Nigeria: The New Guy Turns On The Lights

The military continues to chase down remaining Boko Haram Boko Haram groups in the northeast, especially northern Borno State and its huge Sambisa Forest. The northeast in general is a thinly populated area with many places to hide. Aerial reconnaissance has proved to be a key tool in finding Boko Haram, along with tips from civilians (often local self-defense groups). For example air force bombers recently hit a Boko Haram camp that was using solar panels (seen from the air) for electricity. Boko Haram is at a disadvantage here because they need electricity to keep their communications working. Batteries alone will not get it done and any electricity producing device (generators, solar panels) are easy to spot (especially when using heat sensors) from the air. The military prefers air strikes because getting ground troops to a remote site can take hours and the element of surprise is lost. Moreover the Islamic terrorists are using more landmines and booby traps around their camps, even the temporary ones. These kill troops every week and will be a long term problem in these remote areas as civilians hunt and forage in these areas.

Several large (often over a hundred gunmen) Boko Haram groups have become, in effect, nomads. They are constantly on the move, staying in one place a few days and moving on. They live by raiding and looting and the army keeps chasing after them, occasionally catching up. That results in a brief battle as the Islamic terrorists flee, scattering if need be. These groups still try to occupy towns and use the place as a base but that is getting more difficult because the military regularly patrols remote towns and villages to make sure the Islamic terrorists have not shown up and taken over.

Since 2009 Boko Haram violence has left nearly 20,000 dead mainly in three majority Moslem states in the northeast. A thousand of those deaths have occurred in the hundred days since president Buhari (who said he would crush Boko Haram) took power. Accompanying those deaths have been at least 75,000 new refugees forced to flee their homes. Over two million Nigerians have been driven from their homes by the violence so far and over 50,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Boko Haram has tried using neighboring countries for more secure bases but Boko Haram violence there has caused over 100,000 people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon to flee their homes and that triggered a very violent and largely effective counter-terrorism effort.

President Buhari, being a retired army officer, ordered a number of military reforms as soon as he took office four months ago. One of these involved the punishment given out to thousands of soldiers who “mutinied” in 2014 in response to the corruption and incompetence of many officers. Buhari ordered the review of 5,000 trials (courts martial) of soldiers in late 2014 and early 2015 that resulted in the accused being dismissed from the military. As suspected some 60 percent of these prosecutions involved soldiers protesting bad leadership. These soldiers had their convictions reversed and were offered the jobs back. Most appear of have accepted and rejoined the army.

In the south the navy has been ordered to respond more quickly to complaints of oil pollution caused by gangs that steal and refine oi. For decades gangs have punched holes into pipelines and gathered oil for use in crude illegal refineries that produce low grade kerosene. This has become more popular and the process causes a lot of pollution for people living in the Niger River Delta. The hole punched in the pipeline to take oil ends up letting more oil into the water. The refining process puts more pollutants into the waterways. In response to the order from the new president the navy has increased the use of air patrols and quick reaction teams. When a crude (and portable) refinery is spotted the nearest quick reaction force is alerted, given the GPS coordinates and speeds to the refinery (via thousands of kilometers of waterways in the Delta) before it can be moved. Oil companies believe over 100,000 barrels of oil a day are being stolen by thieves who tap into oil pipelines. That’s several billion dollars a year in lost oil revenue. In the past much of what the government did receive from oil production was stolen by politicians and civil servants. While many people in the Delta only get benefit from all the oil via oil thieves (who hire locals and spend a lot of the cash locally), far more Delta residents suffer from the pollution and generally lawless behavior of all those gangs.

The impact of some new anti-corruption measures are still unclear. Such is the case with the traditional influence of senior state officials in the appointment of the federal cabinet ministers. In the past this was how a new president developed widespread support at the state level. Buhari, as promised, is doing it differently and apparently ignoring the candidates favored by state officials. While this will produce less corrupt federal officials it will also antagonize elected officials and political party leaders in the states. This could get ugly, even though most states have considerable popular support for eliminating corruption.

Buhari still remains very popular, in large part because he has quickly produced some results that everyone can experience. Since taking office a hundred days ago electricity production has nearly doubled. Buhari did this by quickly eliminating corrupt practices (and officials) who were crippling efforts to eliminate chronic and growing electricity shortages (which provided many lucrative opportunities for corrupt officials and businesses). Keeping it up will prove more difficult as the corruption is extensive and a lot of very powerful people are determined to preserve their illegal privileges. As far as the corrupt crowd are concerned Buhari has won a few battles at the beginning of a long war.

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