Nigeria: The Avengers Want To Be Bribed


June 19, 2016: In the northeast (Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states) the army has warned that groups of Boko Haram are fleeing the Sambisa forest and seeking safer areas to operate from. The large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated Sambisa Forest straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and has long been a hideout for the Islamic terrorists and, before that, bandits. One problem with living in the Sambisa is that there is not a lot of food or any of the other supplies (fuel, batteries, ammunition) Boko Haram needs to survive. Si far in 2016 the army has been encountering more and more emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly to find food. The Sambisa is basically surrounded and the remaining Boko Haram groups in there cannot easily get out to raid nearby towns and villages for supplies. In effect the military has besieged Boko Haram in the Sambisa and is starving them out. But in May army intelligence noted more and more groups of Boko Haram were sneaking out of the forest and showing up elsewhere in the northeast, often in areas where Boko Haram had rarely operated before. The Sambisa connection was easy to spot as the police and army reports noted that these Boko Haram men were often emaciated and shabbily dressed. They were raiding for food and other supplies but spending most of their time trying to establish new bases. The army is trying to prevent that by tracking down these Boko Haram from the Sambisa and put them out of action before they can regain their strength. Boko Haram still has supporters in the largely Moslem northeast. But most of the population has turned against Boko Haram despite its promises to eliminate the corruption and bad government. The cure turned out to be worse than the disease.

Some Boko Haram try to escape the Sambisa, or any other rural area where they have been trapped by pretending to be former captives. Over half the “Boko Haram” the army captures these days tends to be civilians used as slaves by Boko Haram. These captives include women and children, who are even more malnourished than their captors. Nevertheless troops have been ordered to consider all captured males as possibly Boko Haram and to question them carefully to ensure that those who claim they were captives really were. The military believes that before the end of the year the cumulative toll from years of Boko Haram violence will grow a lot from the current estimate of 20,000 dead. Troops are finding lots of mass graves in Boko Haram controlled areas and the many (nearly 100,000) people listed as missing were probably killed by the Islamic terrorists and buried in mass graves.

There are still over a million refugees from Boko Haram violence that have to be looked after. This includes several hundred thousand who fled to neighboring countries. Nigeria recently agreed to accept the Cameroon government decision to expel the 80,000 Nigerians that had fled to Cameroon. At first Nigeria tried to keep these refugees from getting back into Nigeria, especially if they were not coming voluntarily. But the Cameroon border with Nigeria is too long and too sparsely populated to prevent Cameroon from just trucking refugees to the Nigerian side of the border and ordering them to stay out of Cameroon or else. The problem was that the Nigerian refugees would often settle into towns or camps near the border and Boko Haram found they could hide out and operate from these refugee camps. Meanwhile inside Nigeria many of the refugees have not been getting food and other aid, usually because they were in remote areas or because local aid officials were corrupt. Efforts are being made to find and remove the corrupt aid officials. That has proved to be difficult because many of the elected and tribal leaders are still willing to steal government funds if given an opportunity. The growing availability of cell phones and Internet access has proved to be the worst enemy of corrupt officials because it is easy to take pictures or videos of the crimes (like tons of food aid being repackaged for sale in marketplaces). Until recently officials could claim that Boko Haram stole the food but with security much improved that excuse, and the growing number of anonymous photos appearing on the Internet, the usual excuses no longer work and prosecutions are happening.

The privation extends to all people in areas where Boko Haram has been active. 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.

Avengers Assembled And Willing To Negotiate

In the Niger River Delta renewed violence by a new group of local rebels (NDA, or Niger Delta Avengers) led to several major attacks in May that damaged several major oil facilities (mainly pipelines). This further reduced oil production first to 1.1 million then t0 under 700,000 barrels a day. Federal government officials ordered more troops and police into the area but also agreed to meet with leaders of the NDA and local tribes to discuss a ceasefire and dealing with local complaints about the oil industry operations in the area. NDA and local tribal leaders also asked that corruption charges be dropped against several local politicians. Many in the Delta consider the charges bogus and merely an attempt to coerce local leaders into supporting the oil companies. The corruption charges appear to be legitimate and the tribal leaders are looking after tribal interests as the corrupt politicians share some of what they steal with locals, more so than does the government.

Corruption has long been the main cause of poverty and misery throughout the country. Most of the oil pollution is caused by gangs that steal and refine oil often in partnership with corrupt local officials. For decades gangs have punched holes into pipelines and gathered oil for use in crude illegal refineries that produce low grade kerosene. As this became more popular the process caused a lot of pollution for people living in the Niger River Delta. The hole punched in the pipeline ends up letting most of the lost oil into the water. The refining process puts more pollutants into the waterways. Oil companies believe over 100,000 barrels of oil a day are being stolen by thieves who tap into oil pipelines. That’s several billion dollars a year in lost oil revenue. In the past much of the cash government did receive from oil production was stolen by politicians and civil servants. While many people in the Delta only get benefit from all the oil via oil thieves (who hire locals and spend a lot of the cash locally), far more Delta residents suffer from the pollution and generally lawless behavior of all those gangs.

The government thought it had solved the Delta rebel problem with a 2009 amnesty deal. Like everything else in Nigeria, corruption prevented that arrangement from working. Many former rebels accepted government sponsored security jobs. These jobs were basically a payoff for gang members to ensure they observed the “no more violence” part of the amnesty deal. The violence against oil production declined substantially in 2009 because of the peace deal that over 30,000 local rebels accepted. That eventually changed as corruption caused the government payoffs to the former rebels to gradually disappear. In 2015 the violence began to reappear and by early 2016 there was one or more major attacks a month on oil facilities.

The decline in oil production is part of a dismal trend. At the end of April production was 1.69 million, the lowest it has been since 1994. The fall in production is rather recent as in September 2015 it was at 2.1 million barrels a day. In 2013 oil theft and violence got so bad that daily production fell from 2.3 million barrels a day to about two million in early 2016. This was despite years of efforts to fulfill government demands to increase production to 3.7 million barrels a day. The previous peak was 2.6 million barrels a day in 2006 (before the Niger Delta rebels got going and oil theft became a much larger problem). It proved impossible to get back to 2.6 million because of corruption, government incompetence, oil theft and resistance to increased corruption investigations and prosecutions by the newly elected federal government. Most Nigerians want an end to corruption but the corrupt politicians, business owners, tribal leaders (who are officially recognized and still have a lot of power) and government bureaucrats have a lot to lose and an incentive to cripple the anti-corruption effort any way they can.

Oil has been a curse not a blessing for Nigeria. Since 1972 the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,300 billion) in oil revenue, most of which has been stolen or misused. This corruption is the main cause of the unrest in the country, especially the oil producing areas. Since 1980, the poverty rate (the percentage of people living on less than $400 a year) has gone from 28 percent to over 60 percent today. For over four decades, the oil money has been going to about twenty percent of the population, leaving most of the rest worse off today than they were in the early 1960s, before the oil exports began. The people in the Niger Delta are up in arms because most of them have not benefited from the oil production, but have suffered from the oil spills and other disruptions that accompany oil drilling and shipping. The four decades of theft have left the national infrastructure (roads, water supplies, power production, and so on) in ruins. Yet many in the Niger Delta want compensation for all the corruption and the rest of the country is not willing to pay for that.

Meanwhile some of the foreign firms that run Nigerian oil fields are discussing shutting down some of the more expensive (to operate) oil wells because the low oil price does not cover the cost of producing it. There is also little foreign interest in spending money to find new oil deposits or upgrade existing facilities. The lack of foreign investment because of the corruption is a nationwide problem.

Christians Threaten Retaliation

Christian leaders are again warning the government that it is becoming more difficult to persuade Christian communities to keep calm. A growing number of Christians back organizing militias and fighting back against continued attacks by Nigerian Islamic terrorists. While the Boko Haram violence in the northeast gets the most media attention, in the last decade there has been nearly as much violence against Christians in central Nigeria. About half of the 1.3 million Christian refugees from this violence were from central Nigeria. What all those Christians were fleeing was Moslem violence that has also killed over 11,000 Christians since 2006. This was accompanied by widespread property damage, including the destruction of over 13,000 churches.

In the northeast it is all about religion. When given the opportunity Boko Haram prefers to attack non-Moslems. This violence has been so bad that in 2015 over half of the Christians murdered for religious reasons all year were, for first time, in Nigeria rather than the Middle East. While Christians are a declining minority in the Middle East they are half the population of Nigeria and control more than half the wealth and fill more than half the technical and professional jobs (including military officers and police commanders.) The newly elected president is a Moslem and his promises to deal with Boko Haram were one reason he got a lot of Christian votes.

Unlike the northeast, the anti-Christian violence in central Nigeria is more complex. Moslem Fulani tribesmen have battled Christian tribes for centuries. The Fulani are angrier than usual now because for over a year soldiers or Christian militias have been catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing Fulani and returning stolen cattle and other goods. Tribal violence in this area is about more than Moslem and Christian tribes not getting along. 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 more frequently come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.

June 17, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) civilian defense volunteers shot dead two suicide bombers apparently headed for a local Mosque to kill the many people assembled there for weekly prayer services, sermons and discussions. The two men were found to be wearing explosive vests. Boko Haram considers Maiduguri the birthplace of their movement and has long vowed to take control. That effort failed and the Islamic terrorists have been unable to carry out many attacks in or near the city this year. Meanwhile in the last year Boko Haram has concentrated more of its attacks on fellow Moslems, especially the many mosques where the sermons are often anti-Boko Haram and so are most of the people worshiping there.

June 16, 2016: In the northeast (Adamawa state) Boko Haram raided a village near the Sambisa Forest and killed many, including 18 women attending a funeral, while also looting the place, kidnapping some villagers and moving on. Local defense militiamen soon showed up to try and track the attackers. The army also showed up and followed the trackers. This area has not seen a lot of Boko Haram violence, despite being close to the Sambisa Forest.

June 14, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) the army reported that it had arrested a key Boko Haram leader who was in charge of obtaining and distributing weapons, ammo and bomb making materials to the better organized and more active (in carrying out terror attacks) Boko Haram groups. As more Boko Haram were captured or killed the army obtained more information about this supply network. Now the army has names and other information about key members of this supply network and the arrest today was made at a checkpoint where troops identified one of the men on the wanted list.

June 13, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) troops found and recovered the bodies of 42 fishermen Boko Haram had kidnapped a week ago. The bodies had been dumped in Lake Chad and some civilians noted the corpses later floating to the surface. Since early 2015 Boko Haram has been attacking fishing villages on the Lake Chad coast. This looting and terrorizing is all about supplying the Islamic terrorists with necessities (food and fuel) and convincing the locals to not cooperate with the security forces.

June 12, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) civilians on both sides of the Cameroon border have noted a new FM radio station apparently being operated by Boko Haram. The army confirmed this and is looking for what may be a mobile radio operation. Such illegal FM stations have been a problem in Borno for several years. They are expensive to equip and require some technical skill so there have not been a lot of them.

June 9, 2016: Chad agreed to send more troops to neighboring Niger to help security forces from Niger and Nigeria find and destroy groups of Boko Haram operating along the border and raiding into Niger. Boko Haram has been more active across the border in southeast Niger this year. Much of this violence takes place near the Niger border towns of Diffa and Bosso. Increased Nigerian efforts to find and destroy Boko Haram groups that operate on both sides of the border have not been completely successful.

June 6, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) over a hundred Boko Haram gunmen crossed the border into Niger and attacked the town of Bosso. The attack was repulsed but 32 soldiers (two of them Nigerian) died. There was a similar, but larger, attack in February and since then troops from Niger and Nigeria have jointly provided patrols and town garrisons in the area.

May 29, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) a civilian vehicle triggered a Boko Haram landmine near an army checkpoint, killing four civilians.


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