Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released an audio recording in which he took credit for several recent high-profile attacks on soldiers in the northeast, including two ambushes that killed battalion commanders. Shekau was thought to be distracted with factional fighting within Boko Haram but apparently he is back in the fight. The Boko Haram split began on August 3rd when ISIL announced on that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with a new leader. ISIL believed Shekau devoted too much effort to killing fellow Moslems (especially civilians) rather than the real enemies of ISIL (local security forces and non-Moslems in general). ISIL leadership was also unhappy with the Boko Haram use of children and women as suicide bombers. Then on August 19th the air force claimed it bombed a meeting of Shekau loyalists and killed Shekau. After that Abu Musab al Barnawi, the new leader ISIL had selected, announced that Boko Haram would now concentrate its attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems. Barnawi is a son of Mohammed Yusuf, one of the ISIL founders. Barnawi was appointed chief Boko Haram spokesman in January 2015. Although Barnawi has developed a following in Boko Haram Shekau refused to accept the ISIL decision and turned out to have survived the bombing.
Boko Haram is now split into competing factions which is nothing new as there have always been some factions, but not to this extent. Now many Boko Haram loyalists regret the March 2015 decision to become part of ISIL, which was believed to be an effort to avoid a split in Boko Haram as more radical members declared themselves followers of ISIL or even tried to go to Syria to join ISIL. Few African Islamic terrorists have done that, largely because of the cost and difficulty travelling from Africa to areas where ISIL is dominant. But in many parts of the world older Islamic terror organizations are fracturing because their more enthusiastic members prefer the ISIL style of ultra-violence. By the time Boko Haram joined ISIL was already on the defensive in the Middle East and so far in 2016 ISIL has suffered one major defeat after another. Barnawi is in his 20s and similar to his father, Mohammed Yusuf, who was well educated, an Islamic conservative and murdered by police in 2009 just before he turned 40. That murder was one of the reasons Boko Haram turned to widespread and ruthless violence rather than just depending on agitation and education. Barnawi said he was going to concentrate on killing non-Moslems, especially Nigerian Christians and his faction is believed responsible for several recent attacks on Christians in the northeast. It is still unclear who is winning the power struggle within Boko Haram but both factions appear to be operational and avoiding fights with each other, for the moment.
The Enemy Within
There are enough (a few hundred at least) very active Boko Haram still roaming the countryside in the northeast to prevent most of the two million (or more) refugees from returning home. Staying in the makeshift refugee camps is dangerous as well with local officials plundering the nearly $400 million in foreign aid sent in. These same officials, and some foreign aid workers (from NGOs, or non-governmental organizations) and security personnel are accused of raping women and girls in the camps. The corruption is nothing new but the rape allegations are less common. Meanwhile tracking down and killing or capturing the remaining Boko Haram is a time-consuming, tedious and dangerous process. The non-refugee population up there is often guarded by local self-defense volunteers. These groups are a good source of intel but are also believed to be killing locals suspected to being Boko Haram supporters. Some of the vigilantes misbehave in other ways, sometimes in collusion with local politicians and traditional (tribal or religious) leaders. Many Moslems in the northeast still believe in the idea of Boko Haram (Islamic zealots eliminating the corruption and non-Moslems from the northeast) but tend to keep quiet about it. These supporters comprise less than ten percent of the population but are essential sources of information and other support for the remaining Islamic terrorists out there. It is getting ugly, as it usually does in situations like this. As long as people keep hearing of Boko Haram raids and bombings the bad behavior will persist.
Further south in the Niger River Delta local tribal rebels have crippled oil production with their new attacks. The NDA (Niger Delta Avengers), a newly formed local group, have continued blowing up oil pipelines and inspired local villagers to demonstrate against the oil companies and the government over the corruption and destructive behavior of the oil operations. NDA has been responsible for most of the recent violence in the oil producing Delta. The military and police have been unable to halt the violence and oil production is unable to grow and is even declining. Meanwhile many gangs in the south steal oil directly from the many pipelines that run from the wells to the coast. The oil thieves are complaining that they are getting less and less for their stolen oil because of lower world prices, so they steal more of it. Nigeria has the dubious distinction of being the oil-producing nation suffering from largest problem with theft of crude oil. Not only is this costing the government billion dollars a year in lost revenue, but much of the oil from the plundered pipelines (the thieves just punch a hole to steal the crude) flows into the Niger River Delta waterways, polluting the delta and the fishing waters off the coast. In the last decade the government had hired former local rebels to provide pipeline security, but these lads appear to have gone into business with the oil thieves or joined the theft gangs themselves. In southern Nigeria the oil thefts have been going on for decades. Despite government efforts (prompted by media and popular pressure) to curb the thefts the losses have increased. The navy was ordered to find and seize the small tankers that collect the crude oil from the thieves and take it to neighboring countries to be sold to brokers who will arrange for the stolen oil to enter legitimate commerce. Naval officers are now suspected of taking bribes from tanker owners, who can afford to pay large sums to avoid seizure. Most of what money the government actually receives from oil production is stolen by politicians and civil servants, so people living in the oil producing regions see themselves as double victims. They don’t get much oil income because of all the theft and also suffer from the pollution the oil thieves cause when a hole is punched into a pipe. Military and police efforts against the pirates and oil thieves are constant, but because of the large payoffs from this illegal behavior, there are always more people willing to take their chances and make some big money.
The new government is trying to deal with the corruption but it is not possible to quickly undo decades of bad behavior. The low oil prices, in addition to the corruption and Boko Haram violence have created the first economic recession for Nigeria since the 1990s.
The Other Religious Uprising
In the northeast soldiers and police continue to clash with local Shia, especially armed members of IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria). These clashes have left over a hundred people dead or wounded in the last month. There are about seven million Shia in Nigeria and since the 1980s a growing number of them have joined IMN, a group founded and quietly supported by Iran. While relations between Shia and Sunni Moslems have generally been good in Nigeria, local Sunni radical groups like Boko Haram practice the anti-Shia attitudes so common in Sunni terror groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. IMN always proclaimed itself a peaceful group that welcomed all Moslems but over the years it has become all Shia and a lot more militant. Using Iran as an example (because a religious revolution in 1979 put Shia clergy in charge of the government by the mid-1980s) many Shia in Nigeria now want such a religious dictatorship, using Islamic law, for all of Nigeria (which is half Christian). Because of strife between Saudi Arabia and Iran there is a lot more tension and violence between Shia and Sunni worldwide. While the Nigerian Shia are considered less-than-orthodox by the senior Shia clergy back in Iran and Iraq, they are still recognized as Shia, and Iran has provided more and more support, most of it illegal, in the form of cash smuggled in to help sustain Shia organizations.
The Iran connection in Nigeria became more visible in the last decade. For example in 2013 Iran denied that it had trained a Nigerian Shia cleric in espionage techniques so he could recruit locals and gather information on the activities of Israelis and Americans in southwestern Nigeria (where the cleric, and many Shia) live. This plot unraveled when Nigerian police arrested and interrogated three Shia Nigerian Moslems who admitted spying for Iran and provided many details. Since 2013 the Shia violence has increased, as have the Iranian denials that they are involved. The IMN says the increased violence is not their fault and largely triggered by police and army violence against peaceful Shia. The security forces have, for decades, behaved like this towards anyone they perceived of as a threat. Only in the last few years has the government tried to curb this illegal and counterproductive violence. At the same time groups like IMN and Boko Haram would not act any differently if the security forces behaved because both these groups are dedicated to establish religious dictatorships in Nigeria and destroying Islamic groups that do not agree with them.
With Boko Haram fading from the headlines Shia Islamic terrorism is becoming more visible. Iran backed Nigerian Shia radical groups were advised (often via training in Iran) to maintain a low profile, especially if Sunni Islamic terrorists were active. Since the 1980s Iran has been sponsoring (paying for) Nigerian Shia to make religious or educational visits to Iran where many were recruited to receive training in how to form political and para-military organizations. This low key approach paid off as there are now a lot of Nigerian Shia willing to defend Shia Islam in Nigeria with violence (organized or otherwise).
What is happening in Nigeria is another victory for the Quds Force (which supervises Iranian sponsored terrorism overseas). This Quds involvement became visible in 2010 when Nigeria reported to the UN that Iran had illegally smuggled weapons to Nigeria. Iran first insisted that it was all a misunderstanding, and that the weapons were actually purchased by an unnamed Nigerian politician. Most Nigerian politicians maintain private armies. These forces are illegal, and are usually criminal gangs in the pay of local politicians. Iran then changed its story and denied that the arms shipment was from Iran at all (despite all the shipping documents and witnesses indicating otherwise.) Another claim was that the arms were actually legal exports headed for Gambia (about a thousand kilometers up the coast from Nigeria). There were suggestions that Gambia was but another stop on the way to Egypt, where the weapons would be smuggled to Iranian supported Hamas in Gaza via tunnels under the border.
Up until then Nigeria was generally friendly with Iran, a country that has been generous with bribes, and other favors, for Nigerian officials. Two Iranians in Nigeria who arranged the arms shipment took refuge in the Iranian embassy and were apparently members of the Quds Force. At this point the Sunni Boko Haram was becoming more active and this Shia Islamic radicalism faded from the headlines. Now Boko Haram is just about gone and the Shia radicals are still around. Iran is no longer considered a friend of Nigeria.
The Chibok Girls
Boko Haram raided a boarding school in early 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenage girls and older women. Currently about half the kidnapped women are still missing and it appears that most of these do not want to be rescued as they have married Boko Haram men and had children or simply joined Boko Haram. Chibok was the first mass Boko Haram kidnapping and families of these girls have been pressuring the government to rescue these girls ever since. In May 2016 Amina Ali was the first of the Chibok girls to be rescued and many others followed. Apparently about half the captives accepted offers to “marry” Boko Haram men. Many of those who refused were not raped and that was confirmed when many of those who got away were examined and questioned. Over five percent of the captives appear to have died (from childbirth, disease, accidents and air attacks) and the remaining captives appear to be with various groups of Boko Haram still in the Sambisa forest. The government admits it is still negotiating with Boko Haram factions or local leaders acting as intermediaries, to arrange the release of more Chibok captives or at least obtain confirmation on who is still alive.
November 15, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) an army battalion commander was killed when ambushed by Boko Haram gunmen. Several soldiers were wounded in the incident.
November 14, 2016: A Pakistani diplomat in Nigeria admitted that Nigerian pilots and technicians were working for the Nigerian Air Force. This announcement is apparently in response to vague media accusations that the government has been hiring foreign mercenaries to help with the war against Boko Haram. It’s no secret that the government has brought in thousands of foreign troops to help with the fight against Boko Haram. It’s not so bad if the foreigners are African but the media report imply that some of the mercenaries are from outside Africa and that would include Pakistanis.
In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram men on motorbikes attacked a village, killed two civilians, looted the place and burned most of the structures down.
November 1, 2016: In the north, across the border in Chad, the local security forces and those of MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) believe they have effectively eliminated the Boko Haram presence on the Chad side of the border. This comes after the recent surrender of 240 Boko Haram men and their families. This group had been cut off from access to Nigeria or any towns and were starving. The Boko Haram prisoners revealed that they believed themselves to be the last active group in Chad. What scared the Boko Haram the most was the MNJTF. 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. 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.
October 15, 2016: In the northeast (Kaduna State) Fulani herders raided a Christian village after first attacking a military checkpoint and driving the soldiers away. The raiders killed at least 40 people, looted the village, burned down a church and moved on. There have been a growing number of such raid in Kaduna State this year. The Fulani tribe has been raiding throughout northern and central Nigeria and these raids have left thousands dead over the last few years and sometimes have religious overtones because the Fulani are mainly Moslem while most of the farmers are Christians.