ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) has two “provinces” in Africa. Up north there is ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) that is currently active in Mali and Niger, The other, larger, ISIL group is ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province), the Boko Haram ISIL faction, which is one of two factions of Boko Haram. ISWAP personnel are mostly in northeastern Nigeria as well as smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. ISGS and ISWAP do not appear to work together except when it comes to Internet media activities, where ISWAP will mention ISGS accomplishments. ISIL does not have effective central authority at the moment with the senior leadership still dispersed and on the run from recent defeats in eastern Syria and western Iraq. It is often difficult, at first, to determine which faction of Boko Haram made an attack. Ultimately one of the factions will take credit. ISWAP is usually quicker to do so and has a much more efficient media operation than the smaller traditional Boko Haram faction. ISWAP media operations are so good that they have been able to plant fake news (usually of non-existent or exaggerated victories) that are picked up, for a while, by mainstream media before being debunked. One recent example was ISWAP media stories about how the ISIL affiliate was occupying more and more territory near Lake Chad. That became a mass media story until it was pointed out that ISWAP does raid some large towns in the north but the army and air force always respond and ISWAP know that and tends to “loot and run.” One long term effect of these raids is that more people are moving back to refugee camps. Over the last two years, the government has been trying to persuade refugees to return home. That has happened, but all it takes is one ISWAP raid to empty a recently repopulated town.
ISWAP is also finding there is a downside to using ISIL techniques. More Western nations are willing to help Nigeria or at least coordinate existing counter-terrorism in the region (from Somalia to Mali and the Atlantic coast). Foreign help does not help with corruption and incompetence that is still tolerated by many in the armed forces. President Buhari is a former general and is paying more attention to these problems than previous presidents, but that is not having an immediate impact.
Despite the ISIL affiliation, the ISWAP faction of Boko Haram is still true to the basic goals of Boko Haram. That is best described by noting that “Boko Haram:” literally translates to “Western education is forbidden.” This is a common goal for Islamic terror groups but has been a core goal of Boko Haram. That and killing or driving all Christians out of the Moslem majority north and eventually all of Nigeria. So far their efforts have wrecked the local economy in most of Borno state as well as driving most Christians out of the northeast.
The ten years of Boko Haram violence also wrecked the educational system in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Borno was the hardest hit but all these states suffered from attacks on schools and teachers. More than 2,400 teachers staffing some 3,000 schools in the area were killed and nearly 20,000 teachers fled their schools and often left the northeast. Over 2,000 schools were destroyed and over a thousand students were kidnapped. Over half the school-age children in the area still have no access to education. There is little indication that schools will be repaired or rebuilt very quickly either. There are still over two million people living in refugee camps and the conditions there are getting worse. There are a growing number of angry demonstrations by these refugees. At the same time, over five million people who returned to (or never left) Borno are going hungry and starvation deaths are an increasing possibility. There is already more disease, especially in the refugee camps where some are suffering from an outbreak of cholera. The worst part of all this is that many farmers in the devastated area are facing the prospect of a sixth year without crops because the seed and other supplies are still not available. Another essential item not available for farmers is protection from Boko Haram raids. The Islamic terrorists live off such looting operations.
Boko Haram violence did not earn it much popular support during the first major outbreak of violence (2011-16). At that point Boko Haram had taken a beating and rather than fade away it evolved into the ISIL faction and a more traditional (to what Boko Haram originally was, a Taliban clone) version. The ISIL faction attracted more recruits and financial support and by the end of 2018 was twice the size (nearly 4,000 armed men) of the al Qaeda faction. The goal for 2019 appears to be the creation of ISWAP controlled territory in northeastern Nigeria. ISWAP has already created areas in the northern half of Borno state that are not safe for government forces unless operating in large numbers with air cover. The security forces are still crippled by inefficient, and often corrupt, officers. Government officials, either state or national, are often not much better. At the moment ISWAP appears virtuous and efficient by comparison. That is something of an illusion. Honesty and discipline are often achieved by Islamic terror groups but once they are no longer threatened by hostile forces the corruption quickly returns. There is plenty of evidence of how this works, collected in the last three decades of fighting Islamic terrorists and capturing lots of documents and interrogating lots of prisoners.
Causes Of Corruption And Death
The war on corruption in Nigeria is stalled. Despite having a president who is obviously not corrupt, few other politicians follow his example. Many enormously corrupt active and former politicians have been identified and a growing number are being prosecuted in Nigeria and abroad, where they hide much of wealth in the form of expensive real estate. It seems to be easier to get results overseas than in Nigeria, where many judges and prosecutors are for sale or short-term rental. The relative ineffectiveness of the security forces is a major reason why in the last 12 months some 7,200 Nigerians died from Islamic terrorism, ethnic conflicts, security forces violence and large scale banditry. This last cause is often connected with ethnic (tribal) conflicts and, occasionally, Islamic terrorist violence. One of the major killers (about 21 percent of the deaths) is the security forces who tend to be indiscriminate and unrestrained in their use of violence. Thus only about 15 percent of the deaths could be attributed to Boko Haram and ISWAP. Borno state accounts for about a third of the 7,200 deaths. The second bloodiest state is Zamfara, in the northwest. This state accounted for 17 percent of all deaths, mostly from tribal conflicts and banditry. Thus two states accounted for nearly half of all these deaths. Boko Haram may still get most of the local and international headlines but these Islamic terrorists are no longer the major cause of violent death. Some 70 percent of the violent deaths were in the Moslem north, which is nothing new as Islam and the generally more aggressive tribes up there have always been more prone to fight than negotiate. It is estimated that the tribal violence in central and northwestern Nigeria has killed over 20,000 in the last four years. Many of the victims are Christian farmers defending their crops and land. In contrast, during the same period, Boko Haram was responsible for fewer than 5,000 deaths.
Even though the current president is a Moslem and a Fulani (the tribe most responsible for ethnic violence) that has not made a dramatic difference in dealing with the violence. Another unpublicized cause of violent death is the tendency of corrupt politicians to use some of their wealth to maintain the loyalty of criminal gangs and tribal militias. These thugs are usually only activated for political purposes during elections, but some are now being used to discourage corruption investigations and prosecutions.
In the south (the Niger River Delta), the campaign to curb oil theft from the pipeline by local gangs was doing well until about a year ago. In 2018 oil theft from pipeline increased 80 percent, indicating that the corrupt officials who had long facilitated (and profited from) the oil theft are back in business. Anti-corruption efforts had shut down the network of local political and security officials who took bribes to enable the oil gangs to operate freely and profitably. This pattern is nothing new in the south. Eliminating chronic corruption for the long term is still a very difficult thing to achieve.
And then there is the problem of criticism by foreign arms and military assistance suppliers. The government has agreed to suggestions by military commanders to seek more military equipment and training assistance from Russia. While many Nigerians (civilian and military) prefer Western aid, the Americans and British demand that any gear they sell or training they provide come with annoying demands to avoid corrupt practices. In the past Western gear quickly became unusable because corrupt officials would steal funds needed to keep the equipment operational. Western nations also wanted assurances that their weapons would not be used to kill civilians or political opponents. These demands were unacceptable to many politicians and officers and gave Russia and China opportunities to provide somewhat less capable but cheaper versions of the Western gear and do it no questions asked and no criticism made about how the weapons were used. Nigeria also liked the Russian and Chinese attitudes towards Islamic terrorists, which was basically “kill everyone” if that’s what it takes. The Russians and Chinese also have a talent for evading or minimizing criticism in the international media. The negotiations with the Russians have been hampered by the corruption of Nigerian diplomats in Russia. The Nigerian embassy recently had its water supply cut off because the water bills were not paid. The Nigerian government provided cash to cover that but not enough to cover the embassy staff greed.
June 3, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state near Lake Chad), an MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) operation went after known locations where ISWAP men had been active and in the last 24 hours killed at least 20 of the Islamic terrorists and arrested some suspected members or supporters. Four MNJTF troops were wounded. This operation was in cooperation with Nigerian forces. The 8,700 man MNJTF is still actively attempting to eliminate any Boko Haram presence in the region. Of all the threats they face what scares the Boko Haram most is the MNJTF. Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first, the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF forces.
Across the border in Niger local police caught about ten Islamic terrorists over the last 48 hours. These suspects were attempting to carry out attacks in the Niger capital (Niamey) as well as in the southeast (Diffa). The Niamey attacks were aimed at fuel storage sites near the airport. The two Diffa attacks were aimed at the local airport and a Christian church. Niger has far fewer supporters of Islamic terrorism and more locals willing to use their cell phone to let the police know about suspicious activity. Boko Haram and ISWAP have made themselves unwelcome by carrying out a lot of attacks in Niger which, like Nigeria has a border on Lake Chad. Niger is north of Nigeria had had a lot more desert and semi-desert territory where it is difficult for Islamic terrorists to hide if there is constant aerial surveillance, which Niger gets from France and the United States. In contrast, northern Nigeria has lots of forested areas that make aerial surveillance more difficult (but not impossible.) Nigeria has also been less enthusiastic about allowing Western aircraft to run surveillance missions over their territory and that accounts for the greater Islamic terrorist activity than in Niger and Chad.
May 31, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the army has again accused NGOs, which supply food and medical aid to destitute refugees in the northeast, of supporting Boko Haram by diverting portions of those supplies to the terrorists in return for the safety of its aid delivery efforts. Actually Boko Haram just agrees to not have their members attack. The NGO efforts are still subject to attack by other bandits or even some Boko Haram factions that pretend to be bandits in order to obtain a larger share of the aid.
Near Jere, north of the Borno provincial capital, the air force killed about ten Boko Haram with an airstrike.
May 30, 2019: The government banned the legal ownership of guns by civilians throughout the country. This was promptly criticized because the problem is not civilians with registered firearms but the thousands of Islamic terrorists and bandits with illegal weapons.
May 29, 2019: In the northwest (Sokoto and Zamfara states), the growing violence between herders and farmers (and local bandits taking advantage of that) has, in the last two months, caused over 20,000 Nigerians to flee across the border into Niger.
May 27, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked a village outside the state capital Maiduguri, killing seven civilians. The Islamic terrorists left with food and other supplies they looted from homes after torturing and killing residents with knives.
May 26, 2019: In the southern part of Borno State (135 kilometers southeast of the state capital), soldiers attacked Boko Haram forces near Gwoza, a town near the Cameroon border that the army has repeatedly chased Boko Haram out of since 2014. This clash left over 20 Islamic terrorists dead. In the last 48 hours, about 40 Boko Haram gunmen have been killed by this operation.
May 25, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) across the border in Chad, several clashes between local troops and Boko Haram left at least 23 of the Islamic terrorists dead as well as five soldiers and one journalist.
On the Nigerian side of the border, Boko Haram ambushed an army convoy transporting civilians to a refugee camp in some fifty vehicles. Five soldiers and fifteen civilians were killed. Boko Haram also attacked the nearby town of Sabon-Gari killing 28 of the defenders (soldiers and three defense volunteers).
May 24, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the army attacked Boko Haram at Kukawa, near Lake Chad and killed at least ten of the Islamic terrorists.
May 21, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), ISWAP attacked an army base near Gubio (which borders Yobe state) and were repulsed for a while, losing five men but eventually killing twenty defenders and forcing the soldiers to withdraw from the base, which ISWAP looted and then left before army reinforcements arrived.
May 18, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram raided Konduga (35 kilometers from the state capital Maiduguri) and killed 12 people. Boko Haram has raided this town repeatedly for years.
May 16, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State), Boko Haram raiders killed five civilians.
In the northeast (Borno state), across the border in Chad Boko Haram raiders killed thirteen civilians.
May 15, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), two Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Dikwa refugee camp (90 kilometers from the state capital Maiduguri) and home for 14,000 displaced (by Boko Haram violence) people. It was 3:30 AM and a group of camp residents were having the pre-dawn meal before daylight, and Ramadan fasting began (and did not end until sunset, when you could eat and drink again). The gunmen killed two and wounded at least twelve before fleeing into the darkness. It was unclear what the purpose of this attack was but probably had something to do with Boko Haram efforts to intimidate camp residents into cooperating with the Islamic terrorists.
May 14, 2019: ISWAP claimed responsibility for an ambush in Niger, near the Mali border, that left at least twenty soldiers dead. Most of the troops survived the initial ambush but soon withdrew, allowing the attackers to loot the dead soldiers and their vehicles. That area is normally under the control of the ISGS ISIL faction. It is unclear just who was operating there. This may indicate an official or unofficial merger of the smaller ISGS into ISWAP. There has been no official announcement of that as yet. ISWAP still acts (in its media) like a primarily Nigerian operation.
May 13, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), a Boko Haram bomb killed three soldiers in Damboa, a market town south of the state capital astride the main north-south highway.
In the south (Rivers state in the Niger River Delta), local gunmen kidnapped five oil workers. This sort of thing is becoming more common in the oil production region.
May 12, 2019: Responding to criticism that Boko Haram violence had gone out of control in 2019, the government released data on security forces operations so far this year. This included five large scale sweeps of areas where Boko Haram was operating. These operations resulted in over 500 arrests and the seizure of over a hundred weapons. This doesn’t really address the criticism because Boko Haram has been much more active in 2019 with raids on villages or towns (for basic supplies) and army bases (to intimidate the troops and steal weapons). There have also been more ambushes on vehicles using certain roads, even when vehicles traveled in convoys with a military escort.
May 11, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram again raided the outskirts of the state capital Maiduguri, killing four civilians and kidnapping five.
May 9, 2019: The government has banned the use of motorcycles and similar transport in the northern states of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto and Zamfara. This means the security forces can shoot on sight, from the air or the ground, at any motorcycles they encounter, especially around forests and other rural areas where Boko Haram and bandits have their camps.