Nigeria: Peace At A Price

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December 15, 2009: The truce in the Niger Delta appears to be holding. Many of the gunmen have been disarmed, and their leaders bought off (and allowed to concentrate on stealing oil). The increasing violence of separatists and oil theft gangs has subsided for some four months now. But many of the now peaceful "rebels" have turned to more mundane crimes. There are more robberies and kidnappings. And the oil gangs continue to tap into pipelines and steal crude oil. Incidents of pipelines being damaged (either by taps, for stealing the stuff, or explosions to damage the pipe and make a political point) are down by more than half in the last four months. In the last year, most (about 60 percent of some 500 attacks) of the damage was done by terror attacks, the rest by thieves. The terror attacks have disappeared over the last four months, but the damage from thieves has increased a bit. Stealing oil is still a big business, but it does not interfere with oil company efforts to increase production.

The kidnapping is increasingly about locals, as the more lucrative foreigners are much better protected now. The navy has had mixed success against the pirates, and waterborne crime in general. The government has tried removing officers who are clearly incompetent, or unwilling to make an effort. Corruption is a problem in the military as well, and some officers have been caught taking bribes from the people they are supposed to be fighting.

One bit of good news is the reduction in polio cases this year (to 349, from 789 last year). Islamic conservatives up north have been preaching against polio vaccinations for years (on the assumption that the medicine is actually a Christian plot to poison Moslems). Polio can be wiped out, like smallpox was back in the 1970s, if you can vaccinate everyone in areas where the disease still exists (as polio and smallpox are diseases that can only live in human hosts). But the Islamic conservatives have been a major barrier to eliminating polio. The current wave of Islamic conservatism was only getting started back in the 1970s.

The anti-corruption effort is having more success overseas, than at home. The network of banks, lawyers, accountants and other Westerners who helped hide the stolen Nigerian billions, are being uncovered and prosecuted. The banks and guilty agents are giving up large sums of money. But one concern is preventing the money from being stolen again once it is returned to Nigerian control. There's certainly little visible evidence that the recovered cash is doing anything useful. The most visible evidence of this is in the nation's 200,000 kilometers of roads. As the corruption got worse over the last few decades, road building and maintenance spending declined. The evidence is very visible if you try to drive anywhere. The government has promised to spend more on roads next year, but the amounts promised will not stop the decline, only slow it down a bit. That's assuming the money allocated for road work actually reaches the roads. While there are some alternatives to the roads, like waterways and air travel, these also have growing problems. The coastal seas are increasingly threatened by pirates. African air travel is the most dangerous in the world, because of low standards in maintenance and aircraft operation.

 

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