The most recent attacks have cut Nigeria's oil production nearly in half (from a potential 3.2 million barrels a day to an actual 1.8 million.) This has gotten the attention of the government, which depends on oil revenue for most of its income. For over a year, actual production had been 2.4 million barrels, and the government thought it could defeat the rebels in the Niger Delta. But the rebellion, against the corruption, and declining living standards in the delta, kept growing. The violence was financed by tapping into pipelines and stealing oil (which was consolidated on small tankers or barges and smuggled into neighboring countries for sale.) The growing violence in the delta has led to a general rise in crime. Kidnapping has become particularly popular, with a doubling of the rate this year (500 so far, nationwide) compared to last year. Kidnapping is seen as a Robin Hood thing, with the families of corrupt businessmen and government officials being popular targets. Robberies are up as well, and these are directed at anyone who has any wealth (a bike, a car, an iPod). The rising crime has further discouraged investment by Nigerians or foreigners, thus further depressing the economy in the Niger Delta. The current ceasefire with the rebels is supposed to result in some meaningful reform. But that has rarely happened in the past, and is not likely to happen now, despite the great need for some big changes.
July 28, 2009: The violence in the north has died down, with the arrival of more police and troops and the imposition of a curfew.
July 27, 2009: The fighting against the pro-Taliban radicals in the north continues, with over a hundred dead and many more wounded and arrested. Thousands of civilians, mainly Christians, have fled the violence. The Islamic radicals have been a constant, but not particularly threatening, problem in the north for years. To date, the biggest problem caused by the Islamic radicals was their halting of the polio eradication campaign several years ago (by spreading the rumor that the polio vaccine was actually part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize Moslem children.) This caused the polio to spread again in Nigeria, and several other countries. Thousands of additional Nigerian children got the disease, and hundreds were crippled or killed. Most parents figured out what was going on, and the vaccinations were allowed to continue. Although discredited by this, the Islamic radicals were undeterred, and have now gambled big on establishing an Islamic state by force.
July 26, 2009: There has been another outbreak of pro-Taliban violence in the Moslem north. It all began with a group of "Nigerian Taliban" attacked a police station, apparently with the intention of stealing weapons and police equipment. The police defeated that attack, leaving 42 dead. More attacks against government buildings and Christians (churches and businesses), followed. The Islamic radicals belong to a group called Boko Haram (translates as "Western education is sinfull"), which is following in the footsteps of an earlier group called Al Sunna wal Jamma. But many young Nigerians, angry at the corruption and resulting economic malaise (and unemployment) have joined in the violence, and some light looting.
All this has happened before. The pro-Taliban Al Sunna wal Jamma group was founded five years ago by Moslem university students, apparently with some foreign money. But it was mostly just another expression of the Islamic radicalism that was becoming popular up north. This movement pushed the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law in the north, as a means of dealing with the corruption in government, and society in general. Many northern states actually switched to Sharia law, but the corruption remained, now cloaked in Islamic rectitude. Thus the Islamic radical movements survived, but were unable to muster the armed strength to take on the police or army. The last flare up was in late 2007. Earlier that year, a northern newspaper editor had been caught taking $300,000 in payments from Sudanese sources, to publish pro-Islamic radical material. There have been few attempts by Islamic radicals to move into Nigeria, and all have failed so far. The government has generally ignored the religious activities of the "Nigerian Taliban", and their efforts to get people to live a righteous, austere, Moslem lifestyle. That don't really fly in Nigeria, much to the frustration of local Islamic radicals. An armed uprising in 2004 left several hundred dead, and the Nigerian Taliban broken, but not entirely destroyed. The current violence is their attempt at a comeback.