Nigeria: The Failing State


February 5, 2016: The government is trying to backtrack on its late 2015 claims that Boko Haram was defeated. The Islamic terrorist group is still carrying out attacks in the northeast, leaving several hundred dead in January and keeping the region terrorized and its economy paralyzed. While this is not a nationwide catastrophe, it is turning the northeast into disaster zone. The three northeastern state where most of the mayhem occurs have a population of 11 million (Borno; 4.7, Yobe; 2.7 and Adamawa; 3.6). That’s about six percent of the national population. Locally these three states have seen a quarter of their population driven from their homes and more than half unable to survive without assistance (food, medical, water). The government points out that the security forces are still killing lots of Boko Haram gunmen and driving the Islamic terrorists out of areas they have long terrorized. That is all true but Boko Haram is still out there and the people, the government and Boko Haram know it.

The Moslem northeast is turning into a failed region within nation on the verge of becoming a failed state. This is what unstable countries, prone to rebellion and civil disorder, are called these days. What they all have in common is a lack of "civil society" (rule of, and respect for, law) but lots of corruption. The two sort of go together. Some of the more chronic cases are Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic.

A common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic or religious groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past this tribalism and religious strife, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. It usually takes the establishment of a functioning democracy to make that happen. This tribalism (ethnic and religious) has kept most African nations from making a lot of economic or political progress. The top five failed states are all African. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from tribal animosities and severe warlordism (basically successful gangsters who establish temporary control over an area).

Northeast Nigeria is more like Iraq and Afghanistan, which have long been torn apart by tribal and religious animosities. It's much the same with the Balkans and parts of India and Pakistan. No one has come up with a quick, or easy, solution for failed states. It's all a matter of effective local leadership and that frequently fails to show up. The chaos created by Boko Haram was the result widespread frustration with the poverty caused by corruption and inefficient government. As the Boko Haram violence caused even more poverty and unemployment one result was enough new Boko Haram recruits willing to join (freely or after a little coercion) to keep the Islamic terrorist organization going despite heavy losses. Since 2009 Boko Haram violence has led to over 17,000 deaths along with nearly three million fleeing their homes and nearly a million children kept from school. That last item is a big deal with Boko Haram because their name means, literally, “Western education is forbidden”. Thus over 2,000 schools, some in neighboring countries, have been damaged or destroyed. This has created more unemployment since the education Boko Haram condemns is a major factor in finding a job and building an economy.

Boko Haram has nothing to replace the current society with except vague promises of an Islamic state where there are no problems. While that promise has been made for over a thousand years it never works despite many attempts. But the idea of an Islamic State never became completely discredited either. It became another one of those things that was a triumph of hope over experience.

Many in the local and national Nigerian government recognize the importance of jobs and prosperity being the ultimate antidote for perpetual Boko Haram violence. Implementing that cure is not easy. More fighting makes things worse. Experience shows that the usual solution is a natural one; depopulation and demoralization. That is so many people flee the combat zone that there are too few people for Boko Haram to prey on (for loot and recruits). That’s the old “create a desert and call it peace” technique. The other ancient pattern is people becoming so fed up with the killers that they resist. That is already happening in the northeast, along with the depopulation. The opportunity here, which the government is unlikely (based on past performance) to take advantage of, is to quickly rebuild the economy and infrastructure (everything from roads and utilities to schools and markets). Just muddling through the mess in the northeast will create conditions for a repeat in a few generations or less.

In one respect the new government is keeping promises. There have been an increasing (since president Buhari took over in early 2015) number of prominent (and previously untouchable) men arrested for corruption. In addition the government has had some success in retrieving more and more of the several hundred billion dollars believed stolen since 2000 by corrupt officials.

Angry Neighbors

Cameroon, one of the nations adjacent to the northeast, has suffered heavily from Boko Haram trying to establish themselves across the border in the thinly populated (less than a million people along the Nigerian border) northern Cameroon. Since 2013 over 1,100 Cameroonians (most of them civilians) have died from Boko Haram violence. The Cameroon government has sent more and more troops and police to the north but that has only reduced, not eliminated, the Boko Haram threat. So far this year there have been 19 Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon leaving over a hundred dead, most of them Cameroonians. There have also been reports (which Cameroon denies) of Cameroonian troops entering Nigeria while pursuing Boko Haram men fleeing across the border and killing Nigerian civilians as well as Boko Haram gunmen. There have been at least three such incidents so far in 2016 and Cameroon insists that since a lot of these pursuits take place at night there is no way to avoid some of the gunfire from hitting nearby civilians. Cameroon emphasizes that its troops are too disciplined to deliberately fire on Nigerian civilians, even if Boko Haram were seen to mingle with the civilians to avoid getting shot by the Cameroonian soldiers. Cameroon also says it is absurd that their troops would steal cattle and burn down villages as this is what Boko Haram does, not the trained and disciplined Cameroonian troops. These soldiers do have a reputation for professionalism and effectiveness. But many Nigerians believe that Cameroonian troops did carry out these attacks in response to a Nigerian refusal to cooperate in moving civilians away from the border to create an unpopulated “buffer zone” that would make it easier to spot and go after Boko Haram men near the border.

Because of the Boko Haram cross-border violence there is currently an 8,700 man international task force operation on both sides of the borders of Nigerian border with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. France and China are supplying weapons and equipment. This joint force was organized in August 2015 but has not become fully operational because of donors not coming through with the promised cash as well as disputes over the leadership of the task force. In addition some of the neighbors face other Islamic terrorists threats. Niger, for example, considers the Islamic terrorist chaos in Libya (their northern neighbor) to be a bigger threat than Boko Haram. Besides Libya and Nigeria Niger also has to cope with Islamic terrorists from Mali (their western neighbor).

Oil War

Down south in the Niger River delta there appears to have been a revival of the violence that largely ended in 2009 with a peace deal. So far this year there have five major attacks on oil facilities. This comes after hardly any such violence since 2013. MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) is believed to be behind the new outbreak. MEND is still around despite the 2009 amnesty deal. While many MEND members accepted the government amnesty and left the organization the MEND hard core remained operational. For the last year MEND has been demanding that the army withdraw from the Delta and all imprisoned MEND members be freed or else there will be a new wave of attacks on oil facilities. The attacks are now happening but the government refuses to give in to MEND demands. Not much else has come of these threats despite some MEND violence every week or so. The MEND rebels also want the terms of the 2009 amnesty deal enforced, and corrupt officials running the program removed. In response to those threats, the military keeps attacking MEND associated camps in the Niger delta, seizing lots of weapons and equipment, but not making many arrests. The rebels tend to hear the troops coming (usually by boat, usually after some aerial reconnaissance), and slip away into an area of numerous creeks and islands they know well. Many criminals in the delta also support rebel goals (for more autonomy in the Delta, less corruption and spending additional oil money locally). Even through the government has screwed up their end of the amnesty deal they insist that the rebels keep the peace. But corruption and mismanagement have kept many rebels from getting the amnesty benefits and the government is seen as unreliable, corrupt and a hostile force. The MEND threats have been much more ambitious than the actual attacks and it is believed that only a few people are involved in attacks on oil facilities (which are well guarded these days.) Whoever is behind the latest violence is determined and effective.

February 3, 2016: For the first time the air force used one of its Chinese CH-3 UAVs, purchased a year ago and armed with Chinese versions (AR-1) of the American Hellfire missile, to carry out a missile attack. In the northeast (near the Sambisa Forest) a CH-3 spotted what appeared to be a Boko Haram supply base in an area where there was little legitimate economic activity and lots of Boko Haram still wandering around. The CH-3 operator was quickly ordered to fire a missile and the video of two explosions (first the missile warhead then the fuel and ammunition going off in a larger blast) was made public. The air force has spent the last year training its CH-3 operators and using the CH-3s mainly for surveillance. The CH-3 is about 60 percent the size of the American Predator. Some of these CH-3s have been lost and a picture of one of these crashes shows the upside-down CH-3 wreck still carrying two AR-1 missiles. Nigeria also has smaller Israeli Aerostar UAVs which are just used for surveillance.

January 30, 2016: In the northeast (outside Maiduguri, capital of Borno State) Boko Haram attacked two refugee camps and a nearby village leaving at least 86 dead and over a hundred wounded. Three female suicide bombers were used but over a dozen gunmen also did a lot of damage with bullets and arson (often of occupied buildings). Elsewhere in Borno (near the Cameroon border) several military operations left over a hundred Boko Haram dead and about a thousand civilians freed from a Boko Haram blockade.


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