In what may turn out to be positive news for President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, Menas Associates, a political risk consultancy, says there are indications that Boko Haram’s Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction is breaking up.
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However, the ISWAP friction is occurring at a time when the Islamists have suffered setbacks following a reinvigorated campaign and counterattacks by the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) which includes troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
In recent weeks the MNJTF has increased its attacks on the rampaging Boko Haram positions in the Lake Chad Region.
The cherry news is coming as the bilateral agreement on the oil export pipeline project between Niger and Benin which was signed last January 23, is being viewed as a decisive step forward in the plans to export Niger’s crude oil.
The country’s current production of around 20,000 barrels per day is set to increase to around 110,000 b/d by 2021 and possibly 200,000 b/d in the longer term.
The agreement with Benin resolves the question of whether Niger will either export oil via a pipeline spur to the existing Chad-Cameroon pipeline or build a new pipeline through Benin to its Atlantic port of Cotonou.
The decision to build a new $2-4 billion pipeline through Benin has probably been determined by a number of factors including: Chad’s potential political instability; and the Chad-Cameroon pipeline’s technical problems caused by financial short cuts being taken so that insufficient safety valves were installed.
In addition the oil storage vessels on Cameroon’s Atlantic coast at Kribi are still believed to be single-hulled and in contravention of current maritime law. The major consideration in choosing the Benin option is, however, believed to have been the Chad-Cameroon pipeline’s limited capacity.
A new bespoke 2,000 kms pipeline — from Niger’s oil fields in the Agadem Basin to Benin’s coast at Cotonou — would give Niger control over its own export destiny. The pipeline will be managed by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) with the participation of both host governments.
The pipeline project is extremely important for landlocked Niger whose nascent but ambitious oil sector is currently limited to supplying 20,000 b/d of crude oil and condensate to the Chinese-built Société de Raffinage de Zinder (SORAZ) refinery. The latter’s output is sold to the domestic market with very limited exports to Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, ISWAP’s Head, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, has been removed as the group’s leader. Al-Barnawi has also left ISWAP but it is unclear how many of his fighters have followed him. It will soon become clear whether al-Barnawi determines to form a new group and if he will receive any support from the Islamic State group which is under severe pressure in Iraq and Syria.
ISWAP has announced that Abu Abdullah Idris bin Umar (a.k.a. Umar al-Barnawi) is its new leader. He is allegedly the same person who announced the breakaway from the Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram in 2016. This is the second major change in leadership in ISWAP.
Another prominent ISWAP leader, Mamman Nur, was also removed, detained and executed last year. He was supposedly more moderate and lost out in a leadership battle in the group because of his less extremist views.
There are unconfirmed reports that the new leader may have been close to Nur. If correct this could mean that the new ISWAP group may be more moderate in its approach. For example, Nur advocated that the group should not attack civilians unless they are proven to be aiding the military.
Obviously, this is a good news for the government as the Nigeria-led MNJTF force has been making significant gains against ISWAP positions in the Lake Chad Region.
Security sources have confirmed that ISWAP has suffered heavy losses from a combination of attacks from Nigerian and Chadian troops who have stepped up their offensives in the last two weeks.
If the current victories can be sustained before the onset of the rainy season in the North East — which typically begins in April or May — it may prove difficult to reverse. A clearer picture of the situation in the North East will unfold in the next few weeks.