Nigeria: The Danger Zone


March 23, 2009: The oil stealing gangs in the Niger Delta are increasing their attacks on the military, in response to unusually high police and military activity against the oil gangs last month. What really has the oil bandits stirred up was the loss of 24 barges last month, to navy and army raids on oil gang operations. While the military crackdown in the Niger Delta has been going on for five years, bribes, stealth and intimidation have limited the success of the military. But lately, pressure from politicians and the media has motivated the troops to actually do some damage on the oil theft gangs. And now the gangsters vow to strike back.

The lawlessness is common throughout the country, spurred by high unemployment, an abundance of attractive consumer goods on sale for those with jobs, and a shortage of well trained, incorruptible police. In response to this, there have been more vigilante groups appearing. Some of these hunt down and punish (torture or kill) known criminals. Other vigilante groups are officially recognized, sometimes receiving a few days training from the police. These vigilantes turn captured criminals over to the police, with the unspoken threat that the vigilantes will impose their own form of justice if the courts do not. The vigilantes have reduced crime in many parts of the country. But not in the chaotic and violent Niger Delta oil region. And in places where the vigilantes succeed, corruption often eventually weakens the volunteer groups, and destroys their effectiveness.

Many of the gangs in the Niger Delta have been tamed by the payment of  monthly "allowances." But the current global recession, and decline in oil prices, has led to a sharp reduction in the amount of money available to bribe gangsters to behave. So the Bayelsa state government has requested more troops be sent, as the seven gang camps that have been receiving the $700,000  in monthly allowances, will soon not be getting them, and the thousands of gunmen will not be happy.

After six years of rising polio cases in the north, Islamic conservatives are on the defensive, and no longer openly discouraging parents from allowing their children to be vaccinated against polio. The problem began in 2003, when some conservative Moslem clerics in the north decided that the polio vaccinations (administered by putting a drop of vaccine on the tongue) were actually a plot to make Moslem women sterile and to spread AIDS. Thousands of kids did not get vaccinated. After a year of that, about half the polio cases on the planet occurred in Nigeria. This resistance to vaccination  has stymied the planet wide effort (costing over $5 billion so far) to eradicate polio (which can only exist in a human host). But if the Islamic clerics continue their support for vaccinations for a few years, the disease could be completely destroyed.

Growing shortages of petroleum products in the Niger Delta are largely the result of delivery pipelines being shut down because of the damage done by thieves drilling holes. Thus the petroleum products must be delivered by barge or tanker. These vessels must be closely guarded, as they are prime targets for gangs of bandits.

March 22, 2009:  An oil pipeline had to be shut down because of sabotage, or oil thieves getting sloppy while drilling into the pipe to steal oil.

March 21, 2009: A oil services boat was attacked by two pirate boats and 30 pirates. The four foreigners running the oil services boat were kidnapped.

March 16, 2009: For the second time in four days, several boatloads of gunmen attacked a oil facility in the Niger Delta. These facilities are well guarded, and these attacks usually just result in a lot of gunfire, and some bullet damage. But the bullets, and the growing kidnapping activity, make it increasingly difficult to recruit foreign technicians to keep the oil flowing. Even with a growing global recession, Nigeria has a reputation as a lawless place where the risk isn't worth whatever the oil companies are paying. At least not for the people with the skills that are needed.




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