Nigeria: Rebels Declare War


September17, 2008:  In the Niger River Delta oil region, gangs have expanded their kidnapping operations to include more politicians and businessmen. The foreigners are more lucrative, but too well guarded and too risky to go after. The gangs and separatist rebels (many individuals do both) have halted 25 percent of oil exports, costing the government over $20 billion in revenues this year. The government still has nearly $70 billion coming in, but the missing revenue is a large number, and it is noticed. With that kind of incentive, the government is sending more troops, and making more efforts to improve the lives of Niger Delta people. A new government ministry has been established, whose only purpose is to solve problems in the Niger Delta. The delta rebels see the new ministry as a PR effort, mainly intended to hand out more lucrative jobs to friends of the government. The extensive corruption in Nigeria continues to hobble any economic and social revival efforts in the delta. There are about 30 million people living there, and they are not happy.

The violence in the delta has hurt the local economy as well. The reduction in oil exports means that oil companies shut down some of their operations and put thousands of Nigerians out of work. This has a ripple effect, pushing the unemployment rate up several percent, to nearly 20 percent.

The military has increased its attacks on rebel (usually the MEND organization) camps, using helicopters, gunboats and landing craft. The gangs, which can disperse in their speedboats, and stay in touch via their cell and satellite phones, are fighting back. The rebels can afford plenty of speedboats and guns, and can muster ten or more speedboats and several dozen armed men for pre-dawn attacks on pipelines and pumping stations (that keep the oil moving through the pipelines). In the last week, over a hundred people (most of them MEND) have died from the violence in the delta. The military is making it more difficult for MEND, and non-political gangs, to steal oil (by punching holes in pipelines), thus cutting into the revenue of the gangs. The outcome of this new escalation won't be known for a few weeks. If oil exports (currently about two million barrels a day) decline, the rebels are winning. If oil production remains the same, the rebels may be losing. If oil production goes up, the rebels probably are losing. But until the government does something to reduce the poverty in the delta, the angry armed men will still be around.

September 13, 2008: MEND has ordered oil companies to withdraw all their personnel from the Niger delta within 24 hours, or risk having their personnel kidnapped or killed. This is in response to a new military offensive against MEND camps in remote areas of the Niger delta waterways.




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