Nigeria: Kleptocrats Resist And Persist

Nigeria: Kleptocrats Resist And Persist

By Strategy Page

President Buhari got elected in part because he seemed honest and willing to take on the huge (possibly a majority) portion of the senior elected and civil service officials who do most of the stealing. The kleptocracy that has prospered off this plunder for half a century is not willing to just give it up and instead fights back with lawsuits, threats and bribes for many of the corruptible people in the judicial system. But the kleptocracy (including family members) comprises only a few percent of the population. Documenting and publicizing that over the last decade (thanks in part to the Internet) has created a population willing to support elected officials who really are willing and able to take on the kleptocrats. Since Buhari is a retired general the kleptocrats cannot depend on a lot of help from the security forces and must depend more on the criminal gangs they tend to use mainly to coerce voters and election officials to cooperate during elections. Currently corrupt military and police commanders are too busy dealing with their own vulnerability to prosecution. The mass media, normally neutralized with bribes and threats (the hired gangsters again) are becoming uncontrollable and trying to outdo each other in reporting, and even exposing corruption and unrepentant kleptocrats.

Despite all this the kleptocracy could not resist the billions poured into aid for the victims of Islamic terrorism in the north over the last few years. The pervasive corruption up there was one of the primary reasons Boko Haram was formed, gained so many adherents, got radicalized and set fire to the northeast. The Boko Haram violence began in 2009, even though the group had been around since 2002. Boko Haram switched from preaching to Islamic terrorism violence in 2009 and at first appeared to have been shut down by the security forces. But the police employed their usual methods, which involved killing or arresting a lot of innocent civilians. That crackdown generated more popular support for Boko Haram and in 2010 the violence reappeared and escalated until, by 2014, Boko Haram controlled nearly half of Borno State.

President Buhari, a Moslem and a retired general from the north got elected in early 2015 largely on the hope that he would and could deal with the corruption and failure to deal with Boko Haram. It wasn’t just Islamic terrorists in the northeast, but angry locals down south in the Niger River Delta where all the oil was. Most of the population down there was Christian and religion was not an issue; pollution, corruption and poverty were. The Delta violence began in the late 1990s and was less scary than Islamic terrorism but more persistent because it was carried out by criminal gangs stealing oil (and addressing the poverty problem) and gradually becoming more political about their activities. By 2009 the oil gangs accepted an amnesty (bribe) deal that included promises to reduce corruption. That did not happen and the violence returned as Boko Haram was being defeated in 2016.

The situation in the northeast and the delta had several things in common. Many local officials and politicians were willing to work with the oil gangs or Boko Haram, up to a point. But the politicians all tend to react violently to groups that threaten their wealth (corrupt practices like stealing any government funds they have access to). In both the northeast and the delta the angry young men who comprised Boko Haram and the oil gangs were also seeking to end (or greatly reduce) the corruption. In both cases the kleptocrats encountered a foe they could not buy or intimidate. Scary times indeed.

Currently local corruption is as bad as ever but nationwide there has been some progress exposing the extent that oil income has been stolen and real efforts are being made to halt that and recover some of the lost billions. It has not been easy. But that effort is apparently one reason why the economy is recovering from the sharp, and apparently permanent, fall in oil prices. Yet even with Boko Haram and oil thieves still active and more and more corrupt officials being indicted, the kleptocrats know they still have a lot of power and do not hesitate to use it. Case in point is the need for economic reforms and changes in the government spending. This has to go through the national legislature where budget details are subject to all manner of legal, and illegal adjustments by legislators and senior government officials. Despite the growing waves of bad publicity this year the kleptocrats in the legislature are doing what comes naturally and ignoring the increased risk of indictment and prosecution.

Despite the resistance Nigeria is starting, for the first time, to look better in the international rankings for things that, indirectly, rate the degree to which corruption cripples the economy and public wellbeing in general. The World Bank, which has pioneered a lot of these international rankings. Nigeria is becoming a more attractive place to invest in legitimate (legal) businesses. But the larger (and long term) investments requiring some certainly that the good government will last.

Corruption has at least become a major and persistent issue in the media. Beyond that not much has been actually been done other than a few prosecutions (not always successful) of notoriously corrupt former officials (usually former state governors). Corruption is now a news staple and those speaking up no longer have to worry as much about retribution (which was once often fatal). But people notice that the billions of dollars allegedly recovered so far are now showing up in new projects. Lots of plans and promises but not much to show for it so far. Some of this bad news is expected but still disappointing. For example journalists in the Niger Delta can now see coastal tankers (as pointed out by locals) still engaged in smuggling. A little more investigation confirms that these tankers do indeed obtain oil stolen from ruptured pipelines and sold to brokers who pay bribes to allow their tankers to move the oil to neighboring countries where it is sold as legitimate. Revelations like this put officials of the national oil company under more pressure but so far not much to show for it. The Delta is still notoriously corrupt and recent renewed threats by local militants is suspected of being connected with yet another effort by corrupt local politicians to deal with (and evade) anti-corruption investigators.

Many Nigerians attribute the corruption stalemate to the fact that the major political parties (especially the APC, currently in power) are busy trying to avoid accepting any blame for ignoring the corruption until recently. It has become fashionable to declare corruption allegations an excuse by political rivals to bring down an honest opponent. Popular opinion considers all of them dirty to one degree or another and that the most corrupt should be tended to first. These politicians have the most to lose and have been very effective in hiding behind this “it’s all politics” smokescreen. Corruption is deeply entrenched and difficult to clean up but in a democracy you have to show some tangible progress or get voted out of office by less honest politicians.

 

Oil

The final data is in and its official; Nigeria returned to record oil production levels in July, levels not seen since early 2016. Actual production in July was 2.o1 million barrels per day (BPD). Back in August it was believed to be higher but it takes months to get the actual and final figure. Total July production was 62.46 million barrels. At the same time actual oil income is less than expected because world oil prices remain low. That has been the trend for most of 2017. Production rose 22 percent in April to 1.48 million BPD. Production was 1.53 million BPD at the start of 2017 but then declined to 1.43 million in February and 1.21 million BPD in March. The April increase is largely the result of the federal government making acceptable peace deals with the local tribal rebels who have been bombing pipeline and other oil facilities. That violence returned in 2016 because of corruption in the local state governments that became an issue once more. Back in late 2016 the government proclaimed the 1.56 million BPD in November 2016 put Nigeria on the way to the goal of 2.5 million BPD by 2020. Then reality intervened as promises to the locals were broken. Peace and more oil production is unlikely to be achieved much less sustained unless there are some fundamental economic and political changes in the Niger River Delta oil fields. That is happening, but at a glacial pace because so many of the local politicians and government officials have gotten rich from corrupt practices and are still opposing change.

Lingering Boko Haram Violence

Boko Haram continues to be a problem in the northeast, mainly in Borno State, but the attacks are fewer and frequently fail. In part this is because Boko Haram has split into two major and several minor factions. But it is also a matter of the security forces, including local militias, benefitting from more experience and much less corruption in the military. President Buhari, as expected, got rid of many senior commanders that were incompetent and usually corrupt as well. This made a big difference and the troops appreciated it big time.

November 9, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) a group of Boko Haram gunmen was spotted. Soon soldiers and airstrikes were used to kill 13 of the Islamic terrorists, wound many of those who escaped and capture several vehicles and a large quantity of weapons and equipment.

November 8, 2017: President Buhari fired a high ranking government official who had been suspended in April after he was charged with stealing money meant for the 1.7 refugees in the northeast. There are also about five million people up there in need of food aid. Despite its oil wealth Nigeria has called on the UN for a billion dollars of foreign aid to help with the problem. Despite months of efforts only 60 percent of the money has been pledged by donor nations and many of them have made it clear that if any of this round of aid ends up stolen Nigeria will be added to the growing list of nations that are not worth sending aid to because much, if not most of it, gets stolen.

November 7, 2017: In central Nigeria (Plateau State) Moslem Fulani raiders ambushed Christian villagers and left nine dead. The government is under growing pressure from the Christian community (half of all Nigerians) to recognize the growing (since 2010) threat in central Nigeria (mainly Plateau, Jos, Kaduna, Benue and Nassarawa states) from the Moslem Fulani herders moving south. While these attacks often trigger reprisals by local militias the Fulani keep attacking. Most of the victims of the Fulani violence are Christian. Thus there were over 800 Christians killed in 2016 along with extensive property damage. To make matters worse the raiders have also been attacking soldiers or police who intervene. Attempts to negotiate peace deals with the Fulani generally fail. Tribal violence in this area has been a problem for generations because Moslem and Christian tribes do not get along and, according to many Moslem clerics and religious teachers, never will. The violence has gotten worse lately. There were over a thousand casualties a year since 2013 and as it got worse in 2016 and 2017. The prompted officials from both states to meet with Moslem and Christian tribal leaders to work out a peace deal. That has not worked, at least not yet.

November 6, 2017: In the northeast (Adamawa state) a Boko Haram attack on a village near Sambisa forest was repulsed by local defense volunteers and soldiers soon arrived to join in the pursuit. At least one civilian died from a stray bullet but most of the casualties were suffered by the fleeing Boko Haram. .

November 3, 2017: In the south the NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) announced that they were ending, immediately, their August ceasefire. Their attacks will resume but, as before, their attacks will avoid casualties. Government efforts to persuade the NDA to remain peaceful failed. In January the government resumed payment of salaries to Niger Delta rebels who accepted the 2009 amnesty. Most of these belonged to MEND (Niger Delta tribal rebels) and many have gone on to form a new group; the NDA. In 2009 the government thought it had solved the Delta rebel problem with an amnesty deal. Like everything else in Nigeria, corruption prevented that arrangement from working. Many former rebels accepted government sponsored security jobs. These jobs were basically a payoff for gang members to ensure they observed the “no more violence” part of the amnesty deal. The violence against oil production declined substantially in 2009 because of the peace deal that over 30,000 local rebels accepted. That eventually changed as corruption caused the government payoffs to the former rebels to gradually disappear. In 2015 the violence began to reappear and by early 2016 there were one or more major attacks a month on oil facilities. The new government has been reducing corruption and has promised the 2009 amnesty crowd that the payments will now reach them. The Niger Delta community has heard this before and expects the corruption to soon return and make their payments disappear. A lot of Delta rebels aren’t waiting and are already seeking to extort large payments or other concessions from the oil companies or the government to avoid more attacks that will reduce oil exports.

October 30, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) an army convoy ran into a Boko Haram ambush involving over a hundred Islamic terrorists. The soldiers and local defense volunteers reacted quickly and repelled the attack, killing at least twenty Boko Haram men while losing four troops to a roadside bomb during the pursuit.

October 24, 2017: In the northeast (Yobe State) a Boko Haram faction, now part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), attacked an army base outside the state capital Damaturu, killing 15 soldiers and possibly capturing some others. This is the third such attack on the army in this area in the last two weeks. These night attacks are mainly to capture vehicles, weapons, ammo and other supplies and tend to use overwhelming force against a small army base of checkpoint.

October 23, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) a Boko Haram suicide bomber carried out an attack (the first in more than a month) in the state capital and left 13 dead and five wounded. At the same time two other suicide bombers attacked other targets in the capital and wounded 13 people. In Borno state most of these Boko Haram suicide bombers are intercepted and captured or killed (a few surrender) before they can act.

October 19, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) an airstrike hit what appeared to be a large gathering of Boko Haram members. Among the many (more than a dozen) killed was one of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s four wives. Shekau has a $7 million price on his head and does believe to live with or travel with more than one wife at a time.

October 16, 2017: Chad announced that it had to withdraw several hundred troops it had sent to Niger to deal with Boko Haram violence around Lake Chad (southeast Niger). Chad needed additional troops for a security emergency in the north, along the Libyan border. Some say this troop movement is an effort to force the United States to remove Chad from a recent travel ban.

October 14, 2017: The first batch of accused Boko Haram members were tried in secret proceedings. As expected most (91 percent) of the first 513 accused were released although some were ordered to undergo deradicalization programs. The 45 who were convicted were sent to prison for periods from three to 31 years. The government is prosecuting 1,700 people accused of being Boko Haram and committing various crimes in that capacity. The trials ae closed to the public, which is mainly for security reasons and are largely held in military bases in the north.

October 13, 2017: In the northeast (Borno State) across the border in Cameroon 60 Nigerian men (and several hundred family members) surrendered to local defense volunteers and told of being taken captive in Borno during 2015 and moved to Cameroon where they expected to be used as slaves (a common Boko Haram practice). But instead they were ordered to become a Boko Haram fighter or be executed. Cameroon will eventually return all these Nigerians to Nigeria but first wants to make sure what they say happened is what actually took place.

 

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