Two Recent Reports on Conflict, Children, and Education in Nigeria and Burkina Faso

Two reports came out last week examining, respectively, conflicts in Nigeria and Burkina Faso. They make for effective if troubling paired reading.

The first report is Amnesty International, “‘We Dried Our Tears’: Addressing the Toll on Children of Northeast Nigeria’s Conflict.” An excerpt (p. 6):

Both sides of the long-running armed conflict in the Northeast have committed crimes under international law, including against children. They continue to commit such crimes regularly. Almost everyone in the Northeast has been affected, but the impact on girls and boys has been and continues to be particularly pronounced. Absent a major shift in strategy by the Nigerian authorities, an entire generation may be lost.

And another excerpt (p. 7):

People who recently fled Boko Haram-controlled areas, including children, describe worsening food insecurity. [Abubakar] Shekau’s faction [of the Boko Haram insurgency] seems especially under strain, pillaging villages and forcing families to give larger percentages of their harvest than in prior years. Families struggle to feed themselves, though at times still feel that staying and growing their own food is safer than being displaced to a site where they would depend on inconsistent aid delivery. Food insecurity is exacerbated by Boko Haram’s attacks on aid workers and the Nigerian military’s restrictions on humanitarian access. Amnesty International documented deaths of young children in 2018 and 2019 related to acute malnutrition in Boko Haram-controlled territory.

For further context on food insecurity in northeastern Nigeria, see FEWS Net’s May update.

And a third and final excerpt (p. 8):

The military’s practice of mass unlawful detention is as ineffective as it is inhumane. Many of the children interviewed by Amnesty International, including those who said they had been recruited “voluntarily” by Boko Haram, described hearing messages on the radio that told them if they fled Boko Haram territory, they would find safety and support in government areas. Instead, they often suffered years of unlawful detention and torture or other ill-treatment, while never facing any charges. Many former child detainees said that, after their experience, they would not counsel others to come out from the bush; several former child soldiers said they would not advise those still in Boko Haram to surrender. Some expressed regret at having fled themselves. And women, men, and children who fled Boko Haram-controlled villages in late 2019, after never having any involvement with the group other than being forced to relinquish part of their harvest, told Amnesty International that there were many more people who want to flee, but are reluctant because they fear the military will detain them or their relatives in brutal conditions for an extended period.

Amnesty is critical of the Nigerian government’s Operation Safe Corridor, a program for “rehabilitating” former Boko Haram members – more context on that program here, here, and here.

The second report is Human Rights Watch, “‘Their War Against Education’: Armed Group Attacks on Teachers, Students, and Schools in Burkina Faso.” An excerpt:

[Jihadist] attacks, the terror they generated, and worsening insecurity have resulted in a cascade of school closures across the country, undermining students’ right to education. By early March 2020, the Ministry of National Education, Literacy, and the Promotion of National Languages (“education ministry,” or MENAPLN) reported that over 2,500 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity in Burkina Faso, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and over 11,200 teachers. This was prior to the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, which resulted in the temporary closure of all schools from mid-March.

And a second excerpt:

Of the five regions most affected by the conflict-related school closures, Sahel region topped the list in early March with a reported 947schools closed (80 percent of the region’s schools), followed by 556 schools in Est (38 percent), 366 in Centre-Nord (21 percent), 357 in Nord (18 percent), and 239 in Boucle du Mouhoun (13 percent). The remaining closed schools were in Centre-Est (46) and Centre-Sud (1).

For additional context, see UNHCR’s most recent humanitarian snapshot for Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger. Out of the estimated 4,043 non-functioning schools in this region, Burkina Faso has 62% (2,512), but Mali has approximately half that number, and western Niger has 270 schools closed which is, though nothing like the figures in its neighbors, still a real educational crisis on top of the other multi-faceted crises the region is suffering.

Roundup of Recent Reports on Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP, and the Surrounding Conflict

Philip Olayoku and Bassim Al-Hussaini, Spoor Africa, “Beyond the Decade of Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Counterinsurgency through the Eyes of Key Stakeholders.” For me, the most interesting part was Chapter 4, “Multi-Stakeholder Counterinsurgency Approaches in Nigeria’s Northeast.” An excerpt (pp. 12-13):

Abiola Sanusi, the Chair of the Safe Schools Declaration Sub-Committee of the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria emphasised the fact that women and children remain the worst sufferers as they constitute 79% of the IDPs. Overall, women make up 54% of the total IDP population as most of them have become household heads resulting from death of or separation from their spouses. In giving the statistics of the impacts on these vulnerable groups, wom- en and children in the base states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, about 2.7million women and children need nutrition, out of which around 350, 000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 250,000 others from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). Children victims include at least 3,500 recruits by the insur- gents while young girls have been most targeted as human bombs numbering up to 136 from 2017 according to the available data. Education has also been un- der severe attacks with 867 schools reportedly closed, leading to at least 390,150 children out of school and 19,000 teachers displaced. Also, 645 teachers have been killed and 1,500 schools destroyed or occupied (by the insurgents, military or IDPs). There is however the effort to create safe schools through the develop- ment of the Policy on Safety and Security in schools to ensure minimum stand- ards for ensuring that school children, teachers and administrators are protected from harm in schools. Edwin Kuria, Director of the Humanitarian Programmes at Save the Children, Nigeria puts the total number of people in need of assistance in affected communities at 7.1million across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, with about 930,000 people in very remote areas that are hard to reach resulting in very minimal or no access to aids by humanitarian actors, and 230,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women acutely malnourished. 2.8 million children reportedly out of school in Borno State alone while children constitute 58% of the total num- ber of 5.8 million people in need of assistance. He therefore advanced the need for the special protection of children facing grave human rights violations to avert a lost generation of children.

Zoë Gorman, Aspenia Online, “Chad: Extremist Violence and Recession in the Wake of the Pandemic.” A quote:

[Chadian President Idriss] Déby, who has held office since 1990, is struggling to balance a need to confront internal vulnerabilities with external military engagements critical to his continued political longevity.[6] Home to 60 million people from more than 200 ethnic groups, Chad is surrounded by conflict states — Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as the Lake Chad states, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.[7] Against a highly variegated security landscape and a faltering oil-dependent economy, Chad faces internal insurgency and youth unrest. Elections for the national assembly have been repeatedly postponed or cancelled since 2015 with security concerns cited, and soldiers are increasingly frustrated with rampant corruption and ethnic discrimination concerning the payment of military salaries and access to medical care.[8]

Abdullahi Murtala, The Republic, “The Resurgence of Ansaru.” I wasn’t convinced by this one. From the article itself:

Ansaru claimed responsibility for the 17 January attack on a convoy in Kaduna State. This was the group’s first attack since 2013. Through Al Qaeda’s Al Hijrah Media, Ansaru stated that it targeted a military convoy and destroyed several vehicles along the Kaduna-Zaria road. It was later revealed that the military contingent attacked was escorting the convoy of the Emir of Potiskum, the northeastern town. In response, the Nigerian Police Force conducted a raid that supposedly killed 250 Ansaru members in the group’s Birnin Gwari camp in Kaduna. The 17 January attack is a disturbing signal that Ansaru is resuming its activities. Furthermore, the group is currently exploiting ungoverned spaces, vulnerable rural communities, and the existing climate of insecurity in the North, a region that has been plagued by kidnappings, armed rural banditry, and violence.

That’s the contradiction that runs through so much of the writing on Ansaru (and other jihadist groups) – any time they make a public statement or claim an attack, it’s supposedly a sign of their resurgence; but then they’re treated as super insidious because of all their supposedly unclaimed attacks. Which is it? If they’re dangerous because they’re in the shadows, then why is it a big deal when they make a statement? And if they only claim a few attacks, then how can we be confident they’re so powerful in the shadows?

One could ask related questions about the new International Crisis Group report on violence in northwest Nigeria. An excerpt (p. 12):

Many Nigerian security and other independent local sources interviewed by Crisis Group corroborate that amid the breakdown of stability in Zamfara and elsewhere, two Boko Haram offshoots are making inroads into the region, where they are forging tighter relationships with aggrieved communities, herder-affiliated armed groups and criminal gangs. The first is Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (or the Group of Partisans for Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru, an al-Qaeda-linked group that declared itself independent from Boko Haram in 2012 and was operating in north-western Nigeria until it was largely dismantled by security forces by 2016. Now it seems to be making a comeback. Secondly, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) – another splinter of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North East zone – has forged links to communities in the north-western region on the border with Niger, which is separately in the throes of fighting its own local Islamic State insurgency. Ansaru, which has a long history of operating in the North West (where it engaged in the high-profile kidnapping of expatriate engineers between 2012 and 2013), is forging new relationships with other smaller radical groups in Zamfara state, particularly in the areas around Munhaye, Tsafe, Zurmi, Shinkafi and Kaura Namoda. The group has also deployed clerics to discredit democratic rule and the state government’s peace efforts, a “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at winning support from rural communities. It is also wooing some of the armed groups to its ranks, including by offering or selling them AK-47 rifles supplied by its allies in the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), at lower than the prevailing market price. Security officials say it has been recruiting members, and that it previously sent some recruits to Libya for combat training.

First, why should these statements from security officials – or even from ICG’s other interviewees – be accepted uncritically? And second, if Ansaru is so embedded in the conflict that it traffics arms, allies with other groups, and operates a preaching network, why does it not announce these activities? Are they shy? Again, you see this pattern throughout much analysis of jihadism. “The group made a statement! Drop everything!” and then in the next breath “This group is too clever to proclaim themselves publicly! Drop everything!”

Finally, Folahanmi Aina, Wilson Center Africa Up Close, “Re-Engineering Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Nigeria’s North East: The Pursuit of Peace.” Aina discusses what he calls “mutuality”:

Let us consider two levels of mutuality, using the case study of Nigeria’s North East region. The first level is international—the Nigerian state and its neighbors and partners under the umbrella of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJT)—which can be seen as the two ends of the same cord. For peace to be nurtured and achieved, it has to be rooted in mutuality between the two actors as distinct political entities. This requires their respective political leaders to commit to upholding agreements and commitments in the common war against the region’s insurgencies.

A second level of mutuality needed to nurture and achieve lasting is internal: each state must be able to secure mutuality with its own society in attaining shared goals. This internal mutuality is what this essay focuses on. This essay argues that the chances of ensuring lasting peace are better when this second level of mutuality (internal) is pursued alongside the first level (international), rather than being completely ignored.

COVID-19 and Jihadists, Part Two

See part one here, where I lay out a few reasons to be skeptical of the now widespread media/think tank narrative saying COVID-19 benefits jihadists. I’m going to revisit this as necessary because I think the narrative is still very flawed. It’s still too soon to tell.

For example, last week saw a piece from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) entitled “Extremist Groups Stepping up Operations during the Covid-19 Outbreak in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The piece opens with a seemingly strong argument, seemingly backed by data:

Sub-Saharan African extremist groups are poised to make strategic gains during the Covid-19 outbreak, outmaneuvering distracted and overstretched domestic and foreign security forces. Violent attacks in the region’s hotspots rose by 37 percent between mid-March and mid-April, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) database, and groups have begun to release pandemic-related propaganda. Meanwhile, African states—like governments worldwide—are shifting military resources to the pandemic response, potentially undercutting counterterrorism operations.

On closer examination, though, there are problems:

  1. The individual attacks and incidents discussed in the piece don’t fit the supposed pattern. In one paragraph, the authors cite three incidents: the March 19 attack on a Malian army base; the March 25 kidnapping of Malian opposition politician Soumaïla Cissé; and the March 22-23 attack by Boko Haram on Chad. At the time of all of these incidents, however, confirmed case counts in Mali, Nigeria, and Chad were very low. Mali didn’t even confirm its first two cases under March 25; Nigeria’s first confirmed case was reported on February 27, but Nigeria only reported its first COVID death on March 23; and Chad’s first official case was on March 19. One could make the argument that the global pandemic and/or the response to it was already emboldening jihadists and constraining security responses in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin by mid-March, but I think even that is a tough sell. When we look at the kidnapping of Cissé, moreover, it could arguably be blamed not on jihadists being emboldened by the pandemic but on Malian authorities’ decision to press ahead with legislative elections despite the pandemic – Cissé was kidnapped while campaigning in the ultra-dangerous southern Timbuktu Region. And the reality may be even murkier than that; one account (French) says that Cissé had actually brokered a deal with local jihadists to campaign in their area, but was then kidnapped by a rival jihadist group. Assessing the causal role of COVID-19 in any of these incidents is pretty difficult, to say the least, and there are a lot of grounds for blaming other factors.
  2. The trend lines were already bad. The ACLED numbers quoted by the authors sound bad, but they do not unpack them – and they do not contextualize them. 2017-2019 were already very bad and worsening years for Mali and Burkina Faso, and the Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgency in northeastern Nigeria/Lake Chad has been quite bad for some time as well. A 37% jump in violent attacks sounds bad (and again, the authors don’t unpack this – attacks by whom?), but consider that Burkina Faso had a 25% jump in displacements from January to February 2020, or that there was a roughly 57% increase between December 2019 and January 2020 in what the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker calls “incidents” in the Boko Haram conflict – meaning, to put it less dramatically, that there were 19 incidents in December and 30 in January. So for one thing, the numbers concerning attacks, deaths, and displacements are just bad all around; and for another, there is significant variation in levels of attacks even without a pandemic around. Certainly COVID-19 must be having an impact on these conflict zones, but in complex ways and in combination with other factors.
  3. Jihadist governance can be brittle. I wrote this in the last post, but it’s worth revisiting here. The authors argue that jihadist propaganda and service delivery will win them support while governments stumble. But it is not at all clear that jihadists are skilled at managing humanitarian emergencies – in fact, they often create humanitarian emergencies around them, and many, many people simply flee jihadist control. The authors of the CSIS piece write, “Al-Shabaab, for example, took advantage of the famine in Somalia three years ago to publish photos of its fighters distributing food and medical supplies to needy families, blaming the crisis on regional and international governments.” But this is not evidence of success, it is only evidence of propaganda; meanwhile, various experts have argued that al-Shabab grossly mismanaged the 2011 famine in Somalia. Here is one quote from a study: “Al-Shabaab has poorly managed the famine crises. The Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS) has declared that the crisis broke in several southern regions of Somalia. Al-Shabaab had expelled most of the intergovernmental and non-governmental relief organizations. They have also denied that there was a famine in the country. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to seek food and shelter in TFG- controlled Mogadishu and neighboring countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya. To the victims, al-Shabaab was complicit in their suffering” (emphasis added, because that’s a crucial point – jihadists’ propaganda can be clumsy, it’s not always masterful). If jihadists botch their pandemic response through inflexibility, lying, and harsh treatment of civilians, it could be a setback for them in various ways.
  4. African militaries are not necessarily pulling back yet. Here, the authors seem to conflate possibilities with actualities. They write, “A memo from Nigeria’s army headquarters called on soldiers to be on ‘maximum security alert and be ready for deployment’ and suspended leave passages for all personnel.” But suspending leaves doesn’t mean that counterterrorism is slackening (it might be, it might not be!). A glance at the Nigerian Army’s Facebook page shows them heralding supposed counterterrorism successes as recently as April 29. There are a lot of competing claims and counter-claims to sort out when it comes to the Nigerian military’s own propaganda, obviously, but one shouldn’t assume that militaries will pull back. In fact, recently there have been several excellent (and disturbing) Twitter threads (see below) from experts pointing to patterns of severe and persistent security force abuses in the Sahel. Will CSIS write a piece arguing that COVID-19 is emboldening security forces to commit abuses? It seems to me you could make that case just as easily as the case that the pandemic is emboldening jihadists.
  5. International forces are not yet pulling back majorly. The authors even note this themselves, despite the title of the relevant section of their piece – and furthermore, Irish troops coming back from peacekeeping in Mali, and the British suspending a training mission in Kenya, do not add up to a major shift. And as I said in the last piece, it’s way too soon to tell with some of these supposed trends. And one might even wonder whether international forces pulling back a bit – say, if AFRICOM did ease up on drone strikes – might not improve the overall situation a bit in Somalia and elsewhere.
  6. The policy recommendations are thin and predictable. “Enhance civilian outreach,” “uplift religious leaders,” and “exploit insurgent missteps.” None of these ideas are new, and there is a particularly unfortunate line saying “Somali imams and teachers, in collaboration with Somali government ministries, have been broadcasting best practices for staying safe during the pandemic—tying them to Koranic dictates.” The authors act surprised that imams would try to keep people safe (!), and act as though this basic function of religious leaders should be harnessed to some kind of counterterrorism agenda. But most Muslim clerics around the world have been trying to protect their co-religionists (and their societies more broadly) while remaining true to their visions of what authentic Islam is. In fact, it’s probably better to let religious leaders speak for themselves rather than trying to “uplift” them, because there are substantial dangers into trying to fashion clerics into the mouthpieces of some kind of “official Islam” – governments trying to co-opt clerics can even inadvertently undercut them. Finally, one irony in the “exploit insurgent missteps” is that the point the authors are making is both obvious and in some instances already happening. The authors write, “if extremists attempt to launch operations beyond their capabilities and overextend themselves, security forces should retaliate, hitting poorly defended bases and safe havens.” This is effectively what Chad has done, although there are real limits to what Chad’s offensive is likely to accomplish. In any event, it’s odd that if the authors consider the situation so scary, that they didn’t put more effort into the policy recommendations.

Relevant Twitter threads on security force abuses:

Chad’s Big Anti-Boko Haram Campaigns Are the Exception to the Rule

After Boko Haram killed some ninety-two Chadian soldiers at the Boma/Bohoma peninsula on March 23, Chad launched a reprisal operation called the “Anger of Boma” on March 29. The background to these incidents, the course of the operation itself, and Chadian President Idriss Deby’s open frustration with his Nigerian and Nigerien counterparts, are covered in depth by Le Monde here (French), and by Dan Eizenga here.

I have four brief thoughts:

  1. Chad has impressed observers again and again with its military capabilities, but Chad does not appear willing or able to sustain operations like this for long. My assumption is that if Chad could maintain an operational tempo that would permanently disrupt Boko Haram’s activities in Chadian territory and on Lake Chad, it would do so – which means that a burst of activity like this is at least partly intended to show strength and beat Boko Haram back for the medium term, but not to establish a new normal for the long term.
  2. I do not think that a fundamentally greater level of regional cooperation and integration in the fight against Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is forthcoming. I can certainly sympathize with the chorus of voices urging Chad and its neighbors to take full advantage of this moment, consolidate the gains Chad has made, and use regional frameworks (i.e., the Multi-National Joint Task Force) to begin decisively encircling and defeating Boko Haram and ISWAP. But I think if that was going to happen, it would have already happened.
  3. If Chad’s big military campaigns against Boko Haram (2015 and 2020) are the exceptions to the rule, and if Nigeria, and to a lesser extent Niger and Cameroon, are visibly slow to take advantage of the resulting opportunities, then that reinforces what I am far from the first to say – the governments of the Lake Chad Basin region, Chad included, can tolerate a certain and even a high level of Boko Haram activity. I don’t mean that in a conspiratorial sense, in terms of government actively abetting Boko Haram; I mean it in the more passive sense of governments having multiple priorities and of top leadership not always seeing Boko Haram as a key threat, especially to themselves. If Chad intervenes massively when they feel the situation has gotten out of control, then the corollary to that is that authorities in all four countries may regard certain levels of violence as still being “under control” – from their own perspective.
  4. The idea that a certain level of insurgency/violence can be tolerated by the governments of the region can help to explain why the insurgency has persisted so long. Imagine for a moment that there was complete and effective regional coordination, and that all four militaries (plus Benin, if you like) really were prepared to hunt down Boko Haram and ISWAP throughout the entire region, somehow avoid unwittingly angering civilians in the process, then hold all the territory they had retaken, and then implement massive programs of economic and physical reconstruction, victims’ justice, post-conflict social contracts, etc. How much would that cost? How long would it take? I don’t know for certain, of course, but I imagine some policymakers in Abuja, Niamey, N’Djamena, and Yaoundé have taken a hard look at the situation and decided that it’s not worth it. By no means do I point that out to justify or excuse such decisions – my point is rather than Chad’s operation appears to me less like turning the page, and more like a familiar part of an extended cycle whose end I, for one, cannot foresee.

 

“Africa Past & Present” Podcast Episode on Boko Haram

I was up at Michigan State University last week for a classroom discussion (on Salafism in Nigeria, my first book) and a talk on Boko Haram (i.e., my second book and also some ongoing research). MSU has a fantastic African Studies community, including my host, Prof. Mara Leichtman, whose book examines the Shi’a in Senegal. At MSU I also had the opportunity to go on the Africa Past & Present podcast with Prof. Peter Alegi. The episode has now been posted here.

Recent Media Quotes/Review

I’ve been quoted in a few media reports recently, and a new review of my book on Boko Haram came out.

Media:

  • Voice of America, “French Airstrikes in N. Chad Affirm Support for President Déby”
  • BBC, “Nigerian Elections: Has Boko Haram Been Defeated?”
  • The Economist, “Boko Haram, Nigeria’s Jihadist Group, Is Regaining Strength.”

The review appeared in International Affairs, by Caroline Varin, whose own book on Boko Haram can be found here. Varin highlights things that I see as the book’s strengths, and she also makes some solid critiques of the book – writing conclusions, in particular, has never been my strength!

Nigeria: Notes on Recent Boko Haram Violence

In Nigeria, Boko Haram and its offshoot Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) have perpetrated several major attacks and a number of micro attacks recently. Here are some of the most prominent incidents in recent weeks:

  • An ISWA attack on a military base in Baga (map), 26 December
  • An ISWA attack on Rann (map), 14 January
  • An ISWA attack on Geidam (map), 23 January,
  • Attacks attributed to Boko Haram, targeting two military bases/outposts at Pulka (map) and Logomani (map) on the Nigeria-Cameroon border, 26-27 January
  • A second attack on Rann, attributed by some reports to Boko Haram rather than ISWA, 28 January

Some of these places are small cities – the number of displaced from Rann alone is estimated at 30,000. Most of these towns/cities have been previously, even repeatedly, exposed to Boko Haram and ISWA violence. Much of Borno State remains extremely dangerous for civilians and soldiers; all of the attacks mentioned above occurred in Borno save the one in Geidam, which is in neighboring Yobe State.

Reporting on these attacks also emphasizes the unpreparedness of the Nigerian military. See the following thread:

The assault on Geidam also shows how individual attacks can build momentum for future violence, as fighters seize weapons and equipment and as the attacks shake soldiers’ and even officers’ confidence. The accounts about Geidam do not all agree on the details, but different reporters and ISWA’s own readout all say that ISWA took supplies in Geidam, perhaps including fuel, a tank, other military vehicles, and weapons. Meanwhile, the attack seems to have caught the military by surprise:

In separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES under anonymity on Friday morning, military officers were troubled by Boko Haram’s ability to inflict such damage on an area that had long been fortified to serve as a buffer against unchecked movement of insurgents south of River Komadougou-Yobe.

Geidam has been regularly targeted since November 2011 when Boko Haram launched a string of deadly assaults on residents in the community and Damaturu, the state capital. The military, however, moved swiftly to frustrate easy movement of the insurgents by setting up bases in the communities near River Komadougou-Yobe, which is a minor tributary of the Lake Chad.

While other Yobe communities, especially Buni Yadi, live in fear of regular Boko Haram attacks, Geidam was relatively calm, which security analysts credit to the military’s ability to prevent terrorists from using the nearby river.

But the military base in Geidam, which sits near the border with Diffa, Niger Republic, was perhaps the first target of the latest deadly raid, according to military sources.

Amnesty International’s report on the second Rann attack offers an even more damning portrait of military unpreparedness – or outright fear of Boko Haram/ISWA:

Disturbingly, witnesses told us that Nigerian soldiers abandoned their posts the day before the attack, demonstrating the authorities’ utter failure to protect civilians.

Alleged withdrawal of troops, triggered a massive exodus of civilians to Cameroon, as fear spread that Boko Haram would take advantage and attack the town. At around 9am on 28 January, a group of Boko Haram fighters arrived on motorcycles. They set houses ablaze and killed those left behind. They also chased after those who attempted to escape and killed some people outside the town. Eleven bodies were found within Rann town, and 49 bodies were found outside.

Another theme worth noting about recent violence is that even micro attacks can have wide impacts. For example, recent ambushes and abductions on a road running from Damaturu (Yobe) to Biu (Borno) caused widespread disruption:

The road which is about 120 kilometres has remained the only safer means as linkage to people living in southern Borno senatorial district reach Maiduguri, the state capital following closure and danger posed on other closest roads.

Sources said, after the abduction, security forces had to close down the road for motorists and passengers. A driver who plies the road on daily basis, Mallam Ali Isa told our Correspondent that he had to follow through 400km Gombe-Potiskum- Damaturu- Maiduguri road after the news filtered that the road was not safe on Friday. His words: “The Damaturu-Buni Yadi- Biu Road was not safe. Today is Buni Yadi Market where thousands of people from the surrounding communities come for business, unfortunately, there was an attack on the road which led to abduction of unspecified number of travellers with looting of foodstuff, and this warrant the military to close down the road including the market,” Isa learnt.

As a closing thought, a lot of the reporting has discussed these incidents in the context of Nigeria’s approaching presidential (February 16) and state (March 2) elections. But I am not sure that the electoral calendar is uppermost in the minds of either Boko Haram or ISWA. I think they operate on a longer timeline and that electoral disruption is a lower priority for them than (a) military positioning, (b) keeping fighters happy/occupied, and (c) obtaining or expanding their supplies and their overall political, economic, and religious influence.