While the army is finding and attacking Boko Haram bases in the north, the Islamic terrorists continue disrupting commerce in Borno state by attacking road traffic and occasionally even army bases. The army has set up a convoy system and even these escorted convoys are attacked. Boko Haram continues to raid rural towns and villages for supplies and prisoners. The captured civilians are either convinced (if they are teenage boys) to join the fight or used as slaves. Prisoners from families with money can be ransomed. The threat of attacks on civilians keeps the northern half of Borno state a chaotic combat zone. Since 2009, when Boko Haram turned violent, the Islamic terrorist violence, largely in Borno state, has left 30,000 dead and nearly three million people driven from their homes. The economy in the northern half of Borno state was devastated and continued Boko Haram violence has crippled efforts to revive the economy.
Adapt or Die
The army has responded by improving their tactics. This includes only using larger, better defended bases up north. These “Super Camps” have eliminated the Boko Haram ability to mass sufficient forces to overrun and loot army camps. Boko Haram still tries but so far, those attacks, using variations in previous tactics, have failed, often costing the attackers heavy losses. President Buhari, himself a retired general, kept replacing senior commanders in the north until he found officers who could be innovative and competent enough to reorganize the troops and reverse the string of defeats the soldiers had been suffering. Most of the army leadership remain riddled with corruption and incompetence. Fixing that is a long-term project and it is not assured that future presidents will keep it up.
The army has also helped form and maintain more civilian local defense militias. These groups not only keep their territory, usually a town or group of villages, less likely to be bothered by Boko Haram, they also cooperate with army operations. This allowed the army to develop a system of informants who can phone in, using the cell phone network everyone depends on, tips. By acting on these tips, usually from verified informants, the army has inflicted a growing number of major defeats on the Islamic terrorists. The tips often provide information about where a Boko Haram camp is and what is going on there. That has made possible several recent airstrikes on meetings of Boko Haram leaders to gatherings of lots of Boko Haram gunmen. The troops are taking fewer casualties because they have more armored (MRAP) vehicles to use when patrolling dangerous routes.
The air force has also improved and are able to provide a lot more aerial surveillance and timely air support. Boko Haram has to time their attacks so they allow the men involved time to get away and hide before the air force shows up. That means attacking at night or just before sundown. Even that is not always effective because the air force is introducing more night-vision equipment for their recon and attack aircraft.
Despite the heavy Boko Haram losses, the two major factions continue to operate, raise money and attract new recruits. The larger faction is also called ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) and it is the cause of most of the violence near Lake Chad. ISWAP was once a faction of Boko Haram that declared its allegiance to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in 2016. Many of these new ISIL members had been with Boko Haram since 2004. ISWAP personnel are mainly in northeastern Nigeria with smaller numbers in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. What remains of the original Boko Haram is about half the size of ISWAP and operates in northern Borno state areas that are not near Lake Chad. The two factions have fought each other in the past but in the last two years appear to have established some form of ceasefire and an effort to stay out of each other’s way.
Boko Haram also tends to stay away from the tribe-based violence in northern and central Nigeria. This conflict is between nomadic herders and farmers over who controls land and water resources. This conflict was a growing source of violence even before Boko Haram showed up in 2004. For a few years (2015-17) Boko Haram was killing more people but since 2018 Boko Haram has declined while the farmer-herder violence has increased. Overall Nigeria has been suffering 400-500 deaths a month from the Islamic terrorists and tribal violence. Most of the dead are civilians. Because of all this violence in the north local and national government is losing control of much of the Moslem north. While that loss of control is seen as a national crisis, it is not as important as the oil fields in the far south, in the Niger River Delta. Security in the oil producing states gets far more attention than anywhere in the north. The semi-desert north has long been less prosperous than the moister south, with its oil, more rainfall and access to the sea.
Police Violence Protests Proliferate
The nationwide protests against police violence and lawlessness have continued to escalate despite, or perhaps because of, violent police responses to the large gatherings. People are angry at the government 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 and kidnapping. 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 SARS protests were triggered by recent 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 problems. 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 being 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 current 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.
November 13, 2020: In the south (Edo State) Cult gangs escalated their violence, leaving 18 dead and many more wounded, including police who tried to suppress the violence and rescue kidnap victims. The violence began as an aftereffect of the SARS protests and gangsters using the protests to carry out criminal activities. The criminal cults are a Nigerian phenomenon that began in the 1960s as Nigerian students in foreign universities formed their own fraternities because they were not invited to join the local ones. These Nigerian fraternities were present when Nigeria became independent. The new country established many more universities. By the 1990s many of the fraternities became corrupt and were evolving into violent criminal organizations that came to be referred to as cults. Since the 1990s the cults have become entrenched in universities with branches outside the campus. The cults began fighting each other, often using firearms as well as clubs, knives, swords and axes. The Benin City (capital of Edo State) cults were particularly violent and prone to bloody feuds. On campus the cults rely on intimidation and kidnapping to get their way. Forcing instructors to give better grades is a typical demand. Off campus the cults frequently killed, even when feuding with another cult.
November 10, 2020: The government is also taking a beating economically. Because of low oil prices and the nationwide economic disruptions caused by covid19, government income has declined 60 percent. Inflation has passed 14 percent and the Nigerian currency, the naria, has lost nearly half its value on international markets as more Nigerians try to convert their naria for the safer dollar. This economic crisis cannot be blamed solely on Boko Haram and covid19. The economic crises have made endemic and epidemic corruption more visible. This is very visible in the oil production industry, which has greatly inflated costs because of the corruption. As a result, the breakeven price of oil is $48 a barrel, the highest in Africa and one of the highest in the world. Without the corruption the breakeven price would be under $40. The corruption inflates the cost of everything and reduces the quality of work done by the government, especially when it comes to infrastructure. The covid19 recession has caused oil production to decline 30 percent to 1.4 million barrels per day.
Coronavirus (covid19) has not been a major medical disaster in Nigeria where there are far more deaths from tribal and Islamic terrorist violence, at least in the north. In central Nigeria, where the capital is, and the south covid19 is more of a concern. The south has the oil and major port cities. So far Nigeria has had 315 confirmed cases per million people and six deaths per million. Neighboring Niger has had 54 and three while Chad has had 97 and 6, Cameroon 855 and 16. The global averages are 7,200 cases per million and 173 deaths per million. For Nigeria, and most African nations, covid19 is more of a panic than a devastating pestilence. The panic has crippled economies and the side effects of that may end up killing more people than the virus.
November 9, 2020: In the UAE (United Arab Emirates) six Nigerians lost their appeals and most begin long prison terms for supporting Islamic terrorism. In this case the six were found guilty of sending $782,000 to Boko Haram in 2015 and 2016. The six were detected and arrested in 2017 and prosecuted for raising and sending money to Nigeria. Expatriate Nigerians have long been a source of cash for Boko Haram. For a while, until about 2015, Boko Haram was seen as a realistic solution to the corruption and bad government the group was founded to deal with. Founded in 2004, Boko Haram tried peaceful means at first. Violence police responses to that turned the group to violence in 2009 and by 2015 most Nigerians saw Boko Haram as a cure worse than the disease.