The military, noting how important oil theft
profits are to the Niger Delta rebels, has stepped up efforts to cut off that
source of cash. Now that the navy has taken care of its corruption problem,
most of the oil smuggling ships are captured or in hiding. Oil theft is still a
big business, but now the stolen oil has to be trucked out, cutting deeply into
profits. The army is also seizing trucks suspected of moving stolen oil. The police are also exploiting widespread
fear of the oil theft gangs. This is the result of many illegal pipeline taps
catching fire, killing nearby civilians and sometimes burning down villages.
The villagers are willing to provide police with information about the oil
theft gangs, and that has led to more oil gangsters getting arrested, and their
bases raided. The increased police activity also led to the arrest of two
German and one American aid workers, who were assisting one of the criminal
gangs (MEND) in their political activities. At the same time, MEND is issuing a
stream of press releases that deny responsibility for various crimes in the
area, especially kidnappings of foreigners.
The growth of the separatist
groups in the Niger Delta has been accompanied by a growing number of criminal
gangs. Many of these specialize in things like kidnapping or bank robbery. The
police have responded with special police units to go after the specialized
gangsters. Some of the gangs are apparently composed of recent deserters from
the army, who saw all the money being made with kidnapping and oil theft, and
decided to join in. These troops skipped off with their uniforms, weapons, and,
in some cases, vehicles.
The gangs are not going to
give up their wealth, power, and guns, so easily. But at the moment, the gangs
are on the defensive.