Boko Haram Terrorists Merge With Bandits in Nigeria

Boko Haram Terrorists Merge With Bandits in Nigeria
Supporters of the "Coalition of Northern Groups" (CNG) rally to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria on Dec. 17, 2020. (Kola Sulaimon/ AFP) (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)
Douglas Burton

The ISIS-linked insurgency known as Boko Haram and the Ansaru terror group both have joined forces with bandit gangs in Nigeria’s northern states close to the nation’s capital, people familiar with the situation told The Epoch Times.

That alliance threatens to worsen the violence afflicting this West African nation.

“The Greenfield [University] abduction is unique because for the first time we saw a cooperation between some bandits and Boko Haram elements, which confirm that Boko Haram are encroaching into the field,” kidnapping mediator Sheikh Ahmad Gumi told Channels TV on May 16. Gumi, a former captain in the Nigerian army, is the senior cleric of a mosque in the state capital of Kaduna city, a two-hour drive north of the federal capital of Abuja.

The abduction of 22 students from Greenfield University on April 17 remains in a state of negotiation; five of the students have been slain and one released amid negotiations with some of the parents; Boko Haram and the bandits are demanding a ransom of approximately $280,000 for the remaining 16 Greenfield students. Meanwhile, Gumi said that Boko Haram terrorists attempted to take over negotiations related to 27 schoolboys abducted on Feb. 17 in Niger State but were rebuffed by the bandit gang.

The governor of Niger State sounded the alarm three weeks ago that Boko Haram had planted its flag in his state and taken over the town of Shiroro, a four-hour drive from Abuja. Gov. Sani Bello demanded that the army stage a counterattack to dislodge the bandits and “elements of Boko Haram” that had sent 3,000 citizens scrambling.

The terrorists in Niger may be members of Ansaru, a jihadist group loyal to al-Qaida, which sponsors terrorist cells throughout the Sahel (the region stretching across African between the Sahara to the north and savanna to the south).

“Government officials from Niger State told us that the militants who captured Shiroro are not Boko Haram, but rather Ansaru jihadists,” Kyle Abts, a director of the International Committee on Nigeria, told The Epoch Times. Abts recently returned from a two-week stay in Nigeria’s north.

Boko Haram has created alliances with bandit gangs for months in a bid to expand its territory and to ease pressure on its core fighters in Nigeria’s northeast, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a regional African think tank based in South Africa.

While insurgents engaged in bombings and massacres in Nigeria’s north 11 years ago, the Nigerian army has forced a retreat to the northeastern states, where it has fought a see-saw war for several years. The current leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has been cultivating an affinity with armed bandits in the northwest since delivering a video message in 2014, according to ISS.

In an “internal ‘Message to Fulani’s’ video,” Shekau projected “gratitude” to fighters in Katsina State and other unspecified locations, ISS reported in March.

In recent months, insurgents have reemerged in the northern states of Kaduna and Niger, and the north-central state of Plateau, according to interviews with conflict reporters and thought leaders.

“What we are seeing is an intensification of attacks by bandits and yes, Boko Haram, who profit from the kidnapping, which, in turn, finances more terrorism,” according to Obadiah Mailafia, an international development economist and one-time deputy governor at the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Obadiah Mailafia (Courtesy Obadiah Mailafia)
Obadiah Mailafia (Courtesy Obadiah Mailafia)

“Some of the Boko Haram have joined the bandit gangs,” Mailafia told The Epoch Times. “One sign of it is the heavy weapons the bandits are using: rocket-propelled grenades and submachine guns.

“We estimate that the insurgents and the bandit gangs across the country number more than 250,000 armed men, far outstripping the Nigerian army which fields fewer than 100,000 soldiers.”

The cost of the insurgency and the related banditry has taken a heavy toll, he said.

“I estimate that the financial losses to the national economy by banditry over the last 10 years exceeds $100 billion,” Mailafia told The Epoch Times in an interview on May 17.

The arms shipments to bandits, as well as Boko Haram terrorists, trace to the same sources in Libya, according to conflict reporter Masara Kim.

“One of my acquaintances in the Jos area was arrested in mid-September in the state of Zamfara with a truckload of ammunition said to have been acquired in Libya, the same sources of weapons for Boko Haram terrorists,” Kim told The Epoch Times in a text message.

The trafficker, Usman Ibrahim, 28, was driving a truckload of ammunition for bandits. He was arrested by the Nigerian army in Zamfara, according to the New Nigerian newspaper. Ibrahim, a native of Barkin Ladi in Plateau State, was partially employed by the government as a community policeman, Kim said.

“I knew him. He hails from Mahanga, a former Christian community that has become a Muslim no-go zone for Christians today. He grew up in present-day Barkin Ladi town and was a member of Community Police before his arrest.”

Ibrahim was arrested with a police ID card. In recent months, bandits have been seen carrying light machine guns that cost as much as $14,000, Kim wrote.

Archdeacon Hassan John (courtesy Archdeacon Hassan John)
Archdeacon Hassan John (courtesy Archdeacon Hassan John)

As many as 60,000 people have been killed in Nigeria since the Boko Haram insurgency broke out in 2010. The Rev. Hassan John, archdeacon of the Anglican Church in Jos, says the often-repeated casualty figures of 50,000 to 60,000 are undercounted by an order of magnitude.

“The real fatality figures during the last 11 years are closer to half a million,” John told The Epoch Times. The reason for the larger figure is that many atrocities aren’t recorded, and the authorities tend to undercount deaths in their reports, he said.

If the current trends of violence and slayings with impunity continue, the nation might not be able to hold a presidential election in 2023, according to Mailafia.

“Nigeria is a rapidly failing state,” he said. “If this continues, there could be situations where the army is sent to stop a clash but is met by a general uprising.”

In fact, an army unit of 12 soldiers was ambushed and killed on April 5 in Benue State by a local armed gang not connected to bandits or an insurgency.

“The social fissures are wider than they were before,” Mailafia said. “Some of the governors in the South West, in the South East and Middle Belt are talking about breaking away from the Federal Republic. Under these conditions, holding an election in 2023 will be a tall order.”

Douglas Burton may be reached at [email protected].
Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official who was stationed in Kirkuk, Iraq. He writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C.
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