Nigeria: Losing Enthusiasm For The Mess

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March 18, 2016: The twin shocks of Boko Haram violence and lower oil prices has created some fundamental changes in Nigeria. Corruption, long a hated, crippling and persistent problem is finally being attacked in earnest. Boko Haram played a role in that because many Boko Haram recruits were attracted by the promise of cleaning up government via a religious dictatorship. The media and most Nigerians agreed that without all that corruption there would be no Boko Haram. All this caused big changes in the political leadership as corrupt politicians suddenly became unelectable. For decades you got elected because of corruption and the understanding that the new state governor or country president would distribute a large chunk of the oil revenues to his faithful followers. Everyone else (most Nigerians) got screwed. The sharply lower oil prices made that scam impossible and no one expected that because it was believed an oil price collapse was not possible. Now it is a reality and it has not only changed attitudes (and actions) towards corruption but the new, reform minded, politicians (like the president who took office a year ago) are making 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 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). The lower (by two-thirds since 2013) oil revenue is still the main source for the government budget. To get anything done the government needs cash and the easiest way to get it quickly is to shut down the corrupt practices that diverted billions of dollars from more useful things each year. But longer term Nigeria needs more economic growth and farmers are present and ready to make it happen.

Boko Haram is still carrying out attacks in the northeast but at a much lower rate than 2015. The government, and most Nigerians, know that the Boko Haram presence has to be reduced to the point where these religious zealots are only a few hundred armed outlaws and basically a police problem. Currently there appear to be about 8,000 active Boko Haram. This includes a few thousand active (and armed) Boko Haram out in the northeastern countryside. There are even more unarmed supporters, often in urban areas where they must hide their affiliation. Most are in the northeast but others have fled the region. Despite the heavy damage done to Boko Haram so far this year there are still enough armed groups of Boko Haram operating in the northeast, mainly Borno State, to keep large rural areas empty of people and many main roads considered “unsafe” for commercial traffic unless travelling in an armed convoy. Because of that a very visible international military campaign against Boko Haram continues in the northeast, mainly in Borno. This often involves the air force, which uses helicopters and UAVs as well as conventional aircraft to regularly patrol large rural areas and there are armed helicopters and bombers on call to quickly bomb any Boko Haram camps spotted. This air force effort is a major reason so many of these camps are being put out of business (by air or ground attack) and why so many Boko Haram are hungry, living rough and losing enthusiasm for the mess they have gotten themselves in.

While Boko Haram is not a nationwide catastrophe, it has turned the northeast into an economic 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). About ten percent of the population (mostly in Borno) are still refugees but the economic situation is getting worse because small businesses (especially farms) are running out of savings and other reserves (like food) which means more malnutrition and disease. There are fewer healthcare personnel because many people with education and skill could afford to leave the region and have done so, if only temporarily. With less locally grown food and more markets being closed (to avoid suicide bombers) food and other goods have become more expensive for people with less to spend. These economic problems are also showing up in northern Cameroon, which is adjacent to the areas of Nigeria where Boko Haram is operating. The economic impact is not as bad as in Nigeria but Cameroon is a smaller country with an even smaller GDP than Nigeria. 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.

Government optimism aside it is true that Boko Haram is on a downward slide that will eventually, probably sometime in 2016 suddenly not be a major security threat anymore. The signs are everywhere, from rural businesses (especially farms) suddenly back in operation because the locals sensed it was safe and returned. Another telling trend is the growing number of Boko Haram who are surrendering because they are literally starving to death. By driving so many farmers and other civilians out of rural areas Boko Haram has created a rural food shortage. Refugees get government and foreign aid supplies but Boko Haram starves if there is nothing to steal.

March 16, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) two female suicide bombers attacked near a mosque in the state capital (Maiduguri) leaving 25 dead.

Elsewhere in Borno a Boko Haram technical (a pickup truck with a machine-gun mounted on a tripod in the back) ran over a Boko Haram mine and was destroyed, killing two of the Islamic terrorists. Boko Haram is planting a growing number of these locally made mines in dirt roads and elsewhere. Since the Islamic terrorists do not keep any centralized records of where all this stuff, more and more of these mine locations are unknown to the Islamic terrorists as well as the security forces or local civilians. Even if Boko Haram know the location of mines in their area there can still be problem with mines in roads. In today’s incident the Boko Haram vehicle was fleeing a failed ambush and were more focused on getting away from the pursuing troops than in checking where their group had earlier planed mines. Increased losses has also left Boko Haram with fewer experienced bomb makers and a growing number of bombs and mines do not work or go off prematurely as they are being planted. Meanwhile the army has learned how to cope with the growing mine risk, but that awareness slows down operations, something Boko Haram often takes advantage of.

Further east, about ten kilometers from the Cameroon border Cameroonian troops raided a smaller Boko Haram camp killing twenty Islamic terrorists and freeing twelve civilian captives.

Niger reported that in the last week there were two Boko Haram attacks near Diffa (on the Nigerian border adjacent to Borno state) that left three soldiers and five Boko Haram suicide bombers dead. The attackers were apparently from Boko Haram groups still operation in northeastern Borno. Nigerian troops are increasing their efforts to find and destroy these groups.

March 14, 2016: In the northeast (Adamawa State) a feud between two local self-defense militias led to seven militiamen killed and 19 wounded. The security forces feared there would be more of this militia violence than there actually was. The self-defense militias often arose without any government help or permission and have played a major role in keeping much of the northeast safe from Boko Haram. Neighboring Cameroon has noted this and encouraged (with permission, cash, weapons, vehicles and other equipment) northern tribes to form such groups to deal with Boko Haram raiders.

March 10, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) a wanted Boko Haram leader was killed in a gun battle with police. Several other Boko Haram were wounded and got away.

March 8, 2016: Responding to international criticism president Buhari spoke out in defense of his harsh treatment of South African firm MTN. Nigeria finally got the attention of MTN one of the, largest cell phone companies in Africa, by convincing a judge to enforce a large fine ($250 million so far) because MTN did not disconnect five million unregistered cell phone SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards as ordered in 2015. Other companies did disconnect over ten million illegal SIMs but MTN thought they could beat this in court. Because the SIM card shutdown order was mainly directed at a murderous Islamic terror group (Boko Haram) and not just a lot of lesser criminals the courts agreed with the government and MTN was forced to comply and pay the fine. This is not a problem unique to Africa and is one of the unpleasant side effects of cell phones.

March 3, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) troops moved through a rural area and killed five Boko Haram gunmen and forced many others to flee. The Islamic terrorists had been hiding out in the forest but had forced the remaining hundred or so civilians in four villages to stay where they were and provide the Boko Haram men with food and other services. Word of this situation eventually reached the local security forces who organized a rescue operation that got 63 women and children out of the four villages.

March 1, 2016: In central Nigeria (Benue State) Moslem Fulani tribesmen battled Christians from four farming villages for nearly a week, leaving several hundred dead before troops and police could restore order. The Fulani are angrier than usual because for over a year soldiers have been catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing some of the Fulani and returning stolen cattle and other goods. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along. The violence has gotten worse lately. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and it looks like it is going to worse in 2016. Boko Haram has claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal. The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was 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 for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.

February 29, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) Cameroonian and Nigerian troops cooperated in surrounding and destroying a major Boko Haram base near the town of Kumshe. Nearly a hundred of the Islamic terrorists were killed and not many got away during the three day operation. More importantly over 800 captives were rescued, including teenage girls being trained as suicide bombers. Also found were weapons and ammo stockpiles as well as a workshop that built bombs, bomb vests as well as car bombs. Elsewhere in Borno troops at a checkpoint arrested four known Boko Haram veterans who were trying to flee to southern Nigeria. It is unclear what these four planned to do down there but the captives showed signs of starvation and that is not unusual with many Boko Haram in the northeast. Avoiding detection has taken precedence over finding food and many dead or captured Boko Haram also show sighs of poor nutrition and health.

February 26, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops located and raided a major Boko Haram camp, killing 37 Islamic terrorists while losing two troops. This camp had a bomb building workshop, a medical clinic and equipment for repairing vehicles. There were electrical generators and enough fuel to keep many vehicles, as well as the generators, going for over a week.

 

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