Nigeria: Slavery Returns


September 24, 2009: The government is losing a billion dollars of revenue a month (over a million barrels of oil not shipping each day) as long as the rebels and oil thieves in the Niger Delta continue to exist. This gets the governments attention, but not necessarily enough to produce a workable solution. The amnesty deal, which has an October 4th deadline (to surrender and get paid) is being ignored by most of the rebels. They want more money, and they want further benefits guaranteed. The rebels believe, with some justification, that most of the amnesty benefits will be stolen by corrupt officials. That's what usually happens with government benefit programs, and the amnesty program seems headed in the same direction. Several rebel leaders are demanding that the amnesty deadline be extended three months and peace talks commence to insure that terms of any deal are met. The rebels do not trust the government to deal with them honestly, and are willing to keep fighting if a mutually agreeable deal is not negotiated, and carried out.

A rapidly growing Nigerian export are sex slaves. Young women are deceived or coerced into being smuggled into Europe or the Persian Gulf to work in brothels. Several thousand women are shipped north each year, up from a few hundred per annum a few years ago. The smuggling gangs find that sex slaves are more profitable than drugs and guns, and entail less risk from the police.

In an attempt to curb oil theft, the government is now demanding that all ships in coastal waters carry an AIS (Automatic Identification System), which is similar to the transponders that all commercial (and many private) aircraft carry to identify them to ground controllers. International treaties mandate AIS for all oceangoing (300 gross tons or more, and all passenger vessels of any size) ships, in international waters. Nigeria wants to crack down on smuggling, particularly oil smuggling, by mandating AIS in their coastal waters. The military would then be able to concentrate on ships without AIS as suspicious and probably up to no good. But the likely outcome that most ship owners will ignore the order. AIS units can be bought for under $1,000 dollars, but that is a lot of money for Nigerian owners of small ships. Meanwhile, the government has ordered the military to use more violence against oil smugglers, who have taken more frequent use of more firepower to escape capture. This is especially true with the small oil tankers and barges that transport the stolen oil to adjacent countries for sale to brokers who will "launder" the oil into the international oil market.

There are still several thousand followers of (now dead or imprisoned) Shia religious radicals in the north. A recent Shia religious celebration turned violent, and at least one worshipper died when the police intervened. Although deprived of their senior leaders, the radical Shia are developing new leadership. But at the moment, there are several factions, with many wannabe leaders maneuvering for the top spot. Some of these factions are believed to be planning more violence. These Nigerian "Taliban" are down, but not gone.

Anti-corruption forces are coming to acknowledge that there will be no quick fix. Right now, most of those who are prosecuted, buy their way out of any serious punishment. Looking at successful anti-corruption efforts in the rest of the world (especially East Asia and Europe), the Nigerians have concluded that it will probably take more than a generation (several decades) of intense effort to clean up the mess in Nigeria.


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