Nigeria: headed for civil war?

Royal Dutch Shell has shut down a tenth of Nigeria’s oil production, after armed militants kidnapped four foreign oil workers and blew up a major pipeline Jan. 11. The incidents followed attacks on pipelines owned by the Nigerian state-owned oil company in December, disrupting supplies from the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter for several days.

Shell officials confirmed that four contract workers, including an US and a British national, had been seized by militants who boarded a support vessel near Shell’s offshore EA field. Shell said it has halted the 120,000-barrel-pe-day production from the field and had also shut four nearby flow stations after a pipeline was vandalized, cutting exports by another 106,000 b/d.

The Shell Petroleum Development Company—a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, of which Shell owns 30%—produced around 1 million b/d last year.

ExxonMobil also said on Jan. 12 that there had been an “incident” at one of its oil installations that had briefly interrupted operations.

Industry officials say the unrest may be fueled arrest of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari—a militant leader in the oil-producing Niger Delta who threatened all-out war on Nigeria’s oil industry in 2004—as well as the arrest of a local state governor on charges of money laundering.

Many of the Niger Delta’s majority tribe, the Ijaw, believe they have been cheated out of a fair share of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Industry executives differed on whether they believe this week’s attacks to be co-ordinated.

President Olusegun Obasanjo has put Nigeria’s security forces on high alert in the Delta, where numerous armed gangs engage in the theft of crude oil from pipelines and wells, using the proceeds to build up their arsenals.

Industry officials claim the theft of oil has fallen from a high of 100,000 b/d to close to 20,000 b/d. Only two weeks ago, the Nigerian navy killed 12 suspected oil thieves in a gun battle.

Shell has been greatly concerned by the upsurge in violence in Nigeria, which accounts for around a tenth of its global production. At a presentation in London in October, a senior Shell security official said the government was struggling to keep control over the situation in the Niger Delta. He said that between 50 and 70 Shell employees had been kidnapped over the past year and an estimated $1 billion of oil revenues diverted to rebels or corrupt officials. The report by the Shell official is said to have caused tensions between the company and the Nigerian government. (Financial Times, Jan. 12)

The attacks in the Niger Delta make headlines because they concern Western oil companies, ethnic violence is srepading throughout Nigeria. Muyiwa Awodiya warns in a Jan. 13 open letter to President Obasanjo in Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper that the country is on the brink of a chaotic civil war:

From Lagos to Maiduguri, from Sokoto to Calabar, the tempo of ethnic militia activism has increased in the last six years of the democratic governance. In the roll call, we have the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) in the North, the Qodua Peoples’ Congress (QPC) in the South-West, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and the Bakassi Boys in the South East, the Egbesu Boys and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) in the Niger Delta. These ethnic organisations were formed at various times as vanguards for the protection and promotion of ethnic interests in their regions of domicile. For instance, the Arewa Consultative Forum is “an umbrella organisation to protect the interest of all persons from Arewa, irrespective of their political, religious and tribal affiliationsu. While the Oodua People’s Congress was formed “to promote the interest of the Yoruba ethnic nationality”. MASSOB “wants self determination for the Biafran nation in the south-east and south-south geo-political zones”. The fears of the Niger Delta people had become heightened because of what is generally perceived as economic deprivation and neglect of the region by successive federal government which controls the oil revenue. The NDPVF therefore was formed to “promote and protect the interests of the oil producing ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta”.

In the last four weeks, ethnic militia’s resurgence of violence that unleashed terror and mayhem on the public has, again raised the people’s temperature. For example, in Lagos, two factions of QPC confronted one another in an orgy of outrage at lyana-lpaja that left several people dead. In Anambra State, residents were jolted early in the morning on a Monday early November when an army of MASSOB members brazenly took over major highways of virtually all important cities of the South-Eastern States. “Dressed in their colours of black T-shirts, black trousers, red or black caps or head and arm bands with the ubiquitous Biafran black, green and red flag with the rising sun in the middle, the members clearly overwhelmed the police all over the State. Help was sought from the Abuja police headquarters before they could be dislodged”.

See our last post on Nigeria.