Nigeria: Living in a Bed of Thorns
By Strategy Page, September 20, 2023
Sep 20, 2023 - 2:57:29 PM

Before Islamic terrorism became a major source of violence, the most common cause of violent deaths in the north was clashes between farmers defending their land against nomadic tribes that lived off herds of animals that required new pastures. Rapid growth within the farming tribes over the last three decades led to more land being cultivated and no longer available for grazing animals. There were more armed clashes and deaths. Since 2001 this has left over 60,000 dead. Since 2o14 Islamic terrorism has triggered an even larger number of violent deaths. That includes over 78,000 Nigerians were killed by Islamic terrorists, bandits, fighting between farmers and herders, and local unrest. Most of these additional deaths were due to Islamic terrorism, especially against Christians, as well as banditry and clashes between farmers and herders. The worst year was 2014, when over 11,000 died, mainly because of increased Boko Haram violence and the military response. Deaths declined to less than half the 2014 total over the next six years. Then the annual deaths increased to about 10,000 a year in the last three years.

Spending on the military nearly tripled because of this but that wasn’t enough to deal with the widespread violence in central and northern Nigeria. During the last five years, deaths due to Islamic terrorism declined while those due to banditry and tribal feuds increased, as did the number of people fleeing the violence. There are currently nearly four million of these refugees, many of them fleeing south to the capital or further to the Christian south.

This refugee movement, as well as the continued activities of Islamic terrorists in the north, has created an atmosphere that many Nigerians fear will trigger a major religious war between Christians and Moslems. The threat of a religious civil war was created by the continued Islamic terrorist attacks on Christians in the north, and now central Nigeria as well. Christians are beginning to arm themselves and for armed groups to protect Christian communities. This could lead to all-out war eventually. About half the Nigerian population is Christian and most of them are in the south, where they are the majority. The south is where the oil is. The Christians are better educated, but no less corrupt, than their Moslem neighbors. Nigeria was founded and survives because of an understanding that Christians and Moslems would get along. Leaders of both communities have largely striven to make that work. But Islamic radicalism is one aspect of Islam that Moslem secular and religious leaders are often unable to control. This puts the Moslem/Christian peace in Nigeria at risk.

Now that militantly anti-Christian (and anyone not the right kind of Moslem) disease has infested parts of the Moslem north it is spreading south. It is not Boko Haram moving south but one of the northern Moslem tribes that has been radicalized by the Boko Haram example. This new menace is the nomadic Fulani, who have long skirmishes with farmers and each other over access to water and grasslands for their herds in northeastern and Central Nigeria.

Most Nigerians want the original compromise to survive but the radical Islamic terrorist minority are unconcerned with such “un-Islamic” compromises and are willing to burn the entire nation down to prove their point. The Fulani violence has been escalating for years and overall has killed more than five times as many Christians as Boko Haram. That’s because the majority of Nigerians the Fulani attack are Christians. With Boko Haram, the Christians are a minority who are quick to leave when threatened and move to the Christian south. Boko Haram killed as many Christians as they could catch but most northern Christians were not eager to become martyrs. In Central Nigeria the Christians are defending their ancient homeland and livelihoods from invaders.

When the Christians fight back, the Islamic terrorists take heavy losses and are often driven away. This is why there is this north-south religious divide in Nigeria and several other African nations. Islam had been slowly moving south in Africa for over a thousand years when the Europeans showed up and moved inland early in the 18th century. The Europeans, like the Arabs before them, had no resistance to the many local diseases, especially in areas with more rainfall. The Arabs conquered and, as was their custom, intermarried, or simply had a lot of sex with their new subjects and after a few generations you had a lot of Africanized Arabs who could more easily survive moving further south.

There was a lot of resistance from the largely pagan tribes who practiced ancient local religions. These religions were not completely abandoned when conversion of Islam or Christianity took place. The Christians were more tolerant about incorporating older practices and were found to be more accommodating in general. Unlike the Moslems, Christians were opposed to slavery and the generally harsher rule under Islam. Moreover, Christianity was not based on conversion by conquest. That is an important distinction and it led to much faster spread of Christianity which halted the spread of Islam in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. The Christians had an additional advantage with their more advanced technology. The Europeans ended their own religious wars in the 17th century and carried that spirit of accommodation with them to Africa. But this accommodation has its limits, as Moslem conquerors in the Middle East discovered a thousand years ago when they persecuted local Christians and Christian pilgrims from Europe in the ancient Jewish lands where Christianity originated. This led to centuries of wars (the Crusades} as European Christians sought to defend their outnumbered Middle Eastern brethren. That effort continues and now it has come to Nigeria. The local Christians don’t want a religious war but their Moslem antagonists don’t seem to care.

This will not end well for the Islamic terrorists but it is uncertain how badly it will end for Nigeria as a whole. More Christians are questioning the policy of patience and forbearance while so many Christians continue to die for being Christians. Nigerian Christians are also dismayed by the widespread apathy among Western Christians to the plight of Christians being sought out and murdered by radical Moslems. Nigerians don’t need foreign help to organize and carry out a crusade to protect themselves. This puts more pressure on Nigerian politicians to stop posturing and get serious about ending the sectarian murders in the north.

All this religious and tribal mayhem has had a very negative impact on the national economy. Despite being one of the largest countries in Africa and possessing a large oil production and export industry, Nigeria does not make a list of the 12 Most Advanced countries in Africa. That assessment is correct because the growth of corruption in Nigeria was fueled by the growing oil wealth produced in the Niger River Delta and offshore oil fields. Reform efforts since the 1990s included a 2008 audit of Nigerian oil income since the 1960s which concluded that a trillion dollars of the $1,190 billion of oil income was stolen with the help of corrupt politicians and businesses. The most obvious result was that the standard of living in Nigeria declined as oil income increased. This was most obvious when compared to rising living standards in neighboring countries lacking oil wealth. That oil money and tribal feuds led to over three decades of violence and military rule, interspersed by brief periods of elected government. Nigerians never lost their faith in democracy and in 1998 the last military government peacefully gave way to democracy. Elections have continued, as has a growing effort to curb corruption. The key problems have been identified but finding an effective and enduring solution has been difficult.

The twelve more advanced, but usually smaller and less affluent (in terms of income from natural resources) countries included Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Senegal, Namibia, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Botswana, Tunisia, Morocco and South Africa. These twelve have better living standards and infrastructure as well as a better educated, healthier and more productive population.

Nigerian reformers have, over the last two decades managed to reduce the percentage of oil money stolen but this has not yet led to major improvements in rebuilding of infrastructure or expanding the number of firms creating employment for the growing population. Local corruption is as bad as ever but nationwide there has been some progress exposing the extent that oil income has been stolen and real efforts are being made to halt that and recover some of the lost billions. It has not been easy. But that effort is apparently one reason why the economy is recovering from a sharp, but apparently temporary decline in world oil prices.

The 2014-15 collapse in oil prices hurt the economy for several years. Yet even with Boko Haram and oil thieves still active and more and more corrupt officials being indicted, the kleptocrats know they still have a lot of power and do not hesitate to use it. Case in point is the need for economic reforms and changes in government spending. This has to go through the national legislature where budget details are subject to all manner of legal and illegal adjustments by legislators and senior government officials. Despite the growing waves of bad publicity this year, the kleptocrats in the legislature are doing what comes naturally and ignoring the increased risk of indictment and prosecution.

Despite the resistance, Nigeria is starting, for the first time, to look better in the international rankings for things that, indirectly, rate the degree to which corruption cripples the economy and public wellbeing in general. The World Bank, which has pioneered a lot of these international rankings, says Nigeria is becoming a more attractive place to invest in legitimate (legal) businesses. But the larger (and long term) investments requiring some certainty that the good government will last are not yet comfortable in Nigeria.

Corruption has at least become a major and persistent issue in the media. Beyond that not much has actually been done other than a few prosecutions (not always successful) of notoriously corrupt former officials (usually former state governors). Corruption is now a news staple and those speaking up no longer have to worry as much about retribution, which was once often fatal. But people notice that the billions of dollars allegedly recovered so far are not showing up in new projects. Lots of plans and promises are, but there isn’t much to show for it. Some of this bad news is expected but still disappointing. For example, journalists in the Niger Delta can now see coastal tankers (as pointed out by locals) still engaged in smuggling. A little more investigation confirmed that these tankers do indeed obtain oil stolen from ruptured pipelines and sell it to brokers who pay bribes to allow their tankers to move the oil to neighboring countries where it is sold as legitimate. Revelations like this put officials of the national oil company under more pressure but so far there isn’t much to show for this either. The Delta is still notoriously corrupt as are recent renewed threats by local militants are suspected of being connected with yet another effort by corrupt local politicians to deal with (and evade) anti-corruption investigators.

Many Nigerians attribute the corruption stalemate to the fact that the major political parties, especially the APC (All Progressives Congress), currently in power are busy trying to avoid accepting any blame for ignoring the corruption. It has become fashionable to declare corruption allegations an excuse by political rivals to bring down an honest opponent. Popular opinion considers all of them dirty to one degree or another and that the most corrupt should be tended to first. These politicians have the most to lose and have been very effective in hiding behind this “it’s all politics” smokescreen. Corruption is deeply entrenched and difficult to clean up, but in a democracy you have to show some tangible progress or get voted out of office by less honest politicians. The APC was founded in 2013 via a merger of three major opposition parties and was dedicated to clean government. That was only partially successful because as APC won more elections, it acquired a growing number of members who were less hostile to corruption.

During the last two decades, Nigerian reform efforts have been making slow progress against disorder (tribal and religious violence as well as criminal behavior in general) because the army and national police were resistant to reform efforts. Corrupt politicians were still getting elected but more of them were later arrested and prosecuted for corruption. More and more of the stolen money is recovered, even in foreign banks or property. The educational and health care systems still need a lot of work as do the government bureaucracies in general.

Reforming the national police, whose gratuitous violence against any disagreeable group turned Boko Haram into a major Islamic terrorism movement, is still a problem. It has finally been recognized as an impediment to solving many problems besides corruption, so there is growing pressure for major reforms in the police as well as the Nigerian government in general. This is a much larger and entrenched problem than a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism.

International Assistance

The MNJTF (Multinational Joint Task Force) continues to play a major role in destroying Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorist groups. Since 2015 the MNJTF has proved very effective at this. The 8,700-man MNJTF force maintains bases and camps near Lake Chad in northern Borno state and concentrates on hunting down and killing Islamic terrorists. MNJTF has taken the lead in containing local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups, mainly ISWAP and blocking the Islamic terrorist efforts to once more control territory in the region.

Increasing violence across the border in Borno state led to the creation of the MNJTF, which 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, especially the Lake Chad coast. Each member country assigns some of their best troops to the MNJTF and the Boko Haram have suffered heavy losses trying to deal with the MNJTF. This played a role in the 2016 Boko Haram split that turned Boko Haram operating near Lake Chad into ISWAP. MNJTF concentrated more and more on the areas around Lake Chad and has been successful at curbing ISWAP operations there.

September 19, 2023: In the southeast (Imo State) eight security personnel from the army, police and armed militia were ambushed and killed, apparently by Biafran separatists. the Biafra independence movement is 23 years old and its militant wing IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) has become increasingly active. Most recently IPOB sought to prevent locals from voting in national elections. The army and the federal government sought to block these IPOB efforts. In Imo and surrounding states there is an increased army presence because of renewed demands for an independent state of Biafra, dominated by Igbos and consisting of the southeastern states of Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Abia. Local politicians advised the federal government to keep the army out of this and 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 attempted to establish a separate Igbo state called Biafra. A brutal civil war followed before that rebellion was crushed. 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 outgoing president Buhari, paid attention, and sought to work out a compromise with the Igbos. The Fulani living in the southeast 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, IPOB took the lead in protecting Igbo from anti-Biafra violence. In areas where peaceful defense measures did 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.

September 15, 2023: In the south (Niger River Delta) the Air Force announced that it had concluded a two month long operation that had found and destroyed more than 30 illegal oil refineries. These crude rural refineries produce cut-rate fuels for rural customers. These refineries are easy to spot from the air and, when they are located, the army moves in via road or the navy via boat to shut them down. More frequently the air force carries out an airstrike if speed is of the essence. The illegal refining business is so lucrative that losing several refineries every month or so is an affordable cost for a full time refining operation. The refinery personnel usually escape and build another crude refinery. The outlaws are armed, although they rarely fight back against the military raids. The airstrikes cause more damage because the men operating the refinery are often killed or wounded during the air attack. The army or navy will often still go in to collect evidence and arrest any survivors. The retrieved documents or cell phones plus interrogations of survivors provides information on the state of the oil smuggling and refining gangs.

September 14, 2023: Electrical power has been restored after nationwide power blackout that lasted several hours. The nationwide blackout was caused by local blackouts that spread to neighboring distribution systems and continued to spread until 93 percent of the country had no electrical power. Nigeria does not have a system for isolating a local blackout before it spreads nationwide. Such systems are expensive to build and maintain and require dedicated staff to properly maintain and operate the system.

September 1, 2023: In the north (Kaduna state) Islamic terrorists attacked a mosque and killed nine people. Religious or tribal rivalries are often the cause of such attacks but Islamic terrorism has led to more such violence against churches and mosques,

August 31, 2023: In the northeast (Borno and Yobe states), military operations over the last two weeks have left 39 Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists dead, 159 arrested and 109 hostages released. The hostages were being held for ransom or to ensure cooperation by local civilians.

August 15, 2023: In the north, (near Lake Chad) MNJTF forces, over the last two days, accepted the voluntary surrender of four senior Boko Haram commanders, 13 of their armed followers along 45 family members.

Source: Ocnus.net 2022