Nigeria: War In The Streets

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December 1, 2007: While the growing rebellion in the Niger River Delta oil region gets most of the headlines, the violence is increasing everywhere. Crime, especially armed robbery, is growing. In the last three months, police confronted thousands of armed robbery gangs. While most of these suspects fled, 785 of them were killed (along with 62 police) in gun battles, while 1,857 were arrested. But the police are so inept and corrupt, that more armed robbery gangs appear, and look for unguarded, and lucrative, places to rob. This has led to a sharp increase in the use of private security. The robbers will go elsewhere if they see armed guards. This has worked for oil operations in the delta. Every week there are reports of a few attempts to raid an oil facility (for loot and hostages to ransom.) The raiders get shot at, maybe lose a few people, and are forced to flee.

The government continues to have a hard time getting police and military to put criminals out of business, and not compete with the crooks. Additional Navy investigators are constantly being sent to the delta to look for officers and sailors who are stealing from the oil thieves and kidnappers, rather than arresting the criminals. Army troops have similar problems with gangs that are ready to offer bribes to be left alone. It's easy money and hard to resist.

While tribal and political violence kill about 2 per 100,000 people a year, crime kills more than ten times that. Still, the death rate is less than in South Africa (50 per 100,000), which is about what it is in Iraq right now. Islamic terrorism never took off in Nigeria, while in southern Thailand it kills 80 per 100,000 people a year. The most dismal aspect of life in Nigeria is the corruption, and high crime rates. The failure of government doesn't kill as much as it demoralizes. Even the attempt in the Moslem north, to use strict application of Islamic law to clean things up, failed. Popular opinion turned against this attempt to impose virtue, and laws were passed limiting the power of religious (Sharia) law and its enforcers.

 

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