Nigeria: Blood Money


May 1, 2013: The April 19th battle in the northeast (Baga on Lake Chad) has turned into a major embarrassment for the government. Over 200 people were apparently killed, most of them civilians caught in the crossfire during a battle with Boko Haram. Many of the civilian deaths were the result of enraged and out-of-control troops firing at civilians after the Boko Haram fighters were defeated.

It began when troops surrounded a mosque believed to be used as a base by Boko Haram. More Islamic terrorists showed up and attacked the troops. Hours of shooting saw thousands of civilians flee the fishing village as the soldiers chased the Boko Haram men away. But there was apparently more to it than that. The soldiers accused Boko Haram of using civilians as human shields, which may have been the case. The army also has a long history of shooting at everyone in sight when attacked in an urban setting. The army says they killed 30 Islamic terrorists and lost one soldier and only six civilians died. Despite government efforts to control information coming out of Baga, it appears that over 150 civilians died as troops fired indiscriminately and set dozens of homes and businesses on fire. While journalists could be barred from the scene, senior politicians could force their way in and they reported seeing over 200 fresh graves and a lot of angry and unhappy civilians.

This sort of thing has long been common with Nigerian police and soldiers. Police and army leadership have continued to allow undisciplined and poorly led troops to attack civilians. This sort of violence is all too common when the troops suffer losses and cannot find the enemy or simply suspect local civilians of sympathizing with the enemy. It's been a problem for a long time, and the army has been unable to get all of its officers and NCOs on-board with the need to stop this sort of violence from happening in the first place.

There is a cultural basis for this kind of retaliation. This sort of group punishment was long a common form of settling disputes between tribes. If a member of one tribe hurt someone from another tribe the response was directed against any members of the attacker’s tribe until tribal elders got together and negotiated a settlement (money, goods, or the life of the attacker). Group punishments were (and still are in many parts of the world) used to gain information about who was guilty of what and where they are. But as the power of tribes declined (and largely disappeared in the West) this approach declined in effectiveness and acceptance. There are still functioning tribes in Nigeria but the leaders have surrendered most of their powers to the state. Worst of all, Boko Haram is not a tribe but an extremist religious movement that sees itself on a mission from God and immune to any group pressures. So group punishments by the security forces just makes more young men inclined to join Boko Haram.

A side effect of increased security in the north is increased delays at border crossings. This has been particularly difficult at the Cameroon frontier because so many locals on both sides of the line depend on easy border access to make a living. But the effort to deny Boko Haram easy access means that everyone and everything crossing via the roads is checked. The terrorists and smugglers can still take the slower cross-country route.

April 29, 2013: In northeastern Borno state police fought Boko Haram, leaving ten Islamic terrorists and seven police dead. Nearby buildings were burned down and local journalists suspect many civilians were killed, as happened in Baga on the 19th.

April 28, 2013: Apparently someone did pay a $3.15 million ransom to Boko Haram to gain the release of a French family (parents, an uncle, and four children aged 5-12) that had been kidnapped in northern Cameroon two months earlier and released on April 18th. The hostages were apparently taken across the border to Nigeria and later back into Cameroon to avoid police efforts on both sides of the border to find them. Boko Haram at first denied they were responsible but a month ago released an Internet video in which they demanded the release of all Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria and Cameroon, otherwise they would continue holding the French family.  The French and Nigerian government would only say that they paid no ransom to get the family released and that there was no raid involved. Nothing was said about a third-party paying a ransom. Boko Haram has not said why they decided to free their hostages but Boko Haram members are already talking about the large ransom payment. Such ransoms are officially discouraged because they encourage the terrorists and enable groups like Boko Haram to make more attacks and kill more people. Thus these ransoms are “blood money” in the worst sense of the word.

April 27, 2013: In northeastern Borno state police killed a senior Boko Haram leader (Mohammed Chad). This man replaced a Boko Haram commander killed last month. Boko Haram is suffering heavy losses among top leadership and the replacements are getting younger and more violent.

April 25, 2013: In the northeast (Yobe state) a gang of Boko Haram gunmen robbed a bank and attacked a nearby police station. The robbery got $56,000 and five of the Islamic terrorists were killed, as well as two policemen. A dozen or more civilians were believed to have died as well.

Off the coast 14 pirates attacked a container ship, took away portable valuables and five members of the crew, who will be held for ransom.

April 26, 2013: In the north (Kaduna State) Boko Haram gunmen attacked a bank (killing two civilians but getting no money) and a police station, where they killed three policemen before fleeing.

In neighboring Borno state two policemen were killed in a Boko Haram ambush.  




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