Nigeria: Show Me The (Oil) Money


July 2, 2008: The newly elected government is paying more attention to legal procedure in its pursuit of corrupt officials. But everyone is finding that the previous president made a virtue of cutting corners and getting things done (like cutting inflation, paying off the foreign debt, eliminating legal and financial obstacles that hobbled agriculture, and building power plants). But the cut corners allowed a lot of the corruption to go on, and the new government is less interested in continuing economic reform, than in seeing that the legal process is strictly followed. Maybe that's what Nigeria needs, but the corrupt politicians have proved remarkably adaptive.

Meanwhile, northern politicians blame southern leaders for allowing the situation to get out of control in the oil region, losing billions of dollars worth of oil exports, money that is shared by all. Corrupt politicians cannot steal money for oil that is not exported. Currently, oil exports, worth over $20 billion a year, are halted because of MEND attacks and theft from pipelines. MEND (a coalition of gangs who have prospered stealing oil) and local tribal chiefs want more of the oil money. State and national politicians have been stealing most of it for decades, and the tribes are fed up with the pollution and poverty. Armed with guns, and equipped with boats and radios bought with stolen oil, the gangs are a power to be reckoned with. The army and navy have not been able to destroy the gangs, or prevent all attacks on oil facilities. The gangs threaten to try and take down all oil production if they don't get a piece of the action.

June 30, 2008: In the Niger Delta, a boatload of gunmen went on a rampage, firing at other boats, and people on land, leaving at least nine dead and many more wounded. The gunmen escaped by taking their boat into the complex system of waterways in the Delta swamps.

June 25, 2008: Repairs have been made, and oil shipments have resumed from the Bonga offshore platform that was attacked last week.

June 24, 2008: Oil region rebels group MEND has declared a unilateral ceasefire, effective today, apparently in reaction to the new military offensive against them. The military is still going after the gangs.

June 23, 2008: The navy has sent two patrol boats (each armed with two 30mm automatic cannon and a crew of fifty) to patrol the waters between the mainland the offshore oil facilities.  These two boats don't make a huge difference, as MEND speedboats are faster.

June 21, 2008: President Umaru Yar'Adua ordered the military to shut down MEND using any means necessary. The government was preparing for peace talks with MEND next month, and sees the Bonga attack as not in the spirit of peace negotiations.

June 20, 2008: In the Moslem north there has been a nine-fold increase (over last year) in polio cases. Nigeria now accounts for over 80 percent of the cases of the wild strain of polio. Cases caused by this strain of the disease have shown up in neighboring Benin and Niger, and further spread is feared. The vaccination campaign has not been able to undo the damage done by Moslem religious fanatics who, five years ago, spread rumors that polio vaccinations were a Western plot to poison Moslems. This interrupted, for over a year, a world wide effort to wipe out polio. Like smallpox (which was wiped out in a similar campaign three decades ago) the polio virus can only survive in human hosts. If enough vulnerable people (mostly kids) are vaccinated against polio, then polio has nowhere to survive, and joins smallpox as an extinct disease. The Islamic campaign against vaccinations caused a resurgence of polio cases worldwide, and a major loss of credibility for the Islamic radicals. The vaccinations resumed, after vigorous efforts by Nigerian politicians. This effort is being thwarted by the lingering effects of the Islamic conservatives in northern Nigeria. Currently, about four percent of the Nigerian population refuses to let their kids be vaccinated because of the five year old anti-vaccination rumor campaign. The rumors have acquired a life of their own, and just might be able to prevent the complete eradication of polio. So far, the Islamic conservatives actions five years ago have resulted in over 2,000 children getting polio and becoming paralyzed. Some 400-500 children, mainly in Nigeria, are still catching polio because of the Nigerian parents who refuse to allow vaccinations.

June 19, 2008: For the first time, rebels (MEND took credit) attacked one of the offshore oil well complexes. The Bonga complex is 120 kilometers offshore, and the attack caused it to be shut down. That stopped 220,000 barrels of oil a day, nearly ten percent of Nigeria's production. That's a loss of over $25 million a day. The attackers sought to destroy the control room, but security measures kept them from getting in. So, instead, the rebels blew up some of the pipeline system used to move the oil around. Oil companies had been building more of their facilities on off-shore pipelines, because of the improved security. Even though MEND demonstrated it could come out this far to attack, the offshore facilities remain easier to defend. During the Bonga raid, an American oil worker was kidnapped, but released a few days later.




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