Nigeria: Bandits Replacing Islamic Terrorists

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August 1, 2016: In the south The NDA (Niger Delta Avengers) had threatened to declare the Niger Delta independent today but none of the major independence groups down there agreed to work with NDA on that. Both political and armed independence groups were more willing to negotiate with the government. Meanwhile details of the renewed peace talks with leaders of MEND were made public. The government is willing to release imprisoned MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) leaders and allow exiled MEND members to return if they will renounce violence. This is not sufficient for the most active rebels (NDA) who are responsible for the recent decline in oil production. NDA refuses to discuss compromise and wants the federal government out of the Niger Delta. That is not going to happen but NDA knows that the government is in a desperate position. Desperate or not the government brought in more troops, declared a ceasefire deals with any dissidents in the delta who were willing to talk. The military was told to go after anyone else. For the moment NDA is isolated, but still dangerous because they threatened violent retribution against all “outsiders” who did not leave the delta region by today. So far there is no widespread separatist violence.

The government thought it had solved the Delta rebel problem in 2009 when MEND accepted an amnesty deal. Like everything else in Nigeria, corruption prevented that arrangement from working. Many former rebels accepted government sponsored security jobs. These jobs were basically a payoff for gang members to ensure they observed the “no more violence” part of the amnesty deal. The violence against oil production declined substantially in 2009 because of the peace deal that over 30,000 local rebels initially accepted. That eventually changed as corruption caused the government payoffs to the former rebels to gradually disappear. In 2015 the violence began to reappear and by early 2016 there was one or more major attacks a month on oil facilities. This came after hardly any such violence since 2013.

Former members of MEND were basically Niger Delta tribal rebels who accepted the amnesty and some of these locals are believed to be behind the new attacks. Some former MEND rebels were involved in forming a new group; the NDA, which is now responsible for the most damaging oil infrastructure attacks. NDA demands a separate state in the Delta, just as MEND used to do. That will never happen because the oil is the most valuable natural resource in the country. In April the government began shifting as many police and troops as it could to the oil producing areas in the delta. That was not enough because by the end of May NDA make good on its threat and oil production is in big trouble. It’s not only NDA the government has to worry about but also the fact that most of the Delta population supports NDA.

The renewed violence in the Niger River Delta has cut oil production by 32 percent so far. Production is now about 1.5 million barrels per day (BPD) but without all this violence it would be over 2.2 million BPD. That, plus the much lower (since 2013) world prices for oil has officially pushed the country into an economic recession. That has produced the risk major bank failures. The usual cure for a recession is for the government to borrow lots of money and create more economic activity. That won’t work for Nigeria because decades of corruption and uncertainty about the impact of renewed rebellion in the oil producing areas has damaged the national credit rating. The recently elected reform (and anti-corruption) government has to deliver. Oil is normally responsible for 40 percent of economic activity and 80 percent of the central government budget. But now the government has less oil money available and is trying to replace that by going after and halting the massive corruption that had diverted so much oil income in the past.

Oil has been a curse not a blessing for Nigeria and one thing nearly all Nigerians can agree on is a reduction in corruption and the continued theft of most oil income. Since 1972 the government has earned over a trillion dollars ($1,300 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. For over four decades, the oil money has been going to less than twenty percent of the population, leaving most of the rest worse off today than they were in the early 1960s, before the oil exports began. 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, and so on) in ruins.

The NDA rebels are largely responsible for the 57 percent increase in attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Ruver Delta this year. These attacks reduced oil production 18 percent in the first three months of 2016 and a further 11 percent in the second three months and the decline continues even though NDA violence has been reduced by increase military and police activity. Federal government officials ordered more troops and police into the area and agreed to meet with leaders of the NDA and local tribes to discuss a ceasefire and dealing with local complaints about the oil industry operations in the area. NDA has not agreed to a ceasefire and demanded a national referendum on dissolving Nigeria and allowing the formation of many smaller states.

By mid-July that had evolved into a call for Delta residents to join with NDA and declare independence. That won’t work because of the oil, which has been the major export for decades and is concentrated in Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. These three states are all in the Delta, an area that comprises about seven percent of Nigeria and 11 percent of the national population. The rest of Nigeria is not going to support the three oil states becoming independent and will fight to prevent it.

What most people in the Niger Delta want is compensation for all the corruption and the rest of the country is not willing to pay for that. Any separatist group like NDA is viewed (by the rest of the country) as another bunch of corrupt hustlers. That is largely true because MEND, the last Delta separatist group was bought off by a 2009 amnesty deal but then many former MEND members went freelance as oil thieves or eventually helped form NDA. While MEND and NDA represented legitimate grievances, so do many corrupt politicians. So it’s not surprising that NDA is viewed as the MEND scam repeated.

The real war in Nigeria is not with Islamic terrorism or separatists but with corruption and bad government. Most Nigerians now agree on that and the current president pledged to do something about it. He is, but it is slow going and many Nigerians are not convinced that a cure is at hand.

July 30, 2016: In the south (Niger River Delta) the navy captured a barge loaded with 600,000 liters (145,000 gallons) of diesel fuel and arrested two men involved with the operation. The barge was in Baylesa State, hidden in one of the many remote waterways in the delta. In this case several oil stealing gangs brought their locally produced diesel to the barge, where the fuel would be moved to a neighboring country and sold on the black market. The gangs tap pipelines and bring the crude oil to portable refineries hidden in the delta, where it is refined into kerosene or diesel.

July 29, 2016: In the south (Niger River Delta) the military carried out an offensive against NDA camps and killed at least 114 rebels and wounded many more as troops, naval patrol boats and aircraft sought out and attacked the camps. The NDA is not destroyed but this operation, and earlier ones, are believed to have weakened the NDA. Some, or many, of the dead may have been civilians caught in the crossfire.

July 28, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) Niger and Nigeria have, over the last few days, conducted a joint operation along their international border as Nigerian troops advanced on one of the few remaining Boko Haram strongholds around the town of Damasak. The town has changed hands several times since 2014 because defeated Boko Haram men would flee across the border into Niger and rebuild their strength. Eventually the Boko Haram were strong enough to cross the border and regain control of Damasak and the surrounding area. This time the Nigerian forces are going after known Boko Haram camps in the area while Niger has deployed troops on its side of the border to block any efforts by Boko Haram to get away. Today Damasak was cleared of Boko Haram and troops were seeking to kill or capture fleeing Boko Haram men.

Elsewhere in Borno State an aid convoy was ambushed, leaving two soldiers and three civilians wounded. Aid convoys were halted in part of Borno State until the security forces could assure everyone that the threat was gone. The military says the attackers were Boko Haram but many in the area believe the attackers could also be local bandits. There has been little Boko Haram violence in Borno for over a month but there has been more crime, some of it highly organized and carried out by gangs. The military would prefer that it was Boko Haram as these Islamic terrorists are more predictable and easier to identify than local bandits. There has been an increase in crime since 2014 as Boko Haram became more active in the northeast.

July 24, 2016: In the south NDA rebels damaged a major natural gas pipeline by using explosives and interrupting the movement of natural gas for a week or more until repairs could be made.

July 23, 2016: Responding to reports that military aircraft were less active in the past month the head of the armed forces revealed that this was because of a shortage of aviation fuel. This has to be imported because corruption has long prevented the construction and operation of refineries that could produce this fuel locally. The budget cuts resulting from less oil revenue were not supposed to interfere with military operations and the military is asking the National Oil Company to give them priority in obtaining aviation fuel.

July 20, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) Boko Haram ambushed an army column and were repulsed but not before killing or wounding 16 soldiers and three civilian volunteers. But 19 troops were missing when the fighting was over and it was three days before five of them were found alive.

July 19, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) soldiers attacked a remote village where a large group of Boko Haram had established themselves. At least 42 of the Islamic terrorists were killed but even more escaped (some wounded). The troops freed 80 captives (all women and children). The raid resulted in dozens of weapons and large supplies of ammo and fuel captured along with 55 motorcycles plus some larger vehicles and other equipment (cell phones, computers and so on). Villagers reported that the Boko Haram were planning attacks on nearby towns.

July 9, 2016: In the northeast (Borno State) the government officially reopened a main road from the state capital (Maiduguri) to many other major towns and eventually the borders of Chad and Cameroon. This road had been closed to most traffic since 2013 because of Boko Haram violence. Not everyone along this highway are convinced that the Boko Haram threat is gone but the road is being regularly patrolled by soldiers, police and local militias. The economy of Borno State depends on these roads as do many people in the state who depend on these roads for emergency food and other supplies.

 

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