Since mid-December the army has been sweeping the Sambisa Forest for remaining Boko Haram bases. Those large bases are apparently all gone and the forest has now become a trap rather than a refuge for Boko Haram. A growing number of Boko Haram facilities discovered are hidden and unguarded equipment storage areas. These are usually being destroyed (by airstrikes or artillery) or seized if transport and roads are available to get the stuff out. In one location troops found over a hundred motorbikes. These are a favorite form of transportation but many have been hidden away because of chronic fuel shortages in the forest. In the last month several hundred Islamic terrorists have been killed or, according to captured Islamic terrorists, have deserted. Over a thousand Boko Haram have been captured in the last month in the forest and nearby areas (especially around Lake Chad).
Since 2015 a lot of key Boko Haram personnel have been hiding out in Sambisa forest and getting to know it well. This is a large (60,000 square kilometers), hilly, sparsely populated area that straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states, The forest has long been a hideout outlaws of all sorts. Boko Haram used it as a base area for training camps and a safe place for the wives and children of Boko Haram men. One problem with living in the Sambisa is that there is not a lot of food or any of the other supplies (fuel, batteries, ammunition) Boko Haram requires to survive as a combat organization. Since mid-2016 the army has been encountering a growing number of emaciated Boko Haram men who deserted mainly to find food. The Sambisa has basically been surrounded since early 2016 and the remaining Boko Haram groups in there could not easily get out to raid nearby towns and villages for supplies. The Boko Haram still in the Sambisa are skilled survivors who got that way by learning to avoid army patrols and aerial reconnaissance. Large groups cannot get in and out of the Sambisa but small raiding parties (seeking loot or to carry out a suicide bombing) could do so well into 2016. But such movement became more and more dangerous. The Sambisa is not done as a hideout, but as long as the army and air force are keeping an eye on it those seeking a hiding place must look elsewhere.
After Boko Haram
By early 2017 the outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the north was largely extinguished, but not before several years of fighting had destroyed the economies of northeastern Nigeria. All this was caused by group of Taliban wannabes (Boko Haram) in the north whose activity grew rapidly in 2014. It took over a year for the government to finally muster sufficient military strength to cripple but not destroy the Boko Haram threat. 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) in Syria and Iraq. The main cause of Boko Haram gains in 2014 and 2015 was corruption in the army, which severely crippled army effectiveness. 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 is trying to change the corrupt army culture but it is slow going. More bad news is expected because of too many tribal divisions, not enough oil money and too much corruption create growing unrest throughout the country. This is especially bad down south in the oil producing region (the Niger River Delta). There a 2009 amnesty deal that reduced violence against oil facilities has fallen apart because local politicians and business leaders had taken over the oil theft business from the disarmed tribal rebels. Now the former rebels wanted that business back. Meanwhile, the northern Moslems want more control over the federal government (and the oil money). 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. Boko Haram made international news even through it was a symptom of what is crippling Nigeria. The cause is corruption and factionalism (often in the guise of tribalism) and there is no easy cure for that.
Inflation is still close to 20 percent and unemployment 14 percent. More telling is that the underemployment rate is 33 percent. Thus just having a job means little if it does not pay enough keep you alive. Noting this, and other indicators, foreign experts like the IMF and World Bank have revised their predictions for Nigerian economic performance downward. Thus the IMF now sees it likely Nigerian GDP will grow .8 percent in 2017 rather than one percent. The main problem is the corruption but that has many side effects, like the difficulty in getting accurate economic data.
The new government acknowledges that it has to do more to gather and provide to foreign investors accurate data on the state of the economy. This became a big problem recently when China refused to release $20 billion in loans it had already agreed to provide. The reason was doubts about the accuracy of the economic data the government provided international lenders. Clearing this is up is very important because the government is desperately trying to avoid recession related increases in unemployment and inflation that could trigger widespread unrest. To this end the government arranged billions of dollars in loans from foreign sources (mainly the World Bank, China and Japan) to spur economic activity. This will only succeed if the government can control enough of the corruption (that usually cripples such investment efforts) and actually generate an increase in oil revenue. The federal government normally gets 70 percent of its budget from oil income. Oil is normally responsible for 40 percent of all economic activity in Nigeria and 90 percent of foreign exchange (to pay for imports). But now the government has less oil money available and is trying to replace that by going after and halting the massive corruption that had diverted so much oil income in the past. Some progress has been made there and the government also managed to reduce government spending seen as non-essential. In 2016 Chinese economists visited Nigeria and saw the extent of the corruption and economic problems that bad behavior created. The Chinese also noted that GDP had actually contracted a bit in 2016 rather than expanded as the government had predicted. China is still willing to work with Nigeria, but only if Nigerian officials can halt an economic collapse corruption has caused.
January 21, 2017: In Gambia (about a thousand kilometers up the coast from Nigeria) the former president Yahya Jammeh agreed to accept the results of the December elections and cede power to the winner. Nigeria had recently sent 200 troops and some military aircraft to join an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African states) peacekeeping force that had assembled in Senegal, on the Gambian border to intervene if Jammeh refused to obey the constitution. ECOWAS negotiators had been with Jammeh regularly and on the 18th the peacekeeper force entered Gambia and Jammeh discovered that ECOWAS had also talked to the leaders of the Gambian military, who were persuaded to abandon Jammeh (who had always treated the military well, as most dictators do) and not confront the peacekeepers. With no other options, Jammeh agreed to go peacefully and he did.
January 20, 2017: In the south (Rivers state) a demonstration celebrating the inauguration of the new American president was dispersed by the police using tear gas and gunfire. The demonstrators were Christians (most in the south are, as are about half of all Nigerians) and believed the new American president would be more active against Islamic terrorists, which have been a problem in the northeast and Nigerian Christians have been disappointed with the U.S. response to it so far. The demonstrators (many belonging to a Biafra separatist group) say eleven people were killed by police bullets aimed at what police described as a “separatist demonstration”. The police deny using deadly force. But there is photographic and physical evidence of several such attacks on separatist demonstrations in 2015 and 2016 that document the deaths of over 150 demonstrators. The pro-Biafra separatists have been increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria attempted to establish the separate state of Biafra. Over a million died before the separatist movement was crushed. Separatist attitudes were silenced but not extinguished. Pro Biafra groups began to appear again in the late 1990s, trying to revive the separatist movement. Since then over a thousand separatists have been killed, and many more imprisoned, while the government insists that Biafra is gone forever. But as details of the extent of government corruption during the last few decades came out, Biafra again seemed like something worth fighting for.
January 19, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) about a hundred Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Rann refugee camp near the Cameroon border. At least eight of the attackers were killed by soldiers defending the camp.
January 18, 2017: In central Nigeria (Benue State) the local government revealed it had negotiated agreement with neighboring Nasarawa state to end the four years of violence created by Moslem Fulani tribesmen who fought Benue state Christian farmers who opposed Fulani attempts to use farmlands to graze and water their herds. Since 2012 nearly 4,000 Benue farmers have been killed fighting with the Fulani. The peace deal allows unarmed Fulani herders to graze and water their animals at certain locations and then leave. The agreement explicitly forbids the Fulani from settling in Benue lands farmed by Christians for centuries. The Fulani long resisted such an agreement but since 2015 soldiers have been more frequently catching up with some of their raiding parties, killing many of the Fulani and returning stolen cattle and other goods to the Benue farmers. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along. The violence has gotten worse lately. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and it was getting worse in 2016 as officials from both states met with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal. Boko Haram has claimed involvement, but that appears to be marginal and more unlikely now that Boko Haram suffered such heavy losses in nearby Borno State. The Moslem tribes have long claimed that the government was sending Christian soldiers and police to persecute them because of their religion not because they were constantly attacking Christian farmers. The settled (farming) tribes have been there a long time and in the last few decades more Moslem tribesmen have come south looking for pasturage and water for their herds and have increasingly used force to get what they want.
Further north, in Kaduna State similar violence by Fulani herders against Christian villagers left over 800 Christians dead in 2016. There was extensive property damaged as well, including 1,422 houses, 16 churches, 19 businesses and one school. Kaduna is majority Moslem and the state government refuses to believe that the Fulani raiders are from Kaduna (and thus the responsibility of the state government.) Instead the violence is blamed on Fulani from a different state, despite evidence that the Fulani raiders are locals. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who get in their way.
January 17, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) the air force bombed the Rann refugee camp near the Cameroon border mistaking it for a Boko Haram target nearby. The airstrikes killed over 150 civilians and wounded hundreds more. The government quickly admitted the error and rushed medical and other aid to the camp to treat the wounded. More soldiers and police were sent as well. The government promised a thorough investigation.
January 16, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) a Boko Haram suicide bomber was spotted near University of Maiduguri. Police were called and the suicide bomber, a 12 year old girl, refused to surrender and was shot but managed to detonate her explosive vest. The bomber was the only fatality. A short time later another suicide bomber, also a young girl, got into the mosque in the faculty housing section of the campus and killed four and wounded 15 worshipers with her explosive vest. Students and faculty reported that security around the campus had been very tight until recently, when soldiers eased up on checking everyone entering the campus. The Boko Haram leader had threatened more attacks like this has Boko Haram continued to be hunted down and killed.
January 15, 2017: The government admitted that it is still secretly negotiating with Boko Haram over the fate of the remaining 200 Chibok girls. The air force has admitted that Boko Haram is using groups of Chibok girls as human shields. This all began when Boko Haram raided a boarding school near Chibok in early 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenage girls and older women. Currently about 200 of the kidnapped women are still missing and it appears that some 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 hiding out in the north. The government is 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. Boko Haram is holding out for major concessions, like the release of many senior Boko Haram leaders who are imprisoned as well as cash and whatever else the Boko Haram negotiators feel they have a reasonable chance of getting.
January 12, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram used a roadside bomb to slow down soldiers that were pursuing them near the Sambisa Forest. The bomb killed two officers.
January 11, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram suicide bombers crossed the border and tried to attack the Cameroon town of Dougue but were stopped by local defense forces. When the two bombers set off their explosives only they died, although one local defense volunteer was wounded. Nearby three Cameroon soldiers were killed when their patrol was ambushed by Boko Haram gunmen. Yesterday there was a similar incident that left one soldier dead. Cameroon has become increasingly dangerous for Boko Haram but some of the Islamic terrorists find Cameroon less dangerous than Nigeria at the moment.
January 10, 2017: In a major move to curb corruption the government revealed it has begun tracking and auditing oil production and exports. This had never been tolerated before mainly because it made it more difficult for government officials to steal oil or oil income. Because of new anti-corruption measures implemented during 2016 oil production has increased to 1.94 million barrels per day (BPD) at the end of 2016. That was an increase of 404,000 barrels over the November high of 1.56 million BPD. This came after falling to a low of 1.4 million BPD earlier in 2016. Without all this violence it would be over 2.2 million BPD and the government says that level must be reached in 2017 if the economy is to recover.
January 8, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) three Boko Haram attacks in and around the state capital Maiduguri left five suicide bombers dead along with three civilians, one of them a civilian defense volunteer. These volunteers have been key in controlling the Boko Haram efforts to carry out more suicide bomber attacks in Borno. Some of the volunteers are armed but all know how to get soldiers or police on the scene using their cell phones.
January 5, 2017: The government resumed payment of salaries to Niger Delta rebels who accepted the 2009 amnesty. Most of these belonged to MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) and many have gone on to form a new group; the NDA (Niger Delta Avengers). In 2009 the government thought it had solved the Delta rebel problem with an amnesty deal. Like everything else in Nigeria, corruption prevented that arrangement from working. Many former rebels accepted government sponsored security jobs. These jobs were basically a payoff for gang members to ensure they observed the “no more violence” part of the amnesty deal. The violence against oil production declined substantially in 2009 because of the peace deal that over 30,000 local rebels accepted. That eventually changed as corruption caused the government payoffs to the former rebels to gradually disappear. In 2015 the violence began to reappear and by early 2016 there were one or more major attacks a month on oil facilities. The new government has been reducing corruption and has promised the 2009 amnesty crowd that the payments will now reach them. The Niger Delta community has heard this before and expects the corruption to soon return and make their payments disappear. A lot of Delta rebels aren’t waiting and are already seeking to extort large payments or other concessions from the oil companies or the government to avoid more attacks that will reduce oil exports.
The next day (January 6th) former members of MEND and newly recruited rebels of NDA denounced the government assurance that amnesty benefits would be restored openly ordered its members to prepare for resumed oil infrastructure attacks. NDA is run by some local gang leaders as well as former MEND leaders who are fed up with the 2009 amnesty deal and a 2015 extension of the amnesty by newly elected president Buhari. After 2009 many of the MEND hard core remained in touch with each other. Since early 2015 these MEND remnants has been demanding that the army withdraw from the Delta and all imprisoned MEND members be freed or else there will be a new wave of attacks on oil facilities. The attacks began again in 2016 and the security forces fought back. NDA was waiting to see what the government would do and have now concluded that the government is not really going to change anything. Buhari means well at the federal level but he is having a problem cleaning out the many corrupt officials that dominate local politics.
January 4, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) three Boko Haram suicide bombers attempted to attack a crowded market in a village outside Maiduguri. Civilian defense volunteers spotted the three, alerted nearby soldiers who approached and ordered the girls to surrender. Instead the three girls tried to flee and the soldiers opened fire. One bomber vest exploded killing a second bomber. The third bomber was shot dead before she could set off her explosives,
December 24, 2016: The government declared the last major Boko Haram base in the Sambisa Forest had been captured and destroyed.
December 22, 2016: In the northeast (across the border in southeast Niger) 31 Boko Haram gunmen surrendered in the border town of Diffa. The surrendering men had joined Boko Haram in 2014 and 2015 and had fled to Niger recently but found the local security forces hunting the destroying or arresting any groups of armed men they encountered. The rumor among Boko Haram groups still in Nigeria was that might be easier to survive in neighboring countries like Niger and Cameroon. The reality was that these two countries have responded with growing force and Boko Haram diehards are being treated like another bunch of bandits to deal with. In Niger, however, the security forces will accept the surrender of Boko Haram men who give up their weapons and any locally obtained loot. These men are not arrested and are encouraged to head for Nigeria or a refugee camp for Nigerians and not cause any trouble in Niger.