Despite the continued heavy military activity in the northeast (mainly northern Borno state) Boko Haram survives and is able to maintain hidden bases large enough to hold hundreds of Islamic terrorists and their prisoners. Particularly controversial was the recent agreement that got 82 of the Chibok captives (from 2014) released in exchange for the release of eight Boko Haram leaders being held and awaiting prosecution for mass murder, terrorism and so on. Many Nigerians believed these men should have at least stood trial before being traded for hostages. As expected some of the freed Boko Haram leaders promptly went back to Islamic terrorism.
Meanwhile Boko Haram is very visibly divided into factions. That may be one reason it survives, as there is no longer much central control at all. Back in March Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video to boast that he was still alive and operating in the northeast. Security forces have claimed Shekau was dead at least five times since 2011 but so far have always been wrong. In late 2016 there was hope that a recent split in Boko Haram might lead to Shekau getting killed by other Islamic terrorists but that hasn’t happened either and the two main factions appear to have achieved some kind of truce with each other and continues to operate.
The Boko Haram split began in August 2016 when ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) announced that it was replacing Shekau, who was accused of mismanagement, with Abu Musab al Barnawi. 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. That has become an issue in Nigeria because the use of children as suicide bombers has tripled this year (27 in the first three months of 2017 compared to nine in 2016). While the new Boko Haram leader has concentrateds attacks on the security forces and non-Moslems he has also used children, especially females, as suicide bombers. 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.
Boko Haram is now split into competing factions which is nothing new as there have always been some factions, but not to this extent. At this point many Boko Haram loyalists regret the 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 by early 2017 ISIL was facing the loss of its primary sanctuary in Syria and Iraq. 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 serve fellow Moslems, especially those loyal (or at least tolerant) of ISIL. This has worked to a certain extent as in some parts of Borno State ISIL tells villagers they will not be attacked if they do not actively work against ISIL. In many rural areas the locals are fine with that. But Boko Haram men have to eat and the new less violent approach does not always work when the locals are going hungry and Boko Haram has to steal from these hungry civilians or starve. Barnawi has made good on his pledge 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.
Shekau is getting most of the security forces attention at the moment because of his publicity seeking and continued reliance on lots of violence against everyone. Since March the army has been sending troops to areas throughout the northeast to revisit former Boko Haram base areas to see if there were signs that Shekau men were in the vicinity. There are still large areas of Kano and Borno State that are deserted, with the civilians reluctant to return until order is restored. In these areas Boko Haram groups can survive, if they can find enough to eat. Many die trying as soldiers have come across the bodies of emaciated Boko Haram men who collapsed and died while seeking something to eat. Others surrender before they pass out from hunger and their emaciation is pretty obvious. These men provide a lot of details about who is still out there and what their mental and physical condition is. They also confirm that Boko Haram survives, but does not thrive. The main reason for this are 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 joining 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. A major factor in this was that in the more remote areas, like near the Sambisa Forest, the CJTF groups contained a lot of local hunters. These men are professional hunters who thrive in rural areas where there is a lot more game than people. CJTF first demonstrated to the army the skills of local hunters who tracked game for a living. The army noted that the success of CJTF attack units was largely the result of local hunters. Soon the army began to hire some of the hunters who were exceptional trackers as well as offering bounties if they could track down certain Boko Haram men or groups. At first Boko Haram fought back and attacked trackers or their families. That backfired because the CJTF have better information about their home areas which made it difficult for Boko Haram to make revenge attacks. The attacks are made anyway and fail so often that most Boko Haram are advised by their leaders to stay away from CJTF, especially those groups with professional hunters.
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.
Peace For Oil
Oil production rose 22 percent in April to 1.48 million barrels per day (BPD). Production was 1.53 million BPD at the start of 2017 but then declined to 1.43 million in February and 1.21 million BPD in March. The April increase is largely the result of the federal government making acceptable peace deals with the local tribal rebels who have been bombing pipeline and other oil facilities. That violence returned recently because of corruption in the local state governments that became an issue once more. Back in late 2016 the government proclaimed the 1.56 million BPD in November 2016 put Nigeria on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020. Then reality intervened as promises to the locals were broken. Peace and more oil production is unlikely to be achieved much less sustained unless there are some fundamental economic and political changes in the Niger River Delta oil fields. Corruption, theft and sabotage continue to hamper oil production. There is also a growing problem with unexpected competition. The drop in world oil prices after 2013 was largely because of the huge quantities of oil and gas coming on the market in North America. There the decades old fracking techniques had been perfected after 2000 and changed the world oil market. Nigeria was recently told that efforts by Arab oil states to make a deal with the fracking producers failed. The Arabs wanted the frackers to become unofficial members of the OPEC oil cartel in order to keep production low enough to keep the price high. That did not work because there is no “fracker cartel” and the attitude among the new North American producers is to rely on their technical prowess, and not market manipulation to stay in business and prosper.
All this makes little difference to most Nigerians because most of the oil money in Nigeria has been stolen over the last half century. There is still an incentive to make peace in the Delta as that will be one less factor that prevents growth in production or even maintaining high levels of production. That tribal unrest is largely the result of corruption and battles between tribes and clans over the many illegal opportunities in the delta. These include gangs that act as private armies for local politicians (usually state governors) or otherwise work for local politicians or even police commanders. In return for this political violence-on-demand the gangsters get government jobs, most of which don’t require much effort. You also get some protection from the security forces if you are stealing oil (as long as a percentage goes to your patron).
May 16, 2017: President Buhari, himself a retired Army general, openly warned military officers to stay out of politics. This came in the wake of a recent reorganization of the senior army leadership that affected 147 officers. Buhari has also reminded officers that corruption is often the cause, if not the result, of officers getting too involved with politicians. Nigeria has gone a record 18 years without military interference with the elected government. Few Nigerians old enough to remember it want a return to military rule. This was frequent until 1999 and the temptation (among politicians and senior officers) is always there.
May 15, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) three female Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a village outside the state capital Maiduguri. This left two villagers dead and six wounded.
May 14, 2017: In the west (Niger state) Fulani herders raided a Moslem farming village and killed 27 people, most of them in a mosque. While most of the Fulani violence is aimed at Christian farmers in central Nigeria (especially Jos state) and the northeast (often Kaduna State) the Fulani have no problem with going after Moslem farmers who get in the way. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. Thus there were over 800 Christians dead in 2016 along with extensive property damage, including 1,422 houses, 16 churches, 19 businesses and one school destroyed. State governments often refuse to believe that the Fulani raiders are local (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 intervene.
May 13, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) three Boko Haram suicide bombers tried to get into the University of Maiduguri. They died trying although a security guard was killed. Outside Maiduguri (the state capital) a group of Boko Haram men attacked over a dozen farmers working in their fields and killed of them before driving off.
May 12, 2017: Boko Haram released a video in which four of the Chibok girls announce that they have joined Boko Haram.
May 7, 2017: Nigeria released eight Boko Haram leaders in return for the freedom 82 of the “Chibok girls” kidnapped in 2014 from a boarding school in the northeast (Borno state). Within a week three of the released Boko Haram leaders released a video promising more attacks, especially on cities.
In central Nigeria (Benue State) Fulani herders attacked two farming villages leaving eight dead and many more wounded. This follows a similar incident in late April that left three dead. Apparently the current peace deal between nomads and farmers in Benue is still having problems. Back in January the state government negotiated an agreement with neighboring Nasarawa state to end the four years of violence created by 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 got 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.
May 6, 2017: In the Niger River Delta major local political groups called on everyone to keep the peace (not attack oil facilities) in order to encourage the federal government to keep the pressure on local officials to deliver promised benefits. Unfortunately whenever attention is diverted to some other national crises the local officials revert to their larcenous ways. So far this year most of the aid money is reaching the local people it is meant for.
Britain and the United States warned their citizens to avoid northern Nigeria if possible because Boko Haram is apparently planning to kidnap Westerners to hold for ransom.
May 5, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State), just across the border in Chad Boko Haram attacked a military base and killed nine soldiers, wounded 28 and got away with some loot. Reinforcements arrived and before it was all over at least 40 of the attackers were also dead.
May 4, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram suicide bombers tried to get past checkpoints and into the state capital Maiduguri. Police tried to capture them but the three managed to detonate explosives leaving five dead. The day before a similar incident occurred involving three suicide bombers but the only casualties were the three bombers.
April 28, 2017: A year after the government declared Boko Haram defeated many people in remote areas of the northeast Borno state are questioning that assessment. The Islamic terrorists are still around, although most Boko Haram activity is of the bandit variety as the hungry Moslem fanatics seek food and other necessities in a large area there violence has largely depopulated in the last five years.
April 27, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) a Boko Haram suicide truck bomber attacked a military convoy headed for the base at Damboa. The explosion killed five soldiers and wounded another 40. This attack, like most others recently, was carried out by the ISIL faction (led by Abu al Barnawi).
April 18, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) soldiers, acting on a tip, raided several well-hidden Boko Haram camps in remote areas near the Cameroon border. These attacks took over 24 hours but ended up killing 21 Islamic terrorists, wounding many more and freeing over 1,600 civilians that were being held in bondage by the Islamic terrorists
April 17, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) over a hundred Boko Haram raiders attacked an army checkpoint near a village. Five of the soldiers were killed, five wounded another few fled and the checkpoint was captured. The Islamic terrorists then looted the nearby village for three hours and moved off before army reinforcements showed up.