Nigeria: The Power Of Plunder


October 26, 2012: Oil, or any natural resources bonanza, has proved to be a curse to less-developed nations. Nigeria is one of the worst examples. The temptation to steal that money is irresistible to many and the result is pockets of luxury surrounded by a sea of poverty. About half the population doesn’t even have electricity. Roads, schools, hospitals and all sorts of infrastructure are in short supply. Even the oil industry infrastructure is plundered, which is why Nigeria only produces about half as much oil (two million barrels a day) that it is capable of. Even that is enough to account for 95 percent of exports and 40 percent of the federal budget.

In the last year the government tried, for the first time, to accurately count the losses in the oil industry. The conclusion was that the theft, from pipelines and government bank accounts, amounted to over $10 billion a year in the last decade. The annual GDP of Nigeria is $238 billion, for a population of 165 million ($1,440 per capita). Oil accounts for about 14 percent of GDP and unemployment is currently about 25 percent. The report revealed, in detail and for all to see, what a lot of Nigerians had known for a long time. The theft is so pervasive (40 percent of refined petroleum products are stolen) that the activity is hard to miss. Eliminating the stealing will be difficult, because most politicians and political parties are financed by stolen oil money. The well-funded thieves are organized and determined to hang on to their wealth. Judges and police can be bought and many oil thieves have already been prosecuted and escaped. But there is progress. The oil thieves are under attack, some do lose, but the war will go on for years and there will be a lot of defeats.

In the north there is more and more popular hostility to Boko Haram. The Islamic radicals, despite pledges to clean up corruption and a lot of other problems, are being seen as a cure worse than the disease. As a result police are getting more tips about where Boko Haram members and equipment are hidden.   

Investigations into how Boko Haram gets its weapons revealed that many of them come in via southern ports, taking advantage of corrupt customs officials. Smuggling is a big business and the bribed port officials usually don’t check to see that they are letting in illegally.

In the north police have uncovered a criminal gang that was pretending to be Boko Haram and killing southerners who refused to pay a large amount of cash to get off the hit list. Most paid but enough did not to leave a suspicious pattern of murdered people.

Nigeria and Niger have agreed to conduct joint patrols and coordinate operations along their 1,400 kilometer border, the better to limit Boko Haram movements.

October 21, 2012: In the northeast (Potiskum in Yobe State) the expected Boko Haram attacks took place, leaving over 30 dead and several government buildings burned down over the last two days. Thousands of people have begun leaving the city of Potiskum, which is 230 kilometers west of the Boko Haram stronghold of Maiduguri.

October 19, 2012: In the north (Borno State) a Boko Haram leader (Shuaibu Mohammed Bama) was arrested in the home of a politician (senator Ahmed Zanna) who had been suspected of supporting Boko Haram. Politicians have long been known to make deals with criminal organizations, and Boko Haram is no exception.

In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, troops battled Boko Haram attackers, leaving at least six dead (including a Chinese man shot down by Boko Haram).

October 18, 2012: In the northeast (Yobe State) an army raid hit a new Boko Haram hideout as the group was preparing to launch new attacks.


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