Nigeria: Oil Thieves Think Bigger


July 14, 2008: Government attempts to negotiate peace deals, in the oil rich Niger delta, with tribal rebel groups like MEND, ignore the fact that more and more of the violence is generated by smaller, independent, and purely criminal gangs. These independents are interested in striking it rich stealing oil from pipelines, or kidnapping foreigners or rich Nigerians (or, as in a recent case, the brother of a wealthy Nigerian football player, who was living and playing in Britain.)

July 11, 2008: Two German oil engineers were kidnapped at Port Harcourt. Their employer, a major German oil firm, threatened to pull out of Nigeria if this sort of violence was not halted.

Meanwhile, off the coast, the navy halted and seized an oil tanker carrying about a million barrels of stolen oil. This is a new development, because in the past the oil thieves had moved their oil to neighboring countries (for sale to shady oil brokers) via barges and small ships. It was a bold and dangerous move to try and use an ocean going tanker for this. But the stolen oil business is booming, with over $5 billion worth of oil a year being stolen. This is sold at a discount to smugglers, who get it to neighboring countries for sale to brokers. The actual thieves, who punch holes in pipelines and collect the oil in buckets and in tanks in the backs of trucks, get about ten cents on the dollar (of the world price of oil). But that means the pipeline tapping gangs are getting over half a billion dollars a year. That's big money for impoverished tribesmen, and pays for new SUVs, trucks, clothes, guns and aggressive attitudes.

July 10, 2008: MEND said it was abandoning its ceasefire, and resuming attacks on oil facilities.

July 5, 2008: Hundreds of police reinforcements were sent to the southeast, where tribal battles over land has left nearly a hundred people dead or wounded.


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