Nigeria: Growing Violence Over Oil Wealth

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March 17, 2007: Over the last month, 31 foreign oil workers have been freed, apparently after the payment of ransom. The government usually denies that ransom is paid, but that is hard to believe. The prisoners are not freed until after long (sometimes months long) negotiations. Some of the kidnapping gangs make political demands, and these are rarely met. So the only incentive to free the captives is ransom, and that is apparently being paid with the condition that the details be kept secret. Europeans and Americans are apparently worth several hundred thousand dollars each, captives from other parts of the world, much less. In the last fifteen months, about a hundred foreign oil workers have been taken by gangs in the Niger Delta. The oil companies have beefed up security, but it's become difficult to recruit the skilled people needed to run the oil operations. About a quarter of production is currently halted because of criminal and terrorist activity. Government attempts to negotiate a peace deal have failed because there are too many tribal chiefs and gang bosses to get a comprehensive deal with. But the locals are increasingly insistent that they get their share of the oil being extracted from their neighborhood. The current anti-corruption drive has revealed that about 40 percent of government expenditures is stolen by officials. Most of the government's revenue come from oil taxes and fees (about $40 billion last year). But the government is losing at least 20 percent of that, so far, this year because of the unrest in the Niger Delta. The coming elections are likely to put a Moslem northerner in office as president. That would mean a less sympathetic attitude towards the troublesome tribes of the Niger Delta.

March 15, 2007: After long negotiations, kidnappers released two Italians who had been seized last December.

March 12, 2007: Police raided a neighborhood in Port Harcourt (in the Niger Delta) and rescued three foreign oil workers (two Croats and a Montenegrin) who had been kidnapped last month.

March 9, 2007: Damage to pipelines and pumping stations has halted the export of 664,000 barrels of oil a day (worth about $40 million). Most of the damage is done by gangs stealing the oil, at least until the army and repair crews show up.

 

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