Nigeria: Panic At The Top

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October 2, 2010: The government is in a panic because yesterday's terror attack was well planned, and it was not against a target in the Niger delta, but in the capital. The delta rebels have threatened for months that government failure to hold up their end of the deal would lead to a resumption of violence. Although some 20,000 rebels surrendered in the past year, many thousands of the hard core rebels either did not surrender, or kept some of their weapons. The current violence is also the result of corruption in the rebel leadership. Some of the money provided by the government for the rebels, never went beyond the leaders that were supposed to distribute it. Rebel leaders have warned that some factions are more intent on resuming attacks than others. Meanwhile, many rebels continued to earn money by stealing oil from pipelines. Some rebels have obviously changed tactics. This included attacks outside the delta using car bombs, and, many government officials fear, the assassination of corrupt members of the government.

The government has deployed thousands of its best troops and intelligence operatives in the delta, where they have used patrols and other intelligence collecting efforts to find out where MEND camps tend to be out in the delta marshland. This was followed by an increasing number of attacks on rebel camps. That sort of thing convinced many rebels to accept the amnesty offer last year. But now the most dangerous MEND operatives have apparently moved outside the delta. They will be hard to find, and even more difficult to stop.

October 1, 2010: Three bombs went off in the capital, killing fifteen people, during celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence. Niger delta rebel group MEND took responsibility. MEND pointed out that life in Nigeria has gotten worse in the past half century. Half a century ago, Nigeria had higher per capita income than many East Asian nations, like South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. Now, Nigeria is far behind these nations. Many blame it on oil. In the last 38 years, the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,200 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.

The general climate of corruption affects everything. For example, there is so much corruption, and delays, in running the ports that importers are diverting shipments to neighboring nations, and trucking the goods into Nigeria. And then there is the declining availability of Internet service. Higher government fees (and bribes demanded), plus more irregular electricity supply, are causing Internet cafes and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to go out of business because of a lack of customers. The corruption and lawless attitude have been an even bigger tragedy in the oil producing region (the Niger river delta.) In the last four years, there have been over 3,000 oil spills, ruining farmland and killing people when they catch fire. Most of the oil spills are caused by oil theft (cutting or drilling into the oil pipelines and stealing the oil for sale to smugglers who take it to neighboring nations and sell it.)

Most Nigerians acknowledge that the corruption is the root cause of its problems, and agree that something has to be done about the stealing and general dishonesty. More corrupt officials are being prosecuted, including  senior ones. But the number of corrupt officials is vast, and they are fighting back with lawyers, bribed judges and armed thugs. It's going to be a long war, and victory is not assured. MEND is mainly concerned with gaining some relief for the people in the oil production areas of the Niger delta. The government promised all sorts of relief last Fall, to gain a truce. But the government did not deliver, so MEND is on the move again.

September 27, 2010: In the southeast (Abia State), gunmen kidnapped fifteen 3-10 year old students (in a school bus) and held them for $130,000 ransom. This is a prosperous Christian area, and the locals raised a stink with the government. Thus 5,000 soldiers, and more police, were sent in to hunt down the kids and kidnappers. The children were rescued four days later. There were no arrests, and officials said no ransom was paid. Abia state is adjacent to the Niger delta, and the kidnappers are suspected of being rebels from the delta area. But the kidnappers could be locals, because kidnapping is becoming a more common crime.

September 21, 2010: Off the Niger delta, four foreign oil workers (three French, one Thai) were kidnapped from work ships off the coast. This form of piracy (kidnapping, and looting ships of portable goods) is growing more common off the Nigerian coast.

In the north, two attackers on a motorcycle murdered a local chief, and another man, with gunfire. The attackers were believed Islamic terrorists belonging to the Boko Haram group (which has become more active in the past few months.)

 

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