Nigeria: Road Warriors And Highway Robbery


June 10, 2022: In the north there is yet another crisis for the federal government to mismanage in a spectacular and embarrassing fashion. In Kaduna State the local bandit problem has reached critical levels. During three days (March 26-28) over 200 Hausa bandits attacked the Kaduna International Airport, killing a security guard, and forcing the airports to remain closed until May 23rd. The government upgraded security at the airport in an effort to restore public confidence in local aviation and airports.

On March 28th a coalition of local gangsters and Boko Haram Islamic terrorists used explosives to destroy some of the track and cause a locomotive and eleven passenger cars to derail, halting service on the 190-kilometer track from Kaduna City to Abuja, the Nigerian capital. The train had departed Abuja with 362 listed passengers. The derailment killed nine people and it is unclear how many are being held for ransom because 141 passengers are still unaccounted for. Many apparently returned home without notifying the railroad or police. Rail service was supposed to resume in May but a few more attacks and uncertainty over how many passengers are being held for ransom meant few people were willing to travel on that route until there were assurances that it was safe and there was news about how many passengers were being held by the kidnappers. One hostage, a banker, has been freed but refuses to provide any details. It is suspected that a large ransom was promptly paid. Few of the missing passengers can afford a substantial ransom and the attackers said they were willing to trade passengers for jailed bandits and Boko Haram members.

In response to that the government promised to hunt down and kill the bandits and free the hostages. So far neither task has been accomplished. Paying ransoms is discouraged so families do it quietly to get victims released. There was a similar railroad attack in late 2021. A train was halted when explosives damaged the track. Bandits fired on the train but no one was killed and the bandits fled without any hostages. Kaduna State has the highest number of bandit attacks on trucks and passenger vehicles traveling the highways and secondary roads.

Kaduna city has a population of 760,000 while Abuja has nearly six million. In 2022 the railroad was considered the safest and most affordable way to travel between the two cities. Road travel is too dangerous and for the last two months the Kaduna Airport has been shut. During April, when both air and rail travel to Kaduna City were unavailable, many people canceled trips to Kaduna and waited until trains or planes were moving again. This sort of thing is an escalation of bandit/Islamic terrorist violence in the north. Those who travel by road can pay more to join convoys with armed escorts. Government officials traveling to places without rail service use this method and are rarely attacked on purpose. The security upgrades to Kaduna Airport and increased passenger demand have driven airfare up by as much as 50 percent. This is more than the average Nigerian can afford and fewer people are traveling between Kaduna and the capital.

There are about a thousand kidnappings a month in Nigeria, most of them in the north and only a third of them are reported by families. Most of these take place in the Moslem majority north, where Islamic terrorists and tribal disputes, especially those involving Moslem tribes versus non-Moslem groups have grown steadily in the last decade. Many if not most of those taken are not held for cash ransom, but rather to exchange for captured bandits and terrorists or to intimidate communities into cooperating with the kidnappers by not providing information to the police. Some criminal gangs work for local politicians, especially when there is an election and the corrupt incumbent wants to ensure he gets enough votes to stay in office.

Religion and Real Estate

Since 2016 fatalities from tribal violence have exceeded those caused by Islamic terrorists, mainly Boko Haram, which suffered obvious and massive defeats between 2015 and 2017. That eliminated Boko Haram control of any territory and the group has been surviving through banditry ever since. Boko Haram suffered even greater losses from internal battles. In 2015 a large portion of Boko Haram declared itself part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) as ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). In 2018 a smaller ISIL group ISGS (Islamic State in Greater Sahara) occasionally showed up in Borno state. Since 2018 neighboring Adamawa and Kaduna states have seen major increases in bandit and Islamic terrorist violence as well declines in economic activity.

Outside of Borno, Kaduna and Adamawa states, the growth of tribal violence made the tribal feuds and banditry more of a security problem than Islamic terrorism. That trend has continued and Boko Haram or ISWAP efforts to establish themselves anywhere in the country failed. In Borno State there continue to be a lot of surrenders by Boko Haram members who are starving and done with the outlaw life. A major cause of this is more effective military leadership in the northeast as well as more aerial surveillance and airstrikes provided by a re-energized air force. Boko Haram and ISWAP are still fighting each other as well as accusing each other of sabotaging the jihad (struggle) to defend Islam.

In northern and central Nigeria, tribal violence and attendant banditry have been present for centuries. This violence grows or declines depending on how the regional economy is doing, plus Islamic terrorist violence and continued government corruption and mismanagement limit economic progress and keep the tribal feuds going.

Islamic terrorists are most active in parts of the northeast where Boko Haram has driven away most of the population. This is especially true in northern Borno State, between the capital Maiduguri and Lake Chad. Most of the remaining population have armed militias and reliable police and soldiers nearby. Foreign and Nigerian economists agree that this area has suffered an economic collapse and that recovery has been slow because of the continued presence of Islamic terrorist raiders. Since 2018 the Lake Chad region, especially northern Borno but also portions of neighboring Adamawa and Kaduna states, have seen a 50 percent decline in economic activity since 2018. Northeastern areas where Boko Haram has not shown up have shown economic declines of 10-14 percent.

Boko Haram must travel farther to find a vulnerable place to raid and plunder, which often means outside of Borno. That keeps the remaining Boko Haram terrorists busy most of the time, yet they still have local fans in parts of the north.

The major cause of Islamic terrorism, tribal wars and banditry is the corruption of government and security forces. The growth of corruption was fueled by the growing oil wealth produced down south in the Niger River Delta and offshore oil fields. Reform efforts included an audit of Nigerian oil income since the 1960s which concluded that a trillion dollars of that income was stolen with the help of corrupt politicians. The most obvious result was that the standard of living in Nigeria declined as oil income increased. This was most obvious when compared to rising living standards in neighboring countries lacking oil wealth.

Oil wealth and tribal feuds led to over three decades of violence and military rule, interspersed by brief periods of elected government. Nigerians never lost their faith in democracy and in 1998 the last military government peacefully gave way to democracy in 1998 and the elections have continued, as has a growing effort to curb corruption. The key problems have been identified but finding an effective and enduring solution has been difficult.

June 6, 2022: In the northeast (Borno State) a coalition of ISWAP and Boko Haram gunmen set up a roadblock on the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway connects the capital of Borno state to the capital of neighboring Yobe State. Control of this highway has long been contested by Islamic terrorists and bandits but in the last few years the army has learned from earlier mistakes and developed more effective tactics to catch and capture or kill those who threaten traffic. Today’s attack attempted to kidnap Nigerians who travel at night to avoid such attacks. This operation was well planned to avoid army retaliation using a rapid reaction force and additional pursuit forces. The roadblock bandits thought they had grabbed some hostages and supplies from three cargo trucks, but they were wrong. The army won’t give details of how they quickly became aware of the roadblock and were quickly on the trail of the bandits, who were found after sunrise and captured three of the gun-trucks used and some of the stolen cargo. Several of these bandits are still being sought so the hostages can be freed. By midday the highway was declared safe and traffic resumed.

In northern Borno State Islamic terrorist gunmen have, for years, been seeking ways to plunder civilians while avoiding the army. There are several locations up there that continue to be hotspots of Islamic terrorist activity. One of them is the town of Chibok and the nearby Sambisa Forest. This is where Boko Haram raided a girl’s boarding school in 2014 and kidnapped 276 students. Eight years later 110 of the victims are still unaccounted for. Kidnapping for ransom, wives or slave labor continues. Extortion by Boko Haram and especially ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) has become more organized and constant. Islamic terrorists come and go as they please while the security forces only show up when they have an opportunity to attack an Islamic terrorist base or large concentration of gunmen.

These large-scale attacks make spectacular headlines, but are rare. In these operations troops kill, wound or capture hundreds of the Islamic terrorists while also capturing weapons and camps as well as freeing civilians being held for ransom. These tactics have not destroyed Boko Haram and ISWAP, but it has eliminated commanders who did not pay sufficient attention to security and concealment. Sambisa remains a popular hideout for ISWAP groups. The military uses air reconnaissance and regular multi-day ground operations to act on air recon discoveries and tips from locals. That still works, but not against the veteran Boko Haram commanders who know how to avoid ending up on an army target map.

June 5, 2022: In the southwest (Ondo State) ISWAP Islamic terrorists attacked a catholic church during Sunday mass and killed 38 worshippers while wounding over twice as many. Gunfire and explosives were used on the thousand worshippers and clergy. The attackers did not identify themselves and for several days it was unclear if they were Fulani tribesmen feuding Christian farmers or Islamic terrorists. It took several days to identify the attackers as an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) faction. The Fulani tend to attack Christian villages or non-religious gatherings. Islamic terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISIL prefer packed churches as targets. The Nigerian south is largely Christian but Ondo has a larger Moslem minority because Moslem Fulani herders have been moving south looking for more water and vegetation for their herds. The Moslems who have been in Ondo for centuries have no tradition of religious violence. The Fulani attack farmers regardless of religion and in central and northern Nigeria the violence is often Moslem herders versus Moslem farmers.

June 1, 2022: The continued lack of effective policing throughout Nigeria means there has been more vigilante violence, as criminals are chased down and killed by mobs of people fed up with the growing crime. Last month there were 32 such killings reported throughout the country. There were more that did not make the news or police records. Those killed are not always guilty but most are because they have been killing, kidnapping and stealing for some time. Some of these executions are extremely gruesome, like necklacing, which involves putting a vehicle tire around the victim’s neck or upper body, adding some flammable liquid and setting the man on fire. This sort of thing is meant to terrorize the terrorists who regularly prey on civilians because the police are too corrupt to do the job. Since 2020 about a hundred people a year are reported to have died in these vigilante executions. The spike in this activity last month was normal because the monthly totals tend to vary.

May 31, 2022: In the southwest (Osun State) a reporter covering a large protest against police corruption and violence. The protestors blocked traffic on a highway. Fewer than a dozen police arrived to deal with the situation and found that they did not have the numbers to physically move the protestors off the highway. The police then tried firing into the air and that did not work. Next the police fired into the crowd, which is illegal, especially if the crowd is not threatening the police. There were several journalists covering the protest and the police gunfire killed one of them as well as several protesters. This forced the State government to conduct an official investigation of the killings. This sort of thing is more common,

While the military has made progress in overcoming its history of corruption and incompetence, the national police have not. The 360,000 national police are in worse shape than the 310,000 military personnel. For the last two years there have been nationwide protests against police corruption and misconduct. The immediate cause of this round of protests was the revelations about illegal, and often fatal for victims, SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) behavior. The government promised to deal with this problem but many protesters are unconvinced. Police misbehavior has been around for decades and survived multiple efforts to reform it. The government has to come up with something new to calm things down, especially since many of the protests have also pushed for a reduction in corruption and an increase in government competence. These issues are what got Boko Haram going in the north. At first Boko Haram was non-violent, but that changed when the security forces began killing large numbers of Boko Haram leaders and members.

The senior leaders of the National Police now have a major problem on their hands. In many parts of the country where there is armed resistance from organized groups of locals, the police are demoralized and afraid to start a fight they would probably lose. The national police intelligence collection and analysis still works, but the police ability to muster enough capable police to deal with a major problem has diminished. Nigeria never had enough police to provide an acceptable level of public safety. The national police were seen as corrupt tools of corrupt politicians and gangsters.

May 25, 2022: The Nigerian Navy gets credit for the major reduction in piracy activity off the southern (Gulf of Guinea) coast. In late 2021 navy concentrated 13 armed ships, two helicopters and 1,50o personnel for an anti-piracy exercise. Ocean going patrol vessels from Britain and France are also taking part. This exercise was already scheduled before the September announcement by International ship owners’ associations declaring the Gulf of Guinea a HRA (High Risk Area). This is one of the largest HRAs in the world, with about 3.2 million square kilometers (910,000 square miles) involved. Within this HRA the piracy risk is rising, yet Nigeria reports that piracy incidents had declined 77 percent in 2021 compared to 2020. There have been sharp drops in piracy before, which did not last and the piracy returned. The new Gulf of Guinea HRA accounts for about a third of piracy incidents worldwide, including those that involve kidnapping senior crew and taking them ashore to hidden camps where they are held until a ransom is paid. In 2020, 89 percent of the 135 maritime kidnappings took place off the Nigerian coast. If the piracy problem discourages enough foreign ships from using Gulf of Guinea ports, the nations involved, especially Nigeria, will have to cooperate with the growing number of nations sending patrol ships to operate in international waters to assist ships under attack by giving those ships another source of assistance when they send out a distress call. The decline of pirate activity off the coast continues into 2022.




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