Nigeria: It's Getting a Lot Worse


May 13, 2007: MEND is not the only armed militia to come out of the 20 million people living in the Niger River Delta. But it is the most militant, determined and effective. After only a year, MEND has cut nearly a third of the countrys oil production. That's a big deal, and the rest of Nigeria is paying attention.

Nigeria, with a population of 135 million, has about 250 tribes speaking over 400 different languages. In the Delta, there are 40 tribes, speaking over 200 languages and dialects. Armed militias are an ancient tribal tradition, and the tribes have aligned themselves with their own politicians and political parties. The Niger River Delta is special, though, because it contains 7.5 percent of Nigerias land area, fifteen percent of the population, and over 40 percent of the GDP (because that's where most of the oil is). The oil industry in the Delta is now half a century old, and the people in the Delta believe they have been screwed. Most of the money from the oil (nearly half a trillion dollars worth) has left the Delta, and what little oil money that remained, has been stolen by local politicians. The standard of living in the Delta has actually fallen since the oil was discovered. This was followed, in 1960, by the departure of the British colonial government. Nigerians in general, and the Delta peoples in particular, now realize that the problem is local. It's Nigerians that have stolen or misused the oil wealth. Organizations like MEND want to make things better, although MEND is run by the same kind of thieves and crooks that run the government. Given a choice, MEND appears as the lesser of two evils. Not much of a choice, but people are angry, and out of patience. It's an ugly situation, and not likely to turn out well. This is especially true because there are now splinter groups in MEND, largely the result of arguments over how ransom money should be split up. While attacking oil facilities gets the most attention from the government, MEND gets most of its revenue from ransoms, followed closely by selling stolen oil and various criminal scams.

May 12, 2007: The government keeps sending security personnel and bribes to the Delta, but this has not stopped MEND from shutting down oil facilities. Now MEND is calling for all the oil wealth to stay in the Delta. The rest of the country would not tolerate this, and would be willing to attack the general population in the Delta to prevent this from happening. This could get very ugly.

May 10, 2007: In the northern state of Kano, Islamic militants have destroyed four movie theaters. Islamic militants accused the theater owners of supporting homosexuality and prostitution.

May 9, 2007: Local rebel group MEND has openly called for its followers to create mayhem in the Delta. There has been at least one attack on oil facilities a day over the past ten days. There were three explosions that cut oil pipelines. An oil company barge off the coast was attacked by speedboats full of armed men, and four Americans kidnapped. There were soldiers guarding the barge, but they were driven back by gunfire, and several of them wounded. So far this year, over a hundred foreigners have been kidnapped in the Delta. In the last eight years, over 250 foreigners have been kidnapped in the Delta.

Eleven kidnapping victims (three South Koreans and eight Filipinos) were released, after the payment of ransoms. The amount was not announced, in an attempt to not encourage kidnappers. But word on the street is that you get at least $100,000 if you can grab a foreigner. There are lawyers, businessmen and politicians who are making big commissions by brokering these deals.

May 8, 2007: MEND, and other rebel groups in the Delta, have now shut down 850,000 barrels a day of oil production in the Delta. That's $19 billion dollars a years worth of oil sales, and 30 percent Nigerias total oil output. It's a big deal. While many other armed groups have been bought off by the government, MEND is out of control and determined to get control

May 7, 2007: A Belorussian woman was kidnapped, and $1.2 million ransom is demanded. The woman, married to a Nigerian, works for an oil service company. Belarus doesn't even have an embassy in Nigeria, and Russia is handling the negotiations. The kidnappers may get $100,000 or more for the victim, which is a lot of money (more than a hundred times the average annual wage in Nigeria). In the last week, at least 28 foreigners were kidnapped in the Delta.




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