Kidnappings are on the increase, and the targets tend to be the families of corrupt former government officials. The kidnappers know these families have money, and no longer have access to government security forces to provide guards for family members. Women and children are increasingly favored as victims. You can threaten to rape female captives, to encourage payment, and children are easier to handle and more likely to get a prompt payment. Ransoms of over a million dollars are common here. This is a more dangerous way to make money than stealing oil from pipelines, but the payoffs are larger. The number of criminal gangs is increasing, because of the growing number of lucrative opportunities. While the government has sent thousands of additional police and military personnel to the Delta, most of those are being used to supplement the private security (often former police and military) guarding government and oil company facilities.
Employees of the oil companies, and their families, are also increasingly favored targets of kidnappers. You don't get as large a ransom from these working stiffs, but you don't run into as much security, or risk of a large scale police reaction. Ransoms for these victims are usually $100,000 or less. There have been so many kidnappings among oil company employees (Nigerian and foreign), that the Nigerian employees have threatened to strike. Management pointed out that there is great demand for oil company jobs (in a region of high unemployment and low pay), and the strike threat faded. The union leadership backed down, but many of the workers walked out for three days as a "warning" anyway.
Government corruption and inefficiency manifested themselves recently when a local drug company was caught shipping teething medicine for infants that contained an industrial chemical. So far, 84 infants have died. The government recalled all the medicine, or at least tried to, and about a dozen people were arrested. There is a longer term problem, in the north, where Islamic conservatives continue to discourage parents from allowing their children to be vaccinated against polio. As a result, about half the polio cases on the planet occur in Nigeria. This resistance to vaccination (which some Islamic conservatives insist is really a Western plot to sterilize Moslem children) has stymied the planet wide effort (costing over $5 billion so far) to eradicate polio (which can only exist in a human host).
The army has ordered courts martial for officers in charge of security during a December 20 attack on a Niger delta housing compound for oil company personnel. An investigation revealed that the officers completely failed to take charge of the defense of the ALSCON facility.
Although the government found $2 billion in stolen (by former dictator Abacha) government funds in Swiss bank accounts, and convinced the Swiss to give the money back, most of the cash remains in Switzerland. That's because the $290 million that has been returned so far, appears to have disappeared. The Swiss believe that the recovered stolen money is being stolen again, and will not resume payouts until assured that the money will be put to legitimate uses.
February 18, 2009: In the Niger delta, security guard repulsed a MEND attack on an employee housing compound.
February 17, 2009: Two boatloads of Nigerian gunmen attacked the seaside presidential mansion in neighboring Equatorial Guinea. Security guards repulsed the attack, and captured 16 of the attackers. Such attacks are increasingly common, mainly because Equatorial Guinea is just 200 kilometers from the Niger delta, and Nigerian criminal gangs are increasingly coming across the water to raid and plunder. The presidential palace attackers are said to belong to MEND, but MEND denies this. It may have been MEND members moonlighting, a not uncommon event.
In the Niger delta itself, security forces repulsed a MEND attempt to attack an oil production facility.
February 10, 2009: An army patrol found 22 barges full of stolen oil hidden in a Niger delta backwater, waiting for boats to haul the oil to a neighboring country for sale. The loss of these barges will cost the oil theft gang involved over a million dollars. But this seizure is a rare event. Most of the stolen oil is still getting out of the country. The military and police are accused of ineptitude and corruption, as reasons for the oil theft continuing.
February 6, 2009: MEND rebels attacked a natural gas plant in the Niger delta. Three attackers and one soldier were wounded. MEND had said it would resume such attacks after the recent end of its ceasefire.
February 5, 2009: At 3 AM, two boats of gunmen attacked an oil company security boat, killing the boat commander (a retired army officer) and wounding another crew member. The two attacking boats then retreated when the security boat returned fire. The need for private security forces has increased oil company operating costs to the point where many foreign firms will simply not consider working in Nigeria.