Nigeria: A Bit of Light In The Darkness


July 15, 2022: Violence from Islamic terrorism, tribal conflicts and banditry hit record levels in 2021. The five states with the highest number deaths were; Zamfara (in the northwest near the Niger border) saw 848 deaths while Kaduna (in the north) had 550 and Borno (in the northeast) 481, Benue (central Nigeria) 381 and Niger (in the west) 332. So far in 2022 Benue States has dropped out of the top five, replaced by Plateau state in Central Nigeria.

Until the last few years Borno State was the most violent. Since 2011 over 35,000 have died from Boko Haram and Islamic terrorist violence. This was the majority of the 60,000 deaths suffered nationwide because of Islamic terrorist activity since 2011.

The government established an amnesty program for Boko Haram members and their families. Over the years Boko Haram men had married and had families, who lived with them in remote camps. This is what made the amnesty program so effective. For every Boko Haram man surrendering there were five or six family members, most of them children.

While religious and tribal violence grows in northern and central Nigeria, down south there has been some good news. So far this year there have been no pirate attacks off the Nigerian coast. In September 2021 the coalition of international shipowners’ associations declared the Nigerian coast and the surrounding Gulf Of Guinea a HRA (High Risk Area). Pressure from the ship owners recognizing that piracy now had gone from nuisance to a major threat for ship owners who deliver goods and take away mineral and oil exports along the West African coast. The piracy threat was mainly in the Gulf of Guinea, including the Nigerian coast. The new HRA off West Africa that will encompass over 3.2 million square kilometers (910,000 square miles). Within the area the risk is rising and some shipping companies refuse to send their ships into waters near the Niger River Delta, an area controlled by Nigeria that has experienced the most attacks. Some crews are demanding double pay to enter this area. While the Nigerian Navy has established guarded anchorages and purchased coastal patrol UAVs the risk remains. Nigeria will not allow any armed security teams on merchant ships, as has become common in the Somali HRA. This makes the crews feel even more vulnerable. There were no attacks so far this year, in part because of the HRA designation. Up until 2021 about half the piracy attacks in the new HRA were off the Nigerian coast. The Nigerian pirates are still there and will probably manage to resume their attacks before the end of the year, but so far this year the piracy problem belongs to the other nations in the HRA.

As the Gulf of Guinea piracy became a major problem shipping companies warned of sharp increases in maritime ship insurance and other piracy related costs that will be passed on to consumers in Nigeria and neighboring countries. Off the Nigerian coast the pirate activity is increasing despite growing Nigerian efforts to curb the threat.

Nigeria will not get as bad as Somalia, which was the only place in the world where pirates could, for nearly a decade, take a large ship and anchor it off a small coastal town controlled by pirates. With no threats from local authorities, the pirates threatened to murder hostages, especially the ones taken ashore, if the anti-piracy patrol attempts to take back the ship. This lack of any Somali coast guard or government control of the entire coast was why Somalia was the only region seriously enough threatened by pirates that armed guards were allowed on large commercial ships passing through the most dangerous areas. In the other pirate hotspots, like Nigeria/Gulf of Guinea, the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia, and parts of the Caribbean, local police, navies and coast guard keep the pirates under control and usually forbid armed guards on ships. The main risk outside Somali waters is nighttime raids by local pirates who rob the crew of valuables and the ships of anything portable.

These “robbery” tactics escalated in Nigeria since 2016 because the pirates realized that kidnapping key crew members and holding them for ransom was safer and more lucrative than hauling away portable valuables. Kidnapping was slow to catch on because initially local security forces could locate the kidnappers’ hideouts and free their hostages. That changed in Nigeria because pirates made deals with local political and military officials to share the large ransoms paid for kidnapped foreign sailors. Once these ransom sharing deals were in place it became more difficult to find the pirate hideouts where hostages were held. This corrupt profit-sharing arrangement is nothing new in Nigeria and has been a component of the crippling corruption Nigeria has suffered since independence in the 1960s. Currently about five million dollars in ransoms are being paid each year and that is increasing. This is what is threatening to raise ship insurance rates and the cost of shipping anything in or out of the Gulf of Guinea. Ultimately the customer pays, otherwise shippers could not continue doing business in high-risk areas.

These robberies and kidnappings are common in areas where a lot of large ships have to anchor off a busy major port and await their turn to dock for loading or unloading cargo. What enabled the Nigerian pirates to become more of a menace was the entrenched gangster culture in the Niger River Delta. This is where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced. More of the oil is coming from offshore rigs and these became attractive targets for pirates. The seemingly entrenched gangster culture is made possible by the culture of corruption among local politicians and local security forces. Many politicians adopt a local gang to provide muscle for ensuring voters select the most corrupt candidates. Nigeria has been undergoing increasingly vigorous and effective reform efforts since 2000 but the gangster culture is so pervasive and entrenched that progress is slow in the more profitable areas. Nigerian leaders don’t like being compared to Somalia, but there are similarities. One difference is that there is more to steal in Nigeria and that many Nigerians, unlike Somalis, consider the outlaw culture a flaw instead of a feature. All that made the absence of pirate attacks so far this year remarkable. Months before the new HRA was declared in 2021, Nigeria had already began a major operation to improve security from piracy off the Nigerian coast and that effort was showing results at the end of 2021 and that trend continued, The shipping companies have warned crews to remain alert because past experience has shown that if ships reduce the security measures the local pirates will notice and resume attacks.

July 5, 2022: In central Nigeria (the capital Abuja) ISWAP (Islamic State’s West Africa Province) Islamic terrorists led the attack on the Kuje medium security prison using bombs, grenades and assault rifles, killing one guard and wounding eight others. Four inmates were killed and 16 wounded. The attackers spent over two hours in the prison compound, releasing 879 inmates before police reinforcements arrived. All Boko Haram and ISWAP members in the prison escaped. About half the escapees were quickly recaptured. The rest disappeared into the city of nearly six million people.

Among those who were not quickly recaptured were over a hundred senior Boko Haram and ISWAP members as well as some prominent gangsters who apparently had made plans to evade recapture. Over half those who escaped were imprisoned for belonging to or providing support for Boko Haram. Many of those who escaped were awaiting trial on serious charges that would have put them in a high-security prison for a long time. Currently about 60,000 known or suspected Boko Haram members are in Nigerian prisons and jails. The government is investigating the possibility of corruption among some of the prison staff. In the last three years there have been dozens of major and minor jailbreaks that set loose over 5,000 inmates. Investigations of these incidents often find corruption among police and prison staff a factor. In some cases, gangsters or Islamic terror groups intimidate prison staff by kidnapping family members to ensure cooperation in a jail break. Kuje was considered well protected for a medium security facility because it holds many prominent criminals awaiting trial in the capital.

The increase in prison breaks coincided with the nationwide protests against police violence and lawlessness that began in 2020 and continued to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, violent police responses to the large gatherings. People are angry at the government's failure to build or maintain infrastructure (roads, sanitation, power distribution). Since 1980 the poverty rate, as in 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 cost of corruption is too visible to ignore and a growing number of Nigerians fear corruption more than government threats of increased violence to suppress the protests.

A side effect of the protests has been accompanied by criminal groups getting involved. The gangs use the protests as a cover for looting, robbery, kidnapping and large- scale jailbreaks. These are the normal activities of the many gangs in Nigeria and with the police preoccupied with what began as the anti- SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) demonstrations the Islamic terrorists and criminals took advantage of the distractions.

The SARS protests were triggered by 2020 revelations about widespread illegal, and often fatal for victims, behavior by SARS units nationwide. Police violence and corruption are nothing new and SARS was originally formed to deal with that problem. Soon SARS became part of the problem. Government promises to deal with this were unconvincing. 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. First Boko Haram was non-violent but that changed when the security forces began killing large numbers of Boko Haram leaders and members.

The government response involved more police violence, as well as identifying and arresting protest leaders, or anyone suspected to be a protest leader. In addition, the government ordered banks to freeze the accounts of people the government believed were leading the protests. This was regarded as another example of corruption and encouraged more protests. It’s not just the corruption, but some other government failures as well. This includes the inability to eliminate the Boko Haram violence in the northeast and the growing tribal violence in northern and central Nigeria.

Dozens of SARS policemen are being expelled from the national police and many of them are being prosecuted. Many doubt that SARS will stay disbanded. SARS was created in 1992 to go after those responsible for the more outrageous forms of robbery, kidnapping and abuse of power in general. SARS was given wide powers to investigate and arrest suspects. Like the rest of the national police, SARS soon went bad and became notorious for extortion, false arrest, kidnapping and so on. SARS has already been “purged” and “reformed” many times but the current uproar was generated by a 2020 scandal that triggered renewed interest in the many past SARS transgressions that were captured by cellphone photos and videos. While the nationwide demonstrations focused on SARS it was also about the similar depravity and corruption found throughout the security forces (police and military). Decades of popular protests have called for needed reforms. Politicians promise reforms but those reforms never happen. The popular attitude is that the government will allow the police to quietly reconstitute SARS, probably under a different name.

SARS is but one small part of the 360,000 strong national police. SARS, and similar specialist units, were formed since the 1990s to create less corrupt specialist police who would be more reliable in dealing with specific problems. These specialist units were supposed to be monitored more closely to keep the corruption in check. Since there were SARS detachments in each of the states, there were differences and in some states the SARS unit was less corrupt than other SARS units as well as the police as a whole. It’s the violently corrupt SARS units that get the most attention. Such bad behavior is common throughout the national police and several major reform efforts over the last three decades have failed to solve the problem. In part this is because corruption is so pervasive and entrenched throughout Nigeria, especially among politicians and government employees. The increased number of jail breaks since 2020 is seen as further evidence of the corrupt police response to reform efforts.

In the northeast (Borno State) soldiers encountered five heavily armed Boko Haram men near a rural village. The Boko Haram men opened fire and all were killed.

June 29, 2022: In the west (Niger State) a large force of Boko Haram gunmen near the Shiroro hydroelectric power plant, ambushed an army convoy headed to a village reportedly under attack by Boko Haram. Several soldiers and policemen were killed. There were more security force casualties at a nearby mining construction site where Boko Haram abducted four Chinese working on the construction project.

The power plant began operation in 1990 and currently produces 620 megawatts to the national power grid and is the sole supply of electric power for nearly 2,000 towns and villages, most of them in Niger State. The presence of the power plant has brought in a lot of foreign workers as well as well-paid Nigerian specialists working at the power plant. This is a tempting target for local gangers and Boko Haram groups. Another factor is the increasing number of refugees (Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram activity). The refugee camps are often taken over by criminal gangs or Boko Haram and serve as bases for attacks on local targets, like new construction projects and the power plant.

June 27, 2022: In the southeast (Anambra state), across the border in Cameroon, there has been several days to violence between two tribes in the Southwest Region of Cameroon. Over thirty civilians were killed and there were accusations that local separatist militias were hired to carry out the attacks to settle a land dispute. Some of the wounded Cameroonian civilians were taken to Nigeria for medical care. There are Nigerian and Cameroonian refugees on both sides of the border because of separatist violence.

There are close links between Igbo separatists and nearby like-minded Anglophone (English speaking) Cameroonian separatists has grown during the last decade as both separatist movements grew despite efforts of local political and military forces to shut down these increasingly violent movements.

The Nigerian Igbo want a separate Igbo state of Biafra, while the Cameroonians want a separate state of Ambazonia, consisting of terrain in southwest Cameroon dominated by the English-speaking minority of largely Francophone (French speaking) Cameroon. Unlike Biafra, which has never existed legally, Ambazonia was separate from French speaking Cameroon as one of the two former German colonies that France and Britain administered from 1919 (the end of World War I) until 1961 when it was agreed by Britain, France and the UN that the two Cameroons could either merge as one Cameroon or the smaller (and less economically developed) Ambazonia could choose to join either Nigeria or Cameroon as one of the federal states each nation was using for their new governments. Most Ambazonians would have preferred to be an independent state. Ambazonia was considered too small (42,000 square kilometers), poor and sparsely populated (under a million people) for independence. French Cameroon offered more autonomy and economic assistance and that persuaded most to vote for joining Cameroon. The language difference was not believed to be a problem because the English speakers tend to treat the language as a tool, not something more. The Ambazonians soon discovered that adopting the French language meant a more hostile attitude towards other languages, especially English. By 1972 the French speaking majority removed most of Ambazonia’s autonomy and were vigorously trying to get the Ambazonians to adopt French. That caused more resentment and by the 1980s the two million Ambazonians were getting more enthusiastic about regaining their autonomy, or even independence. Now there are nearly four million Ambazonians and they have a substantial separatist movement going.

An independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia is once again an issue. Local politicians told the federal government that the best, and most possible, solution to the Biafra/Igbo separatist movement threat was to offer some autonomy instead. The Biafra (separatist) movement 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-Biafran 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.

Many Igbo politicians urge IPOB to become more political than militant to achieve their goals. The Igbo, because of their higher education levels and entrepreneurial skills are a growing presence in the national economy and senior civil service. Many prominent Igbo see the possibility of an Igbo president of Nigeria because there is an Igbo politician running in the next presidential election in February 2023. This would do more for the Igbo than another war for an independent Biafra. Not all Biafrans agree with that assessment, but most see a Biafran president of Nigeria as a good thing. The 2023 election has a religious aspect to it because one of the leading candidates is Moslem and selected another Moslem to run for vice-president. For decades the Nigerians custom was to always have a Moslem president elected with a Christian vice president and vice versa. Anglophone Cameroonians don’t stand much of a chance in the Cameroonian national elections because most Cameroonians speak French and are fine with that.

June 24, 2022: In the northeast (Borno State), across the border in Cameroon, several hundred Cameroonian soldiers have arrived in an area near the Nigerian border where an incursion by Boko Haram has caused over 40,000 villagers to flee from their homes. Boko Haram continues to operate in the area, often attacking refugees.




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