In the northeast, government officials, including president Buhari, admit the troops are suffering from poor morale. This is the result of stress from the continued threat of Islamic terrorist attacks as well as the increasing number of effective Boko Haram attacks that feature surprise and larger numbers of heavily armed attackers. When these attacks are launched on towns the troops will often flee along with the civilians. President Buhari has not replaced the most senior leaders of the military, but these senior generals presided over the replacement of five commanders of operations in the northeast over the last two years.
The turnover in commanders is largely because the Boko Haram ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction known as ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) has stuck with its strategy of concentrating on the security forces and doing so by assembling a large enough number of gunmen to ensure, most of the time, to ensure a quick victory. The dramatic impact of these new tactics could be seen in 2018. There were four ISWAP attacks on military bases in the first seven months of the year, but after that, the number of such attacks increased so that over the last five months of 2018 there were at least 30 such attacks. The military suffered nearly 2,000 dead, wounded, desertions and missing and morale got a lot worse. The army didn’t help by trying to play down the combat losses because the families of the missing soldiers were not quiet, nor were the civilians who fled the region after these attack. Army efforts to hide the truth only made the impact on morale worse. The ISWAP attacks continued into 2019, fueled by a reputation for success and large quantities of captured weapons, vehicles, equipment and supplies. This provided the air force with more targets to bomb but those air strikes did not halt the growth of ISWAP.
The continued prevalence of corruption and incompetent officers in the army has contributed to continued chaos and lawlessness in northern Borno State, where most of the population was displaced by Boko Haram violence in 2014-15 and when Boko Haram control was broken by 2017. After that government programs to revive the economy and restore law and order collapsed under the usual corruption and incompetence of local officials and security forces. It is now worse because the ISWAP is being perceived as less of a threat to civilians than the security forces, who tend to be brutal with civilians when there is even the slightest suspicion that civilians are collaborating with the enemy. The increased violence in the last three months has created nearly 60,000 more refugees in the northeast. Since 2015, when Boko Haram power was at its peak in the northeast, Islamic terrorist activity has caused nearly two million people to flee their homes to avoid continued violence. Most Nigerians do not want to live in areas under Boko Haram control or threatened with continued Boko Haram attack.
Even a reform-minded president who was a former general and Moslem was unable to push military reforms far enough and fast enough. Boko Haram is not winning, but the government is failing to finish off a defeated Boko Haram and take advantage of an opportunity to regain the trust and loyalty of the local population. ISIL took advantage of similar conditions to quickly overrun more than a third of Iraq in 2014. Many Nigerian leaders are well aware of how that worked, but the corruption is so entrenched and widespread that reform moves slowly and that left the army and government officials vulnerable to a well-organized Boko Haram comeback.
ISWAP is also known as the Barnawi (or “Albarnawi”) faction of Boko Haram. ISWAP has apparently received a lot of useful technical and tactical advice from ISIL veterans of fighting in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Boko Haram persists in the northeast in large part because of its willingness to experiment, innovate and take advice from foreign ISIL veterans. The Barnawi faction follows the current ISIL doctrine of concentrating attacks on security forces and government officials (preferably the corrupt ones). That makes it easier to extort (raise taxes) cash and other goods from the local population. The Barnawi faction has over 3,000 active gunmen and operates mainly in the far north of Borno state near Lake Chad and the borders of Niger and Chad. The smaller Shekau faction has about half as many armed men and operates further south near the Borno State capital of Maiduguri and the Sambisa Forest. Both factions rely on the fact that the years of Boko Haram violence in Borno State (where Boko Haram originated in 2004) has increased the poverty and corruption the Islamic terrorist organization was founded to eliminate. While many potential recruits are discouraged by stricter standards and more fanatic approach of ISIL (compared to the original Boko Haram) faction the most hard core Islamic radicals are drawn to the more extreme groups and that way Boko Haram persists.
Some army commanders in Borno State try to blame foreign NGOs who provide a steady flow of reports, documented with pictures and video, of army misbehavior and mistreatment of civilians. This evidence is seen as a problem by the military, who are accusing some of the foreigners of spying for Boko Haram and deliberately spreading false reports of army misbehavior to hurt the morale of troops and loyalty of local civilians. These accusations tend to be quickly withdrawn when senior officers back in the national capital hear of it. The generals in the high command know the NGO reports are true because these reports are often quietly double-checked by high command investigators. Such retractions are just another reminder of the problems the military faces and are unable to fix, in the northeast.
The Big Picture
Worldwide, Islamic terrorism-related deaths have fallen by over 50 percent since 2014, when there were 35,000. Global deaths hit 19,000 in 2017 and under 14,000 for 2018. Since 2014 five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan) have accounted for most of these deaths. In 2016-17, however, al Shabaab in Somalia accounted for more of the deaths in Africa than Boko Haram. But in Nigeria, there is another major source of terrorist deaths and this is the growing violence between Fulani herders and largely Christian farming communities in northern and central Nigeria. The largest source of Islamic terror deaths during that period was ISIL, a more radical faction of al Qaeda that currently is where the most radical practitioners of Islamic terrorism are found. Islamic terrorists continue to be, as it has been since the 1990s, the main source of terrorism-related deaths, accounting for about 90 percent of the fatalities. The remainder of the terrorist-related deaths are ethnic (often tribal) conflicts in Africa and Asia. Purely political terrorism accounts for a fraction of one percent of all terrorist-related deaths and are outnumbered by terrorism deaths inflicted by common (often organized) criminals.
President Buhari responding to a plea from the governor of Borno state ordered the army to worth with the Borno government and its call for an expansion in the used of local defense volunteers. The governor was particularly keen on hiring more professional hunters to act as scouts and experts on what is going on (normally or right now) in rural areas in Borno state. The hunters are part of what is officially called the Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force or CJTF). The strength of CJTF peaked at about 30,000 volunteers in 2017 and with the decline in Boko Haram activity in early 2018 about a third of the force has been disbanded (or at least no longer recognized and supported by the military). There is some danger to being a defense volunteer. About two percent of those who joined CJTF have been killed and many more have been wounded or injured while on duty. In effect, about ten percent of the CJTF men have been injured. But the soldiers respect them, the local civilians depend on and support them while Boko Haram has come to fear them. The more senior army commanders do not support the CJTF because these civilians often confront misbehaving soldiers and embarrass the army by exposing the bad behavior. Buhari agreed that the CJTF were part of the solution, not another problem.
As early as 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 because 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 were made anyway and failed so often that most Boko Haram were advised by their leaders to stay away from CJTF, especially those groups with professional hunters. There were still parts of the Sambisa Forest were Boko Haram could establish bases and avoid the CJTF but these were areas where there was less game and less of everything. That meant fewer Islamic terrorists and their captives could survive there and had to leave their sanctuaries more frequently to raid villages for supplies. That’s when the Boko Haram were most vulnerable and many of their losses were to desertion (because of hunger and frustration) rather than combat casualties. The CJTF groups with a lot of hunters have remained useful for the army but only because there is no alternative when you have to track the enemy on the ground. The military never has enough helicopters or UAVs to provide overhead views and that is less useful in forest areas where trackers on the ground are still the best solution.
At the end of January 2019 the governor presided over the induction of 500 hunters into the CJTF. Many are veterans of CJTF but all are willing to work full time for a while to reduce Boko Haram violence. In addition to $28 a month pay (double that for leaders of hunter teams), there is some free food for hunter’s families. The monthly pay is OK for war-torn areas of Borno but also recognizes that the hunters can still hunt and don’t have to abandon their usual work. In many rural parts of Borno, the police and army can use someone who will regularly report what they see or agree to look out for specific things.
Another reason for hiring more hunters is to prevent Boko Haram from doing so. Boko Haram doesn’t exactly hire the hunters but will negotiate working arrangements with hunters to prevent clashes. In the absence of army or police presence, the hunters will make deals to prevent being driven out of their usual hunting areas. These deals mean not reporting the Boko Haram activities to anyone. Some of the newly sworn in (on Korans or Bibles as appropriate) hunters have cooperated with Boko Haram before, but the point of swearing the hunters in was to make it clear that now these hunters were officially fighting Boko Haram. This is also supposed to include those businessmen who buy (loot) or sell (fuel, ammo and other supplies) to the Boko Haram. These suppliers often work with Boko Haram to remain unmolested and also to make more cash trading with Boko Haram. The army has been cracking down on the charcoal bootleggers (who cut down trees illegally in state forests, convert it into charcoal and then sell the charcoal in villages or urban areas). These guys try to avoid the security forces and if confronted profess ignorance of Boko Haram activities. If caught with goods for Boko Haram the charcoal makers will try to talk their way out of the mess, or even bribe their way out. Hiring more hunters makes it easier to convince the charcoal men that you can’t fool a hunter and if you try the hunters will hunt you down.
Oil production for 2018 was up nine percent over 2017. Daily production in 2018 was 2.09 million BPD (barrels per day). By the end of 2017 production had hit 2.03 million BPD and while it fluctuated a lot in 2018 the trend was upward despite the continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs (especially of the pipelines). The long-delayed maintenance and refurbishment of the oil production facilities in the Niger River Delta (where most of the production is) remains a problem although some of the foreign companies that control various oil fields and pipeline are more successful at keeping their infrastructure in good shape. At the end of 2018 Nigerian oil production was rising to levels not seen for years. That has been the trend for most of 2017 because the new government had negotiated a peace deal with the local rebels (who opposed corruption and bad treatment of locals in general). Production rose and is on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020 but achieving that level of production depends on keeping the peace in the Delta. Continued corruption and rampant oil theft make it difficult to increase production and sustain those higher production level goals. The oil theft gangs in the Niger River Delta continue to flourish with the help of corrupt government officials (civil and military.) In addition to the damage thieves do to pipelines (punching holes in them and quickly collecting oil before the police show up) the truce with some of the Delta rebels fell apart with the New Year and there has already been one attack on a pipeline (a loud bomb that damaged but did not penetrate a pipeline.)
Nigeria has made an effort in the last year to deal with its massive internal corruption. More senior officials have been prosecuted and recently the U.S. and Britain agreed to deny visas to Nigerians suspected of corruption (theft or vote rigging). These visa restrictions would have a major impact on the wealthy and corrupt Nigerians who often have second homes in America and/or Britain and also use those countries to hide their stolen wealth. Bankers in the U.S. and Britain can, for a fee, hide a lot stolen cash. Most corrupt officials are using more and more of that stolen money to fight back and are having some success. Despite positive press releases from the government for anti-corruption efforts like this, outside observers cannot see any real progress. In 2018 Nigeria ranked 144 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption compared to 148 in 2017 and 136 out of 176 countries for 2016. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Nigeria score is 27 (same as in 2017) compared to 34 (35) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Kenya, 26 (26) for Uganda, 24 (20) for Eritrea, 14 (16) for Yemen, 13 (12) for South Sudan, 16 (16) for Sudan, 17 (17) for Libya, 32 (31) for Mali, 43 (40) for Morocco, 43 (42) for Tunisia, 19 (20) for Chad, 34 (33) for Niger, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 61 (61) for Botswana, 72 (75) for the United States, 35 (33) for Algeria, 25 (25) for Cameroon, 40 (39) for Benin, 41 (40) for Ghana, 43 (43) for South Africa, 20 (21) for Congo, 45 (45) for Senegal, 41 (40) for India, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 28 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (29) for Russia and 39 (41) for China. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Nigeria’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012 when it was 27.
February 6, 2019: The United States has finally agreed to allow the sale to Nigeria of twelve Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano warplanes Because some key components are American made the U.S. government has to approve export sales of the A-29. The Nigerian military has been trying to buy A-29s since 2015 but the U.S. refused to approve the same because of the corruption and Nigerian security forces tendency to kill a lot of civilians. The A-29 can be used for pilot training as well as air support of soldiers and police. Such support includes surveillance and reconnaissance as well as bombing. The Super Tucano is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs, rockets, camera/signal collection pods or even a 20mm autocannon pod. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time. It is rugged, easy to maintain and cheap. These cost about $18 million each when you include training, spare parts and support equipment. These aircraft are more useful than jet fighters, which are much more expensive to buy and operate and are not as effective for ground attack.
February 5, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State), 26 people were killed by Fulani raiders carrying out revenge attacks. Zamfara state is experiencing the same sort of tribal violence as in central Nigeria except in Zamfara everyone involved is Moslem. This generally involves fighting between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers. To make matters worse the area is notorious for groups of bandits that steal cattle as well as raid farming villages. That, plus the Fulani violence has caused at least 3,000 deaths in the last two years. Most of the attacks are raids for the purpose of looting and leaving. The Fulani raiders often run into Hausa self-defense militias and the resulting battles leave many on both sides dead or wounded. The Fulani raids are usually after cattle and other loot. Moslem leaders want attention paid to the growing tribal feuds between Moslem tribes, especially like the battles between Fulani and Hausa in Zamfara. The violence in Zamfara state has led to the national police sending in hundreds of additional paramilitary personnel to deal (or try to deal) with that situation. The police have not had much impact and usually, leave after conducting some operations that are avoided by the local bandits.
In the south (Lagos) police seized a shipment of ten stolen police uniforms, plus rank badges and ID cards with no names. All this was being smuggled out of the port city of Lagos and apparently on its way north where criminal gangs or Boko Haram pays well for this sort of thing, especially with national elections coming up on February 16th.
February 4, 2019: In the northeast (Borno and Adamawa states) ,Boko Haram carried out several looting raids near the Cameroon border. The raiders were from the Shekau faction and that meant there were civilian casualties (six dead, many more wounded).
In central Nigeria (Benue State), armed Fulani herders raided several villages killing at least two villagers. The army has troops stationed in the area and they have pushed many of the raiders back into neighboring Nasarawa State.
February 1, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked a village across the border in Niger killing six people. The attackers were on foot.
January 31, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked the market town of Rann near the Cameroon border after Cameroon and Nigerian troops had left. This attack left 60 civilians dead. The troops had arrived after a January 14th attack and left when it appeared that Boko Haram had left the area. The military denied that there had been an attack on Rann today despite foreign NGOs insisting that there had been. Over 80,000 Rann residents fled the area after the earlier attack and refugee camps in neighboring Cameroon and farther south neat the state capital can attest to that.
January 29, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State), police and Hausa defense volunteers killed 21 Fulanis suspected of raiding Hausa villages. Another 17 Fulani were arrested and 89 kidnapped villagers were freed. In the previous week, the Fulani raiders had killed 11 Hausa civilians and one defense volunteer.
January 28, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked Molai village five kilometers from the state capital Maiduguri killing four people and abducting several others.
In northern Borno, the air force bombed a Boko Haram base in the Sambisa Forest. This remote and thinly populated area is still a popular refuge for Boko Haram bases. But the air force has obtained more UAVs and manned aircraft that can constantly watch the forest and detect minute differences that indicate a hidden (from aerial observation) Boko Haram base. Once the bombs and rockets hit the ground it becomes obvious whether or not a base is there and in this case, there was.
Elsewhere in Borno, across the border in Niger Boko Haram attacked Bosso killing four civilians.
January 26, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram raiders traveling in four trucks attacked two towns near the Cameroon border. One attack was just after dark against a small army base outside Gamboru and the other was after midnight against Pulka. Troops repulsed both attacks with about ten soldiers wounded. Boko Haram losses were unknown as they tend to take their dead and wounded with them when they can.
January 25, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), soldiers raided a Boko Haram camp 25 kilometers southeast of the state capital Maiduguri. Four Boko Haram men were at the camp who refused to surrender and were killed after a gun battle. Soldiers seized documents weapons and ammo.
January 24, 2019: In the south (Niger River Delta), security forces confirmed that they had arrested veteran oil theft gang leader Suaibu Ogunmola after a lengthy investigation. Ogunmola has been at it for decades and used bribes, informants and a network of sanctuaries and hideouts to evade arrest.
January 23, 2019: In the northeast (Yobe state), Boko Haram attacked the market town of Gaidam. The raiders came in several vehicles, firing their weapons as they moved towards the market place and looted it for supplies. Boko Haram said they notified the army earlier and advised them to stay away and the few soldiers available in Gaidam fled the attack as did most civilians. Two people were killed, over a dozen wounded and several were kidnapped. Two army vehicles were destroyed,
January 22, 2019: Cameroon has sent more troops to the north (the border with Nigeria’s Borno state) and the southwest (where separatist Anglophone/English speaking Cameroonians are becoming more violent.
January 20, 2019: In the northeast (Yobe state), Boko Haram attacked a military base at Buni Yadi, killing four soldiers. The attack was repulsed.
January 19, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Cameroon has been forcing Nigerian refugees out of Cameroon and back into Nigeria. The growth in Boko Haram violence in the last six months has sent more refugees into Cameroon and Cameroon does not want them. Cameroon does not have oil wealth and has a hard time paying for all the military and police operations along the border of northeast Nigeria. Even though foreign aid pays for some of the refugee camps, those foreign contributions do not cover all the costs. Also, Boko Haram will hide out in the camps, often terrorizing the refugees into keeping quiet. Cameroon also has growing problems with separatists in their own southwest, English speaking Cameroonians living near the Nigerian border want to form a separate state and threatening a civil war. Even with the 100,000 or so Nigerian refugees gone Cameroon still has over 250,000 refugees from other war-torn neighbors, in particular, the Central African Republic.
January 18, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked a small army base near Kamuya. The attack was repulsed but not before six soldiers were killed, 14 wounded and six vehicles were lost (two destroyed, four stolen).
January 14, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram attacked the market town of Rann near the Cameroon border and about 175 kilometers northeast of the state capital Maiduguri. The raiders came in several vehicles, firing their weapons as they moved towards the market place and looted it for supplies. The raid killed 14 people, including three soldiers and 11 civilians. Other soldiers in the area fled and the attackers apparently suffered no casualties. Several buildings were set on fire as the Boko Haram men left.
January 10, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the growing Boko Haram violence has sent over 25,000 more refugees to the camps around the state capital. Meanwhile, soldiers have recaptured Baga, a town and naval base on Lake Chad that Boko Haram had briefly held.