Join us for a discussion with Nnamdi Obasi and Hans De Marie Heungoup of the International Crisis Group, authors of two recent ICG publications on the state of security and humanitarian responses to conflict in the Lake Chad basin. Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram traces the origins and evolution of vigilante groups in Nigeria and Cameroon and examines their role in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. The Humanitarian Fallout from Cameroon’s Struggle Against Boko Haram considers the plight of refugees and IDPs in Cameroon. The research will serve as the basis for a broader discussion on the challenges confronting the region as the fight against Boko Haram continues.
Challenges of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) vigilante group:
- CJTF membership is a status symbol. It empowers and gives authority to young men.
- What to do with them after their service against Boko Haram. Will the CJTF be demobilised?
- CJTF have a “sense of entitlement” and want the government to reward them by granting them scholarships to continue their education (many of them are young) or to employ them by incorporating them into state institutions.
- CJTF’s existence is not abnormal in the Nigerian context. There are vigilante groups all over Nigeria: many of them ethnically based.
- Anti Boko Haram vigilante groups exist in Nigeria and Cameroon. The Nigerian vigilantes (most of whom are aged 18-24) are younger than their Cameroon counterparts (most of whom are over 25 years old).
The Military and Civilians:
- The military and CJTF have been accused of human rights abuses. Civilians claim they are caught in the middle between Boko Haram and the military. After Boko Haram attacks, soldiers descend on and raid, communities that have been attacked and indiscriminately arrest all young men on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.
- This created a “push and pull” effect that both acted as a recruiting tool for Boko Haram, and pushed young men to join the CJTF as a means of making it clear that they have no allegiance to Boko Haram.
- Military launched “Operation Safe Corridor” which offers amnesty and rehabilitation for repentant Boko Haram members who surrender. The programme is deeply unpopular with civilians who have suffered Boko Haram atrocities. Such civilians demand punitive justice against Boko Haram members and argue that addressing their grievances should be prioritised above rehabilitating Boko Haram members. They feel that people who commit atrocities should not be treated so gently.
Boko Haram Evolution:
- Boko Haram offered socio-economic incentives to recruits such as money (up to 6 months salary), gifts of motorbikes, and offering wives. This latter category incentivised the kidnapping of women to give as “bride prizes” to Boko Haram members.
- Some others join Boko Haram for ideological reasons (Jihad, support for Salafi ideology).
- Boko Haram has factionalised into two groups: (a) one group in southern Borno State (close to the Cameroon border) led by Abubakar Shekau; and (b) a second faction in northern Borno State led by Abu-Musab Al-Barnawai (son of Boko Haram’s original leader Mohammed Yusuf).
- According to the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, Boko Haram destroyed 30% of residential houses, and 700 municipal buildings (police stations, courts, council buildings etc) in Borno State.
In January of this year the Nigerian army announced that is was going to create two new divisions. The two new divisions are 6 division which will be in the south-south region with its headquarters at Port Harcourt, and 8 division which will be based in the north-east (in northern Borno).
The army has already appointed a pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC) for the 6 division; Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim. 6 division will have responsibility for 2 Brigade in Akwa Ibom State, 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and 63 Brigade in Delta State. Before this appointment, Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim had been the GOC of the 2 division in Ibadan.
6 division’s responsibility will be primarily to tackle the security and insurgency challenges in the Niger Delta region. According to Abdulkarim, 6 division “will help to curtail activities of militants, banditry, inter-communal clashes, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, robberies, Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism prevalent in the area”.
Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.
Today is the 26th anniversary of the April 1990 coup attempt against General Babangida in Nigeria. Rather than rehash the events (which I have written about before) in this post, I have instead included links where you can read all about the coup in an account by one of its plotters, and another view of the coup by General Babangida’s former Chief Security Officer.
That coup was a watershed in Nigeria, and accelerated the turn of events that led to the insurgency in the Niger Delta, and indirectly to the controversy that followed the June 12, 1993 election annulment, and the “power shift” to the south in 1999.
If you want to read more about the Orkar coup and these tumultuous years, you can of course do so in my book “Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)“.
Have a great weekend everyone.
On April 1, 2016 Nigeria’s State Security Service announced that it had arrested Khalid Al-Barnawi, who has been on its wanted list, and whom Nigeria held responsible for the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja on August 26, 2011.
The media description of Al-Barnawi is fuzzy, with some media outlets describing him as “Boko Haram’s second in command” and others acknowledging him as the leader of Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (“the Vanguard for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa); AKA “Ansaru. He was arrested at an army barracks in Lokoja, Kogi State.
Al-Barnawi’s real name is alleged to be Mohammed Usman, although he has many other aliases including Kafuri, Naziru, Alhaji Yahaya, Mallam Dauda and Alhaji Tanimu. The SSS claimed that Al-Barnawi acted as a recruiter who procured Nigerians for training by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in North African states and the Middle-East.
Ansaru’s group was also held responsible for several kidnapping incidents in Nigeria in recent years including the kidnapping of two European engineers in Kebbi State in May 2011 (and their subsequent murder in Sokoto State in March 2013 during a botched rescue attempt), the kidnap of a German engineer, Edgar Raupach in January 2012, and the kidnap and murder of seven expatriate staff of Setraco Construction Company at Jama’are, Bauchi State in February 2013, as well as an attack on Nigerian troops that were en route for a UN mission in Mali.
One of the most bizarre details about Al-Barnawi’s arrest is that he was allegedly arrested inside the Chari Magumeri Barracks, while visiting a family member (following a tip-off).
If this account is true, what on earth was one of the most wanted men in the world (let alone Nigeria) doing inside a military barracks? Also, who is the “family member” he was visiting? Was the person a military personnel? If the answer to that question is “yes”, then it raises some very disturbing implications.
The Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has revealed that the Nigerian army will add two new divisions: which will be designated as the 6 and 8 divisions. 8 division will be based in the north east (in northern Borno), and 6 division will be in the south-south region (Niger Delta).
Buratai made the announcement during a lecture he delivered entitled “Nigerian Army: Challenges and Future Perspectives” at the National Defence College in Abuja.
This will increase the army’s manpower from its current 100,000 (6,000 officers and 94,000 NCOs) to 200,000 (190,000 NCOs and 18,966 officers). The army will recruit 12,000 new members in 2016 alone to ramp up its force strength.
This is an article I wrote for Foreign Policy magazine regarding Nigeria’s war with Boko Haram. The group has evolved and is starting to resemble the Lord’s Resistance Army – which has terrorised Uganda for decades.
Great video featuring Dr Fatima Akilu, a psychologist, and the Director of Behavioural Analysis and Strategic Communication in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Dr Akilu used to work as a psychologist for the UK’s National Health Service until she was hired by Nigeria’s National Security Adviser to assist in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram. Her role is to complement the military battle with Boko Haram with ‘soft power’ approaches aimed at socio-psychological approaches to countering Boko Haram.
Dr Akilu spoke in Washington DC, USA, at the Center For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In this video she made some eye raising revelations such as:
- many Boko Haram members do not read, and have never read, the Koran. Their knowledge of orthodox Islam is poor.
- contrary to popular belief, most Boko Haram members do not join the group due to poverty. Rather the group offers youths a sense of belonging and Boko Haram takes advantage of youths’ desire for belonging, and transition into adulthood to recruit.
- Dr Akilu’s department focuses on a programme called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). CVE has four elements: (1) de-radicalisation (de-radicalising Boko Haram members in prison or those exposed to their doctrine), (2) counter-radicalisation (preventing people from being radicalised to begin with, identifying at risk youths and and pre-empting them from being recruited by Boko Haram – at ‘centers of imagination’), (3) strategic communication (countering and challenging Boko Haram’s narrative, rendering alternate non-violent interpretations of the Koran), and (3) a framework for psychology.
- Dr Akilu’s looked at battles against terrorism and insurgency in other countries such as Algeria, Australia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, UK, USA, and spent a year researching other countries’ approaches to terrorism elsewhere.
- Not all Boko Haram members are uneducated. Some have degrees and PhDs.
- Many Boko Haram members have poor knowledge of the Koran and have never read it.
- Boko Haram tends to oppose western secular education, music, and arts – areas that encourage critical thinking in young people. The obvious subtext is that exposure to such subjects makes people more resistant to Boko Haram’s message.
Start watching from around 50 minutes.