Nigeria: December 25, 2003

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Fearing that Islamic radical gangs are organizing in the north, earlier this week, police raided two Islamic schools in the central Nigerian city of Jos.  Three people were killed and two wounded in the operation. Central Nigeria is now the scene of the most violence between Christians and Moslems, as this is where you have the largest amount of mixing between Christian and Moslem populations. Further south, oil, gangsters and tribal rivalries continue to cause death and mayhem. Heavily armed young men from the Ijaw and Itsekiri tribes travel through the coastal delta region, stealing oil and shooting at each other. In nine months of this violence, the government has sent in over 3,000 soldiers. This has reduced the mayhem to the point where oil production is at 90 percent of capacity, rather than 60 percent last Summer, before most of the troops arrived. The government is still inefficient and corrupt when it comes to spending its oil revenues. So a drop in oil revenues hurts corrupt politicians more than ordinary citizens. The tribes of the Delta region have found that they can get benefit from the oil by stealing it. Tapping into pipelines, the crude oil is put in small boats or trucks and brought to larger ships where middlemen buy the crude and then bribe their way out of the area (if they encounter the Nigerian navy) and sell the crude oil at ports in neighboring countries. It's estimated that about ten percent of Nigeria's oil production is lost this way. That's a billion dollars a year at current oil prices, although the Delta gangs get as little as half of that. Still, that's a lot of money for an unemployed teenager with an AK-47 and a speedboat (the two things a young Delta guy wants to get a hold of.) That much money is also worth fighting and dying for. The Ijaw have taken the lead in organizing oil stealing gangs, giving them a numbers and firepower edge over the other tribes. But the gangs also battle each other, regardless of tribal affiliation. There are dozens of gangs and thousands of gang members, although for many the participation is part time and sporadic. The oil gang violence has left several hundred dead in the past year, but has made many more rich, or much better off economically. The country is in danger of being torn apart by disputes over oil wealth and religious supremacy.

 

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