Tag Archives: nigeria delta

An Unforgettable Type of Pollution

May 2018: The environmental damage around the site of two Royal Dutch Shell oil spills in Nigeria a decade ago has worsened significantly after years of delay to cleanup efforts, according to a report that the oil giant has been accused of trying to shield from public view.  The spills from a ruptured Shell pipeline spewed thousands of barrels of oil over parts of the Bodo fishing community in the crude-rich Niger Delta. Although the company in 2015 reached an out-of-court settlement with the local community, admitting to liability and agreeing to pay £55 million, or around $80 million at the time, in compensation, controversy around the case has remained.

A United Nations body, in a 2011 report, found extensive environmental damage around Bodo. Four years later, an assessment to prepare the cleanup found soil contamination had worsened while cleanup efforts languished and illegal refining and oil theft added to pollution in the area, according to an academic paper published last month. That has left the community facing potentially toxic pollution and “catastrophic” damage to the environment, the paper said.  The 2015 analysis was commissioned by the Bodo Mediation Initiative, a consortium established to oversee the cleanup in the area. Shell is a member of the group along with local stakeholders.

At least one of the authors urged the findings to be widely distributed because they pointed to significant health risks to the local community. Kay Holtzmann, the cleanup project’s former director, said in a letter reviewed by the Journal that Shell had denied him permission to publish the study’s results in a scientific journal.

But the academic paper* said the site survey contained new facts. The average surface soil contamination in Bodo had tripled since the original U.N. probe,the paper said. Out of 32 samples taken from the top two inches of soil in the area around Bodo, only one was within Nigeria’s legally acceptable limit for oil contamination, the paper added.

Excerpts from Pollution Worsens Around Shell Oil Spills in Nigeria, Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2018.

*Sediment Hydrocarbons in Former Mangrove Areas, Southern Ogoniland, Eastern Niger Delta, Nigeria, Apr. 2018

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A Way of Life: Blowing Up Pipelines

image from http://www.nigerdeltaavengers.org/

Leaders from Nigeria's Niger Delta called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pull the army out from the oil hub, order oil firms to move headquarters there and spend more on development to end militancy in the region.  Buhari met leaders from the southern swampland for the first time since militants started a wave of attacks on oil pipelines in January 2016 to push for a greater share of oil revenues.

At the meeting in the presidential villa in Abuja, Niger Delta leaders, joined by representatives of militant groups, gave Buhari a list of 16 demands to pacify the impoverished region where many say they do not benefit from the oil wealth...

The delegation leader said oil firms should move headquarters to the region so unemployed youths - who often work for militants - could get more jobs. Foreign firms active in Nigeria are often based in the commercial capital Lagos.  The Niger Delta leaders also asked for more funds for the development and an amnesty plan for former fighters which Buhari had planned to cut.

The attacks, which put four key export streams under force majeure, had led production to plunge to 1.37 million barrels per day in May, the lowest level since July 1988, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), from 2.2 million barrels in January 2016.

Nigeria agreed on a ceasefire with major militant groups in 2009 to end an earlier insurgency. But previously unknown groups have since taken up arms after authorities tried to arrest a former militant leader on corruption charges.  Under a 2009 amnesty, fighters who lay down arms receive training and employment. However, of the $300 million annual funding set aside for this, much ends up in the pockets of "generals" or officials, analysts say - an endemic problem in a country famous for graft.

Any ceasefire would be difficult to enforce as militants are splintered into small groups of angry, young unemployed men even their leaders struggle to control.

A major group, the Niger Delta Avengers, had initially declared a ceasefire in August 2016 but then claimed another attack in October 2016 .

Excerpts from Niger Delta leaders want army out, Reuters, Nov. 2, 2016

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Showing their Claws-Ogoni versus Royal Dutch Shell

shell

The widow of a Nigerian activist is planning to sue Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch courts alleging the oil company was complicit in the execution of her husband by the Nigerian military in 1995, court documents filed in the United States/Esther Kiobel has filed an application in New York to secure documents from Shell’s US lawyers, which she could use in the Dutch action.

The filings with the US District Court for the Southern District Court of New York said she planned to begin the action before the end of the year.“Ms. Kiobel will demonstrate that Shell encouraged, facilitated, and conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against the Ogoni people,” a memorandum in the application filed last week said.
Kiobel previously took her lawsuit to the United States but the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 the case could not be heard because the alleged activities took place outside the country.

In 2009 prior to that ruling Shell had agreed in the United States to pay $15.5 million to settle lawsuits related to other activists executed at the same time as Barinem Kiobel, including author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.    [three separate lawsuits were brought by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa].

The Nigerian military cracked down heavily on local opposition to oil production by a Shell joint venture in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s. Kiobel alleges that Shell provided support to the military in its crackdown.  A Dutch court ruled in December that Shell may be sued in the Netherlands for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, although it did not say Shell was responsible..

Excerpts from Shell faces possible Dutch lawsuit over Nigerian activist’s execution, Reuters, Oct. 18, 2016

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Privatization of the Army: Nigeria

Nigerian troops in Somalia 1997

Private security is big business in Nigeria. The country suffers bombings in the north, sectarian violence in the centre and simmering insecurity in the oil-producing south-east. Red24, a Scottish security firm, says more than 600 people are kidnapped in the country every year, putting it among the five worst for that sort of crime...  [There are] 1,500 and 2,000 private security companies in Nigeria. Because they cannot legally carry weapons, armed units must be hired from national forces....Private companies pay the security forces handsomely. But that also encourages commanders to hire out their men. The result is a privatisation of public security, reckons Rita Abrahamsen, a professor at the University of Ottawa. In 2011 a retired deputy inspector-general estimated that up to 100,000 police officers (about a third of the country’s total) were working for “a few fortunate individuals”, and questioned what that meant for regular Nigerians. Martin Ewence, a British naval commander turned consultant, reckons that the navy in effect has “given over its maritime security responsibilities”.

In the worst cases, the private-security culture fuels conflict. Oil companies in the Niger delta have been criticised for arming Nigeria’s Joint Task Force in a bid to secure their assets. The task-force’s combination of police, army and naval personnel, whose houseboats are moored in the delta’s greasy creeks to “tax” passing barges, are accused of human-rights abuses and involvement in the theft of oil.

Private security in Nigeria: Rent-a-cop, Economist, Oct. 17, 2015, at 54

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How to Squander a Country: Nigeria

Gates of Oil reifnery in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Image from wikipedia

Dead fish wash up on the once-fertile shores of creeks around Bodo, a town in the Niger delta, that are covered with crude oil more than six years after two massive spills. Locals have only now received compensation from Shell, the oil firm responsible for the leaks. For the first time in half a decade, fishermen have cash to start businesses, repair their houses and send children to school... “Look,” says the chief of a tiny town called B-Dere, just a few miles from Bodo. He gestures to the deathly-black banks still bearing the marks of the slicks. “There is nothing to drink, nowhere to fish. What good has come from it?”

The cash that the oil industry provides has greased Nigerian politics for decades. Gross mismanagement and corruption in the industry are the causes of much of the inequality and discontent with the ruling party in an economy that is not just Africa’s largest but that ought to also be one of its wealthiest...

Nigeria pumps something like 2m barrels of oil a day. These account for most of its exports and about 70% of government revenues. But official figures are as murky as its polluted creeks. Volumes are recorded only at export terminals rather than at the wellhead, says Celestine AkpoBari of the Port Harcourt-based advocacy group, Social Action. Were a proper tally kept, he says, corruption would be exposed on a scale that would shock even the most cynical Nigerian.

It seems likely that more than 100,000 barrels of crude are stolen (or “bunkered” in the local parlance) every day, at a cost to the state and investors of billions of dollars a year. Politicians, oil workers and security forces are said to be behind the complex cartels that steal, illegally refine and sell crude oil. They have amassed almost unimaginable wealth in a country where poverty is still rife.

Oil’s taint has seeped into almost all levels of government and business. Yet the central problem is found in the petroleum ministry, which wields vast unaccountable power. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state-owned behemoth, is responsible for all aspects of the industry, from exploration to production and regulation. It is among the most secretive oil groups in the world, and is “accountable to no one”, says Inemo Samiama, country head of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a non-profit group.

In 2013 the former governor of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, alleged that $20 billion in oil revenues was missing from state coffers. He was fired for his troubles soon after. ...

Even where cash has not been nicked, it has often been squandered. Take the Excess Crude Account (ECA), a sovereign-wealth fund intended to cushion Nigeria’s budget against falling oil prices. Most of it was spent over the past two years, despite oil prices being relatively high for most of that period.

The industry itself is in as sorry a state as the government’s finances. Although oil practically gushes from the ground in parts of the delta, oil output has been stagnant for years and billions of dollars of investment are stalled because of uncertainty over a new law for the industry.  This is holding back Nigeria’s economy almost across the board. Because the industry has failed to build the infrastructure to pipe gas to domestic consumers such as power plants, much of it is simply flared and burned: Britain reckons that some $800m worth of Nigeria’s gas a year goes up in smoke. The country is also chronically short of fuel even though it has four state-owned oil refineries. Because of poor maintenance and ageing equipment they operate at well below capacity, forcing Nigeria to import about 70% of the fuel it needs. There is little incentive for reform since the government pays hefty subsidies to NNPC to keep on importing...

But a starting point should be to halt subsidies for fuel imports. At a stroke that would undercut a major source of corruption and crime (both on land and at sea) that spills into neighbouring countries, the destination for smuggled consignments of cheap Nigerian fuel. It should also take a close look at NNPC, which should not be allowed both to participate in the market and regulate it. Some of its assets could be privatised. The ruling party and opposition are considering both....

For communities in Ogoniland, the most pressing problem is cleaning up. Shell has promised to mop up the mess around Bodo, though the process has yet to start. Compensation is one thing, Bodo residents say, but what they really want is their livelihood back.

Nigeria’s oil: Crude politics, Economist,  Mar. 28, 2015, at 54

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Industralizing Nigeria through the Military-Industrial Complex

Image from nigeriana.org

In the last year, a total of 1,653 suspects were arrested and 3,778 illegal refineries destroyed in the in the ongoing anti-illegal bunkering patrols by the Joint Task Force (Operation PULO SHIELD) in the Niger Delta, according to Minister of State for Defence, Dr Olusola Obada.  In addition, 120 barges, 878 Cotonou boats, 161 tanker trucks, 178 illegal fuel dumps and 5,238 surface tanks were also destroyed by the Task Force within the same period.

Obada also said that the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) will collaborate with the private sector under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the production of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs).  Obada said on Friday, while featuring in the ongoing ministerial press briefing in Abuja, that the nation’s military has “enhanced protection of oil and gas facilities through air and ground patrols of pipeline networks to deter vandals from sabotage activities. Troops were deployed on most critical platforms on a 24/7 basis to enhance their security. While criminalities in the industry have not been completely eliminated, efforts of the Joint Task Force have reduced the level crude oil theft drastically.”

She stated that towards industrialising Nigeria through the military-industrial complex, “the Federal Government in 2012 set up a high powered committee headed by the Vice President to reposition the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) for greater efficiency. The report of the committee had been submitted to the President and it is expected that the recommendations would help initiate a transformation in the local production of military equipment.”

Already, Obada noted, DICON has entered into partnership with foreign companies for the manufacture of weapons, bulletproof vests and other equipment.  She also disclosed that under the Ministry of Defence’s health initiatives, 25,000 people had been place on retroviral therapy in the last one year under the Ministry of Defence HIV programme.

Special Task Force Arrest 1,653 Suspects, Destroy 3,778 Illegal Refineries Saturday, The Guardian (Nigeria), June 29, 2013

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Business Models of Piracy: the pirates of the Niger Delta

Armed_guard_escort_on_a_merchant_ship

The decline in Somali piracy (which, according to a recent World Bank report, may at its peak have cost the world up to $18 billion a year in extra shipping expenses and lost trade) is partly the result of increasingly sophisticated co-ordination by international naval task-forces. Shipping companies are also making their vessels harder to attack thanks to a range of defensive measures, such as razor wire around decks, high-pressure hoses and maintaining speeds that make boarding hazardous. Armed security guards on many of the ships transiting pirate-infested waters have helped too.But the pirates could still make a comeback. The cost of deterring them is high. Shipping companies may lower their guard if they think the threat has passed, and patrolling naval forces could be needed elsewhere. And although Somali piracy has faded, west Africa has seen a surge in attacks on ships passing through the Gulf of Guinea.

Tom Patterson, a maritime security expert at Control Risks, a consultancy, says these pirates, who largely come from militant groups in the Niger Delta, have a different business model to their Somali counterparts. They tend to hold ships for about two to five days, removing as much of their cargo as possible (usually gas oil) and then auctioning it to the highest bidder. Hostages are taken if potentially valuable. This week five Poles and Russians, held since April 25th when pirates attacked the German-operated City of Xiamen container ship off Nigeria’s coast, were released, doubtless after a ransom payment.

International naval forces are unlikely to intervene. Nigeria has a decent navy of its own which claims to be upping its efforts to contain piracy. But foreign diplomats believe that some military officials turn a blind eye to thefts in return for a share of the spoils

Hijackings on the high seas: Westward Ho!, Economist, May 18, 2013, at 67

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Nigeria and the Oil Companies: the ECOWAS Judgment

ecowas, image from world bank

Amnesty International and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have hailed last [Economic Community of West African States] ECOWAS Court of Justice ground-breaking judgment as a “key moment in holding governments and companies to account for pollution.”  In the case, SERAP v. Nigeria, the Court unanimously found the Nigerian government responsible for abuses by oil companies and makes it clear that the government must hold the companies and other perpetrators to account.

The Court also found that Nigeria violated articles 21 (on the right to natural wealth and resources) and 24 (on the right to a general satisfactory environment) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights by failing to protect the Niger Delta and its people from the operations of oil companies that have for many years devastated the region.  According to the Court, the right to food and social life of the people of Niger Delta was violated by destroying their environment, and thus destroying their opportunity to earn a living and enjoy a healthy and adequate standard of living. The Court also said that both the government and the oil companies violate the human and cultural rights of the people in the region.

The Court ruled that the government’s failure to enact effective laws and establish effective institutions to regulate the activities of the companies coupled with its failure to bring perpetrators of pollution “to book” amount to a breach of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.  The Court emphasized that “the quality of life of people is determined by the quality of the environment. But the government has failed in its duty to maintain a general satisfactory environment conducive to the development of the Niger Delta region”.

“This judgment confirms the persistent failure of the Nigerian government to properly and effectively punish oil companies that have caused pollution and perpetrated serious human rights abuses, and is an important step towards accountability for government and oil companies that continue to prioritise profit-making over and above the well-being of the people of the region,” said Femi Falana SAN, and Adetokunbo Mumuni for SERAP.  “This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the human right to a healthy environment and affirms the human right of the Nigerian people to live a life free from pollution. It also makes it clear that the government must hold the oil companies to account,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International.  “The judgment makes it clear that the Nigerian government has failed to prevent the oil companies causing pollution. It is a major step forward in holding the government and oil companies accountable for years of devastation and deprivation.” said Bochenek.

The court affirmed that the government must now move swiftly to fully implement the judgment and restore the dignity and humanity of the people of the region.

“The judgment has also come at a time when oil is being discovered in the majority of the member states of the ECOWAS. It is vital that other states take heed of this judgement, which has laid down minimum standards of operations for government and oil companies involved in the exploitation of oil and gas in the region,” Falana and Mumuni also said.  “The time has come for the Nigerian government to stand up to powerful oil companies that have abused the human rights of the people of the Niger Delta with impunity for decades,” said Bochenek.  “We commend the ECOWAS Court for standing up for the rights and dignity of the people of the Niger Delta. We also acknowledge the important legal contribution of Dr Kolawole Olaniyan of Amnesty International, to the case,” said Falana and Mumuni.

he case was filed against the Federal Government and six oil companies over alleged violation of human rights and associated oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged: “Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development – as a consequence of: the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries.”  SERAP also alleged “oil spills and waste materials polluting water used for drinking and other domestic purposes; failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and prevent pollution.”

The Court dismissed the government’s objections that SERAP had no locus standi to institute the case; that the ECOWAS Court had no jurisdiction to entertain it; and that the case was statute-barred. The Court also rejected efforts by the government to exclude a 2009  Amnesty International report on oil pollution from being considered. The report was based on an in-depth investigation into pollution caused by the international oil companies, in particular Shell, and the failure of the government of Nigeria to prevent pollution or sanction the companies.

The suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/08/09 was argued by SERAP counsel, Femi Falana SAN, Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka.  The judgment was delivered by a panel of 6 judges: Justice Awa Nana Daboya, Justice Benefeito Mosso Ramos, Justice Hansine Donli, Justice Alfred Benin, Justice Clotilde Medegan and Justice Eliam Potey.

Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment of the Court binding on Member States, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the Court shall be final and immediately enforceable. Furthermore, non-compliance with the judgment of the Court can be sanctioned under Article 24 of the Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty.

SERAP Press Release, December 2012

See also decision of the ECOWAS Community Court on Jurisdiction

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Nigeria Delta: Ogoniland’s oil damage

A landmark U.N. report on 50 years of oil pollution in Nigeria is unlikely to bring the change many had hoped for, after Shell and the national petroleum company went on the defensive and weary local communities said they had seen it all before.  The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report focused on the Ogoniland region and is the most comprehensive, scientific analysis in any area of the vast Niger Delta wetlands, the heartland of Africa's largest energy industry.  The report offers evidence that operator Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), a coalition between state-oil firm NNPC and Shell, failed to follow best practice, leading to serious public health issues.  The report laid out a detailed road map for the world's biggest ever oil-spill clean-up, taking 30 years and cost an initial $1 billion, led by money from SPDC and the Nigerian government. The local communities are not holding their breath.  "The shelves are filled with reports ... the fact that the devastation was caused by oil exploitation is something that all of us already knew," said Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP).  "In our view, Shell has just been able to purchase, at huge cost and time, another four years of doing nothing, absolutely nothing, to clean the environment."  UNEP produced the report, which was paid for by Shell, at the request of the Nigerian government.  MOSOP, led by poet and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, forced Shell out of Ogoniland in 1993 after they said the oil giant had destroyed their fishing environment. Saro-Wiwa was later hanged by the military government, prompting international outrage.  Shell may not pump any oil from Ogoniland any more but its pipelines and production infrastructure still sit in the region and are subject to leaks and sabotage attacks.  In some areas pollution was at levels that needed emergency action with one community drinking water that was contaminated with benzene, a substance known to cause cancer, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization guidelines.  UNEP said in 10 out of 15 areas visited where SPDC said it had completed restoration, there was still serious oil-related pollution that didn't meet Shell's own best practice standards.  NNPC and Shell both said oil spills in the Niger Delta were a major problem but they always clean them up and the major reason for oil spills is thieves and saboteurs.

Sabotage attacks and gangs bunkering oil has been a serious problem in the Niger Delta for years, although an amnesty for militants in 2009 brought a halt to major attacks.  "The report, what's new?" a spokesman for NNPC said. "There is no question of paying because we already clean up all the spills," he said in reaction to the $1 billion proposal and comments made by UNEP that spills were not cleaned up.  Despite the lack of hope felt by many of the communities in the Niger Delta, the pressure of 50 years working onshore in Nigeria is telling on Shell, as the future of crude oil exploration increasingly spreads to deep offshore projects.  Last year it sold off four onshore oil blocks and it has said it is not targeting growth in Nigeria.  The company's London-listed shares lagged rivals on Thursday after it emerged the company had accepted that a British court had jurisdiction in villager claims for compensation for damages caused by two oil spills from pipelines controlled by SPDC.  One source close to the case said the cost of cleaning up the spills and compensating those affected has been estimated by some experts at about 250 million pounds.....

Joe Brock, Analysis: Nigerian oil region's gloomy outlook unmoved by U.N., Reuters,Aug 5 2011

 

 

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From Ideology to Pure Criminality: the plight of Nigerian Delta

Kidnapping oil workers and blowing up pipelines may have focused attention on Nigeria's oil delta, but three years of militant attacks have locked the region into a spiral of crime which is hindering much-needed development.  Fragile communities already surrounded by oil pollution and desperately short of roads, clean water and electricity have been turned into military zones. Foreign firms have pulled out expatriates who had been helping build new infrastructure.

When the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) burst onto the scene in early 2006, knocking out close to a quarter of Nigeria's oil output in a matter of weeks, it said it was fighting for greater local control of oil resources.  It was a spectacular debut for a nebulous organisation whose leaders and structures were largely unknown.  Nigeria's crude oil output, then around 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd), has still not recovered, languishing below 2 million bpd. More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since its first attacks, most of them later released unharmed.  "Since the establishment of MEND in 2006, the government and oil companies have had sleepless nights," the group said in an e-mail to Reuters, when asked what it saw as its achievements.  "We have been able to maintain the focus of the problems in the region to a world that would prefer to sweep those issues under the carpet," it said.

While oil prices were rising into uncharted territory, an e-mail from MEND's Yahoo account was enough to send nervous international markets ticking higher. The kidnapping of Americans, Britons and other foreigners made headlines.  But it no longer commands world attention as it once did.  Its political struggle spawned a wave of copy-cat attacks from which it has been unable to dissociate itself, leaving all but its boldest strikes virtually indistinguishable from the common criminality of oil thieves, pirates and ransom-seekers.

The delta's vast network of mangrove swamps, one of the largest wetlands in the world, has been producing oil for half a century, yielding billions of dollars in profit for the government and foreign oil firms but leaving locals in squalor.  Roads are few and far between, and there is no clean water or mains electricity in many communities.  Activists have long campaigned against the pollution caused by oil spills and gas flaring, forcing oil companies and the government to step up efforts to limit environmental degradation. But the militant tactics have won less sympathy.

"The introduction of MEND took the struggle to a more international dimension," said Jonjon Oyeinfie, former leader of ethnic rights group the Ijaw Youth Council, who sits on a negotiating team representing delta activists and militants.  "But at the same time, because of their actions taking hostages as human shields, it took another negative aspect to the struggle ... and to an extent has discredited it," he said.  MEND is still holding two Britons kidnapped more than four months ago, making them among the longest-held hostages since it began its campaign, and has repeatedly threatened to end a ceasefire it declared in September.

Its attack last June on Royal Dutch Shell's (RDSa.L) Bonga oilfield, more than 60 miles offshore, showed that deepwater facilities long considered safe were also at risk.  Yet all but the most crippling unrest is now factored in to global oil prices, and news of another kidnapping has negotiators thinking more about "settling the boys" -- local parlance for ransom payments -- than political demands.  "The political issues have been calmed, but what you see more of is people taking advantage to commit criminal activities which focus around the kidnapping of expatriate staff for ransom," said Wale Tinubu, head of Nigerian energy firm Oando.  "It has become a criminal activity, a business, and not one with an ideology," he said.

Successive Nigerian governments -- military and civilian -- have failed to subdue the delta. Sceptics say some in the political elite see it as in their interests to keep the region poor and insecure so they can better control the oil.  President Umaru Yar'Adua promised a two-pronged approach after taking office in May 2007, pledging development for the region but also promising to stamp out criminals involved in "bunkering" -- the local term for oil theft -- and kidnapping.

He created a post of Niger Delta Minister and named Ufot Ekaette, who is from the delta state of Akwa Ibom, to head it.  "We do not want to stay in Abuja to formulate policies that would not be acceptable to the majority of the people," Ekaette told reporters during his first trip as minister to the region.  But the militants say they want action not words after endless committees and promises have come to nothing.

Jonjon Oyeinfie said a first step would be the release of MEND leader Henry Okah, on trial for treason and gun-running, and a guarantee of amnesty for other prominent militants.  Until concrete moves are made, the delta is likely to remain prey to piracy and kidnappings, often targeting the very people -- like construction workers and engineers -- who are actively developing the region.  "The fact nothing has changed shows we have reason to remain on the scene until our goals are achieved," MEND's e-mail said.

Nick Tattersall, ANALYSIS-Crime not politics drives Nigeria oil delta unrest, Reuters, Jan. 21, 2008

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