Nigeria: Scamming The Peace Deal

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July 20, 2009:  The government and the MEND rebels have two months to implement an amnesty and negotiate a peace deal. Currently, the government in the Niger Delta gets 13 percent of oil income. the oil producing region only contains fifteen percent of the nation's population. MEND wants more of that money, at least 25 percent. Moreover, MEND wants most, if not nearly all, of the money to actually get to the people in the Niger Delta. That is not likely to happen.

In the last 38 years, the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,190 billion) in oil revenue, most of which has been stolen or misused. This corruption is the main cause of the unrest in the country, especially the oil producing areas. Since 1980, the poverty rate (the percentage of people living on less than $400 a year) has gone from 28 percent to over 60 percent today. About five percent of the population lives on over $1,000 a year, and these are usually connected with the corrupt politicians who have stolen all that oil wealth. For over four decades, the oil money has been going to about twenty percent of the population, leaving most of the rest worse off today than they were half a century ago, before the oil was discovered. The people in the Niger Delta are up in arms because most of them have not benefited from the oil production, but have suffered from the oil spills and other disruptions that accompany oil drilling and shipping.

The four decades of theft have left the national infrastructure (roads, water supplies, power production, etc) in ruins. There is a very real fear that even if MEND gets a large concession out of the government (as in 25 percent of oil revenue), the MEND leaders and the politicians will steal most of it. It's suspected that this has already started, as government officials are talking about up to 20,000 rebels participating in the amnesty program (and receiving over $1,000, plus some other benefits.) But people who have been watching this rebellion regularly believe that there are, at most, a few thousand armed gangsters and "rebels" in the Delta, and that the amnesty is shaping up as another scam where government officials will walk away with most of the money (over $120 million has been allocated for amnesty expenses). Unless there is a dramatic change in government behavior, this amnesty program and peace negotiation will fail, and the fighting will resume before the end of the year.

July 15, 2009: MEND declared a 60 day truce so that peace negotiations with the government could be conducted. In response, the military called off their operations (mainly searching for MEND camps and safe houses.) MEND later complained that some military units had apparently not gotten the message.

July 14, 2009: MEND leader Henry Okah told the government that MEND attacks would continue until the government negotiated a better economic deal for the people in the delta.

July 13, 2009: MEND leader Henry Okah has been freed from jail after accepting the government amnesty. All charges were withdrawn. Just before this happened, MEND fighters attacked an oil facility inside Lagos (the largest city in the Niger Delta), and blew up a loading dock. At least five sailors guarding the facility were killed trying to stop the MEND group. The problem with the military operations against MEND was that, while MEND camps could be found and attacked, MEND members also had access to the homes and commercial buildings owned by supportive friends, family and tribal allies. MEND could thus hide speedboats, guns and explosives, and still make attacks on the pipelines and oil loading facilities.

July 10, 2009: Jailed MEND leader Henry Okah has accepted the government amnesty offer. In his case, this means he would soon be freed from jail (after two years), which has long been a MEND demand. Meanwhile, MEND claims to have destroyed a pipeline section that they had just been repaired (after an earlier attack). This was done to show that the security forces could not stop MEND from cutting the pipelines that take oil to tankers offshore. MEND said they waited until repairs were completed before blowing up the pipeline again.

July 9, 2009:  The navy has recovered a chemical tanker that MEND gunmen seized four days ago. While MEND has not accepted the government's amnesty offer, some armed men in the Delta are willing to do it now. The amnesty terms have been left a bit vague, but generally involve the government paying hundreds of dollars to men who turn in a weapon and promise to behave. The number of those eligible for amnesty is put at 10,000-20,000. But more knowledgeable analysts believe that the actual number of MEND gunmen is less than a thousand, and perhaps only a few hundred.

July 8, 2009:  MEND has continued its attacks on pipelines, setting off bombs at key locations in the pipeline network that takes the oil to loading sites for tankers.

July 5, 2009: Rebels attacked a major oil pumping facility in the Niger Delta. Meanwhile, about 30 kilometers offshore, a chemical tanker was attacked by rebels in speedboats. The disruptions to oil production operations has put over 10,000 oil workers out of work.

July 4, 2009: The latest round of attacks on pipelines and pumping stations has halted movement of a million barrels a day of oil. This puts the government under a lot of pressure to make a deal. This is even more urgent because the government has just signed on to help build (with Niger and Algeria) a $10 billion natural gas pipeline from the Niger River Delta to Algeria, for shipment to Europe. MEND threatens to sabotage this project unless the government pays off the rebels and improves conditions in the delta.

 

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