Nigeria: Dubious Achievements

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May 27, 2020: In the northeast (mainly Borno state) security forces have killed over a thousand Boko Haram and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen during the last two months. April saw the most Islamic terrorists related-activity, with nearly 1,500 Boko Haram related (terrorists, civilians and security forces) deaths. That was nearly three times more than in March. In neighboring Chad and Niger, local security forces were carrying out major operations against Boko Haram. This was no coincidence.

Since 2015 the MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) has proved very effective against Boko Haram and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). The 8,700 man MNJTF force maintains bases and camps near Lake Chad and concentrates on hunting down and killing Islamic terrorists. MNJTF has taken the lead in containing local ISIL groups and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to once more control territory in the region.

The highest monthly death toll was 2,943 in March 2014. That level of violence led to the creation of the MNJTF, which 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 have suffered heavy losses trying to deal with the MNJTF. This played a role in the 2016 Boko Haram split that turned Boko Haram operating near Lake Chad into ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there.

Neighboring Chad and Niger have also recently increased operations against Boko Haram, especially near Lake Chad, which all three nations border. The reason why there is so much Islamic terrorist activity near Lake Chad is that Boko Haram has quietly cut itself in for a large share of the income from the smoked fish and agricultural products from Lake Chad and coastal farms. Boko Haram charges fishermen and farmers “taxes” (extortion payments) to avoid being attacked by Boko Haram. This provides several million dollars a year, plus payments in kind (fish and crops) that keep Boko Haram operational. Since 2014 many fishing and farming families near Lake Chad have fled, leaving those who remain, and pay tribute to Boko Haram, actually better off economically.

Nigerian security forces have also recently arrested over a hundred local businessmen who smuggle in supplies Boko Haram needs, like fuel, radios and some weapons (and ammunition). Chad has been even more effective in damaging the economic support system Boko Haram has established near Lake Chad.

The vigorous military response to Boko Haram in Borno has led to Boko Haram expanding its raiding activities into the neighboring states of Yobe and Adamawa as well as neighboring countries. That has not worked out well for the Islamic terrorists because since 2015 the military has established a unified intelligence gathering system for the northeast, and increased the use of UAVs and manned surveillance aircraft to monitor areas where there has been Boko Haram or ISIL activity. This has made it much harder for Boko Haram to find undefended areas or avoid pursuit after a raid. These pursuits are by ground forces, often rapid reaction forces standing by for such situations and accompanied by air force ground attack aircraft. These warplanes often catch up with fleeing Boko Haram first and attack from the air. Boko Haram is vulnerable to this because they use vehicles (trucks and motorcycles) to reach targets and then carry loot and captives back to rural camps. Those raiding parties usually have to stick to roads to outrun the pursuing ground forces. The fleeing vehicles are easy to spot and attack from the air. Much of northeast Nigeria is semi-desert terrain without a lot of thick forests or bushland. Most roads are out in the open. This is why the Sambisa forest remains a popular base area for Boko Haram even though the area is regularly patrolled by soldiers, local defense volunteers and surveillance aircraft. This 60,000 square kilometers of hilly, sparsely populated woodland straddles the borders of Borno, Yobe and Adamwa states and until 2016 was largely inaccessible to the security forces and served as a major base area for Boko Haram. While it is no longer safe enough for major Boko Haram bases, it still shelters hundreds of the Islamic terrorists operating in smaller groups. The additional forest cover makes it safer for Boko Haram raiders and as a result few civilians live near the forest because of the Boko Haram raider problem. Now Sambisa based Boko Haram has to travel farther, along roads in open terrain, to find raiding targets. The raids are often timed to occur at dusk, so the raiders can escape in the dark. Even this tactic is losing its effectiveness because the growing number of air force attack and surveillance aircraft have night vision capabilities. There are also heat sensors, which can find people in forests, especially at night when the atmosphere and trees get cooler but people don’t and are easier for heat sensors to detect and track.

Islamic terrorists are still a major threat in the northeast and nationwide, especially in central and northern Nigeria. Tribal violence is still killing more people most months.

Pandemic

Coronavirus (Covid19) reached Nigeria two months ago and in the last month, the number of confirmed cases has gone from 373 to nearly 8,500. Confirmed deaths have gone from eleven to 249. There are probably more of both because Nigeria does not have a national health system capable of widespread testing for covid19 or treatment of all those found to have it. Most of the cases detected so far have been down south in the port city of Lagos. A densely populated and relatively prosperous place, Lagos gets lots of foreign visitors and it was expected that this was where covid19 would first show up in Nigeria. For most of the country the virus will probably not show up at all and if it does will cause some additional “fever” related deaths. There are a lot of afflictions in Nigeria that result in a fever and eventual death. The government efforts to deal with covid19 were based on efforts in industrialized and urban nations and those quarantine and hospitalization methods were quickly abandoned in most of the country because there were so few covid19 victims. The most useful advice was warning people to stay away from anyone who appears to be infected. This resulted in some mistaken identity incidents but without widespread testing, it will never be known how many were infected and died from this virus. That is what happened when earlier pandemics passed through and were hardly noticed. So far Nigeria has had 41 confirmed cases per million people and one death per million. Neighboring Niger has had 39 and three while Chad has had 43 and 4, Cameroon 205 and 7. The global numbers are 730 cases per million and 45 deaths per million.

May 25, 2020: Despite the lower oil prices and domestic concern ab0ut covid19, the economy grew 1.87 percent during the first three months of 2020. One factor in that growth was that oil production increased, to two million BPD (barrels per day). That’s up a bit from the last three months of 2019. During 2019 production declined. Daily production in 2019 was 2.32 million BPD, up from 2018 (2.09 million BPD) and 2017 (2.03 million BPD). For 2020 production was expected to be a little lower (2.18 million BPD) to allow for needed oil field rehabilitation work to proceed. Those predictions did not take into account covid19 and subsequent lower demand worldwide. For the rest of 2020 the worldwide economic impact of covid19 will probably hurt Nigeria with GDP shrinking by three percent or so.

Given the investments in oil production, mainly by foreign companies, Nigeria is capable of producing 4 million BPD. That has not happened. The reasons are continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs, especially of the pipelines, in the Niger River Delta. Then there are the decades of government inability to deal with these problems. That led to a growing number of foreign oil companies selling their Nigerian assets and going elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries. For example, it currently costs $23 per barrel to produce oil in Nigeria but without all the violence and corruption that could be $15 a barrel or less. The new oil production firms will demand better terms from Nigeria meaning less oil income for the government. The effort to explore for oil in the Moslem north is also crippled by the bad reputation Nigeria has when it comes to foreign oil companies.

Oil income is actually only about ten percent of GDP. But because of the inability to collect taxes, the oil income accounts for half the government budget and 90 percent of the foreign exchange needed to pay for imports. Most of the oil income is stolen by corrupt politicians, government officials and enterprising criminals outside the government.

There is a lot of oil stolen before it can officially be exported. For over a decade the navy has been the primary means of trying to curb oil theft. Yet the biggest problem with the oil theft gangs is not the gangsters but the government officials who work with them. For example in 2018 oil theft from pipelines increased 80 percent, indicating that the corrupt officials who had long facilitated (and profited from) the oil theft are back in business. Anti-corruption efforts had shut down the network of local political and security officials who took bribes to enable the oil gangs to operate freely and profitably. This pattern is nothing new in the south. Eliminating chronic corruption in the long term is still a very difficult thing to achieve.

In 2018 the navy renewed its campaign against oil thieves because a mid-2018 scandal involving three naval officers who were illegally selling seized equipment (from oil theft gangs) back to the gangs made possible a crackdown on corruption in the security forces working the oil production facilities. But the corruption proved to be more persistent than anyone expected and it was possible for the oil theft gangs to survive major navy campaigns to find and shut down them down. The military, especially the navy, has been very successful in finding and shutting down oil theft gangs. Since 2015 this effort has found (via more nearly 20,000 patrols) and shut down over 2,200 illegal refineries. Much of the refinery equipment was destroyed where discovered but the navy also seized thousands of weapons, boats and vehicles. The navy usually sells off this stuff with the proceeds going to the government but it was discovered in 2018 that corruption had quietly crippled the navy operations in the Delta. New commanders were sent in to clean up and revive the navy operations. When there is a noticeable reduction in oil theft gang operations that usually means the surviving gangs are building camps further from the areas where oil production takes place. This makes it more difficult for the navy to find them but also makes it more difficult for the gangs to get to pipelines, puncture them and steal oil. The gangs make less money but the incentive to steal the oil remains and without constant and uncorrupted action by the security forces the damage will increase and government oil income will decline or refuse to increase. The threat of corruption returning is, so far, always present and no one has come up with a way to change that. As a result, the Nigerian oil industry is less competitive than it should be and less profitable for the government and Nigeria in general.

Reducing oil theft is a minor problem compared to what happens to the revenue from legitimate oil exports. Since 1972 the government has earned about 1.5 trillion dollars ($1,500 billion) in oil revenue, most of which have been stolen or misused. 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 today. For over 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.

May 19, 2020: Nigeria has a new set of laws for prosecuting piracy cases. The new law makes it easier to prosecute pirates who have been operating off the coasts of neighboring countries and increase the punishment of those convicted of piracy. The waters off the Nigerian coast have, over the last few years, become the scene of most pirate activity on the planet. This happened gradually and Nigeria does not want to keep this dubious achievement.

In 2015 there were 178 attacks on ships at sea worldwide but none off Somalia and less than a hundred off Nigeria. The most active area was Southeast Asia. In 2016 Southeast Asia accounted for over 35 percent of the pirate attacks worldwide. By 2017 anti-piracy efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia had reduced the local threat and the current piracy hotspot is off the West Africa coast, particularly off Nigeria. By 2019 the Nigerian coast was the scene of most pirate activity.

Worldwide piracy has been declining since 2012 because most of the Somali pirates were shut down, showing that it could be done. At that point, activity shifted back to areas where it had been a problem for centuries, like the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia and areas near the Malacca Strait. There most of the attacks are robberies of the crew and the stealing of portable valuables. The crewmen are usually not hurt and based on their experience it appears most of the pirates come from Malaysia and Indonesia and were largely amateurs. There were some professionals in action in 2014. These fellows were able to hijack ships long enough for cargo to be transferred at sea to someone who could resell it and this provided far more money for the pirates than the more common robbery incidents. But those professional pirates are gone, in part because theft that large left a data trail that police and intelligence agencies could pick up and follow. In 2015 Malaysia and Indonesia joined forces to run more helicopter and warship patrols through areas where most of these less costly robbery attacks were taking place. This sort of quick reaction patrol could move in quickly enough to catch pirates before they and their loot could disappear into one of the many coves or villages that dot the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts. Police also went after the middlemen (“fences”) who buy the valuable (and portable) electronics these “grab and go” pirates prefer. If you find the fence you can often find his suppliers. In any event, these robber pirates are more numerous and being amateurs can quickly drop out and, as far as the police are concerned “disappear.” Some of these small time pirates are believed to have been in the business, on and off, for over a decade. The police want to make some arrests and well publicized prosecutions (and convictions) to discourage many of these amateur pirates from returning to robbery.

The Somali pirates are victims of their own success. Because of their continued threat, the International Anti-Piracy Patrol remains and large ships take many precautions to avoid capture. Some nations have stopped sending ships to the patrol but most continue to do so because it’s good training for the crews and gives the ships a realistic workout. It also helps keep insurance rates down in the area and that translates into lower shipping costs for goods to and from northeast Africa.

May 15, 2020: In the northeast (Borno State) the air force attacked several Boko Haram targets it had discovered in the Sambisa forest. The air force and intelligence service had been observing the operations of a Boko Haram logistics (supply) organization based in the Sambisa and the air force carried out airstrikes on several locations. Noting additional explosions from stored fuel and munitions the air force carried out repeated attacks on the same hidden bases to make sure that most everything there was destroyed. When ground forces finally reached the target areas they reported widespread destruction of the Boko Haram facilities. It was also discovered that Boko Haram had been recruiting foreign recruits and gathering weapons, supplies and vehicles for a series of coordinated attacks.

In the south, ten Nigerian pirates boarded and seized control of a Chinese merchant ship off the coast of neighboring Ivory Coast. The pirates directed the crew to move the ship into Nigerian waters where loot would be transferred to waiting boats and perhaps some of the crew would be taken for ransom. The Nigerian Navy was alerted and intercepted the Chinese ship and arrested the pirates.

May 13, 2020: In the northeast, across the border in Niger, local security forces found and killed 74 Boko Haram gunmen during a two day operation near the Nigerian border.

 

Article Archive

Nigeria: Current 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


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