Nigeria: The Bad Guys Win


December 15,2008: The oil companies in the Niger River Delta, despite hiring thousands of security guards, are still suffering attacks on their boats and having foreign workers kidnapped. There are several attacks a week, and one or two foreign oil workers is kidnapped for ransom each week.  The oil stealing gangs are growing in size, and that means more young men moving about the Delta in speedboats, armed with AK-47s, machine-guns and RPGs. These guys are poorly trained as fighters, but believe their own PR and are fearless, at least initially, when they run into military or police patrol boats (which usually have more, and larger caliber, machine-guns, and personnel better trained to use them.) The surviving gang members will usually get away, but will not be discouraged. This aggressive attitude makes it difficult for the security forces to control the gangs, who are also very popular with the local population because the gangs spread their millions around, and hire locally. Many of the military personnel are from other parts of the country.

While the government talks of spending more money in the Delta, there has been no visible evidence of increased spending over the last few years. These have been no more arrests of senior government officials for embezzlement. There is also very visible affluence among senior officials, in the form of luxurious new homes being built, and new cars to move their guys,  their families and bodyguards, around. But the oil gangs can also afford new trucks and SUVs, and sometimes fill them with gunmen, drive to some public event, put on a firepower display, and drive off before the police can do anything about it.

Piracy has become a major problem, with officials able to identify nearly 300 attacks in the last five years. Many of the attacks are on the fishing trawlers that work along the coast, and as a result, over 40 percent of these trawlers have gone out of business (reducing the trawler fleet from 250 boats to 170). In the last year, there have been some weeks in which there were over a dozen boat attacked. The media makes much of attacks on oil industry boats, but the most frequent targets have been the unarmed and unguarded fishing boats.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the highly successful anti-corruption official, who was removed from his job by the newly elected government last year, has apparently fled the country, fearing for his life. The influence of so many corrupt politicians, and former politicians, was greater than the support of anti-corruption groups inside and outside the government. This is a clear defeat for efforts to prosecute corrupt officials, and use the oil wealth for useful purposes, rather than just making a few thousand politicians rich. The corruption manifests itself in so many ways, like the lack of good roads or irregular electricity supply. Corruption in the educational sector results in most Nigerians being illiterate, even though most, on paper, have access to school. But primary school funds are often stolen, and the schools a sham. At the university level, grades are for sale, and a third or more of the graduates are unqualified (as foreign employers are constantly reminded.)

The 2007 presidential elections were widely seen as dirty, with corrupt politicians uniting to get Atiku Abubakar elected, and obligated to them. In the past week, supreme court narrowly (4-3) defeated an attempt to nullify the election. Abubakar says the right things, but his actions leave the major corrupt politicians alone. But this means that no progress is being made it dealing with the unrest in the Niger Delta, and that oil exports will continue to decline because the security forces are unable to destroy the oil stealing gangs.

December 5, 2008: In the central Nigerian city of Jos, recent tribal and religious violence has left over a hundred thousand people short of food and other supplies. That's because the fighting destroyed the major market in the town, and new supplies have to be trucked in for the 7,000 refugees from the violence living in camps outside the town, as well as for those who did not flee.




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