Nigeria: The Grand Scam Repeated


July 8, 2016: In the northeast (Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states) the security forces are spending most of their time trying to find the remaining Boko Haram Islamic terrorists than in actually fighting them. Most of the action is in Borno state. Boko Haram as a major military threat was defeated in 2015 but Boko Haram the terrorist organization survives into 2016. So the search is on for what remains of Boko Haram, which still raids rural areas and keeps sending suicide bombers against security forces and cities.

The air force flies a lot of aerial reconnaissance missions, following up on tips that Boko Haram are active in a remote area. Those tips often turn out to be true and often a hidden Boko Haram camp is found. Some of the aerial photos get published and show that what remains of Boko Haram is adapting. The camps are often laid out to be difficult to spot from the air. What often gives these camps away is the use of solar panels, which Boko Haram needs to power their phones, night lighters and other electronics. These days Boko Haram has to be more careful in how it obtains essentials, like food and medicine. Where possible they pretend to be hunters and purchase supplies at rural markets. These “hunters” often hunt for game, which there is more of these days because several years of Islamic terrorist violence in the northeast has left many rural areas depopulated and many refugees are still reluctant to go home. Boko Haram knows about the aerial reconnaissance and often move their rural camps regularly, or immediately if they suspect the air force has found them. Because of this the air force is increasingly bombing the remote camps. Sending in ground forces is risky because it can take days (between the time air recon spots a camp, the army is notified and troops sent to attack). Boko Haram has sentries and spies protecting the camps and that means a ground attack usually encounters an uninhabited camp or one that has just been moved.

The Defenders

What Boko Haram fears most, next to air strikes, is not the security forces but the growing number of pro-government militias and local defense forces in the northeast. By late 2014 Boko Haram was regularly attacking towns or villages which had a lot of these volunteers. That led more civilians to join these groups. Officially called the Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force or CJTF), these volunteers initially received little material support from the government. In early 2013 Boko Haram began to notice that in Borno and Yobe states thousands of Moslem and Christian young men were enthusiastically joining the CJTF to provide security from Boko Haram violence and provide information to the security forces about who Boko Haram members were and where they were living. That trend continues and now the CJTF and self-defense groups in general have become the greatest threat to Boko Haram in rural areas as well as the cities. The CJTF frequently patrol remote areas and operate a growing network of trusted informants who can quickly phone in details on local Boko Haram activity.

In 2013 Boko Haram openly declared war on CJTF and threatened to kill any of them they could find. That state of war continues but now it is Boko Haram that is on the defensive. The CJTF often operates with heavily armed police or soldiers nearby (ready to move in arrest Boko Haram suspects the vigilantes identify or fire back if Boko Haram attack). By the end of 2013 the army was using the volunteers to replace troops at checkpoints. This policy enabled more checkpoints to be set up and more through searches of vehicles to be conducted. This made it more difficult for Boko Haram to move around, plan and carry out attacks or to resupply the few men they still had in the cities. Boko Haram responded by attacking checkpoints more frequently and that led to many volunteers getting weapons, officially or otherwise (sometimes with the help of soldiers or police). The checkpoints have become a major problem for Boko Haram and now the growing use of CJTF patrols and informants are even more of a problem.

By the end of 2014 some CJTF groups were launching attacks on Boko Haram, and usually winning because they knew the area and people better and often were able to launch a surprise attack at night. All this CJTF activity made Boko Haram very mad and ready to kill CJTF members whenever they had the chance. But because the CJTF have better information about their home areas, it was difficult for Boko Haram to make revenge attacks. The attacks are made anyway and often fail.

The military doesn’t like to publicize how important the CJTF, and civilian support in general, was to the defeat of Boko Haram but the truth gets out anyway and the civilian volunteers are getting more credit for their contribution. This is particularly true now as CJTF has become essential in spotting families of Boko Haram men who try to pass themselves off as refugees from Boko Haram. The situation is so dire for the remaining Boko Haram that they are sending their families (usually just wives and children) away because of food shortages and the increasing frequency of air or ground attacks. This media attention also revealed that the military had recruited over a hundred of the most effective CJTF informants into a special unit where these men work full time for the military as plain clothes agents who are sent to any area where Boko Haram is believed to be active (or trying to be) and collect information.

Hunger Games

So far in 2016 the army has been encountering more and more emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly to find food. The remaining Boko Haram groups can no longer freely raid nearby towns and villages for supplies because most of the rural civilians have fled. There are at least half a million refugees or people who have recently returned to their rural homes who have also not been getting food and other aid. Nearly all of this is in Borno, where about 15 percent of the state is still threatened by the remaining Boko Haram groups. Most of the hungry refugees are not threatened by Boko Haram but are in remote areas or victims of corrupt local aid officials. 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. With security much improved blaming Boko Haram, and the growing number of anonymous photos appearing on the Internet, the usual excuses no longer work and prosecutions are happening. Despite this highly visible and harmful corruption most of the population in the northeast 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.

Oil Wars

In the Niger River Delta a new group of local rebels, the NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) is largely responsible for the 57 percent increase in attacks on oil facilities this year. These attacks reduced oil production 18 percent in the first three months of 2016 and a further 11 percent in the second three months. Currently production is about 1.5 million barrels per day (BPD) but without all this violence it would be over 2.2 million BPD. Federal government officials ordered more troops and police into the area and 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 has not agreed to a ceasefire and is now demanding a national referendum on dissolving Nigeria and allowing the formation of many smaller states. That won’t work because of the oil, which has been the major export for decades and is concentrated in Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. These three states are all in the Delta, an area that comprises about seven percent of Nigeria and 11 percent of the national population. Oil is responsible for 40 percent of economic activity and 80 percent of the central government budget. The rest of Nigeria is not going to support the three oil states becoming independent and will fight to prevent it.

Yet oil has been a curse not a blessing for Nigeria and one thing nearly all Nigerians can agree on is a reduction in corruption and the continued theft of most oil income. 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 less than 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.

Many in the Niger Delta want compensation for all the corruption and the rest of the country is not willing to pay for that. Any separatist group like NDA is viewed (by the rest of the country) as another bunch of corrupt hustlers. That is largely true because MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), the last Delta separatist group was bought off by a 2009 amnesty deal but then many former MEND members went freelance as oil thieves or eventually helped form NDA. While MEND and NDA represented legitimate grievances, so do many corrupt politicians. So it’s not surprising that NDA is viewed as the MEND scam repeated.

The real war in Nigeria is not with Islamic terrorism or separatists but with corruption and bad government. Most Nigerians now agree on that and the current president pledged to do something about it. He is, but it is slow going and many Nigerians are not convinced that a cure is at hand.

July 6, 2016: In the south (Niger River Delta) NDA rebels destroyed a remote pumping station today in addition to a well and part of a pipeline yesterday.

July 5, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers at a checkpoint outside the town of Monguno fired on three teenage girls who appeared to be suicide bombers. The girls refused to halt until the troops opened fire, killing two of them. The third one got away and she detonated her explosives nearby and hurt no one but herself. Army specialists removed and disabled the explosive vests on the two dead girls. Further north, near Lake Chad troops ambushed and killed four armed Boko Haram men.

July 4, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) about a hundred Boko Haram attacked a border post on the Cameroon side of the border. This was apparently in reaction to a recent Cameroon army operation in the area that found and destroyed ten Boko Haram bomb making workshops located in several camps Boko Haram had set up near the border. Cameroon has far fewer resources (population, GDP) than Nigeria and until Boko Haram became a major problem, not many troops and police in the north (adjacent to northeast Nigeria). On the Cameroon side of the border there are many places to hide and few people living in the area to provide information. This continues to be attractive to Boko Haram groups seeking a refuge. But in 2016 the Cameroon security forces were reinforced by the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force). Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of over 8,000 troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but now MNJTF is spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas.

July 3, 2016: In the south (Niger River Delta) the NDA rebels had their Twitter and Facebook accounts shut down. This came after NDA used Twitter and Facebook to admit that they had been responsible for the growing number of attacks on oil production facilities in the Delta over the last few months. The NDA also boasted online that it had been responsible for five pipeline attacks over the weekend. Most major social media websites have TOS (Terms Of Service) that forbid this sort of thing. NDA later claimed someone else had posted those TOS violations.

June 27, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers and CJTF raided fifteen rural villages suspected of being under Boko Haram control. That proved to be true and some 5,000 civilian were liberated. But most of the several dozen Boko Haram men terrorizing the villages got away although at least six were killed and several more wounded. The CJTF is organizing local security in case the Boko Haram try to return and the search continues in the area for the remaining Boko Haram men.

June 23, 2016: In central Nigeria (Benue State) the body of a Catholic priest was found, not far from where he was kidnapped in April. The kidnappers demanded a ransom from the family of the priest and that was paid but the priest was never released and the kidnappers could no longer be reached. The Nigerian born priest was an official for the local diocese and often mediated local disputes.

June 22, 2016: In central Nigeria (Benue State) Moslem Fulani tribesmen raided three Christian farming villages over the last three days leaving nearly 30 dead and many more wounded.

June 21, 2016: In the northeast (Borno state) there has been a lot of Boko Haram violence just across the border in southeastern Niger. In the last few days there has been another outbreak of Boko Haram violence with several villages being raided and looted. All this has left over fifty dead, most of them local civilians. Much of this violence takes place near the Borno border around the Niger towns of Diffa and Bosso. This has led to increased joint (Niger and Nigerian) and MNJTF efforts to find and destroy Boko Haram groups that still operate on both sides of the border. Earlier in June over a hundred Boko Haram gunmen crossed the border into Niger and attacked 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.


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