The death toll from Boko Haram violence is way down in 2017, with fewer than 400 civilians killed. About half of those were from a few major suicide bomb attacks in August and November. Meanwhile the aggressive efforts by Moslem Fulani raiders against largely Christian farmers in Central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) keeps getting worse and this year spread to Adamawa state where Boko Haram was also active (but not as much as next door in Borno State). In 2016 the Fulani violence left 2,500 dead and that intensity continued into 2017. The Fulani herders have become more deadly than Boko Haram but that has not become a major issue because the Fulani problem has been around for centuries and is not as organized and media savvy as Islamic terror groups like Boko Haram.
The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community (half of all Nigerians) to recognize the growing (since 2010) threat in central Nigeria from the Fulani herders moving south. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene. This has the desired effect and in many areas the police and soldiers only go through the motions of trying to disarm or arrest the guilty Fulani. Both sides Fulani and their victims blame the government of taking sides but in general the government officials are mainly interested in looking out for themselves.
Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along and, according to many Moslem clerics and religious teachers, never will. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and as it got worse in 2016 and 2017. The prompted officials from both states to meet with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal. That has not worked, at least not for long. There are always factions among the Fulani who are willing to violate a peace deal. Sometimes this is done because a group of Fulani join an Islamic terror group, which has become fashionable and easier since the 1990s with the growth of al Qaeda in Africa and the Islamic terrorists often depending on smuggling to cover their expenses. Nigeria is not astride any of the most lucrative smuggling routes so local Islamic terrorists have to find other sources of income. That usually means looting and driving people from their land and taking over.
Nigerian Fulani are also in touch with Fulani in nearby Mali where many young Fulani have joined JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems). This al Qaeda affiliated group avoids northern Mali, where the French counter-terror operations are concentrated and where Tuareg tribes predominate. The Tuareg and Fulani have never got along well and both groups have a long history of feuding over grazing land and water sources for their herds and north of the Niger River the Tuareg will usually prevail.
Cattle thefts continue mainly by Tuareg gangs against Fulani herds. In Mali there is another factor. While the Tuareg have mainly sought autonomy in the north, the Fulani have a reputation for violence, a sense of entitlement and preference for violent solutions wherever they are. Thus the Fulani have been trouble throughout central Africa where they live, usually as herders. Currently the main Fulani trouble spots are in Nigeria (where they clash with Christian farmers), Niger (cattle again) and Mali (long standing feuds with Moslem farmers and Tuareg cattle thieves). The Fulani have been prominent (but not always dominant) when it comes to Islamic terror organizations. Thus they showed up in Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as various Islamic terror groups in Niger where they were involved in a recent (October 4) clash with American military advisors that left four Americans dead. Religion or tribal affiliation is not the major factor for the Fulani, it’s mainly about the money and for Fulani cattle are wealth and historically if Fulani have fewer cattle they were less likely to survive. Simple as that. The Fulani population is growing but the land and water available for herds is not. So the Fulani attack. For them, retreat is not an option because most see that as suicide. A growing number of Fulani are turning to farming or jobs in the cities. A minority of Fulani (mainly in Nigeria) converted to Christianity as well as non-pastoral (herding) occupations.
While the Fulani violence is growing the Boko Haram activity in the northeast (mainly Borno state) has proved impossible to eliminate entirely because unemployed young men find that they can turn to banditry and justify it by declaring themselves defenders of Islam (Boko Haram). This enables the Boko Haram bandits to cooperate and exchange tips on how to survive. For example troops regularly raid suspected Boko Haram camps and often find weapons, ammo and equipment (as well as hostages) but the Islamic terrorists themselves generally get away by using lookouts and knowing that the troops will be delayed by the need to check out the captives (to ensure that none are Boko Haram pretending to be hostages) and make sure there are no landmines or other traps along the escape path. Unlike the Fulani Boko Haram have no herds to protect or need to occupy land for grazing. Given the always dire state of the economy in the northeast there is not likely to be any alternative employment available and the corruption that justified the original (2005) Boko Haram uprising is still present.
Meanwhile the national GDP grew at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the third quarter. This was partly due to increased oil production (2.03 million BPD versus 1.87 million the previous quarter) but also because of continued progress in reducing corruption and increasing the efficiency of government. The current president, despite health problems, has actually delivered on the usual presidential promises to reduce corruption and poverty. President Buhari is a Moslem and retired army officer so he understands many of the fundamental problems. For example the further south you go in Nigeria the more water, jobs, oil and Christians you encounter. What has kept Nigeria united for so long is sharing the oil wealth found in the Christian south. Despite that another thing Christian and Moslem politicians have in common is their ability to steal most of the oil income. But there has been more entrepreneur activity in the south and that is where most of the industrial and non-agricultural economic activity is. The Moslem politicians often blame the Christians and threaten civil war but that threat is hollow as southern Nigeria is where most of the modern military might is found along with all the oil and access to the sea. Separatism appeals to some in the south but most Nigerians realize it is in their mutual best interests to make a united Nigeria work and that means reducing corruption and expanding the rule of law.
This can be seen happening in the south, where Niger Delta rebels have united in demanding that the federal government do something about the continued corruption in the Delta and do it by January 15th2018 or the attacks on the oil infrastructure will resume. That would be a major defeat for the government because in late 2017 Nigerian oil production was rising to levels not seen since early 2016. Actual production in July was 2.o1 million barrels per day (BPD). Back in August it was believed to be higher but it takes months to get the actual and final figure. Total July production was 62.46 million barrels. At the same time actual oil income was less than expected because world oil prices remain low. That has been the trend for most of 2017 because the new government had negotiated a peace deal with the local rebels (against corruption and bad treatment of locals in general). Production rose and is on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020. Peace and more oil production is unlikely to be achieved much less sustained unless there are some fundamental economic and political changes in the Niger River Delta oil fields. That is happening, but at a glacial pace because so many of the local politicians and government officials have gotten rich from corrupt practices and are still opposing change.
The federal government has done something about the rising crime along the coast. In part this was because piracy and all sorts of maritime misbehavior often result in unfavorable foreign media attention. The piracy in particular drove up insurance rates for commercial shipping entering Nigerian waters and that meant higher prices for Nigerians. So the security forces, especially the navy, have been particularly active and effective in 2017 and reduced the incidence (or at least the profitability) of oil theft and smuggling along the coast. In doing that the growing piracy activity was reduced. The pirates are based in coastal areas and the security forces offered rewards and amnesty for information about pirates and turned piracy into a high-risk activity. By the end of the year there were still pirates along the coast but most of their attacks failed and often resulted in the capture of the pirates.
December 4, 2017: In the northeast (Adamawa state) Fulani gunmen ambushed police and killed six of them. The police were trying to halt the growing violence between Fulani herders and largely Christian farmers in the area.
December 3, 2017: In the last week both Britain and the United States have warned their citizens to be careful if visiting Nigeria during the Christmas/New Year holiday season. Most dangerous areas were in the northeast, the national capital and some areas of the Niger River Delta.
December 2, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a food distribution center 90 kilometers northeast of the state capital. The attack, by two teenage girls, left at least 13 others dead and dozens wounded.
November 30, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram raided an army checkpoint east of the state capital. The raiders killed one soldier, wounded three others and briefly took control of the checkpoint as the troops and local defense volunteers retreated. The Boko Haram grabbed weapons and ammo and then fled into the bush.
November 29, 2017: In the northeast (Adamawa state) a Boko Haram attack on a village caused several hundred civilians to flee while the Islamic terrorists burned down most structures and stole cattle and items that could be carried. Five villagers were killed during the attack and many more wounded. The Islamic terrorists were mainly interested in loot.
November 28, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) security forces killed 14 Boko Haram gunmen and captured another as eight rural villages were cleared of Islamic terrorist control. In doing that a lot of weapons and equipment was captured and 30 captive civilians freed.
November 25, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram raided the town of Magumeri 50 kilometers from the state capital. This happened at night and residents fled as the soldiers and local defense volunteers defeated the attack inside the town. Nine defenders were killed along with three civilians and an unknown number of attackers, who fled in the darkness taking their dead and wounded with them. Troops could not pursue until daylight and by then the Boko Haram had dispersed to remote camps. The attack was meant to obtain supplies but the Boko Haram force apparently had little opportunity to grab much as they retreated.
November 21, 2017: In the northeast (Adamawa state) a Boko Haram attack on the Mubi mosque (using two suicide bombers) left over 50 dead and many more wounded.
November 20, 2017: In the northeast (Adamawa state) Christian farmers attacked four camps established by Moslem (Fulani) herders and killed at least 30 of the Fulani. This was in retaliation for recent Fulani raids on Christian villages (including those of Fulani Christians).
November 19, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) at least seven Boko Haram gunmen on motorbikes attacked a group of farmers on a road near the state capital and killed six of them before speeding away.
November 15, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) four Boko Haram suicide bombers (two male and two female) attacked crowds in the state capital and killed 14 and wounded 29.
November 10, 2017: In the northeast (Borno state) troops captured a Boko Haram camp near the Cameroon and freed 387 Cameroonians who had been captured in Cameroon last year and eventually marched across the border. Elsewhere in Borno (near the Sambisa forest) Boko Haram ambushed an army patrol killing three soldiers and a local tracker.
This article first appeared in Strategy Page.