African business, politics and lifestyle
Niger delta: Resource war or racket?
Nigeria’s main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has not so far carried out any major attacks on the country’s oil and gas industry since announcing last month it was ending a five-month-old ceasefire. But the level of insecurity in the vast wetlands region is so great that the industry is feeling the pinch nonetheless. Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria’s longest-standing foreign oil partner, has warned that “logistical challenges” caused by the insecurity mean it may not meet all of its oil export obligations for this month and next from its key Bonny export facility. Shipping agents and industry sources say security measures at loading platforms mean shipments of crude are being delayed, while some smaller oil services firms have started openly questioning whether to scale back their presence in Nigeria because of high levels of piracy.
On Tuesday, gunmen loyal to militant leader “Kitikata” opened fire on Shell facilities in Bayelsa state. They delivered a letter to the security guards at the site demanding they be given a contract to guard facilities at Nembe Creek, a hotspot for criminal raids, or else they would carry out further attacks.
Given that the militants, based in camps deep in the delta’s swamps, appear to be split into factions often working in an un-coordinated way, and given that many of the attacks are opportunistic acts of pure criminality – kidnappings for ransom or the theft of vessels – what should the security forces do to restore order? Is this violence really still motivated by a struggle for the development of the Niger Delta, or has it become a lucrative criminal racket? Do the oil companies have a responsibility to help police the region, and if so how? If a diplomatic solution is the preferable approach, which militant groups or faction leaders should be brought to the negotiating table? And if they do sit down to talk, what should be done to deal with the criminal gangs who act with no political ideology?