Nigeria: Christian Calm Compromised

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October 2, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), the army has shut down two foreign aid organizations who were providing food to displaced people fleeing Boko Haram violence. The problem here is an old one. The foreign aid groups operate in ways that conflict with local governments and their security forces. In this case, the dispute is a common one. The army seeks to starve out the remaining Boko Haram, a tactic that has been successful and is a common strategy throughout Africa. The Western aid groups are appalled at this practice and tend to resist, or outright refuse, to cooperate. That means the foreign aid groups, or NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) will feed anyone, including armed civilians and their families, who are at war with the local government. This often gets worse, as the NGOs comply with Boko Haram demands for contributions in the form of food and cash in order to avoid attacks by Boko Haram.

Most local civilians don’t have the resources to pay off Boko Haram and tend to flee, usually ending up in local refugee camps. Many of these refugees get caught up in the disputes between the NGOs, Boko Haram and the army. Some civilians seek safety in neighboring countries. In the far northeast, where much of the current violence is taking place, Niger is the nearest border and so far this year at least 40,000 Borno refugees have fled to Niger where they still encounter the NGO/Boko Haram/local security forces feud. In Niger Boko Haram is less of a presence and the security forces are more effective. Niger also has fewer bandits and organized gangsters. In Nigeria, northern Borno State has been so chaotic for so long that outlaws of all sorts are able to operate. Such is not the case in neighboring countries.

Northern Borno State is also where ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) is the main source of terrorist violence. This is also where the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) maintains bases and camps near Lake Chad and concentrate on hunting down and killing ISWAP gunmen. The 8,700 man MNJTF has taken the lead in defeating ISWAP and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to again control territory in the region. Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first, the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas, especially the Lake Chad coast. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and Boko Haram has suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF forces. This played a role in the 2016 Boko Haram split that turned Boko Haram operating near Lake Chad into ISWAP. MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there. Unfortunately, MNJTF is not present in most of Borno State and there are already some areas where ISWAP collects ”taxes” and maintains order because MNJTF isn’t present. These taxes are actually an extortion scheme but it is how Islamic terrorists or ambitious bandits began establishing control over the territory.

Although still a faction of Boko Haram, ISWAP also considers itself the primary ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) “province” (chapter, division, franchise or whatever) in Africa. As a result, national borders are less important and ISWAP has become a threat to all the countries (Chad, Cameroon, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic/CAR) bordering Lake Chad. This is nothing new because in 2015 these Lake Chad nations agreed to cooperate in dealing with the growing Boko Haram violence along the southern shore of Lake Chad. The Islamic terrorists would steal fishing boats and move along the coast and sometimes occupy small islands as bases. As the Boko Haram groups operating in northern Borno State evolved into ISWAP, ISIL sent experienced personnel from Syria and Iraq who helped ISWAP with technical matters like bomb-building techniques and how to use commercial quadcopters for planning attacks and tracking the local soldiers and police. American and French aerial and electronic intelligence in the region and the Middle East have confirmed the connection to what is left of the ISIL base area in Syria/Iraq. ISIL leader Baghdadi is still hiding out somewhere along the Iraq/Syria border and under constant pressure from his many pursuers. But contact between ISIL headquarters and ISWAP, while irregular, is maintained. ISWAP is, just from monitoring mass media reports, the most active ISIL faction at the moment and the Nigerian leaders of ISWAP want to keep it that way. This pays propaganda dividends in Nigeria and neighboring countries where it makes recruiting easier and extortion victims more willing to “pay their taxes.” All this has also made ISWAP a primary target for Nigerian and international forces. ISWAP is learning that being in that kind of spotlight makes it a primary target for a lot more attackers.

Christians Under Pressure To Fight Back

There is a growing threat of a religious civil war. The continued Islamic terrorist attacks on Christians in the north, and now Central Nigeria as well will lead to all-out war eventually if something is not done about the trend. About half the Nigerian population is Christian and most of them are in the south, where they are the majority. The south is where the oil is. The Christians are better educated, but no less corrupt, than their Moslem neighbors. Nigeria was founded and survives because of an understanding that Christians and Moslems would get along. Leaders of both communities have largely striven to make that work. But Islamic radicalism is one aspect of Islam that Moslem secular and religious leaders are often unable to control. This puts the Moslem/Christian peace in Nigeria at risk.

Now that militantly anti-Christian (and anyone not the right kind of Moslem) disease has infested parts of the Moslem north it is spreading south. It is not Boko Haram moving south but one of the northern Moslem tribes that have been radicalized by the Boko Haram example. This new menace is the nomadic Fulani, who have long skirmished with farmers and each other over access to water and grasslands for their herds in northeastern and Central Nigeria.

Most Nigerians want the original compromise to survive but the radical Islamic terrorist minority are unconcerned with such “un-Islamic” compromises and are willing to burn the entire nation down to prove their point. The Fulani violence has been escalating for years and overall has killed more than five times as many Christians as Boko Haram. That’s because the majority of Nigerians the Fulani attack are Christians. With Boko Haram the Christians are a minority who are quick to leave when threatened and move to the Christian south. Boko Haram killed as many Christians as they could catch but most northern Christians were not eager to become martyrs. In Central Nigeria, the Christians are defending their ancient homeland and livelihoods from invaders.

When the Christians fight back the Islamic terrorists take heavy losses and are often driven away. This is why there is this north-south religious divide in Nigeria and several other African nations. Islam had been slowly moving south in Africa for over a thousand years when the Europeans showed up and moved inland early in the 18th century. The Europeans, like the Arabs before them, had no resistance to the many local diseases, especially in areas with more rainfall. The Arab conquers intermarried with and had a lot of sex with their new subjects and after a few generations you had a lot of Africanized Arabs who could more easily survive moving further south.

There was a lot of resistance from the largely pagan tribes who practiced ancient local religions. These religions were not completely abandoned when the conversion of Islam or Christianity took place. The Christians were more tolerant about incorporating older practices and were found to be more accommodating in general. Unlike the Moslems, Christians were opposed to slavery and the generally harsher rule under Islam. Moreover, Christianity was not based on conversion by conquest. That is an important distinction and it led to much faster spread of Christianity and that halted the spread of Islam in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. The Christians had an additional advantage with their more advanced technology. The Europeans had ended their own religious wars in the 17th century and carried that spirit of accommodation with them to Africa. But this accommodation has its limits, as Moslem conquerors in the Middle East discovered a thousand years ago when they persecuted local Christians and Christian pilgrims from Europe in the ancient Jewish lands were Christianity originated. This led to centuries of wars (the Crusades) as European Christians sought to defend their outnumbered Middle Eastern brethren. That effort continues and now it has come to Nigeria. The local Christians don’t want a religious war but their Moslem antagonists don’t seem to care.

This will not end well for the Islamic terrorists but it is uncertain how badly it will end for Nigeria as a whole. More Christians are questioning the policy of patience and forbearance while so many Christians continue to die for being Christians. Nigerian Christians are also dismayed by the widespread apathy among Western Christians to the plight of Christians being sought out and murdered by radical Moslems. Nigerians don’t need foreign help to organize and carry out a crusade to protect themselves. This puts more pressure on Nigerian politicians to stop posturing and get serious about ending the sectarian murders in the north.

October 1, 2019: Nigeria commemorated its 59th year of independence and a popular theme was to lament how corruption and dishonest elected officials had less than nothing to show for over a trillion dollars in oil revenues since the 1960s. Audits in the last decade have shown that oil has been a curse not a blessing for Nigeria. One thing nearly all Nigerians can agree on is reducing corruption and theft of most oil income. Since 1972 the government has earned over a trillion dollars (about $1,300 billion) in oil revenue, most of which has been stolen or misused. In addition, the government has accumulated $90 billion in foreign debt with little to show for it. 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 now. During more than 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. In short, oil has not helped Nigeria at all. The country would have had a lot of corrupt leaders without the oil income because the corruption had been noted by locals and foreign visitors long before the oil wealth arrived.

As is the case in many other nations, the oil does not bring prosperity but more poverty. That sounds odd, but it is true and few oil producing countries, largely ones with less corrupt governments to begin with, were able to turn the oil revenue into a positive economic force. More Nigerians are becoming aware of that. This is a major reason why blaming all the problems on the colonial past (which lasted about a century) is less popular. Instead more attention is paid to the much longer non-colonial past which included more corrupt and less effective governments. Adding oil wealth made this worse, something that seems contradictory. But in nation after nation that was the pattern. Nigerians also note that the Islamic militants up north, whose rallying cry is “Boko Haram” (literally, Western education is forbidden) is another false and misleading solution. For centuries the Moslem leaders in the north proved no more virtuous than the non-Moslem ones. Nigerians have accepted that corruption is the disease that has been crippling the country and killing Nigerians for a long time. The cure is obvious but extremely difficult to apply.

September 29, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), ISWAP gunmen attacked the military base in Gubio (near the border with Yobe state), killing at least nine soldiers, wounding 18 and stealing vehicles and equipment before leaving. The battle went on for several hours and it was another case of poor military leadership because the defenses of the base were obviously not adequate.

September 26, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), Boko Haram killed seven civilians outside Biu, a town in the southernmost part of the state. Another ten people were kidnapped. Elsewhere in Borno ( 50 kilometers east of the state capital Maiduguri) Boko Haram killed two civilians in the village of Mafa.

September 25, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), ISWAP gunmen ambushed an army convoy attacked outside Gubio (near the border with Yobe state), killing at least 14 soldiers and wounding many more. The attackers were able to drive off one damaged vehicle along with weapons and ammunition.

In eastern Borno, an airstrike outside Gamboru Ngala, a town on the river that forms the border with Cameroon, left at least twenty Boko Haram dead.

Elsewhere in Borno ISWAP announced that they had executed one of the six foreign aid workers they had taken a hostage in July. ISWAP was demanding more than the government was willing to give in order to free the hostages. The Islamic terrorists were asking for a lot of cash as well as the release of imprisoned ISWAP members.

September 23, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State), the presence of more soldiers and police has not eliminated the threat of more violence between Fulani and Hausa tribal militias. The issue here is not religion but herders and farmers fighting over land (for grazing or crops) and water (for cattle or crops). Both herders and farmers carry out revenge attacks but the Fulani are generally the aggressors. Zamfara state is experiencing the same sort of tribal violence as central Nigeria except in Zamfara nearly 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 just for the money. The bandits are mainly Fulani but a growing number of Hausa are joining in. The size of armed tribesmen, especially Hausa, joining these militias appears to indicate new outbreaks of violence the security forces will have a difficult time dealing with. These tribal feuds in the northwest and Central Nigeria continue to kill more Nigerians than Boko Haram and ISWAP violence. This has been a trend for about three years.

September 22, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), an airstrike against a Boko Haram camp left at least ten Islamic terrorists dead. The camp was outside Damboa, a market town south of the state capital astride the main north-south highway.

September 20, 2019: MNJTF reported that over a week of operations by MNJTF and Nigerian forces in the area near Lake Chad (where the borders of Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic and Nigeria are), resulted in heavy casualties to ISWAP forces. The bodies of seven ISWAP leaders have been identified and intelligence indicates that many ISWAP members who survived this operation have fled to Sudan and CAR (Central African Republic). ISWAP still has over 2,000 gunmen in northern Nigeria but this MNJTF operation is a major setback for Islamic terrorists. ISWAP will probably recover because the Nigerian military is in no shape to adequately follow up on this victory.

September 18, 2019: The government shut down the operations of the ACF (Action Against Hunger) foreign aid group in the north (Borno and Yobe states). ACF, and later another aid group, were accused of knowingly supplying Islamic terrorists with food and other supplies.

September 13, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state), near Lake Chad and the Fotokol border crossing with Cameroon was attacked by Nigerian gunmen. These gunmen were probably from ISWAP and they attacked Cameroon troops on the Cameroon side of the border. Six soldiers were killed and seven wounded.

September 11, 2019: The U.S. has added Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar Al Barnawi, a Boko Haram leader also known as “Ba Idrisa” to the list of international Islamic terrorists subject to individual sanctions. This makes it more difficult for Al Barnawi to travel internationally or conduct international financial transactions. It also puts him on the U.S. list of individuals to be sought by the growing UAV and electronic surveillance efforts in the region.

September 10, 2019: In the Nigerian capital Shia Moslems defied a government ban and held a large demonstration that moved through the city blocking traffic. The police finally fired on the demonstrators, killing three and wounding many more. That caused many of the demonstrators to flee and police arrested some of those who did not. The demonstrators belonged to IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria), which was banned in July as a federal court declared it a violent organization. IMN is a Shia group that has recently been conducting disruptive demonstrations to protest what they see as unjust government persecution as well as the imprisonment of their leader since 2015. Several of the recent demonstrations have turned violent and over twenty demonstrators have died. Until recently there has not been much violent activity from the Shia. That changed with the recent protests. Back in late 2015 and into 2016 the security forces cracked down hard on IMN and the group became a lot less violent for nearly three years. 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 the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) . 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, ISIL 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. Most Shia are not interested in supporting a Shia Boko Haram but given the Iranian influence on some IMN leaders there may develop another radical and violent IMN faction.

 

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