the northeast (Katsina state) police stopped a car and arrested three suspected Boko Haram members. One was a ten year old girl with explosives strapped to her chest. Boko Haram is believed to have convinced several dozen girls and young women to be suicide bombers.
July 28, 2014: In the north (Yobe state) Boko Haram blew up a bridge after first chasing away the soldiers who were supposed to be defending it. Prior to that eight people died as several Boko Haram vehicles drove past the nearby army camp and through the town of Katarko to the bridge with the gunmen firing as they went. The soldiers at the bridge fled as the Islamic terrorists approached. This is the fifth bridge Boko Haram has destroyed since April. These bridges are destroyed to keep troops from easily getting to Boko Haram controlled areas to the north, at least during the rainy season. During the dry season vehicles can often cross at fords.
Elsewhere in the northeast (Borno state) the state government banned the use of vehicles by civilians during the next three days to make it more difficult for Boko Haram to carry out car bombings during the annual three day Islamic Eid celebration (at the end of Ramadan).
Elsewhere in the northeast (Kano city) a female suicide bomber killed three people as she stood with women waiting line to buy kerosene. Elsewhere in the city a female suicide bomber exploded outside a supermarket but only killed herself.
July 27, 2014: In the northeast (Kano city) a female suicide bomber wounded five police officers. Elsewhere in the city a 15 year old female suicide bomber exploded but only killed herself. Elsewhere a bomb went off at a church killing five people while another bomb in a mosque was discovered and disabled before it went off.
In northern Cameroon Boko Haram gunmen attacked the town of Kolofata, killing three people and kidnapping six, including the mayor and the wife of the Cameroon vice prime minister. The vice prime minister is from Kolofata and he and his wife were back to celebrate Ramadan. The vice prime minister was not at home when Boko Haram attacked his home and grabbed his wife. Cameroonian troops soon arrived in Kolofata and began searching for the Boko Haram hostages and their kidnappers. Cameroonian troops caught up with the kidnappers two days later and after several hours of fighting (that left 16 dead) the wife of the vice prime minister was rescued.