NIGERIA: The Game of Gangsters
The problems with local officials, both elected and the traditional tribal and religious leaders, cooperating with bandits and terrorists are becoming more visible. These unpublicized arrangements reduce police and military pressure on the bad guys, who in turn share their income from robbery, extortion and ransoms. It also enables local leaders to quickly and effectively intervene to resolve a kidnapping that has triggered too much bad publicity.
While police and military personnel are notoriously corrupt and inefficient, local leaders are seen as more effective because they are more answerable to their local constituents. That support is often coerced because it is customary for local leaders to use their partnerships with gangsters to apply force where needed to get the proper response from voters, journalists, clergy and so on. Journalists and clergy who refuse to comply often get dead or run out of the community by death threats. This sort of thing is nationwide and ancient. It is often worse in the north where radical Moslems give rise to periodic outbreaks of Islamic terrorism. These fanatics are more into violence than mutually profitable deals with local leaders.
Gangsters and most Islamic terrorists concentrate on cashflow and bringing in as much money as possible. The more cash you have the more successful you will be and the longer you will survive. Often the main threats are not the police or army but local tribal militias. Particularly lethal are the local militias that contain professional hunters. Over the last decade the unpopularity of the army in the northeast often spread to the Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force or CJTF). The strength of CJTF peaked at about 30,000 volunteers in 2017 and, after the decline in Boko Haram activity in early 2018, about a third of the force was disbanded, or at least no longer recognized and supported by the military. There are at least as many non-CJTF militiamen in the northeast and now there are more because the army depends less on the volunteers.
CJTF still helps with security around towns, cities and refugee camps in Borno State. That led to accusations of CJTF brutality and extortion. This misbehavior was rare. Your average CJTF was more interested in staying alive. The fear of a suicide bomber at a checkpoint was a real threat for these volunteers. There was always been some danger for the defense volunteers. About two percent of those who joined CJTF have been killed and many more have been wounded or injured while on duty. In effect, about ten percent of the CJTF men have been injured. But the soldiers respect them, the local civilians depend on and generally support them while Boko Haram and gangsters have come to fear them. The more senior army commanders do not support the CJTF because these civilians often confront misbehaving soldiers and embarrass the army by exposing the bad behavior. President Buhari agreed that the CJTF were part of the solution, not another problem. This is particularly true in some rural areas where local militias and professional hunters regularly find and attack Islamic terrorists in their vicinity. Boko Haram prefers to avoid these militia protected areas.
As early as 2014 some CJTF groups were launching attacks on Boko Haram, and usually winning because they knew the area and people better and often were able to launch a surprise attack at night. A major factor in this was that in the more remote areas, like near the Sambisa Forest, the CJTF groups contained a lot of local hunters. These men are professional hunters who thrive in rural areas where there is a lot more game than people. CJTF first demonstrated to the army the skills of local hunters who tracked game for a living. The army noted that the success of CJTF attack units was largely because of local hunters. Soon the army began to hire some of the hunters who were exceptional trackers as well as offering bounties if they could track down certain Boko Haram men or groups. At first Boko Haram fought back and attacked trackers or their families. That backfired because the CJTF have better information about their home areas which made it difficult for Boko Haram to make revenge attacks. The attacks were made anyway and failed so often that most Boko Haram were advised by their leaders to stay away from CJTF, especially those groups with professional hunters. There were still parts of the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram could establish bases and avoid the CJTF but these were areas where there was less game and less of everything. That meant fewer Islamic terrorists and their captives could survive there and had to leave their sanctuaries more frequently to raid villages for supplies.
Since 2019 the Borno government and military leaders in the area have sought out experienced hunters and hired them, usually as part of CJTF “hunter-killer” units. Many hunter veterans of CJTF are willing to work full time for a while to reduce Boko Haram violence. In addition to $28 a month pay (double that for leaders of hunter teams) there is some free food for hunter’s families. The monthly pay is OK for war-torn areas of Borno but also recognizes that the hunters can still hunt and don’t have to abandon their usual work. In many rural parts of Borno, the police and army can use someone who will regularly report what they see or sill agree to look out for specific things.
Most of Borno state and the north in general do not have any professional hunters to hire for counterterrorism duty. There are plenty of areas that are more “bandit-friendly” and that means there has been a lot more kidnappings and organized raids for high-value loot. Boko Haram has taken to depend on kidnapped teenage boys for new recruits. These kids can be indoctrinated and trained faster and more reliably than an older guy still seeking to find a wife and settle down.
March 2, 2021: In the west (Niger state) local gangsters raided and looted several villages while another group blocked a road and looted several vehicles as well as kidnapping fifty drivers and passengers. While Fulani are blamed for the violence, most of the gangs are not tribal but organized by veteran gangsters who hire whoever seems capable of doing the job. State and national officials are under growing pressure to deal with this escalating mayhem and carnage. Pressure is on the police to take fewer bribes and make more arrests.
In the northeast (Borno state) Boko Haram gunmen were drive out of Dikwa town, which the Islamic terrorists had occupied overnight as they sought, unsuccessfully to take control of the entire town. This area, including the Dikwa refugee camp is 90 kilometers from the state capital Maiduguri. Dikwa is still refuge for over 10,000 of those displaced by Boko Haram violence. As such it is a tempting target for Boko Haram because foreign aid groups provide food and services to the refugees and these aid groups always have lots of good stuff to steal. In addition, there are a lot of foreigners working for the aid groups kidnapping foreigners always brings a more than ten times more ransom than local employees of the aid group. Kidnapped foreigners also bring on more armed efforts to rescue the hostage and kill the kidnappers but for many Islamic terrorists and bandits the potential rewards are worth the risk. The Dikwa raid was apparently the work of a combined force of Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) gunmen.
The Dikwa raid was not exceptional. There was a similar operation against the town of Marte (120 kilometers from Madiguri), which Boko Haram and ISWAP seized on February 17th and battled with police and soldiers until the 23rd when all the armed Islamic terrorists were gone from the area
March 1, 2021: In the southwest (Ogun State) the state government turned over 20 motorcycles and ten cars to a new patrol force that would monitor areas prone to herdsmen attacking farmers. The new police patrols would call for reinforcements to disrupt the violence and arrest the attackers. Ogun state also contains oil production facilities, which offer more opportunities for criminal gangs. The agricultural violence is more violent but less lucrative to the gangsters.
February 25, 2021: In the north a pro-Fulani cattle and food dealers group declared an embargo on shipment of meat or farm products to the south. The response in the south was to call for more local food production rather than give in to northern extortion attempts. This is not just a north-south thing, some areas of the southwest, like Oyo and Ogun states Yoruba and Fulani tribesmen regularly clash over unresolved disputes about Fulani efforts to displace Yoruba farmers. The Fulani need grazing areas and access to water. Police have been trying to halt the violence for years but are hampered by the Fulani tendency to open fire whenever the see police approaching.
The embargo is the latest Fulani effort to take land and water rights from farmers to support their growing herds of cattle. In 2020 Fulani proposed designating a percentage of territory in each state as pastureland for the use of Fulani. In return all the Fulani violence would cease. This was not accepted, in part because it was unclear how long this peace would last and who would enforce it. These tribal feuds, mainly between Fulani and a variety of Moslem and Christian farmers have become a greater source of death and destruction than the Boko Haram and ISIL mayhem.
February 24, 2021: In the northeast (Borno State) a feud between local Boko Haram and ISWAP Islamic terrorists led to a battle that left dozens of Islamic terrorists dead or wounded. Eventually ceasefires and settlements were worked out. This distracted local Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders for over a week and the army took advantage of that to follow up on some tips about ISWAP bases in the Sambisa forest, including one that was the main residence of the ISWAP leader.
February 23, 2021: In the southeast (Imo state) dozens of Igbo separatists have been arrested in the last month. This is in response to a January 25th ambush that left four soldiers dead and their weapons stolen by armed members of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra). That ambush was merely the latest violent act by IPOB militants.
This is part of the local Igbo tribesmen seeking to revive the Biafra separatist rebellion in the south. The violence has not only returned after half a century but it has been resisting suppression. During 2017 there were several hundred arrests related to pro-Biafra demonstrations and other pro-independence activity. That simply made Igbos angrier. During 2018 police were ordered to deal with the protests and unrest carefully and avoid bloodshed. Someone in government apparently remembers that the original 1967 rebellion began because in 1966 over 40,000 Igbo in the north were murdered by Fulani groups after a much smaller number of Moslems were killed. The subsequent Biafra rebellion did not end until 1970 and left more than a million Igbo dead. Yet the Igbo remain a major force in Nigeria, comprising nearly a fifth of the population and dominating even more of the economy. This is particularly resented in the Moslem north, where the Igbo returned in greater numbers since 1970 and are now a key part of the northern economy and, as Christians, a favorite target of Boko Haram.
Partly in response to the Boko Haram violence the Igbo 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. That worked for a while but now it no longer does.
The pro-Biafra 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.
One IPOB response has been formation of 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 troops 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 so in the face of Igbo contempt and hostility.
February 19, 2021: This has been a bad week for the security forces because in the last week 222 were killed by Islamic terrorists and 133 were kidnapped by Islamic terrorists or gangsters. That was an exceptional total for one week but indicative of the persistence and growth of such criminal activity in northern Nigeria. The gangs and Islamic terrorists find easy targets and hit them again and again until they are not so easy any more. For example, students in rural boarding schools are a relatively easy target and in the last decade nearly a thousand students have been kidnapped, many of them never to be seen again. Those who don’t return either died in captivity, are persuaded to be suicide bomber or are sold into slavery or prostitution somewhere else in Africa or Europe. Many Islamic terrorists, especially the more fanatic like ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) believe that Moslem scripture demands that they enslave any non-Moslems they capture. It took the British colonial government over a century to suppress slavery in Nigeria and when the British left in the 1960s, there were still areas in the north where slavery was quietly accepted. Boko Haram is trying to build on that.
February 17, 2021: In the west (Niger state) local gangsters attacked a rural boarding school and kidnapped 42 students and staff, killing one student who resisted. The kidnappers demanded ransom and the release of six of their leaders who had been arrested recently. After ten days the state government agreed to free the gang leaders and the hostages were released.
February 14, 2021: Turkey confirmed that 15 Turkish sailors kidnapped by pirates operating in the Gulf of Guinea have returned to Turkey. The sailors were kidnapped January 23 after pirates attacked their container ship. One sailor, an Azeri, was killed in the attack. The seamen reported the pirates held them in a jungle camp in Nigeria for three weeks.
February 5, 2021: Corruption has long been a major problem for Nigeria. Corruption and misuse of oil income are the main reasons Nigeria is such a wreck economically. The global aspect of this can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2020 Nigeria ranked 149th out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 146th in 2019.
These ratings and ranking are updated each year for the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (currently Venezuela and Yemen at 15, Syria at 14, South Sudan and Somalia at 12) have a rating of under 16 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are both 88.
For 2020 Nigerian score is 25 (26 2019) compared to 21 (28) for Kenya, 38 (37) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Uganda, 27 (30) for Djibouti, 61 (61) for Israel, 71 (71) for UAE, 67 (69) for the United States, 33 (35) for Egypt, 25 (26) for Nigeria, 44 (44) for South Africa, 21 (20) for Iraq, 40 (39) for Turkey, 53 (53) for Saudi Arabia, 33 (30) for Ukraine, 47 (45) for Belarus, 56 (58) for Poland, 80 (80) Germany, 65 (65) for Taiwan, 40 (39) for Turkey, 40 (41) for India, 30 (28) for Russia, 61 (57) for South Korea, 42 (41) for China, 18 (14) for North Korea, 36 (37) for Vietnam, 85 (85) for Singapore, 74 (73) for Japan, 37 (40) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 31 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (26) for Bangladesh, 25 (26) for Iran, 19 (16) for Afghanistan, 28 (29) for Burma, and 25 (28) for Lebanon.
The Nigerian corruption score has not changed much since 2012 when it was 27.
Many other aspects of life in Nigeria are regularly measures. The state of living conditions in Nigeria is measured annually to assess the effectiveness of governments and the societies they represent is rated each year in the Human Development Index. The UN has compiled these ratings for 30 years. The index ranks all the world nations in terms of how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. In 2020 Nigeria ranked 161 out of 189 nations. Norway, Ireland and Switzerland were the top three while the bottom three are Chad, Central African Republic and, at the very bottom, Niger.