I wanted to post part of my recent CCC socio-cultural writing assignment on Nigeria. This portion I’m posting is intended to serve as a primer to Nigeria’s two insurgent groups: the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Boko Haram. Islamic insurgency in Nigeria is likely more relevant to "western" CT analysts after the recent discovery of a crashed Boeing 727 at an Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb-controlled airstrip in nearby Mali. This intriguing incident has received little attention in the US, but is absolutely imperative to understand, and subsequently counter in order to deny the flow of drug money into terrorist hands. Two additional interesting articles can be found here and here.
Nigeria faces a unique challenge to both the central government and members of the international community banking on the country’s future. The nation has two separate ongoing insurgencies that are fully disparate in nature and agenda. In the Northern provinces is a group which operates under the titles Jama’at Hijra Wa Takfir (JHWT), Boko Haram and the Nigerian Taliban. In the southeast is the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) began garnering international attention in 2006 with several high profile kidnappings and attacks against Nigerian government officials, government infrastructure, and international energy company infrastructure and personnel in Rivers state. Little is known about this shadowy organization and the group’s leadership has long maintained a low-key underground status, largely protected by area residents who passively support the insurgency. The organization draws largely on the un- or under-employed Ijaw people, who are indigenous to the Niger Delta region for recruitment. Tactics for the group center around the use of speed boats loaded with militants carrying light and medium-machine guns, and RPGs. The group has also utilized explosives in clandestine attacks against oil pipelines (CNN, 2009). The MEND has conducted nearly two dozen attacks around the Niger Delta (Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2009) and at their operational peak succeeded in restricting oil production in the Niger Delta by over 20% (Kurti, 2006). Perhaps MEND’s most ambitious attack occurred on 13 July 2009. MEND terrorists attacked Lagos’ Atlas Cove Jetty (McGregor, 2009). The attack was reportedly launched from terrorist bases in Rivers state, with the attackers traveling along the coastline at night by speed boat. Lagos is over 500 km from Rivers state’s coastline, an impressive distance covered over open-ocean in a speed boat. The long-term political ambitions of the MEND are to protect the local Ijaw populace by imposing a fair oil revenue distribution system and to force the Nigerian government and international oil companies to repair damage caused to the Niger Delta environment. Because of their localized goals and ambitions, the MEND has maintained tremendous local support for their cause.
In August of 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua offered all militants in the Niger Delta amnesty. The amnesty program was originally shrugged off as more wishful thinking by many both local and abroad. Shockingly, several key leaders and their supporting militias surrendered en masse. These leaders included Farah Dagogo, Ateke Tom and Government Ekpemupolo (Irish Examiner, 2009). There is widespread speculation that the ceasefire between the Nigerian government and MEND will not last, as the Nigerian government has not addressed the root causes of the insurgency, chiefly environmental damage and local oil revenue distribution (Murray, 2009). The amnesty program is of great importance to both the Nigerian and international governments, as western nations have come to rely heavily upon Nigerian oil. Further, the Nigerians need to resume full oil production capabilities as quickly as possible in order to expand basic services to an increasingly restless populace. A promising punctuation mark to this story was added by the MEND when it voluntarily extended its ceasefire in September 2009 with the national government (BBC, 2009). The extension was either self-serving, aimed at re-consolidating power amongst remaining leadership, or actually was intended to allow breathing room for meaningful dialogue.
2003 saw the emergence in the predominantly Muslim north of the group Jama’at Hijra Wa Takfir (JHWT). This group also is known as Boko Haram and Nigerian Taliban and headquartered in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. Boko Haram translated into English means, “Western education is a sin”. The group’s stated goal is to establish Nigeria as an Islamic Caliphate, essentially a modern-day Sokoto Caliphate. The group also draws heavily upon Muslim college students and recent college graduates who are unable to gain employment. This is largely the reason the group was given the name “Taliban”; not for any direct ties to Taliban groups in the AfPak region. In a September 2009 article, the BBC reported on Abdulrasheed Abu Bakar. Bakar made a statement to the media that he had been sent to Afghanistan and trained by the Afghan Taliban (BBC, 2009). Bakar’s story remains unsubstantiated and highly suspect.
Far more pertinent to the long-term stability of Nigeria is the likelihood of al Qaeda penetration in the Islamic north. In 2006, the group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf, was charged with receiving funds from a Sudanese charity linked to al Qaeda (Walker, 2009). Nigeria’s proximity to Islamic North Africa also provides a strong likelihood of close operational ties to the former Salifist Group for Preaching and Combat, now known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM’s stated goal is to consolidate the Muslim minority in Africa (which includes Nigeria’s Muslim majority) under its banner, and carry out attacks as guided by al Qaeda Central Leadership (AQCL) and Osama bin Laden (Kohlmann, 2007). Boko Haram’s direct ties to AQCL remain highly unlikely; they are instead most likely indirect ties through AQIM. AQIM, if providing support to Boko Haram, is likely providing money along with a training and propaganda team. Of note, a similar connection may be drawn between the current Boko Haram organization and Somalia’s al Shabaab. Until early 2009, al Shabaab was regarded as a localized ink blot in the greater world of insurgency, a rag-tag group of boys running around the desert (Baldauf, 2009). This is much the same way Boko Haram is currently regarded, a localized insurgency full of boys with machetes off in the jungle. The parallels between al Shabaab’s ascendancy in Somalia and Boko Haram’s current status must be monitored closely.
Boko Haram conducted several high profile attacks against government and security forces locations across northern Nigeria in July of 2009. The attacks eventually led to around a thousand deaths, mostly from the ranks of machete-wielding Boko Haram foot soldiers (Boyle, 2009). Mohammad Yusuf was also captured and killed (while in detention) by Nigeria’s security forces during the July 2009 attacks and subsequent government crackdown, sparking international condemnation of the central government’s efforts in quelling the uprising (Amnesty International, 2009). The likely catalyst for Boko Haram inciting a widespread insurgency in northern Nigeria will be whether or not the national government can curb corruption and spread basic services to the 50% of the population living below the poverty line (DFID, 2009). To help the Nigerian government expand essential services and turn around a worsening situation, the UK will nearly quadruple its foreign humanitarian aid package to Nigeria (ePOLITIX, 2009).
The way ahead with Nigeria must be one of full-spectrum partnership across economic, diplomatic, and military fronts. President Yar’Adua has proven himself a capable, moderate leader of a country that has never experienced anything remotely similar in its young existence. Agencies like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), must be further leveraged in support of President Yar’Adua’s domestic agenda. Like most third world countries, Nigeria suffers from significant “brain drain”, as the highly educated flock to Europe and the United States in search of better compensation. Direct assistance from government and non-government organizations to the Nigerian government would pay huge dividends. Militarily, western governments must continue to provide hardware and training opportunities to all arms of the Nigerian military, as is the case with Nigerian Air Force transport squadrons (Garamone, 2000). Another key defense initiative instituted in 2005 was the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative (TSCTI) (Pike, 2005). It is absolutely essential for US Africa Command to maintain this regional training program. While regional CT units will likely always fall short of their American counterparts, there are obvious tactical and strategic advantages to host-nation employment as a primary means. In northern Nigeria, Islamic separatists will be unable to garner broad-based support from the Islamic world when their opponent is a domestic government Counterterrorism (CT) action arm led by a Muslim president. Direct US intervention would serve as a destabilizing force across the region, and could very well open the flood gates for broad al Qaeda support, similar to the case of Somalia after 1993. Low western visibility/footprint approaches, being practiced across Africa largely out of necessity due to ongoing US operational requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan, are a “best practice” for western governments and militaries (Kilcullen, 2009) and should be continued.