The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
The attacks on Jan. 20, 2012, began not so much as an explosion but as an earthquake.
“Whole buildings were shaking,” said secondary school vice principal Danjuma Alkali. “There was so much vibration that some people collapsed from it.” When the jolts stopped, with smoke rising and fire igniting all over the city of 10 million, it became quickly apparent the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram had pulled off the unthinkable.
In coordinated bombings at 23 separate locations in the city of Kano, including police headquarters and military barracks, the group left one of Africa’s largest cities in disarray and panic. The January attacks killed more than 185 people—Africa’s worst terrorism since the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Alkali said in the streets he saw “so many bodies that they were lifted into heavy lorries. Only a few could be identified.” The city fell under weeks of dusk-to-dawn curfew. Shops stayed closed, banks opened only for several hours each day, and heavily armed checkpoints became a way of life. At Alkali’s school, attendance fell from 700 to 300.
Boko Haram leader Imam Abubakar Shekau took responsibility for the Jan. 20 attacks in a video posted on YouTube: “I am not against anyone, but if Allah asks me to kill someone, I will kill him, and I will enjoy killing him like I am killing a chicken.” Boko Haram had struck before, but the citywide attack in the industrialized heartland of northern Nigeria carried a new message to Muslim authorities and business leaders: Support our call to create a radical Islamic state or else.
It would be difficult for Washington to look away: Nigeria at the time was the third-largest source of U.S. crude oil imports. Further, the same day, American Greg Ock was kidnapped in Niger Delta, and Boko Haram announced “an arrangement” to kidnap 22 other Americans.
The next day, Jan. 21, the U.S. Embassy warned U.S. citizens “to review personal security measures,” and it prohibited government personnel from traveling to northern Nigeria. But tracking and cutting off the insider flow of funds propping up Boko Haram was what was needed—and the Kano attacks presented one more overwhelming reason the United States should have designated the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO (see “Troubling ties,” June 10).
A strong chorus rose in Washington for FTO designation—from bipartisan members of Congress to Pentagon officials (including then-head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Carter Ham) to a coalition of faith-based human rights groups. At the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to resist it and other rudimentary steps against the terror group.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram often showed up better equipped than the Nigerian military: “Boko Haram was extorting even government officials in the north, state and local officials, and certainly the military,” said an American working in the area for more than a decade, who spoke to WORLD and is not named for security reasons. “Very wealthy Muslim businessmen totally have been backing Boko Haram. There was huge money involved. Money used to purchase arms—it was crazy.”
Where were the funds and support coming from? In part from a corrupt oil industry and political leaders in the North acting as quasi-warlords. But prominently in the mix are Nigerian billionaires with criminal pasts—plus ties to Clinton political campaigns and the Clinton Foundation, the controversial charity established by Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton in 1997.
The Clintons’ long association with top suspect tycoons—and their refusal to answer questions about those associations—takes on greater significance considering the dramatic rise of Boko Haram violence while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Did some Clinton donors stand to gain from the State Department not taking action against the Islamic terrorist group?
PERHAPS THE MOST PROMINENT Nigerian with ties to the Clintons is Houston-based Kase Lawal. The founder of CAMAC Energy, an oil exploration and energy consortium, Lawal had a long history with Bill Clinton before becoming a “bundler” for Hillary’s 2008 presidential bid, amassing $100,000 in contributions and hosting a fundraiser in his Houston home—a 14-room, 15,264-square-foot mansion. Lawal maxed out donations to Hillary’s 2016 primary campaign, and his wife Eileen donated $50,000—the most allowed—to President Obama’s 2009 inaugural committee.
Lawal describes himself as a devout Muslim who began memorizing the Quran at age 3 while attending an Islamic school. “Religion played a very important role in our lives,” he told a reporter in 2006. “Every time you finish a chapter they kill a chicken, and if you finish the whole thing, a goat.”
Today the Houston oil exec—who retired in May as CEO but continues as chairman of the board of CAMAC, now called Erin Energy—tops the list of wealthiest Nigerians living in North America. His firm reports about $2.5 billion in annual revenue, making it one of the top private companies in the United States.
In Africa, Lawal has been at the center of multiple criminal proceedings, even operating as a fugitive. Over the last decade, he faced charges in South Africa over an illegal oil scheme along with charges in Nigeria of illegally pumping and exporting 10 million barrels of oil.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lawal arranged a 2011 plot to purchase 4 tons of gold from a rebel warlord, Bosco Ntaganda, linked to massacres and mass rapes. Ntaganda was on a U.S. sanctions list, meaning anyone doing business with him could face up to 20 years in prison. Lawal contacted Clinton’s State Department, and authorities in Congo released his plane and associates in the plot. He never faced charges in the United States, and he remains a commissioner for the Port Authority of Houston.
Lawal’s energy firm holds lucrative offshore oil licenses in Nigeria, as well as exploration and production licenses in Gambia, Ghana, and Kenya, where he operates in a conflict-ridden area largely controlled by Somalia’s al-Shabab militants.
The firm also has held contracts in Nigeria for crude oil lifting, or transferring oil from its collection point to refineries. Until last year, when newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari began an effort to reform the process, contracting for lifting has been awash in kickbacks, bribes, and illegal activity.
Overland lifting contracts often involve partnership with the North’s past and present governors, including those who serve as quasi-warlords with ties to Boko Haram and other militants.
Lawal’s enterprises have long been rumored to be involved in such deals, as have indigenous oil concerns like Petro Energy and Oando, Nigeria’s largest private oil and gas company, based in Lagos and headed by Adewale Tinubu, another controversial Clinton donor.
In 2014, Oando pledged 1.5 percent of that year’s pre-tax profits and 1 percent of future profits to a Clinton Global Initiative education program. This year, Adewale gained notoriety when the Panama Papers revealed he holds at least 12 shell companies, leading to suspicion of money laundering, tax evasion, and other corruption.
In 2013 Bill Clinton stood alongside Adewale’s uncle, Bola Tinubu, while attending the dedication of a massive, controversial reclamation project called Eko Atlantic. Critics call Bola Tinubu, leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, Nigeria’s “looter in chief.” A Nigerian documentary says that when the billionaire landowner was governor of Lagos State (1999-2007), he funneled huge amounts of state funds—up to 15 percent of annual tax revenues—to a private consulting firm in which he had controlling interest.
In the United States, where he studied and worked in the 1970s and ’80s, Tinubu is still a suspect in connection with a Chicago heroin ring he allegedly operated with his wife and three other family members. In 1993 Tinubu forfeited $460,000 to American authorities, who believe he trafficked drugs and laundered the proceeds.
ABOUT THE TIME OF THE KANO BOMBINGS, a lucrative potential for new oil opened up in Nigeria’s North—precisely in the Borno State region where Boko Haram has its headquarters.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Nigerian government allocated $240 million toward oil and gas exploration in the Lake Chad Basin, a petroleum reserve stretching from western Chad across Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon. Largely unexplored until recently, oil production hit 100,000 barrels a day in 2013 on the Chad side of the basin.
On the surface Boko Haram violence halted exploration in Nigeria. Despite the millions it was investing, Nigeria’s government geologists and technical staff fled the region in fear of their lives. Using verified incidents provided by the Nigeria-based Stefanos Foundation and other sources, WORLD documented 85 separate terrorist attacks between 2011-2016 in the Lake Chad Basin areas of Nigeria.
The attacks ranged from market bombings that killed half a dozen to the January 2015 Baga attacks, which killed an estimated 2,000, destroying Baga plus 16 other towns and displacing more than 35,000 people (while the world fixated on Paris after the Charlie Hebdo attack).
Beneath the surface, literally, Boko Haram was making it possible for illicit operators to lay claim to the area for their own purposes, and to pump oil from Nigeria’s underground reserves to Chad. Using 3-D drilling, Chad operators can extract Nigerian oil—without violating Nigerian property rights—to sell on open markets. One benefactor of the arrangement is Ali Modu Sheriff, a leading politician in the North, Borno State governor until 2011, and an alleged sponsor of Boko Haram, who is close friends with longtime Chad President Idriss Déby.
The very terrorism that seems to be deterring oil exploration in reality can help illicit extraction, forcing residents to flee and giving cover to under-the-table oil traders. In 2015, a year when overall oil prices dipped 6 percent, Lawal’s Erin Energy stock value skyrocketed 295 percent—the best-performing oil and gas stock in the United States.
The more unstable an area is, the more such traders can control supply and pricing, explained an oil analyst who asked not to be named for security reasons: “Terrorism is the poor man’s weapons of mass destruction. You want the land and what might be beneath, not the people, so you kill them.”
It’s happened elsewhere: A decade ago in Sudan’s civil war Islamic militias drove tens of thousands of Christians from their land, torching their villages and killing them. After paying off the militias and their power brokers, international oil consortiums moved in to begin drilling and now extracting oil. It’s not hard to envision a similar scenario unfolding in the Lake Chad Basin with Boko Haram.
Christians are the predominant victims of Boko Haram in Borno and surrounding states. Among 85 documented attacks in a five-year period, Boko Haram killed at least 11 pastors and destroyed more than 15 churches. They also destroyed about five mosques. In all, Boko Haram and its affiliated militants have killed an estimated 6,300 people and displaced 2 million in the Lake Chad Basin area since 2011.
The 2014 kidnapping of 276 girls from a Chibok Christian school catapulted Boko Haram into the international spotlight and sparked first lady Michelle Obama’s #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign. Hillary Clinton called the mass abduction “abominable” and “an act of terrorism.” Clinton said “it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.”
Critics argue it was Clinton herself who has led the way on U.S. indifference, spurning the standard FTO designation (issued 72 times since 1997) that could have bolstered U.S. efforts against Boko Haram years before the infamous kidnappings.
While it’s become increasingly clear that oil and corruption are fueling Boko Haram, the full story will take a serious U.S. investigation. Yet even now there is no evidence it’s happening. The Chibok girls, for example, are known to be in the Sambisa Forest with Boko Haram, but authorities have not pursued them.
“I want to the U.S. government to please, please, please to bring back our girls and bring peace to the Northeast,” a Chibok mother named Mary (last name omitted for security reasons) told WORLD during a June visit to Washington, D.C. “Stop this terror and terrorism in Nigeria.”
Besides military intervention, the United States has many tools for aiding Nigerian authorities. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control—the unit tasked with enforcing key aspects of FTO designations—purportedly doesn’t have enough staff to focus on Boko Haram financing. The administration maintains that Boko Haram raises its funding through local means, such as robbing banks and pillaging villages, even though WORLD obtained evidence the militants have access to international bank accounts.
“There has not been an investigation that has had any positive consequences,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Africa subcommittee. He said he plans to convene a hearing to find out why U.S. inattention persists: “It’s time to have [some] people come up and testify.”
—with research by Kristin Chapman and reporting by Onize Ohikere in Nigeria