Intelligence Brief: Nigeria

Posted in Africa | 08-Nov-05 | Author: Erich Marquardt

Nigerian militant Mujahid Dokubu-Asari, the leader of the Niger Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF) rises his hand as he arrive in Abuja's federal high court with a police escort November 10, 2005.

As the most populous country in Africa, and the world's eighth largest oil exporter, stability in Nigeria is important to both the international community and to the African Union. The country has come a long way from the 15-year military rule which ended in 1999 with a civilian government. While Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has done a great deal in reducing the country's chronic corruption, and has overseen Nigeria's improving economy, he has had difficulty stabilizing the Niger Delta, the region of Nigeria that contains the bulk of its oil resources and that sees regular clashes between local militias and government troops.

Clashes in the Niger Delta

One of the main militant groups in the Niger Delta is the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (N.D.P.V.F.). The organization is headed by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is popular among the delta's impoverished residents. Dokubo-Asari argues that he is fighting for the rights of the region's Ijaw people, which is the largest tribe in the Niger Delta. N.D.P.V.F. claims that its actions are aimed at extracting more concessions from the Nigerian government since the bulk of the country's national income comes from the delta region, yet the Ijaw people live in poverty. The N.D.P.V.F. has siphoned oil from pipelines in order to help finance its operations, and has taken actions that threaten the interests of multinational oil companies operating in the delta. The Ijaw people as a whole are calling for the creation of their own state, an action that is opposed by the Nigerian government.

However, on September 20, 2005, Dokubo-Asari was arrested by government authorities and is now awaiting his November 10 trial. His arrest has led to concern that his followers will escalate their attacks against oil facilities and employees of multinational energy companies. Indeed, after his arrest, 100 armed N.D.P.V.F. militants stormed a Chevron oil facility, shutting it down. The shutdown was temporary, as Dokubo-Asari called on his supporters to stand down. On September 27, an N.D.P.V.F. spokesperson released a statement that said the organization had "ceased all hostilities" with the Nigerian government.

Since then, the organization has claimed that it will no longer use force to attain its interests and will use legal channels. However, its statement can be explained as the organization's desire to portray Dokubo-Asari in a positive light for his trial. The N.D.P.V.F. leader is being tried on charges of treason, and his lawyers argue that his organization is no longer a violent one. The N.D.P.V.F. decision to cease attacks on the government is probably only temporary, and if the trial turns sour for Dokubo-Asari, more violence can be expected.

In addition to the N.D.P.V.F., other militant groups are active in the delta region. Groups such as the Niger Delta Vigilante and smaller organizations have, in the past, attacked oil infrastructure, and more attacks can be expected in the future. Another militant leader, George Sogboma, leader of the Outlaws cult, is also a threat to the region's stability since he escaped from a government prison on June 17, 2005. After his release, Sogboma allegedly threatened to attack oil fields and Westerners working in the Niger Delta. His comments led to a July 1 report by the U.S. Consulate warning that Sogboma planned on making the region ungovernable by stealing weapons and oil.

Government Repression

In an effort to stabilize the chaotic delta, Abuja has tried to increase the effectiveness of its security apparatus operating in the region. The stabilization of the delta is important for the Nigerian government since it derives approximately 95 percent of its foreign revenue from oil exports. Therefore, it is directly within Nigeria's national interests to protect the major multinational oil companies operating in the country -- such as Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Shell -- from attacks on their operations.

As part of this effort, Abuja created a special government task force to protect international energy interests in the delta. The Joint Task Force (J.T.F.), consisting of armed soldiers, aims to protect Nigeria's oil reserves and the multinational energy companies operating in the delta.

However, the J.T.F. appears to use heavy-handed tactics that often result in unwarranted deaths. Indeed, human rights group Amnesty International released a report on November 3, 2005 that criticized the Nigerian government for human rights violations in the delta region. The report argues that the Nigerian government's security apparatus responds with indiscriminate force to protect multinational oil companies. The report states that Nigerian "security forces are still allowed to kill people and raze communities with impunity," using tactics of "collective punishment."

The Amnesty report concentrates on two major instances, one that occurred in the village of Odioma in January 2005, and the other that took place in the Escravos area of Delta State in February 2005. In the January incident, the organization alleges that in an effort to protect oil company Shell's interests, Nigerian security forces killed some 29 people indiscriminately. In the February incident, security forces, responding to threats against Chevron's facilities, killed one protestor and injured more than 30 others.

The Bottom Line

Obasanjo's government has managed to assure international investors that Nigeria is on the right economic and political track. He has touted his government's anti-corruption campaign, which has been welcomed by international investors. Obasanjo is also working to finally settle the country's debts owed to the Paris Club of creditor nations. His government managed to get the Paris Club to drop 60 percent of the country's US$30 billion debt (a total of US$18 billion), in exchange for Abuja paying the final US$12 billion; Obasanjo is now working to get approval from Nigeria's legislature for payment of the first US$6.4 billion. Under this plan, two more payments will be made and the final amount of US$4.4 billion will be given to the Paris Club nations by March 2007.

Nevertheless, while Nigeria has been moving in a direction that may lead to more economic stability, its internal situation is still precarious. The government's failure to appease the communities of the oil-rich Niger Delta mean that militant groups such as the N.D.P.V.F. will continue to receive support from local communities who hold grievances over the government's management of oil revenue.

Additionally, the country's rampant crime and ongoing spouts of religious violence mean that domestic instability will continue to pose a threat to the country's overall growth. One indicator to watch is the November 10 trial of Dokubo-Asari since the outcome could result in the escalation of violence by N.D.P.V.F. members against government security forces and Western energy interests in the Niger Delta.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].

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