Nigeria: Separatists Rising


August 31, 2017: Despite the continued efforts to wipe out Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist activity in the Moslem north there is still a lot of anti-Christian sentiment up there. This is often missed outside Nigeria. For example on June 6 th a populist northern politician, representing the AYCF (Arewa Youth Consultative Forum), demanded that all Igbo people (Christians from the southeast) leave Moslem northern Nigeria by October 1 st . This was in response to Igbo groups in the southeast demonstrating again for establishing a separatist Igbo state. In July Igbo leaders went to court demanding that police arrest the Arewa leaders calling for the expulsion. This comes at a time when Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria are demanding that Christina farmers surrender their cropland so it can be used for the Fulani animals graze and use the local water. This sort of thing has also had a religious and tribal aspect to it which is generating more hostility in the Christian south.

AYCF is part of the ACF (Arewa Consultative Forum) which is an organization of northern Nigeria leaders that was formed in 2000 to look after northern interests, especially those of benefit to the dominant Hausa and Fulani tribes of the north. ACF follows in the footsteps of Hausa/Fulani coalitions of the 1960s that advocated unity of the Moslems and establishment of a separatist Moslem state. That was rejected by most northerners, in part because of the growing oil wealth in the Christian south and the failure of the Biafra (Igbo) separatist rebellion in the south. Actually the 1966 murder of over 40,000 Igbo in the north by Hausa Fulani groups triggered a much smaller number of Moslems being killed in the south and led to Biafra rebellion. That did not end until 1970 and left another million Igbo dead. Yet the Igbo remain a major force in Nigeria, comprising nearly a fifth of the population and dominating even more of the economy. This is particularly resented in the Moslem north, where the Igbo returned in greater numbers since 1970 and are now a key part of the northern economy and, as Christians, a favorite target of Boko Haram.

Partly in response to the Boko Haram violence the Igbo separatist movement was revived 2015 and 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 pro-Biafra separatists have been around and increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria considered establishing a separate Igbo state (Biafra). A brutal war followed before the separatist movement was crushed and the Igbo were warned not to try it again. 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 insists 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. One of the first things president Buhari addressed when he returned two weeks ago was the Igbo separatist threat and the hostility that has triggered in the north.

Boko Haram Shock Troops

Another vile problem the government has to deal with is the Boko Haram use of children, usually girls, as suicide bombers. So far this year about 85 have been used, two-thirds of them girls. In all of 2016 only 19 children were used like this and a few more than that in 2015. Boko Haram uses the kids as their primary terror weapon and the most common means of attacking the security forces. Adult Boko Haram gunmen avoid the security forces or armed militias and survive via extortion and looting. Those activities also supply the suicide bomber efforts with bomb components and bombers. Police investigators believe they know why so many kids are being used. Boko Haram will often “protect” an area from violence (mostly the work of Boko Haram) if the locals pay “taxes.” This is often in the form of cash or supplies (like food), labor or use of structures. In 2015 it became common for Boko Haram to demand children (as fighters or girls for “wives”) but Boko Haram leaders noted that the younger kids could be persuaded to cooperate in suicide bombing operations, especially if you didn’t tell them they were going to be blown apart. These were rural kids that were illiterate and did not have access to electronic news media so were unaware of what they were getting into. Enough of these young suicide bombers are captured alive (or surrender) to confirm that this recruiting method is still in use.

Boko Haram is still divided, with the larger faction (led by veteran Abubakar Shekau) based largely in and around the Sambisa Forest while further north, near Lake Chad, the smaller, more disciplined Abu Musab al Barnawi faction operates, with the official support of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). It is official ISIL policy to minimize civilian casualties, especially women and children so Shekau is seen responsible for the increased use of children as suicide bombers..

Much of the Boko Haram violence is still concentrated in and around Maiduguri, the sprawling capital of Borno State. Most of the Boko Haram raids and terror attacks are outside the city itself but have averaged 15-20 a month this year.

Meanwhile the military and police are learning more details of how Boko Haram operates. Auwal Ismaeela a former senior Boko Haram leader was one of more than a hundred Boko Haram men who surrendered in August. Ismaeela admitted he led the 2014 raid on Chibok that included kidnapping over 200 women and girls from a boarding school. Ismaeela apparently provided a lot of other details and made it clear that he wants to see Boko Haram destroyed. The Islamic terror groups still carries out several attacks a week, usually raids on rural villages in search of loot. This is how the remaining Boko Haram get by. These attacks are violent and there dozens of civilian casualties a week because of it.


The decline in oil prices, persistent corruption and inept government has triggered a nationwide economic crises and recession. The worst part of it is the growing inflation (now about 16 percent) that is largely the result of sharply rising food prices. This hits the majority of Nigerians and the government is accused of trying to downplay the problem. The Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast has had little to do with the fact that nationwide Inflation is high and rising. The high food costs are made worse because the unemployment rate is still 14 percent. More telling is that the underemployment rate is 33 percent. Thus just having a job means little if it does not pay enough keep you alive, especially with rising food prices. Noting this, and other indicators, foreign experts like the IMF and World Bank have revised their predictions for Nigerian economic performance downward. This is bad news because the economy apparently shrank 1.5 percent in 2016. Thus the IMF now sees it likely Nigerian GDP will grow .8 percent (if at all) in 2017 rather than one percent. The details are worse, as the growing number of hungry Nigerians can confirm.

August 28, 2017: The United States announced it is sending Nigeria nearly $600 million in military aid to help with the fight against Boko Haram.

August 24, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen attacked two villages in neighboring Cameroon, killing 16 civilians while destroying buildings and carrying away food and other goods. These attacks were about 20 kilometers from the border and Cameroon security forces tried to catch the raiders before they got into Nigeria. The two countries now have an agreement that allows “hot pursuit” across the border if the effort is coordinated via radio or prior arrangement. That apparently did not happen this time because the raiders could not be precisely located in time.

August 19, 2017: President Buhari returned from a long sick leave in London. Buhari had been in Britain receiving medical treatment since early May. Buhari did not appear in public until late July when he met with seven Nigerian governors who came to visit him. Buhari explained that he was following the advice of his doctors and resting while taking the time to complete his treatments. He did not say (in his own voice, which had not changed) how long that would take but even then it was obvious that he was getting better. Buhari did appear ill but was alert and confident he would return to Nigeria and within four weeks he did. The vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has been “acting president” since May while the 74 year old Buhari was incapacitated and unwilling to communicate. This has happened before but this is the longest Buhari has been on medical leave and the 60 year old Osinbajo (a popular and highly regarded lawyer) has filled in competently. Buhari acknowledged that as soon as he returned and apparently will rely on Osinbajo to share the presidential workload more than is customary for vice presidents. It is still unclear exactly what Buhari is suffering from but he has resumed his key duties so far and addressed pressing economic and security problems (both Boko Haram and growing unrest in the Niger River Delta and among the Igbo separatists of the southeast.) Buhari, a Moslem from the north, was quick to try and defuse the growing hostility between Moslem northerners and the Christian Igbo who continue to be concentrated in the southeast.

August 11, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) the army made an unauthorized pre-dawn raid on the main UN compound in Maiduguri. The army quickly apologized and explained that they had information indicating (inaccurately) that Boko Haram leader had taken refuse in the UN compound.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close