Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for September 17, 2020

Previous roundup here.

The Emir of Biu Umar Mustapha-Aliyu, an important figure in Borno State’s hierarchy of hereditary Muslim rulers, passed away on September 15 at the age of 80. He had been emir since 1989.

Amnesty:

In this open letter to the President, Amnesty International urges the Nigerian government to ensure all children detained in Giwa Barracks, Kainji military base, Maiduguri Maximum Prison, the Operation Safe Corridor facility outside Gombe, and other detention facilities associated with the conflict in Northeast Nigeria are immediately released, or are only detained as a very last resort and held in humane conditions in a civilian facility. The organization also calls for the immediate release of these children and access for them to education and psychosocial support.

Some of the latest violence:

  • An ISWAP attack at Wasaram, Kaga Local Government Area, killed 8 on September 15. “The insurgents had accused the villagers of alerting troops about their movement on their way to rob traders in the nearby town of Ngamdu…Soldiers intercepted the jihadists and engaged them in a gun battle.” ISWAP also reportedly killed 3 others in Auno, another village.
  • Here is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker for September 5-11.
  • The Islamic State’s Al-Naba’ 251 (10 September, p. 6, available for registered users at the Jihadology website) briefly describes some attacks in Borno, Yobe, and Chad.

UNHCR has published its August 2020 “North-East Situation Update.” An excerpt:

The volatile security environment in North-East Nigeria continues to hinder the provision of Protection and Multisectoral assistance to the affected population in the States of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe (BAY States). In August, Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG) officially declared humanitarian actors a legitimate target, increasing the risk in the humanitarian delivery programme. In Borno State, indiscriminate attacks against civilian and military targets continued with NSAG mounting illegal vehicle checkpoints to rob, abduct and kill; other incidents have been recorded such as abduction of civilians during daily activities in their farmlands or while fetching firewood in areas outside the safe perimeters in the deepfield locations in Bama, Gwoza, Gubio, Dikwa, and Mungono. In addition, there has been raids on health facilities in Magumeri. In Adamawa and Yobe States several incidents of armed robbery, kidnapping, abduction for ransom, and killing were reported. NSAG attacks and threats of imminent attacks on the communities in North-East is causing widespread fears amongst the civilian population.

Adedigba Adebowale, Premium Times (September 13), “How Boko Haram Insurgency Worsened Malnutrition, Immunisation in Nigeria’s Northeast.”

On September 11, Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum visited refugees in Diffa, Niger and then visited displaced persons in Damasak, Borno. More here about plans to return refugees from Niger to Nigeria.

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for September 10, 2020

Previous roundup here.

Here is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker for August 29 – September 4.

This Day: “Keeping up with NAF’s Counter Insurgency Operations in the North-East.”

A leaked memo, attributed to the Nigeria Customs Service but whose authenticity is unclear, warned of a jihadist presence in Nigeria’s North Central geopolitical zone, specifically in Kogi and Nasarawa States and around the Federal Capital, Abuja. The leak kicked off a major conversation – see here and here for samples of that debate.

AFP:

Boko Haram jihadists killed 10 civilians in attacks on three villages in restive northeast Nigeria, local security officials said Monday.

Babakura Kolo, the leader of a government-backed anti-jihadist militia, said the insurgents had carried out the assaults on Sunday.

Kolo said they raided the village of Kurmari, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from regional capital Maiduguri, late Sunday, killing four residents as they slept.

VOA: “Cameroonian villagers along the Nigerian border need humanitarian aid after deadly Boko Haram attacks displaced at least 7,000 people, authorities and rights groups say. Villagers have been fleeing their homes since early August because of attacks, which killed at least  22 people and wounded 29.” See also UNHCR, “Hunger and Fear Stalk Survivors of Attack in North Cameroon.”

Reuters:

Humanitarian affairs minister Sadiya Umar Farouk on Sunday [September 6] told reporters in Maiduguri, capital of the conflict-ravaged Borno state, that Nigerian Air Force helicopters and planes would be used to drop food supplies and items such as blankets.

“There has been an issue of inaccessible areas where humanitarian workers cannot reach the people,” she said at a news conference on Sunday. “Air drops are especially good for areas we cannot access by road,” she added.

Al Jazeera: “What’s Being Done to Keep Learning Going in Northern Nigeria?”

REACH, “Humanitarian Needs and Conflict Dynamics in Hard-to-Reach Areas of Borno State.” Covers the period April-June 2020. An excerpt (p. 4):

In all assessed LGAs [Local Government Areas], an incident of conflict resulting in the death of a civilian/civilians had reportedly taken place in at least 10% of assessed settlements. The highest proportion of assessed settlements where this was reported was in Jere (100%) and Konduga (100%). An incident of looting where most of a household’s property was stolen was reported to have occurred in at least 20% of assessed settlements in each LGA. Looting was most commonly reported to have happened in assessed settlements in Bama (93% of settlements), Jere (100%) and Konduga (100%). IDI [in-depth interview] participants reported additional protection concerns, including abductions, forced/early marriage, forced recruitment, and other forms of attacks and violence.

[…]

The reporting of severe protection concerns by KIs [key informants] and IDI participants from all LGAs suggests that the conflict continues to have negative consequences on the lives of people remaining in H2R [hard-to-reach] areas. Jere and Konduga had some of the highest proportion of assessed settlements reporting protection concerns. Although their proximity to Maiduguri and major roadways would generally be considered a positive factor for these areas, with regards to protection concerns being in the vicinity of an area of major concern for parties to the conflict may increase their risk.

See also my notes on the REACH report here.

Notes on REACH’s Overview of Hard-to-Reach Areas in Borno State, Nigeria

I’ve been thinking recently about how difficult it is to get an even broadly accurate sense of conflict dynamics in Borno State, Nigeria, the state that is the continuing epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. That crisis, broadly defined, includes not just the activities of Boko Haram and its splinter group the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), but also internal and external displacement, vigilantism, security force abuses, multiple forms of war economy, etc.

What makes analysis so difficult is that all the major sources of information are fraught: journalists and analysts rely on questionable sourcing and often contradict one another’s accounts; the military sometimes lies and exaggerates; civilian authorities sometimes contradict military statements; and Boko Haram and ISWAP propaganda is highly selective.

One of the most useful channels of information, then, is the humanitarian community (this is not primarily how they conceive of their own role, of course). I am particularly interested in which areas of Borno humanitarians considerable accessible or inaccessible at given times. The resulting portrait can differ somewhat from the military’s triumphalist narratives, from the somewhat scattershot image that emerges through the flow of jihadist attack claims, and even from the civilian authorities’ presentations of their own movements within the state.

Here are my notes on a recent report from REACH, titled “Situation Overview: Humanitarian Needs and Conflict Dynamics in Hard-to-Reach Areas of Borno State.” REACH is a humanitarian data-gathering and analysis initiative created by the think tank IMPACT, the French NGO ACTED (formerly the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development), and the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme. The report covers the period April-June 2020 and is based on interviews with 1,372 key informants regarding conditions in 558 hard-to-reach settlements. These key informants were based in and/or were recent arrivals to “garrison towns” in different parts of the state such as Maiduguri, the state capital; Monguno and Guzamala, in the north; Ngala, in the east near the border with Cameroon; and Gwoza, in the south.

For context, the government’s strategy of grouping people in “garrison towns” – and implicitly, partly ceding control of the countryside to jihadists – dates to 2017. As Médecins Sans Frontières wrote in a reflection on ten years of the Boko Haram crisis (August 2019), “Humanitarian workers can only work in so-called ‘garrison towns’ (enclaves controlled by the Nigerian military) and cannot access other areas outside military control. Yet people’s needs remain unmet even within these garrison towns. This has forced some people to leave the relative safety of the camps, risking their lives to seek food and firewood outside the security perimeter.” As of June 2020, there were more than 1.5 million internally displaced persons in Borno, of whom 54% were living in camps or “camp-like settings.” Some of the most recent population movements (August 24-30) are described here.

For further context, here is a detailed map of Borno State and its 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs), and here is a map that’s a bit easier to read, with senatorial zones color-coded. Boko Haram and ISWAP are sometimes described as having a rough territorial division, with ISWAP in the north and Boko Haram further south, and with both groups present (and sometimes with conflicting reports about who is the author of what attack) in the east.

A few highlights from the REACH report:

  • There are four fully inaccessible LGAs (p. 2, footnote 5): Abadam, Guzamala, Kukawa, and Marte. All of these are in far northern Borno; Abadam is the northernmost LGA in the state. The first three LGAs are contiguous, and Marte is separated from Kukawa and Guzamala, both to the north of Marte and the south of Abadam, only by a relatively thin strip of Monguno LGA. So the far north and particularly the far northeast of the state is the most inaccessible zone.
  • The most inaccessible zone is not necessarily the most dangerous zone. From p. 4 of the report: “In all assessed LGAs, an incident of conflict resulting in the death of a civilian/civilians had reportedly taken place in at least 10% of assessed settlements. The highest proportion of assessed settlements where this was reported was in Jere (100%) and Konduga (100%). An incident of looting where most of a household’s property was stolen was reported to have occurred in at least 20% of assessed settlements in each LGA. Looting was most commonly reported to have happened in assessed settlements in Bama (93% of settlements), Jere (100%) and Konduga (100%). IDI [in-depth interview] participants reported additional protection concerns, including abductions, forced/early marriage, forced recruitment, and other forms of attacks and violence.” Jere and Konduga are not in the far north, but are rather in the center of the state, in the immediate vicinity of Maiduguri – Jere, relatively small by landmass, nearly encircles Maiduguri to the north, east, and south; while Konduga, much bigger by landmass, completes the circle around Maiduguri to the east and then also partly encircles Jere from the south (if that makes sense – it’s probably just easier to look at the map). As the report further comments (p. 4) regarding Jere and Konduga, “Although their proximity to Maiduguri and major roadways would generally be considered a positive factor for these areas, with regards to protection concerns being in the vicinity of an area of major concern for parties to the conflict may increase their risk.”
  • The map on p. 3 confirms the impression that the hard-to-reach areas are primarily located in the far north, the far east (along the border with Cameroon), and to the immediate/near south of Maiduguri. A corollary to this is that western LGAs, far southern LGAs, and Maiduguri’s “near north” appear to be a bit calmer. Speaking of western Borno, some recent claims that Yobe State (to the west of Borno) is “peaceful and calm” are clearly overblown – but one does get a sense from the REACH report and other data that violence is more severe close to Maiduguri, and to the city’s east, rather than further to its west.
  • The map on p. 3 of the REACH report also gives the impression that when people flee conflict, they often flee to major cities/”garrison towns” within their own LGA, except in the very far north where they leave the LGAs altogether; and if they head to a city outside their LGA it is typically either Maiduguri or to a few other hubs. For example, Monguno (the town) is a key destination for people coming from the far north and the far east, and Bama and Gwoza pull in pull from around much of the state.
  • People are moving not just because of violence but also because of food insecurity (p. 3), which of course can be closely related to conflict. Many people (70% of assessed settlements) are subsistence farmers (p. 4), and the conflict has severely affected agricultural and commercial activities in many parts of the state. Here is a disturbing and striking paragraph from p. 4: “Most people were reported to not have access to their usual livelihoods in the majority of assessed settlements in Bama (97%), Damboa (83%), Dikwa (100%), Gwoza (97%), Jere (100%), Kala/Balge (100%), Konduga (86%) and Ngala (97%). On the contrary, a smaller proportion of assessed settlements in Abadam (30%), Guzamala (32%), Kukawa (44%) and Marte (40%) reported that most people did not have access to their usual livelihood.” It’s also striking to see the relatively smaller percentages reporting lack of access to usual livelihoods in the four fully inaccessible, northern LGAs; perhaps people leaving those areas are most motivated by security concerns or even by what we might call political concerns, in other words difficulties living under what is often reported as strong ISWAP influence/sway in the far north of Borno (see pp. 12-13 here for a discussion of ISWAP in the far north, although the linked content is a bit dated).
  • Another notable finding of the REACH report is that movement itself is dangerous.  From p. 3: “IDI [in-depth interview] participants reported challenges during their journeys related to fear of being attacked while en-route, thirst, hunger, snake bites and other injuries. All of the IDI participants reported making some or the entire journey on foot, with most reporting they spent between one to three days walking. After completing the journey to the garrison town, IDI participants reported that they did not intend to return to visit or move back to the H2R [hard-to-reach] settlement because returning to the settlement would not be safe.” It’s going to be a while before most of these citizens go home.
  • There are a number of other key sections in the report – water, health, education, etc. – but this post is getting long. Notably although not surprisingly, in remote parts of the state one finds LGAs where fewer than half the population appears to be even aware of COVID-19’s existence, a finding that should reinforce skepticism about any official COVID-19 counts from Nigeria (or nearby Niger, Cameroon, and Chad, for that matter).
  • I leave you with REACH’s conclusion (p. 9): “The findings in this situation overview are indicative of severe humanitarian needs in the H2R areas of Borno state, related to the reported impact of the protracted crisis and suggested historical lack of access to services. Continued monitoring of these areas is required to provide the information needed to inform the humanitarian response.”

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for September 3, 2020

Previous roundup here.

Here is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker update for August 22-28.

Some recent ISWAP claims:

The U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General published a quarterly report covering U.S. counterterrorism in East, North, and West Africa for the period April-June 2020. From the section on ISWAP (p. 44):

ISIS-West Africa was responsible for some of the deadliest attacks during the quarter. According to USAFRICOM, ISIS-West Africa claimed responsibility for an attack on June 10 in Nigeria’s Borno state that killed 81 civilians.

ISIS-West Africa claimed 67 attacks during the quarter against partner military installations or their forces, although some of the attacks may have been conducted by ISISin the Greater Sahara, which does not have an official media outlet that publicly claimsresponsibility for attacks. SOCAFRICA assessed that, based on the location of the attacks, at least 10 of the attacks claimed by ISIS-West Africa were perpetrated by ISIS in the Greater Sahara.

SOCAFRICA reported that, while ISIS-West Africa mostly keeps to its base in the Lake Chad region, there was limited reporting to indicate that the group has the intent and capability to expand operations beyond the region. In addition to the June 10 attack in Nigeria’s Borno state, ISIS-West Africa was also likely responsible for a series of attacks a few days later in Monguno and Nganzai that resulted in the deaths of 20 Nigerian security personnel and 40 civilians, according to SOCAFRICA.

A Nigerian Army Facebook post from September 1 says, in part, “The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen TY Buratai has congratulated and commended the Commander, Officers and all the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army 4 Special Forces Command Doma Nasarawa State for their gallantry and patriotism that manifested in the destruction of Darul Salam/Boko Haram terrorists’ Camps in Kogi and Nasarawa States recently.” Press coverage here and here.

See also Bulama Bukarti’s thread on Dar al-Salam/Darul Salam/Darus Salam:

Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum recently “inaugurated a 23- member committee for relocation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to Baga town…The Chairman of the Committee is headed by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan, while the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RRR), Engineer Abba Yusuf is to serve as Secretary.”

Human Rights Watch (August 31), “Nigeria’s Rising Number of Missing Persons.”

Punch (September 1):

The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Garbai Elkanemi, has lamented that 13 district heads and several ward heads (Bulamas) have been killed in his emirate at the peak of the ongoing crisis by the Boko Haram terrorist group.

The monarch made the disclosure in Maiduguri during a courtesy visit by a delegation of the Senate Committee on Special Duties, led by Senator Abubakar Yusuf, who were in Borno State to assess the performance of the North-East Development Commission.

Olivier Guiryanan at Just Security, “Counterterrorism Assistance to Chad for the Sahel: The Price the People Pay.”

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for August 27, 2020

Previous roundup here.

Politics

Recent activities and remarks by Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum:

  • Isa Lameen, governor of Niger Republic’s Diffa Region, led a delegation to Maiduguri, Borno’s capital, on August 21 to offer sympathy regarding the recent attack on Zulum’s convoy in Baga, Borno. See press coverage of the visit here, and Zulum’s Facebook post on the meeting here.
  • In an interview with BBC Hausa published on August 21, Zulum said that Boko Haram has recruited internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are frustrated at the lack of opportunity to go home and resume farming. See English-language coverage of his remarks here.
  • Zulum visited Magumeri (map), site of a recent attack, on August 25. His Facebook post on the visit, with excerpts of remarks he gave in Magumeri, is here.

Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South) spoke on August 26 to the Senate Committee on Special Duties and the North East Development Commission at a stakeholders’ meeting in Maiduguri. He emphasized Boko Haram’s impact on his constituents, particularly in his hometown of Gwoza (map).

“Even as a serving senator, I still cannot go to Gwoza my home town because it is not safe,” he said.

“Our security operatives are trying their bests, and we have to give it to them. But the situation is overwhelming. People are dying every day, either from attacks or by hunger. We have lost many lives here.

“There was a time in my home town Gwoza, that about 75 elders most of whom I know personally were dragged by Boko Haram to the town’s abattoir and slaughtered like animals. Only two persons survived because their bodies were covered with other people’s’ blood and the assailants thought they were dead.

“In the same Gwoza, Boko Haram had in a single day lined up young men and summarily shot them dead. These were just some stand out cases.”

The Nigerian human rights activist Chidi Odinkalu, however, poses some critical questions regarding Ndume’s remarks:

Attacks

Here is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker update for August 15-21.

Punch (August 27):

Jihadists have killed 14 people on a Cameroonian island on Lake Chad near the border with Nigeria after their town decided to block food supplies to the insurgents, security sources said Thursday.

Fighters from the so-called Islamic State West Africa Province landed on the island of Bulgaram aboard speedboats from an enclave on the Nigerian side late Tuesday, they said.

Reports are still emerging about the mass hostage-taking by ISWAP in its August 18 attack on Kukawa, Borno (map).

Nigeria’s The Guardian (August 21):

Jihadists linked to an Islamic State insurgency group have registered their presence in Yobe State, despite claims from the Nigeria Army that the state is free of terrorists.

Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists Thursday [August 20] dropped leaflets in Buni Gari region of the state [approximate map here] threatening to attack security officials in the region. ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram splinter group Ansar al-Muslimin, commonly known as “Ansaru,” has claimed a few attacks so far in 2020. Here is one, in Kaduna State:

Publications and Reports

The Church of the Brethren is publishing a book of testimonials by members who were victimized by Boko Haram, based on interviews in February-March 2017.

Human Rights Watch (August 25):

Boko Haram used apparent child suicide bombers in an unlawful attack on a site for displaced people in the Far North region of Cameroon, Human Rights Watch said today.

The attack, carried out overnight between August 1 and 2, 2020 in the town of Nguetechewe, killed at least 17 civilians, including 5 children and 6 women, and wounded at least 16. There was no evident military objective in the vicinity.

Here’s one I don’t believe I included in previous roundups – a new factsheet (French) from UN OCHA on Diffa, Niger, covering the period April-June 2020. Among other important details, the factsheet estimates that some 28,000 were displaced in Diffa between December 2019 and June 2020. The factsheet estimates that there are over 125,000 refugees in Diffa and over 100,000 IDPs there, and 740,000 inhabitants. The factsheet further notes a spate of kidnappings by non-state actors (presumably they mean jihadists) and bandits, often targeting women and children.

Nigeria: Competing Narratives Circulate in the Aftermath of Attack on Borno Governor Zulum’s Convoy

On July 29, the convoy of Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum was attacked in the town of Baga (map), possibly by Boko Haram. The incident has generated competing narratives and speaks to the wider “information war” that is a core part of the crisis – even Boko Haram’s own leader Abubakar Shekau has referred to the centrality of the “information war (yakin bayani).”

In the aftermath of the attack, some of the main contention is between the governor and the Army. Various videos of the attack (see here) have circulated, including one clip from the vantage point of a driver in the convoy, and one short clip of Zulum arguing with a Nigerian Army officer. Zulum has also been quoted as saying to the Army officer:

You have been here for over one year now, there are 1,181 soldiers here; if you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5 km from your base, then we should forget about Baga. I will inform the Chief of Army Staff to redeploy the men to other places that they can be useful. You people said there’s no Boko Haram here, then who attacked us?

Some of Zulum’s staff have also been blunt in their criticism of the military:

MNJTF here refers to the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which includes the militaries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon with some participation by Benin as well. Note too that part of the information war concerns not just who perpetrated the attack, but also how serious it was or wasn’t.

In remarks to the press the day after the attack (see also here), Zulum appeared to imply that there were no actual Boko Haram fighters involved in the attack, and that there was “serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces.” These remarks are tricky to parse. The prominent Nigerian analyst Bulama Bukarti has implied that the military staged the attack (or feigned being under attack?):

I’m not convinced. It seems to me that if the Army wanted to block Zulum from Baga, it could have done so without staging a kind of theatrical performance. But anything is possible.

Zulum also stressed, in that press interview, the economic importance of Baga. He suggested that eventually it may be necessary for the military to leave Baga, if they cannot secure the town, and for the local population “to take destiny into their own hands.”

In additional remarks that were, I believe, delivered over the weekend, Zulum noted that the situation in Borno since 2015 has been different, and in his view better, than in the period 2011-2015, but he made headlines (even more so than for the other interview) for referencing “sabotage within the system” as a (the?) reason why the insurgency persists.

More coverage of Zulum’s remarks can be found here.

Amid the competing narratives, part of what’s at stake is that the governor’s ability to move around the state is, both practically and symbolically, inseparable from his ability to demonstrate control – both in the face of the jihadist insurgency and vis-a-vis the military. Threats to his free movement are also threats to his political capital.

In the aftermath of the attack (as beforehand), Zulum has emphasized his direct physical outreach to Borno’s most vulnerable populations. I don’t think such gestures are cynical or empty, but I also think they have a political dimension:

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Nigerian Army has framed the attack as a Boko Haram attack but also as “an isolated and most unfortunate incident that occurred in a territory where normalcy has since been restored with socio-economic activities picking up.” We see a hint of a gap between the statements of the officer who appears in the video I linked to above, who can be heard saying “there is no Boko Haram inside the town,” and the official Army statement, another portion of which reads, “The good people of Baga town and indeed the entire Borno State are enjoined to continue to provide credible information that will assist the security agencies to successfully combat terrorism as well as apprehend and flush out the perpetrators of the attack.” The Army is keen to present itself as being in control, but there is the faintest acknowledgment here that they do not have the human intelligence they need. The reasons for that are manifold, but one obvious reason is the Army’s own past history in Baga. The statement has also promised an investigation into the incident.

The Army is also keen to control the narrative about the trajectory of the conflict – in other words, the Army would like audiences, local, national, and international, to believe that the trajectory is positive. This convoy attack, however, has prominent voices in Borno and beyond saying that the situation is deteriorating – the State’s foremost religious leader, the Shehu of Borno, said, “If a convoy of such highly placed person in the State will be attacked, I repeat, nobody is safe. The matter is getting worse, I urge everyone to raise up our hands to seek Allah’s intervention.” This is precisely how the Army does not want people to feel.

There are multiple audiences in play. One is President Muhammadu Buhari – Zulum explicitly said, in his remarks about sabotage, that this is something he is conveying to the president. The Army, obviously, also wants Buhari to be convinced that they are making progress. Another key audience is ordinary people (and voters) in Borno. And there is an international audience too, obviously.

Who controls what now, in Borno? The picture is constantly shifting, but humanitarian access maps give one perspective – here is one June 2020 map of educational activities in Borno, for example. For context, Baga is located in Kukawa Local Government Area (LGA), northeastern Borno State. The map does not classify Kukawa as inaccessible but it does mark two nearby LGAs, Abadam and Marte, as red zones. Adjacent Monguno LGA is also very dangerous. Contrary to the military’s claims, Baga is still very much part of the conflict zone.

Finally, for further context, this is not the first time a Borno governor’s convoy has been attacked – Zulum’s predecessor, Kashim Shettima, was attacked on the road between the state capital Maiduguri and the northeastern town of Gamboru in February 2019.

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.

A Window Into How Part of the Nigerian Military Views Boko Haram

Earlier this month, Colonel Timothy Antigha, the Chief Military Press Information Officer for the Multi-National Joint Task Force, published an essay entitled “Counter-Insurgency: The Broader Implications of Recent Execution of Boko Haram Commanders.” The essay is a follow-up to earlier analyses Antigha has disseminated, including the December 2017 piece “Boko Haram: State of Counter-Insurgency Operations.”

Antigha’s writings give insight not just into the state of Boko Haram (where some caveats and questions are in order regarding his analysis), but also into how parts of the Nigerian military views Boko Haram. This latter aspect of the writings is most interesting to me.

Antigha’s analyses, I should note at the outset, are more sophisticated and blunter than the typical verbiage one encounters in Nigerian military press releases. Many of those promote a one-dimensional, triumphalist narrative of brave soldiers killing “Boko Haram Terrorists” or surmounting temporary setbacks.

Consider, by way of contrast, this passage from Antigha’s December 2017 piece:

Apart from being religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram is a terrorist social movement.

Like all social movements, it represents groups that are on the margins of society and state, and outside the boundaries of institutional power, Boko Haram seeks to change the system in fundamental ways, through a mix of incendiary religious dogma, unbridled criminality and unmitigated terror.

The strategic end state of the insurgency is the establishment of an Islamic State in the Sahel covering parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, in the likeness of what ISIS envisioned for Iraq and Syria.

Without doubt, 2011 – 2014 was Boko Haram’s most active and successful years.
During this period, the public lost confidence in the ability of the military to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity.

This is pretty three-dimensional stuff. One might take issue with parts of it, but it’s clear that Antigha is light years beyond the “snuff out all the BHTs” guys.

Now, some of the caveats: Antigha is very positive on the Nigerian military’s performance starting in 2015, i.e. under the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari. One could be forgiven for concluding that politics plays into how he periodizes the counter-insurgency. I agree with him that 2011-2014 (or I would say into early 2015) were Boko Haram’s most successful years, and available data on the numbers of attacks and the extent of territorial control would bear that out. But it’s too neat to just emphasize that “the emergence of a new government and leadership in the Nigerian Army in 2015 resulted in a new operational framework and design for the North East.” For one thing, Boko Haram’s fortunes declined before Buhari took office, amid the Chadian-Nigerien (and then Nigerian) push into Boko Haram-held territory. SInce Buhari took office, moreover, some old problems have continued to plague the Nigerian military, including corruption, brutality, and a weak rural presence. All of this is to say that we must remember, when reading Antigha’s analyses, that he is an information officer working for the Nigerian military and the MNJTF. He is not an independent or disinterested voice.

Now, turning to Antigha’s more recent analysis, a few interesting points stand out:

  • Antigha does not differentiate starkly here, as do so many analysts and reporters, between Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram and Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi’s Islamic State West Africa. That is, when discussing the recent reported assassinations of Mamman Nur and Ali Gaga (both of whom are typically identified as having been affiliated with al-Barnawi’s group), Antigha sees the dividing line within Boko Haram not as Shekau vs. al-Barnawi but as “moderates” vs. “radicals.” Antigha sees this divide as one centered on relations with civilians. According to Antigha, Nur and Gaga “were trying to win back the confidence of the people when they met resistance by younger and radical commanders.” Antigha expects further fragmentation, again not along lines determined by global affiliations but along lines determined by strategy: “Commanders and foot soldiers who were loyal to the executed commanders may, subject to their assessment of their chances of survival go their separate ways as terrorists or denounce terrorism and surrender.” Al-Barnawi’s name does not even appear in the text, and Antigha seems to see factional divisions as secondary to this issues of “moderates” versus “radicals.” Antigha writes, “Following the execution [of Nur], Mustapha Kirmimma has succeeded Nur as second in command. Kirmimma is reputed as a Shekau type of terrorist.” Is Antigha saying that both factions now have strong Shekau-like contingents within them – or is he suggesting a different understanding of how Boko Haram is organized? After all, Antigha uses the singular when he argues that Boko Haram is “an organization that has a semblance of core values, is well policed and governed by strict rules and regulations.” The accuracy of any of this is less interesting to me, in this context, than is the insight into how Antigha (and, by extension, at least part of the Nigerian military and the MNTJF) understands Boko Haram’s organizational structure. A number of questions follow – is this analysis based on flawed information? Or information not available to the public? Or is it simply a different reading of what the 2016 split really meant?
  • Antigha is not really concerned at all about external linkages. He writes, “It becomes difficult to ignore the view that Boko Haram has become a highly poisonous brand, which is unattractive to global terror entrepreneurs who are looking for conflicts to invest in. More so, opinion is building among analysts and commentators that Boko Haram could be a liability rather than asset to the Islamic State which it claims affiliation to.” For me, again, this is interesting not because of the question of whether he is right or wrong in his diagnosis, but because his portrayal is a far cry from what we hear/have heard from some other voices within the Nigerian government, past and present. If you want to be ultra-cynical (more cynical than I am willing to be, actually), you could say that when Nigerian officials want to maximize their chances of gaining more external military support, they play up Boko Haram’s transnational ties; and when they want it to appear that the counterinsurgency is working and that Boko Haram is on the back foot, they downplay those ties.
  • Antigha concludes by attempting to manage expectations, in a really interesting way: “Likely fallout of the recent executions could be more Boko Haram skirmishes against defence forces and of course more attacks on soft targets in the area of operation. However, the skirmishes would not be borne out of a desire by Boko Haram to gain any strategic or operational advantage; (the capacity is really not there) rather, the attacks will be driven by the need for some publicity by the radicals who have seized power in Boko Haram. The aim of these attacks, some of which have been reported already, is to hoodwink supporters and sympathizers to believing that Boko Haram is still a viable and reckonable terrorist organization.” Translation: Antigha knows that there will be more attacks, but he wants to portray these attacks as Boko Haram’s last gasps rather than as signs of a continued resurgence by the group. The big question to me, though, is who controls the countryside in Borno and Yobe; many Boko Haram attacks appear, to me, to be not so much about publicity as about preventing the Nigerian military from establishing firm control over rural and remote areas.

In conclusion, read the whole piece. It is the most interesting Nigerian government/military statement that I’ve seen about Boko Haram in quite some time. Again, I don’t agree with all of it, but it does give a window into how *some* top military officials see the jihadist organization. A final question, as with figures in the previous administration who also seemed to have a sophisticated viewpoint, is how much influence such analysts really have – or whether the guys who think in terms of body counts are the dominant figures after all.

Nigeria: Developments in Gubernatorial Contests in Osun, Kano, and Borno

Nigeria is in full-blown election mode in advance of the 16 February* 2019 presidential vote. Some of the most consequential political developments are taking place in the states. Here we look at three states: Osun, in the southwest, where a contentious gubernatorial election result is raising questions about ruling party interference and electoral officials’ biases; and two key northern states, Kano and Borno, where gubernatorial primaries are approaching.

Osun

Last week I wrote about the off-cycle gubernatorial election in Osun, which I believe is the last major election before the presidential vote. In Osun, incumbent governor (and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress or APC) Rauf Aregbesola is stepping down due to term limits, and so the race is between his chief of staff Gboyega Oyetola and Osun West Senator Ademola Adeleke. The latter represents the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999-2015.

Osun’s election took place on 22 September, but problems occurred at seven polling units. The election was re-run at those units on 27 September, and the returns from those units changed the overall outcome. After the 22 September results, the PDP’s Adeleke had a lead of 353 votes; after the 27 September results were added to the tallies, the APC’s Oyetola had a lead of some 482 votes and was declared the winner.

The close margin, and the reversal in the party’s fortunes, has led to outcry and concern not just from the PDP, but also from other observers. The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room released a statement critical of the process and questioning the integrity of the final result. The Centre for Democracy and Development in West Africa’s statement similarly concluded (see second tweet in thread) “that the conduct of some key stakeholders clearly ran contrary to democratic norms & standards, as well as best practices in the conduct of credible elections.”

And here is part of the joint statement from the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States:

In contrast to our overall findings on the vote of September 22, we were concerned to witness widespread incidents of interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers by some political party supporters and security agencies.  Many of our findings mirror those of leading civil society groups that observed the election.

We commend the work of INEC leadership during both elections. But it is clear that the neutrality of the security services and responsible conduct by party agents, both inside and outside polling units, will be essential to ensure free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in 2019.

For both the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission, then, there is skepticism in the air about their ability to conduct a successful and open process in February.

Kano

Back in August, I took a look at party shifts and realignments in Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria. Four prominent personalities are fighting for influence over the upcoming gubernatorial election. Most gubernatorial votes will take place (or are scheduled for) 2 March 2019. So here are the major players in Kano:

  • Former Governor (and current Senator) Rabiu Kwankwaso (served 1999-2003, 2011-2015)
  • Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (served 2003-2011)
  • Current Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (took office 2015)
  • Ex-Deputy Governor (as of August) Hafiz Abubakar (in office 2015-2018)

The latest big news is that Kwankwaso is backing Abba Yusuf to win the PDP gubernatorial nomination. Nigerian media (corporate and social) has been buzzing with the news that Yusuf is Kwankwaso’s son-in-law, although Kwankwaso himself has sought to correct (or spin?) the perception of nepotism by arguing that Yusuf is not married to one of his daughters but rather to someone from his extended family.

Kwankwaso also reportedly sought to arrange a game of musical chairs that would place Yusuf in the governor’s seat while placing Abubakar and long-time Shekarau ally Salihu Takai (who has, however, so far not followed Shekarau’s lead in defecting to the APC after Kwankwaso defected to the PDP)** into Senate seats. Here is a paraphrase of what Kwankwaso said about the proposal he made to Abubakar and Takai:

He also explained his reasons for not anointing the former Kano deputy governor, Prof Hafiz Abubakar, and a prominent politician in the state Alhaji Sagir Takai. He said he had known Prof Hafiz for over 40 years and has assisted him wherever necessary. The Prof was asked to contest for the Kano Central senate seat, a seat currently occupied by Sen Kwankwaso, in the coming 2019 election but he showed no interest. Likewise Sagir Takai had also been asked to contest for the seat of the southern Kano senatorial zone but had also declined to the arrangement, Sen Kwankwaso explained.

Within the PDP, then, you have a major contest for the nomination brewing – and then the nominee will face off against Ganduje, who remains in the APC and remains governor. Part of Kwankwaso’s ambition, of course, is to win the PDP nomination for the presidency and then bring Kano into his column in the general election.

Borno

Borno is the largest state in Nigeria by landmass and is the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. Incumbent Governor Kashim Shettima of the APC is term-limited and will likely seek the Borno Central Senate seat. As in other states, outgoing governors can wield tremendous influence in picking a successor (Shettima himself was hand-picked in 2011 by then-outgoing Governor Ali Modu Sheriff after Sheriff’s initial pick, Modu Gubio, was assassinated, likely by Boko Haram).

The big news out of Borno, then, is that Shettima has endorsed Babagana Zulum for the APC nomination. Zulum is a professor and the former state commissioner for reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement. (Here, if you are interested, are micro-bios of the other candidates.)

In Shettima’s endorsement statement, he focused on how Zulum’s professional experience will be crucial for Borno as it focuses on post-conflict reconstruction. But other parts of the statement allude, cryptically, to intra-party conflicts:

We cannot pretend not to be aware that an otherwise leader in our party, the APC, has deliberately created an unnecessary division within its membership in the state. This has led, to borrow from the satirical wisdom of Distinguished Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, the existence of what is akin to a match between “home based players” in the majority and with local support and a minority “foreign based players”. Four months ago, when we received some fleeing leaders back into the APC fold, I had thought that those who choose to work against the majority have learned lessons. I had expected us to once again, fuse into one indivisible family so that together, we could give our party a direction and confront our opponents as a united force. How wrong I was! Perhaps, I ignored the common saying, that a leopard does not change its spots.

This is, of course, a reference to Shettima’s difficult relationship with Sheriff, who rejoined the APC in a May 2018 “peace deal” with Shettima. Since then, however, political conflict between the two has flared up again.

There is also a hint, in Shettima’s endorsement statement, that Zulum is something of a consensus candidate:

Of our 21 aspirants, if I were to support and hand pick what some people might call any of my closest boys as successor; I most certainly would go for Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan or Adamu Lawan Zaufanjimba. If, on the other hand, public service is the only consideration, none of the aspirants can be more qualified than our elder statesman, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda. If loyalty to political association is my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Abubakar Kyari has proved unalloyed loyalty to political association with me. If years of sincere and mutual friendship are my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai and Alhaji Mai Sheriff are my closest friends amongst all our aspirants. If the consideration is about humility and ability to carry people along, His Excellency Shettima Yuguda Dibal is legendary. I have relationship and so much respect for majority of the aspirants, the likes of Hon. Umara Kumalia, Makinta, name them. In fact, two of the aspirants, Mustapha Fannarambe and Umar Alkali are my relatives. All aspirants have divergent qualities. However, because of the situation we found ourselves, considerations for the next Governor of Borno State requires specific quips tailored to our needs for now.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but it also seems to me that Zulum may be a somewhat technocratic choice who lacks a constituency of his own and therefore may be seen as pliable by Shettima and his team. But I welcome readers’ thoughts and corrections on this point in particular.

So there you have it – three crucial states, one of whose governorships has been held for the APC in a potentially ugly way (Osun), one of whose governorships is increasingly contested (Kano), and one whose governorships may pass smoothly from incumbent to successor (Borno). In any case, these remain three states to watch, especially in terms of how gubernatorial politics interact with presidential politics in the lead-up to 2019.

*Delays are always possible, although the constitution requires that the next presidential term start by 29 May 2019.

**No one said this was easy to follow!

Roundup on the Recent Boko Haram Attacks in Borno and Yobe

Two significant Boko Haram attacks occurred in recent days, one in Borno State and the other in Yobe State. Amid conflicting accounts, it’s difficult establishing exactly what happened.. In place of an analytical post, then, here’s a roundup:

Borno (Bama Local Government Area, likely 13 July)

Reuters: “About 20 Nigerian soldiers are missing after a clash with Boko Haram militants in the northeast of the country, security sources said on Monday, though the military denied reports that some troops could not be found. The confrontation between militants and troops took place on Saturday in the Bama area of Borno…An army spokesman said suspected Boko Haram militants had tried to seize military vehicles in an attempted attack on troops in Bama but they had been repelled by troops backed by the air force.” For more statements from the Nigerian Army, see here.

Daily Trust: “One of the sources told Daily Trust on Sunday that the troops who were based in Bama town in central Borno, were ambushed around 2pm Friday near a village called Bulagallaye,  while moving in a convoy  of 16 Hilux trucks loaded with soldiers  and vigilantes. ‘They were on their way for an operation in Bulagallaye along Bama /Dikwa axis when the assailants ambushed them…You know this is raining season and operations along that axis are increasingly becoming tough because of the terrain. One of the trucks in the convoy got stuck in the muddy area and while efforts were being made to pull out the truck, the terrorists attacked’.”

Punch: “A source close to Bama, said, ‘The update is that 10 corpses of soldiers ambushed in Borno have been recovered. The army is still looking for the rest of them. The terrorists are said to have links with ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and they are from the [Abu Mus’ab] Al-Barnawi faction. The army cannot sweep these attacks under the carpet because there were eyewitnesses to the two attacks in Borno and Yobe which happened on Saturday and Sunday.’ But the army spokesman, [Brigadier General Texas] Chukwu, said the troops repelled the terrorist attack on Bama, adding that only two personnel were injured. He said, ‘The army wishes to state categorically that the report is not true. There was an attempted attack on troops at Kwakwa and Chingori communities in the Bama area by suspected Boko Haram terrorists as a result of the difficult terrain where our vehicles became bugged [sic] down’.”

Yobe (Geidam Local Government Area, 14 July)

Punch: “ ‘Boko Haram terrorists attacked troops of the 81 Division Forward Brigade at Jilli village in Geidam district. The terrorists came in huge numbers around 7:30 pm (1830 GMT) and overran the base after a fierce battle that lasted till 9:10 pm,’ said the military source. ‘The base had 734 troops. Currently the commander of the base and 63 soldiers have made it to Geidam (60 kilometres away) while the remaining 670 are being expected,’ he said.”

Daily Trust: “A soldier who survived the attack told our correspondent that the terrorists went to the military facility in fleet of military painted vehicles with camouflage colours. ‘There was trench around the base, but they confidently approached the gate and we opened it thinking they were troops from Gubio. They started shooting and we engaged them before they overran us,’ he said. ‘About 10 of us ran to Ngilewa village where a Good Samaritan drove us to Damakarwa village and handed us to the troops from Geidam,’ he said.”

Blueprint: “The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-General Tukur Buratai yesterday held a crucial meeting with the Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole and other top military officers at the Military Command and Control Centre, Maiduguri, Borno state.
Although the outcome of the meeting was not made public, a military source said the meeting was to review and re-strategise the ongoing operations, especially Operation Last Hold in Northern Borno and Lake Chad fringes.”

For further context, it’s worth reading this thread from Ahmad Salkida and this report by Omar Mahmood and Ndubuisi Ani, and it’s worth watching this video from al-Barnawi’s faction.