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Nigerian troops are facing security challenges from multiple fronts

Nigeria: The other terror

8 May 2019

The revival of Boko Haram violence in the northeast has pushed the death toll (since 2011) of this Islamic terror group to over 25,000. Boko Haram has also shut down most of the schools in areas where they operate and caused most of the Christians in the northeast to flee the Moslem north for the Christian south. While Boko Haram violence receives more media coverage, most of the violent deaths in 2019 have been the result of growing violence between herders (mainly Moslem Fulani) and farmers (both Christian and Moslem). Most of this violence is taking place in the northeast (Kaduna state), northwest (Zamfara State) and several states in central Nigeria. Boko Haram violence is concentrated in the northeastern Borno state, where Boko Haram was founded in 2002 and grew to become a major Islamic terrorist threat by 2009. The herder versus farmer has been present for generations but has now reached crises levels

While Boko Haram appears to be undergoing a revival in the north, many Boko Haram leaders are unhappy over the cost and what it means for the future. While Boko Haram has been inflicting a lot of casualties on the security forces and civilians (especially Christians) in the last year, the Islamic terror group has itself suffered heavy losses. Not just members killed in combat but the many lost through disease and desertion. Recruiting new members has been difficult and Boko Haram has resorted to kidnaping boys (young teenagers) and coercing them (often successfully) to join. A growing number of Boko Haram commanders were demanding some fundamental changes to avoid Boko Haram falling apart and fading away. This apparently led to a change of leadership in the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) branch of Boko Haram, with leader Khalid al Barnawi suddenly no longer in charge and his whereabouts or fate uncertain. He apparently “abdicated” in late February or early March and was arrested by police in early April.

The new leadership is apparently demanding even more violence and a “go for broke” approach to deciding the fate of the larger Boko Haram faction. Barnawi was thought to be too timid and that was believed responsible for heavy losses suffered recently. The smaller faction, about half the size of the ISIL one, is accused of gradually turning into bandits with religious pretensions. That is a common fate for many militant organizations. So far the increased Boko Haram violence is continuing even as more Boko Haram members surrender and complain of hunger, poor living conditions, heavy combat losses and reliance on raiding and looting undefended (most of the time) villages for supplies.

Cattle versus crops

In the northwest, especially Zamfara State, the root cause of the violence was never religion but herders and farmers fighting over land (for grazing or crops) and water (for cattle or crops). Both herders and farmers carry out revenge attacks but the Fulani are generally the aggressors. Zamfara state is experiencing the same sort of tribal violence as central Nigeria except in Zamfara nearly everyone involved is Moslem. This generally involves fighting between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers. To make matters worse the area is notorious for groups of bandits that steal cattle as well as raid farming villages just for the money. The bandits are mainly Fulani but a growing number of Hausa are joining in.

The security forces are supposed to seize illegal arms, especially the cheap AK-47s that became common back in the 1990s. The reality is that only the farmers are hurt by this because local defense militias must either bribe local police to keep their AK-47s or be at constant risk of having them seized. Herders are more mobile and better at hiding their weapons. Villagers are demanding that the government allow defense groups to have firearms. Even without that the Fulani violence has caused over 4,000 deaths in the last three years. Most of the attacks are raids for the purpose of looting and leaving the area. The Fulani raiders often run into Hausa self-defense militias and the resulting battles leave many on both sides dead or wounded. The Fulani raids are usually after cattle and other loot. Moslem leaders want attention paid to the growing tribal feuds between Moslem tribes, especially the battles between Fulani and Hausa in Zamfara. In response the federal government has ordered the national police to send in additional paramilitary personnel to deal (or try to deal) with that situation. The police have not had much impact and usually leave after conducting some operations that are avoided by the local bandits. Soldiers are now being sent in as well but the violence continues to spread.

The oil terror

Oil production is stalled and growing violence in the oil producing areas is the main reason. At the end of 2018 oil production was officially cut to 1.7 million BPD (barrels per day) to comply with OPEC cuts that are needed to increase the oil price. That did not work because Nigeria needed the money and produced as much oil as it could (about 1.9 million BPD). That goal is now threatened by the growing violence and damage done by the oil theft gangs.

OPEC production level limits are requests, not demands because OPEC has no enforcement mechanism. If too many OPEC members cheat the oil price will not increase and all producers will suffer. Until the 2013 crash in oil prices (triggered by the North American fracking boom) major OPEC members could be expected to make additional production cuts to cover smaller OPEC producers would could, or would, not adhere to their production quotas. That is no longer automatic. The Saudis are hurting from low prices and need all the oil income they can get. But the Saudis will still cut production if it is likely to get the oil price to increase. The world price was $45 a barrel in February but is currently $60. OPEC unofficially welcomes Nigeria being unable to ship as most oil as Nigeria wants.

Daily production in 2018 was 2.09 million BPD, up from 2.03 million BPD in 2017. Given the investments in oil production (mainly by foreign companies) Nigeria should be producing 4 million BPD but continuing problems with oil theft gangs and repair/maintenance backlogs (especially of the pipelines) in the Niger River Delta (where all the oil is) and decades of government inability to deal with these problems are causing a growing number of foreign oil companies to sell their Nigerian assets and go elsewhere. In effect, it is more profitable to do business in other countries. For example it currently costs $23 per barrel to produce oil in Nigeria but without all the violence and corruption that could be $15 a barrel or less. The new oil production firms will demand better terms from Nigeria meaning less oil income for the government. The effort to explore for oil in the Moslem north is also crippled by the bad reputation Nigeria has when it comes to foreign oil companies.

May 5, 2019: In the south (the Niger River Delta) a foreign oil company shut down a major pipeline (150,000 BPD) because of damage from oil thieves and growing public protests over that and the inability of the oil company to clean up the damage quickly enough.

May 3, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram raided the town of Magumeri (50 kilometers from the state capital). The surprise afternoon attack by dozens of Boko Haram gunmen in pickup trucks and motorcycles seized the base for several hours before reinforcements arrived and troops recaptured the base. By then Boko Haram had looted the base and made off with weapons, ammo, vehicles and equipment. Ten soldiers apparently died during the initial attack.

May 2, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) troops clashed with Boko Haram south of the state capital near Damboa, a market town astride the main north-south highway and killed over twenty of the Islamic terrorists.

April 30, 2019: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram killed 18 men who had been collecting firewood that is sold in a nearby refugee camp near Lake Chad. In general the Islamic terrorists don’t trust these wood collectors and discourage them from working in rural areas where Boko Haram has its camps.

April 29, 2019: In the northeast (Adamawa State) Boko Haram attacked a village, killed 25 people then looted the place and burned down most of the buildings.

April 27, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attacked an island in the Cameroon portion of Lake Chad, killing four people, wounding four and looting homes and shops before fleeing to avoid troops from Cameroon and Chad that were in pursuit.

April 26, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram attacked a military base in the southernmost part of the state (Biu). Ten soldiers were killed and one captured. The army later reported that 30 soldiers were missing. The army does not like to admit that Boko Haram is becoming more deadly in Borno.

April 25, 2019: In the south (the Niger River Delta) two foreign oil company employees were kidnapped after their police escorts were killed. This may be related to the military recently shutting down a major illegal refinery in Delta State. The gangs tap pipelines and bring the crude oil to portable refineries hidden in the delta, where it is refined into kerosene or diesel and sold locally. Refined fuels have long been imported because corruption prevented the construction and operation of refineries that could produce this fuel on a large scale locally. This particular refinery was one of the largest ever discovered and provided refinery and distribution services for several oil theft gangs. This refinery has remained hidden for so long because the oil theft gangs involved were locals and had intimidated locals into silence, even though many of the locals were angry at the water pollution the refinery caused. Some eventually informed the military task force that shuts down these operations. Locals asked the military to keep some troops in the area because the local gangsters were apparently planning to rebuild the refinery once the military personnel were no longer in the area.

April 24, 2019: In the southern part of Borno State (135 kilometers southeast of the state capital) the air force attacked Boko Haram forces near Gwoza, a town near the Cameroon border that the army has repeatedly chased Boko Haram out of since 2014. At least five Islamic terrorists were killed.

April 22, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) troops clashed with Boko Haram outside Kukawa (near Lake Chad), killing at least three of the Islamic terrorists.

In central Nigeria (Benue State) more violence between Fulani herders and Christian villagers left five Fulani dead. Many more clashes like this take place every week and don’t get much publicity at all because they are in remote area and by the time the government of media find out about it the incident is old news and thus no news at all.

In the northwest (Zamfara State) the air force attacked tribal militia and killed ten of the armed raiders.

April 20, 2019: In the northwest (Zamfara State) soldiers killed six tribal raiders.

April 16, 2019: In the northeast (Borno state) a large force of Boko Haram gunmen attacked a MNJTF (Multi-National Joint Task Force) base near Lake Chad. The attack was repulsed with more than 50 Islamic terrorists killed. The MNJTF lost two dead, with 11 wounded. The 8,700 man MNJTF is still active attempting to eliminate any Boko Haram presence in the region. Of all the threats they face what scares the Boko Haram most is the MNJTF. Formed in early 2015 the MNJTF consists of troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. At first the MNJTF was used mainly inside Nigeria but by early 2017 MNJTF was spending most of its time clearing Boko Haram out of border areas. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to fight MNJTF forces.

This report was first published by Strategy Page.

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