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The Gulf of Guinea: Nigeria II
The Other Side Of The Divide
Two weeks ago we looked at Nigeria’s resident terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, and how it had effectively turned the northeast of the country into a permanent low-level warzone and one of the most dangerous places on earth – sadly for locals as well as foreigners, as the recent slaughter of fifty students in a northern agricultural college once again demonstrated. Boko Haram may be a relatively localised threat, but as we travel south to Nigeria’s coastline, new and recurrent dangers present themselves.
Why does Boko Haram have no overt presence in southern Nigeria? For the most part it is down to demarcations of culture and religion. The south of Nigeria is predominantly Christian and Boko Haram has found no innate foothold there. Additionally, the further one travels down from the north-east, the more oil one finds, and the government of course have a vested interest in securing the continuation of their greatest resource.
Beginning with the subject of oil, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (extending from Guinea through Nigeria and around to Gabon) takes a partially different form to across the other side of the continent in the Gulf of Aden. Around Somalia and the Suez Canal, piracy is entirely dedicated towards the capturing of vessels and kidnap of the crew for subsequent million-dollar ransoms. In the Gulf of Guinea, on the other hand, such piracy still exists – but a large part is targeted against the product said vessels carry: the enormous quantities of oil transported in tankers docking at Lagos, Port Harcourt and elsewhere.
‘Bunkering’ is the name given to the method whereby a tanker is hijacked and the product siphoned off to a smaller, waiting ship, which then disperses the petroleum to the Nigerian black market (of which there is thriving trade). This is both a financial and a practical decision. On the one hand, oil can fetch high prices on the black market – and a separate, more complicated scam involves the pirates importing the oil back into Nigeria and thus being able to earn money openly (something which requires no small amount of collusion and corruption). On the other, oil is in such high demand by the Nigerian citizenry (Nigeria’s own refining capabilities are so poor that it imports most of its oil, despite possessing such great quantities) that some thefts may be carried out directly to help certain communities.
The question of hostage danger is rather trickier to answer than in the Gulf of Aden. It is certainly less prevalent, but does this mean we can discount it as a threat? Absolutely not. It seems very much up to constraints of time and conscience whether hostages are taken. Certainly for those pirates looking for a quick ‘in-and-out’ robbery, hostage taking is a lengthy complication not worth the effort. But conversely, if a raiding force is focused only on obtaining the oil, then the crew will be worthless to them and may actually be killed instead. Given that 66% of attacks are conducted against vessels at anchor, there is little chance for an escape. Relative to Somali piracy, vessels through the Gulf of Guinea are attacked a lot closer to shore – not only does this make it easier for any piratical escape, it also raises questions about the effectiveness of the Nigerian Navy in stopping them.
The term ‘bunkering’ also applies to the practice of stealing oil directly from the pipelines themselves. Thieves physically cut into the pipe, rendering a drop in pressure and forcing the company HQ to lower pressure along the entire line. The thieves attach spigots through the hole and then, when the high pressure is restored, simply divert quantities out of the main pipeline. This would be of lesser impact than stealing from ships were it not for the fact that the pipes cross a delta the size of Portugal, and there exist so many thieves, all in competition with each other, that additional extravagant attempts are being made against the facilities and platforms in the Delta, with the concomitant danger to expat workers resulting. The most recent example was in April, where two workers were kidnapped in an attack on the Sengana Chevron oilfield. The rig was temporarily shut down as a result. No responsibility was ascribed but it was indicated that the attackers were attempting to seize the platform control centre as their primary objective, rather than take hostages.
Up until 2009 a militant group naming itself Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) launched frequent attacks against Western installations and peoples, with their grievance being that the people of the Delta saw little to no return from ‘their’ oil and that production would be attacked until this was reversed. A governmental amnesty so far seems to have been successful in quietening the group, with the major delta threats to lives being a side-product of petroleum robbery. However, this is not to discount them completely – it is impossible to truly kill off an idea.
Kidnap And Dangers To The Person
The biggest ‘endemic’ threat to those visiting Nigeria is the extremely high level of violent crime present across Nigeria’s metropolitan centres, and even out into the wider rural areas. Attacks can range from simple muggings to full-blown carjacking and kidnappings. Westerners are the ideal targets as they appear wealthier than the average Nigerian citizen – and the British are particularly singled out.
Where possible, remain away from public areas/services known to be primarily frequented by expatriates. These locations will be ‘on the radar’ of those with criminal intent, with anyone entering a viable target. The Foreign Office advice on Nigeria currently carries an instance of an arranged ‘meeting’ in the city of Port Harcourt thought to be an intent to kidnap, and for it to be highlighted on a government website is testament to the widespread nature of the practice – and the importance of guarding against it.
A common practice the further one goes from metropolises is the setting up of unofficial vehicle checkpoints. While the authorised versions are there for legitimate security checks, these unofficial checkpoints exist only to extort money – or in extreme cases, kidnap and ransoms – from the vehicle occupants. It is always best to stop lest you inadvertently pass a legitimate check, but always be wary when asked to hand over possessions and always ask for identification.
For anyone seeking, or doing, business in Nigeria, corruption will be a daily facet of life that should nevertheless not be engaged with under any circumstances. Corruption is most prevalent in the oil industry. It is estimated that 400,000 barrels are stolen per day through mis-management, corrupt officials and underhand deals, and that USD$400 billion potential oil revenue has been stolen since independence in 1960. Furthermore, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company “the worst-run” such institution, according to the non-profit think-tank Transparency International, who went on to describe it as a “slush fund for the government”. In a telling move, Nigeria’s Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madeuke is herself accused of complicity in such corruption, but has been granted new and sweeping powers over the industry by the President.
The “brown paper bag” culture is common across Nigeria in all business, not just oil, but it should be avoided at all costs. Bribery and backhand corruption is not the way to run any business, and if one’s counterparts engage in it then they may not be trustworthy partners in the first place. You should always ensure the transparency of all business deals, partners and financial considerations before making any commitment. While this is of course true for most of the world, greatest care should be taken in Nigeria simply because it is far more likely to happen there than elsewhere.
Nigeria’s disparate problems cannot be easily solved. For a country that refines less than a quarter of what it produces, the impetus for the petroleum theft, the first order of business would seem to be the construction of quality, large-scale refineries that will turn Nigeria into a net exporter of petroleum and allow her to claw back the approx. 400,000 barrels that are stolen per day. An ambitious plan to construct the largest refinery in Africa was announced last month, but this in itself may not be enough. MEND may be quiet now but all the while the oil is flowing, thieves will always assault oil platforms and vessels in order to steal it. This, coupled with the corruption that seems unstoppable, certainly does not hint at a bright future for Nigeria – nor for those that do business with her. Certain precautionary measures are necessary: cargo lines must ensure that their vessels have up-to-date physical defences to deter pirates; those travelling into Nigeria should seek appropriate discretionary protection to counter the likely threat of robbery or kidnap, and anyone with business in Nigeria should request a thorough due diligence investigation into potential partners in order to sidestep the quagmire of corruption into which most business deals are thrown. When the dangers are so clear, there can be no excuse for laxity.
Should you need any of the above services, call Knight Associates to learn how to mitigate against all Nigeria’s threats and have complete confidence in your business partners, dealings and presence in Nigeria.
By James Bailey
Geopolitics Analyst Intern – Knight Associates .
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