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Terrorism & Security

Militants step up 'oil war' in Niger Delta

Attacks on foreign oil company facilities threaten to disrupt global oil supply.

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Since early 2006, MEND has waged a campaign of terror, attacking foreign-owned oil facilities and kidnapping foreign oil workers to draw attention to its political aims, according to a background report by the Council on Foreign Relations. In that time, MEND has cut Nigeria's oil production by a quarter. One of the group's main demands is that locals receive 50 percent of revenues from the delta's oil. Most oil revenues end up lining the pockets of corrupt Nigerian officials.

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The militants, like the Niger Delta's population at large, object to the environmental degradation and underdevelopment of the region and the lack of benefits the community has received from its extensive oil resources. While there is a revenue-sharing plan in which the federal government distributes roughly half of the country's oil revenues among state governors, these funds do not trickle down to the roughly 30 million residents of the Delta. In 2003, some 70 percent of oil revenues was stolen or wasted, according to an estimate by the head of Nigeria's anticorruption agency. Whereas many residents used to work as fishermen, oil installations and spills have decimated the fish population and now markets must import frozen fish, according to National Geographic.

The election of a new Nigerian government in mid-2007 raised hopes of a deal, with the new vice president meeting directly with Delta militants. But the militant movement has now splintered into competing factions, making it difficult for the government to find a negotiating partner, according to the International Crisis Group. Adding to the confusion is the rise of armed thuggery, kidnappings for profit, and other criminal opportunism.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in late June that MEND had declared a cease-fire and was "prepared to give dialogue a chance." That olive branch has now proven short-lived.

A commentary in the Vanguard blames the delta's backward status on Nigerian officials who have mimicked the British colonial model of resource extraction.

Sadly, while [the British] were developing their country from resources from the Niger area, the source of their wealth was being under-developed.
More sadly, the Nigerian state under the locals has followed this same path, but in an edited form. Whereas the British developed their tiny island from the resources they stole from their colonies, their Nigerian baton-takers chose, by and large, as they still do, to concentrate on developing their pockets and appetite.
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