Nigeria: Not For Sale?

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July 24, 2008: The government has accepted a British offer of military trainers and security advice. The Nigerians consider their armed forces one of the better trained and led in Africa. But that's not saying much, as the military training and leadership levels in Africa are very low, often to the point of complete ineffectiveness. Nigeria uses Britain as a model for its military, as Britain was the former colonial power in the region and helped establish the Nigerian military half a century ago. But the corruption that is endemic to the region eventually had its way with the armed forces. Leadership and training have suffered. But U.S. training teams (to improve peacekeeping and counter-terror skills) have been in Nigeria during the last decade, and report that the armed forces are not completely demoralized and debilitated by the corruption, and with some intense training, and elimination of the most corrupt officers, combat capabilities would be much improved.

In the Niger Delta,  Bonny Island, the site of a gas liquefaction (for shipment in refrigerated boats to foreign customers) plant being built, is filled with soldiers, and armed local rebels. The rebels had told non-Ijaw people (Nigerian and foreign) to get off the island, or be attacked. Many complied, and troops were sent in to restore order. But the rebels would not cooperate, avoiding the troops, but not leaving the island (which many of them were native to.) The government fears that disruptive confrontations like this will spread, further limiting oil production.

MEND leaders were indignant at accusations that they had accepted a $12 million bribe from the government to refrain from attacking oil facilities. MEND now threatens to destroy several main pipelines in the next month, to prove they were not bought off. But government and oil company officials insist that large payments were made to criminal gangs, to help with pipeline security.  Paying off locals to prevent damage to oil facilities is an old custom in the region. The rumors also indicate that much of the $12 million was pocketed by government officials, which further enrages the locals.

The government admits that it could ship another 1.2 million barrels of oil a day if the unrest in the Niger Delta would go away. It's believed that about 100,000 barrels of oil are actually stolen daily in the delta. At current prices, that comes to $13 million worth a day, and over $4.7 billion a year. The oil thieves get only about ten percent of that (and various middle men 30-40 percent), but that still comes to nearly half a billion dollars a year for gangs that concentrate on stealing oil. That buys a lot of guns, speedboats, cars and consumer goods to encourage recruitment. So far, the army has not been able to halt the oil theft (usually accomplished by just punching a hole in a pipeline). Thus the numbers of well paid gangsters and rebels in the region increases month by month.

July 20, 2008: The MEND rebels in the Niger Delta are trying to position themselves as a provider of law and order. They are doing this by acting as an intermediary in finding, and getting released, foreign kidnap victims. Many kidnappings are done by criminals, not operations like MEND (which are still financed by oil theft, and some kidnappings.) MEND prefers to use its kidnap victims first to try and get something from the government (like the release of MEND members) and to only take ransom as a backup plan.

July 18, 2008: An eighth former state governor was indicted for corruption. The anti-corruption campaign has also indicted several senior federal officials. But Nigerians are well aware that the indicted are using all those stolen millions to hire lawyers, and bribe enough people, to walk free. It is feared that many will get away with doing just that. This could lead to vigilantes seeking permanent justice, and bloody civil disorder that the government could not handle.

July 17, 2008: In the Niger Delta, villagers destroyed a pipeline carrying 47,000 barrels a day to offshore loading facilities. While some of this oil was then stolen, it's rare for oil theft gangs to blow up a section of pipeline. Tribal spokesmen in the area said this attack was to protest government inaction in improving the lives of Ijaw (the dominant tribe in the region) villages.

Labor unions representing oil workers in the Niger Delta have threatened to go on strike if the government does not improve security in the region. Criminal gangs see oil workers as a local elite, guys with good paying jobs who are easy prey for robbery or kidnapping. While the oil workers are well paid, they are not rich, and are very uncomfortable with the attention they are getting from the criminal gangs.

 

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