Nigeria: Rebels Demand a Bribe

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January 20, 2008: The main rebel group in the Niger Delta, MEND, has offered a ceasefire, if their leader, Henry Okah, was released from prison. Okah was arrested last year in Angola, where he had gone to buy weapons for MEND. Okah was arrested on gunrunning charges and is still imprisoned in Angola. MEND is the most visible rebel group, but not the only one. There are over a dozen groups, most of them based on one (of many) clans of the Ijaw tribe (which predominates in the oil producing areas.) These "rebels" engage in many criminal activities (stealing oil from pipeline being the most lucrative one), and attack oil facilities. Recently, this included a fire on an oil tanker (which appears to be an accident that MEND simply took credit for, claiming having agents on the ship) and an attack on a supply boat going to an offshore oil platform. All this is having an impact. Over the last two years, these attacks halted 20 percent of daily oil shipments (about half a million barrels per day). So far this year, another 100,000 barrels a day has been halted, and an increasing number of foreign suppliers have either raised their prices, or refused to do business in Nigeria until the violence is reduced. For example, Nigeria was second only to Somalia in pirate attacks last year.

But MEND threatens to use new weapons. There has been one crude roadside bomb attack this year (which wounded two and damaged a vehicle). The local state government is not intimidated, and has refused to comply with any rebel demands, and will only agree to a ceasefire if the rebels disarm. The rebels would only do this if the government paid them enough money. In effect, the government would buy the rebels weapons, and would have to pay much more than market value. The government believes that many of the rebels would go right back to lawless behavior. The ceasefire deal is basically MEND demanding a bribe to quiet down for a while.

Meanwhile, a tribal war has broken out on the Cameroon border, with tribes on either side of the frontier battling over land ownership. The fighting is taking place in a very remote area (no roads, for example), and information is spotty.

 

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