Nigeria: The High Cost of History Repeating Itself


August 11, 2023: President Tinubu has been in office since March 2023 and concentrated on his pledges to reduce corruption in the Nigerian government. One of his first acts was to order an audit of the central bank to be followed by an audit of the federal payroll. The current economic crisis has made endemic and epidemic corruption more visible. This is very visible in the oil production industry, which has greatly inflated costs because of corruption. Higher oil prices are canceled by declines in production caused by criminals and corruption. Corruption inflates the cost of everything and reduces the quality of work done by the government, especially when it comes to infrastructure.

Nnamdi Azikiwe, who served as president from 1963 to 1966, was one of the key people working to obtain independence for Nigeria from British colonial rule. What is now Nigeria was a collection of separate kingdoms and tribal territories that Britain got involved with after it outlawed slavery in 1807 and began a decades-long campaign to suppress the slave trade between African tribes and the Americas. Slavery was an ancient custom in most of Africa but American and European demand for more slaves led to more powerful tribes attacking weaker tribes to capture them as slaves for sale to American and European slave traders. In 1861 Britain took control of some portions of the Nigerian coast to deal with persistent slaving by inland tribes. Twenty years later Britain had control over more territory and installed a colonial government. This led to Nigerian nationalism and talented men like Nnamdi Azikiwe, to work for independence. When the 1960s Igbo rebellion broke out he advised the Igbo government for a few years before switching back to the Nigerian government.

After independence the biggest problem was corruption fed by the growing oil wealth coming from the oil fields in the south (the Niger River Delta). It was later calculated that about a trillion dollars of oil income was stolen between the 1960s and the present.

Back in 2004, Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast appeared and created some lasting problems. There are still millions of refugees plus substantial economic damage in the northeast (Borno State), where it all began. There seems to be no end in sight because of corruption, but more competent leadership in the security forces reduced the violence. All this was caused by a local group of Taliban wannabes calling themselves Boko Haram. Their activity in the capital of Borno State grew for a decade until in 2014 it seemed unstoppable. It took over a year for the government to finally muster sufficient military strength to cripple but not destroy Boko Haram. This did not get much media attention outside Africa, even though in 2014 Boko Haram killed more people than ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) did in Syria and Iraq. The main reason for Boko Haram gains in 2014 and 2015 was corruption in the army, which severely crippled effective counterterror efforts. By itself Boko Haram was too small to have much impact on a national scale but the inability to deal with this problem put a spotlight on the corruption that has hobbled all progress in Nigeria for decades.

A new president (a former general who is Moslem) was elected in early 2015 and made progress in changing the army’s corrupt culture, but that is still a work in progress even though he was reelected in early 2019. More bad news was expected because of too many tribal feuds and too much corruption creating growing unrest throughout the country, which led to reduced oil income and further disputes over that, etc. This is especially bad down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta). Violence against oil facilities continues. Worse, local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business.

Northern Moslems want more control over the federal government and the oil money. In northern and central Nigeria there is increasing violence as nomadic Moslem herders move south and clash with largely Christian farmers over land use and water supplies. For the last few years these tribal feuds have killed more people than Boko Haram. The situation is still capable of sliding into regional civil wars, over money and political power. Corruption and ethnic/tribal/religious rivalries threaten to trigger, at worse, another civil war and, at least more street violence and public anger.

August 10, 2023: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers ambushed a group of armed Boko Haram members on a frequently used rural trail. Two of the Boko Haram men were killed and others fled, leaving behind their weapons and munitions.

August 5, 2023: The Nigerian Senate rejected president Tinubu’s request to send Nigerian troops into Niger to remove the recently installed military government. The Senate leaders believe the best way to intervene is with an ECOWAS force, which will take time to organize.

In the south (Port Harcourt), seven kilometers off the coast, an airstrike destroyed three boats carrying stolen oil. The air force also found and attacked a crude refinery set up by the oil thieves. These crude rural refineries produce cut-rate fuels for rural customers. These illegal refineries are easy to spot from the air and, when they are located, the army moves in via road or the navy via boat to shut them down. Sometimes the air force carries out an airstrike if speed is of the essence. The illegal refining business is so lucrative that losing several refineries every month or so is an affordable cost for a full time refining operation. The refinery personnel usually escape and build another crude refinery. The outlaws are armed, although they rarely fight back against the military raids.

July 26, 2023: In neighboring Niger there was a military coup. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the president of Nigeria and chairman of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African states) warned the Niger coup leaders to restore the elected government. If that did not happen, Tinubu was prepared to organize and send an intervention force to restore the Niger government. Nigeria and ECOWAS have organized several peacekeeping operations and creating one for Niger was no idle threat. Nigerian armed forces have 135,000 troops on active duty while Niger has only 13,000. Nigeria spends over $3 billion on defense each year compared to $237 million for Niger. The Nigerian army has over a hundred tanks and more than 15,000 other armored vehicles compared to 728 armored vehicles in Niger. The Nigerian Air Force has 144 combat aircraft, including jets and helicopters. Niger has 16 military aircraft. The Niger coup leaders did not immediately reply to the Nigerian demands. Nigeria would most likely provide the bulk of the troops for an ECOWAS peacekeeping effort in Niger.




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