Nigeria: Boko Haram Self-Destruct Mode

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October 20, 2021: For Nigeria, increased crime, especially kidnapping, is largely the result of the worldwide covid19 economic slowdown and recession. This was made worse by the sharp global decline in oil sales, which hit the Nigerian economy hard. At the end of 2020 unemployment was nearly 30 percent and inflation nearly 15 percent. Currently the unemployment rate is still over 20 percent and the inflation rate is 16 percent.

Because the economic damage was worldwide it has hurt Nigeria more than just a local recession would. Even with the recession Nigeria still has the largest economy in Africa and the 26th largest worldwide. Post covid19 economic recovery depends on how effectively the government spends funds allocated for recovery and how well corruption is controlled. In the past, post-disaster recovery money has been a favorite, and vulnerable, target for corrupt politicians and other government officials.

The covid19 recession hit oil producing nations particularly hard because there was less demand during 2020 and that meant lower oil prices. Worldwide oil income for OPEC members was about $600 billion in 2019 but declined over 40 percent in 2020. The oil income decline for Nigeria was closer to fifty percent in 2020. Oil income makes up most of the government budget because Nigeria’s pervasive corruption makes collecting taxes, especially income taxes from the wealthy, impossible.

Northern Exposure

The army effort to suppress Islamic terrorism in the northeast is nearly a decade old and still putting about a thousand or more Islamic terrorists out of action (captured, surrendered or dead) a year. The violence in the northeast continues because none of the fundamental problems have been addressed. Boko Haram got started in the 1990s as a non-violent group protesting the corruption and calling on Nigerians, especially in the Moslem majority states of northern Nigeria, to be more religious and less corrupt or tolerant of corruption. All these things did was trigger a backlash from the local government, police and soldiers. This escalated and turned into a large-scale Islamic terrorist uprising which was suppressed seven years ago, leaving behind devastation, perpetual banditry and Boko Haram violence. An increase in tribal disputes over territory and grazing rights in the northwest and central Nigeria have been producing more dead than Boko Haram and become more of a threat to national unity than Boko Haram ever was. The tribal land wars have been around long before Islamic terrorism but the major offender in the land wars, the Fulani, also adopted the Boko Haram belief that northern Moslems had an obligation to rid the north of Christians. Most of the farmers attacked by Fulani raiders are Christians and the Fulani violence is not just to gain control of land, but all to kill all the Christians encountered. The Christians fight back.

Southern Discomfort

Boko Haram and Fulani revivals of ancient religious wars (jihads) against Christians and non-Moslems in general had brought back to life another disruptive and divisive cause; Biafra and the Igbo separatist movement in the southeast. This was revived in 2015 and at first the government ordered police to crack down. By 2016 nearly 200 Igbo had been killed by police attacks on demonstrators and anyone suspected of separatist activity. The violent response was obviously making it worse and after 2018 a gentler approach was tried.

The pro-Biafra separatists have been around and increasingly active since the 1990s. Back in the 1960s the Igbo (or Ibo) people of southeastern Nigeria considered establishing a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal war followed before the separatist movement was crushed and the Igbo were warned not to try it again. 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 continues to insist 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. Senior government officials, including president Buhari, are paying attention and seeking to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani are less amenable to any compromise, especially since the Fulani are Moslem and consider themselves defenders of Islam against non-believers like the Christian Igbo.

In response to the threats of violence, a major pro-Biafra organization IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) took the lead in protecting Igbo from anti-Biafra violence. In areas where peaceful defense measures do not work IPOB formed an armed security component, the ESN (Eastern Security Network), to defend Igbos in Imo State from Fulani and government violence. The government has responded by sending a battalion of infantry to an area thought to be a base for ESN members. This was unpopular with the locals as Nigerian soldiers are notorious for their violent behavior. These troops had been ordered to behave but that proved difficult for them to do so in the face of Igbo contempt and hostility.

October 17, 2021: In the northeast (Borno state) the soldiers detected and opened fire on a large group of Boko Haram gunmen apparently seeking to raid and loot a residential suburb of Maiduguri, the state capital. The air force as a alerted and soon had armed helicopters supporting the soldiers who were fighting the Boko Haram gunmen. The Boko Haram force was taking casualties and fled. This came several hours after Boko Haram gunmen ambushed soldiers outside a nearby army base. The ambush failed and the Boko Haram men fled. This was apparently a different group. These two incidents follow a similar clash the day before near the city that left three soldiers and at least twenty Boko Haram gunmen dead and many more wounded who fled. The three incidents were thought to be part of a coordinated attack on Maiduguri but further investigation revealed that all three attacks were opportunistic or deliberate looting operations required to keep many Boko Haram groups going.

Boko Haram raiders persist in carrying out attacks near the capital because there is more to steal. There is also more public hostility towards Boko Haram. The police and soldiers are often warned in time to send one of their rapid response teams, which arrived in wheeled armored vehicles. Boko Haram sometimes anticipates this and prepares to flee if they realize the locals are hostile and have cell phones that quickly alert the security forces. The rapid reaction force often catches up with the fleeing Boko Haram men and kills or captures many of them. Boko Haram continues attempting these risky operations in order to terrorize the population and demoralize the security forces. These raids are carefully planned because just getting into the city means planning a route that avoids the many checkpoints. One risk planning cannot minimize is the random civilians with a cell phone who is often unseen by the raiders. A decade ago, Boko Haram had a lot more popular support because the Islamic terrorists said they were fighting against corruption and bad government in general. Boko Haram soon came to be viewed as a cure that was worse than the disease.

October 16, 2021: Britain issued a travel warning for British citizens in Nigeria, who are advised to stay out of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states in the north and northeast. In the south, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states are also dangerous. Because of the increased bandit and terrorist threat British visitors are advised to only make essential visits to Bauchi, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto and Kogi states as well as anywhere within 20 kilometers of the border with Niger while inn Kebbi and Abia States. British citizens are warned to stay away from inland areas of Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states, which also have extensive river systems that are used for travel. Most of these areas are risky because bandits and Islamic terrorists see foreigners as prime kidnapping targets. Many British visitors are Nigerian born or the descendants of Nigerians and their presence is easy to spot because despite looking like locals the expatriate Nigerians now move and speak differently than the natives, even if the locals are close kin.

October 13, 2021: In the northeast (Borno state) a large ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) force suffered a major defeat when a planned attack on one of the army “Super Camps” failed in a spectacular fashion. The attack included the ambush of a military convoy headed for a Super Camp on the main highway to Damaturu, the capital of neighboring Yobe State. ISWAP lost at least 24 men, including three well-known leaders. Five years ago, the army responded to attacks like this, especially by ISWAP, by improving their tactics. This included only using larger, better defended bases up north. These “Super Camps” eliminated the Boko Haram ability to mass sufficient forces to overrun and loot smaller army camps. Boko Haram and ISWAP still try but so far, those attacks, using variations in previous tactics, have failed, often costing the attackers heavy losses.

October 5, 2021: In the northeast (Borno state) near Lake Chad, two days of fighting between ISWAP and Boko Haram factions that refuse to join ISWAP, left over a hundred Boko Haram and ISWAP gunmen dead. This is the unexpected aftermath of the mid-June death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. He was killed by a large ISWAP raiding party and the factional dispute declared over because of the ISIL faction raid. It wasn’t. The death of veteran Boko Haram leader Shekau did not lead to a reunification of Boko Haram under pro-ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) leadership.

Shekau was killed by dissident Boko Haram members that had joined ISIL and considered any Boko Haram who did not do the same as traitors to Islam. Shekau had been active in Boko Haram from the beginning, in the 1990s, and had been leader since 2009. Shekau was correct about ISWAP, the local ISIL affiliate, seeking to absorb Boko Haram and seemed to realize more than ISIL leaders that many Boko Haram members preferred to fight ISWAP, or simply leave the movement. ISWAP leaders backed this forced reunification idea without realizing the impact the death of Shekau would have on most Islamic terrorists in the northeast. This became obvious when the number of Boko Haram and ISWAP members abandoning Islamic terrorism increased after the “merger” and death of Shekau was first announced. Many of those defectors are switching to organized crime and ditching their religious pretensions. This has already been happening in the last few years but the “merger” caused the trend to spike. By the end of August over 8,000 Boko Haram/ISWAP members, including many family members who lived in Islamic terrorist camps, had officially surrendered, something which merely resulted in an update of government records and agreeing to answer questions about their experience with Boko Haram. Nearly all the Boko Haram/ISWAP already named as criminals and wanted for specific crimes, are leaders and could negotiate a surrender deal that could spare them any punishment at all. That has upset a lot of northern political and business leaders, but these men know that if you have enough cash and connections, you can avoid conviction. This has been the case during the last decade as more and more notorious (they often flaunted it) politicians and business magnates were prosecuted, often with the help of foreign countries, like the UAE and many other Western nations, who provided evidence of financial activities locally.

Boko Haram quickly appointed a new leader; Bakura Modu (or Sahaba) who had much less experience than Shekau and he moved Boko Haram headquarters from the Sambia forces to Rijana forest in neighboring Kaduna State. These changes did not stem the defections. Boko Haram and ISWAP are both beset by money problems. Over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence in the north have ruined the local economy, there are more unemployed young men who can be enticed to join the Islamic terrorist for a “joining bonus” of less than $20 with the promise of more if they can learn to handle an assault rifle and succeed at looting and plundering what is left to steal in the northeast. A merger of economic, not religious, convenience was one thing most Islamic terrorists could agree on.

Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders tried to turn this collapse around by declaring the recent success of the Taliban in Afghanistan was still possible in Nigeria. The Islamic terrorist violence has been going on for over fifteen years in Borno state and portions of central and northern Borno where Boko Haram and ISWAP remained active are now depopulated economic wastelands. The Islamic terrorists are not strong enough to expand and, unlike the Afghan Taliban, Boko Haram does not have a powerful Moslem neighbor like Pakistan supporting them and providing sanctuary. There is also no massive drug production operation, like the heroin cartels of southern Afghanistan. While Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders insist prospects are great, that only applies to the leadership. Most Islamic terrorists in Nigeria have destroyed their own communities for a decade and have nothing to show for it. Their leaders are seen as another bunch of corrupt officials who prosper while the majority sinks deeper into poverty.

September 24, 2021: In northwest (Sokoto state) local bandits attacked an army base killing three soldiers and wounding many more.

 

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