Nigeria: The Discreet Foreign Mercenaries

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October 18,2008:  The oil stealing gangs in the Niger Delta have not been able to build  wide support, mainly because the gangs are criminals and often act that way towards locals. Increased police and military activity, and the plunging price of oil has sharply cut the income of the gangs. This has led many of the gang members to supplement their income by stealing other stuff, usually from the easiest targets. That means the banks and big companies, with all their security guards, are avoided in favor of stealing from the less well off. This is bad for the public image of the oil gangs. But there is no high command of the gangs, no way to control the thousands of young gunmen looking to replace lost oil income. For example, gangs are running a protection racket on the larger fishing boats, forcing them to pay a fee for the right to fish in an area without being attacked. The navy has been unable to provide enough patrol boats to protect all the fishing boats (who then continue to pay the extortion fees.)

Over the last year, the oil industry has bought dozens of patrol boats, and paid the military to supply weapons and crews. The companies decide where the boats will operate, which is basically around the company facilities. Although the government has a program to build new patrol boats locally, this is not expected to produce additional boats any time soon. The companies cannot wait, and went to Western boat brokers to buy second-hand military boats. The Nigerians are particularly hostile to foreign military contractors, so there are few of those, and used mainly to supervise the Nigerian officers and troops who are hired (while still receiving their military pay) to guard specific oil production facilities.

Meanwhile, the government officials are as corrupt as ever, despite the many senior officials who are being prosecuted. The problem is that few, if any, of these officials will go to jail. They will spend their stolen money on bribes and lawyers, and get off. The lower level officials, who do a lot of the stealing (you need to bribe most civil servants to get anything done), are still very much in business.

Oil exports for this month are averaging about 1.89 million barrels a day. If there are no major new attacks on the oil industry, production next month should go to 1.95 million barrels a day. It will be a year or more before production gets back to the potential max of 2.5 million barrels a day.

Cameroon is increasing its defenses along the 1,700 frontier with Nigeria. This is in response to a September 28 attack by Nigerian criminals. Storming ashore from speedboats, heavily armed Nigerian gangsters robbed four banks (using explosives to get at the cash), killed one person and roared off. Cameroon will install radar along the coast near Nigeria and increase naval patrols. There will also be cooperation and coordination with the Nigerian military and police, to fight the seaborne gangsters. The new violence comes in the wake of Cameroonian troops moving in to the Bakassi peninsula. This is the final part of a two year process of turning Bakassi over to Cameroon. This oil rich area used to be Nigerian, but an international court awarded it to Cameroon. Nigeria began handing it over two years ago, but some Nigerian groups have continued to fight for a return to Nigerian rule. The Nigerian gangs are taking advantage of the less well armed and numerous Cameroon security forces.

October 15, 2008: In the Niger Delta, six speedboats full of pirates attacked a navy gunboat, with the object of capturing it and stealing its machine-guns and other weapons. The dusk attack failed, as the patrol boat crew sank two of the speedboats and forced the others to flee. One soldier was killed and two wounded.

 

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