Terrorist attacks in Nigeria

Terrorist attacks in Nigeria

We know there has been little confidence in previous years in Nigeria’s ability to produce good policies for sustainable development. Extreme poverty is still a problem despite vast hydrocarbon wealth, in large areas of the country.  Over the last few months we have heard much more about terrorist attacks on Nigeria’s borders, areas with a common social geography, in the Central African Republic, Algeria and Mali, in that order.  Now seven hostages (including one UK citizen) have been executed by the muslim extemist group Ansaru in northern Nigeria. UK special forces are active in Nigeria right now and  security information is being shared with the UK as we speak. As extremism spreads in Nigeria (and maritime crime gets worse in the Gulf of Guinea) the UK Government is becoming more involved there.

International Oil Companies who operate in Nigeria and  the shipping industry  that supports them, have been asking for many  years for  better security  in the Niger Delta. Despite demands, it is still very difficult for UK Private Maritime Security Companies to have a real impact on maritime crime; mainly because they can’t transit weapons or use armed guards in Nigerian territorial waters, well certainly not as they can off the east coast of Africa anyway. Even with weapons securely bonded it’s not tpossible to transfer weapons and men between passing ships or use Nigerian ports.  But only two weeks ago London based insurers declared  parts of the Gulf of Guinea a High Risk Area, for the first time; a sign of how dangerous things have become? We will have to wait and see how things pan out;  insurance costs will inevitably go up and ship owners will most likely put pressure on the International Maritime Organisation to do more but will the lessons of the Gulf of Aden be learned and are they transferable?

Let’s not forget  that  the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognises it’s own problems and is trying to bring about some important internal changes, not least by increasing taxation of oil and gas company profits. but also by bringing in a new bill to be much tougher on oil companies who pollute the  delta rivers. Hopefully, this will also lead to more spending on internal security, more investment on infrastructure (ports, roads and communications) and the environment: by preventing theft of crude oil from pipelines, preventing illegal bunkering and cleaning up chemical spillages. International Oil Companies want to see some progress in the area of security to match new investments by them.  Interestingly the UK and Nigeria signed a long overdue Memorandum of Understanding on counter terrorism and maritime security this week. Is this the ‘multidimensional approach’ to reducing crime that International oil companies like SHELL, Exxon and Chevron have been asking for?   Lets not forget  the problem is becoming bigger ( 150,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen every day in Nigeria) and more complex and just as more ships visit  the Ports of Nigeria and more oil  exploration is predicted in the Niger Delta.

A recent report from  the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) describes  what appears to be an attack on Nigeria from two sides: increased drug trafficking from across the Atlantic Ocean and piracy offshore, more illegal weapons and rising terrorist activity coming out of the Sahara desert  and at the same time more onshore crude oil theft. West_Africa_TOCTA_2013_EN

Martin Brown