Nigeria: The Empire Strikes Back

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March 9,2008: Last April's elections were marked by violence (by armed gangs supporting candidates) and fraud. The anti-corruption movement had the support of the courts, and dozens of those elections have been challenged, many successfully. The political gangs have backed off, not willing to test the resolve of the police and army. Seven of 36 state governor elections have been overturned because of vote rigging.

Up north, Islamic radicals are on the defensive, as polio cases declined 75 percent in the past year, the result of the vaccination campaign. Islamic radicals had, over the past few years, gotten many conservative clergy to preach against allowing children to get polio vaccinations. This interrupted a world wide effort to wipe out polio. Like smallpox (which was wiped out in a similar campaign three decades ago) the polio virus can only survive in human hosts. If enough vulnerable people (mostly kids) are vaccinated against polio, then polio has nowhere to survive, and joins smallpox as an extinct disease. The Islamic campaign against vaccinations (which were accused of being a secret plan to sterilize female children) caused a resurgence of polio cases worldwide, and a major loss of credibility for the Islamic radicals. The vaccinations resumed last year, after vigorous efforts by Nigerian politicians, and the sharp drop in polio cases, is yet another setback for the Islamic conservatives who thrive on anti-Western paranoia.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has come out and stated what most Nigerians already know, that Nigeria has wasted the first three decades worth of oil income. Corruption and ineffective spending decisions, up through the late 1990s, left the country with little or no infrastructure (roads, water works, power plants), and half the population still living in poverty. While the corruption has declined, poor spending habits persist. Using government "do-nothing" jobs as patronage (which is actually a form of corruption), is considered a useful make-work program, and is difficult to go after.

Attempts to negotiate a peace deal with militants in the Niger Delta have failed because the various tribal militants cannot agree on who represents who. Because the delta militants are based on criminal gangs (whose main source of income is stealing oil, robbery and kidnapping), their priority, if they wish to maintain their fighting strength, is making money. Fighting for "the people" is all well and good, but if you don't meet the payroll, you have no one to do the fighting. The war in the delta goes on quietly, with the government building up security that the gangs are having a harder time breaching. The gangs are getting more violent, as it becomes more difficult to make a dishonest dollar. Kidnappings, for example, are way down. While 150 foreigners (mainly oil technicians) were kidnapped last year. So far this year, only one has been taken (and quickly released.)

Royal Dutch Shell, a major oil producer in the delta, has recovered from attacks on its production and pipeline facilities, which had shut down a lot of oil shipments over the last month. While you still hear gunfire and explosions around oil facilities, these now tend to be failed attacks, or the sound of army and police raids on the gangs.

 

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