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Nigeria Update

October 7th 2016
Despite the apparent calm in the region following the agreement by the Niger Delta Avengers to lay down arms while negotiations took place, the Delta is beginning to heat up again.

Sporadic outbreaks of violence, including the kidnapping of oil workers, continues to blight the region, while the financial loss caused by terminal and oil pipe bombings has been significant. President Buhari said in a speech made on Independence Day (Oct. 1st) that the militants had knocked out 16 distribution systems in just five months; the impact on Nigeria’s economy has been substantial.

However, while talk goes on in the background, the Nigerian Army continues with “Operation Crocodile Smile”, which Delta residents have been highly critical of. The Army has, in turn, been attacked by militant groups. The Bakassi Strike Force militant group attacked Nigerian Army forces on October 1st, suffering seven fatalities. The Army claimed to have suffered no casualties during the incident.

The day before, another group, the Concerned Militant Leaders (CML) of Niger Delta, claimed to have captured 24 soldiers in an operation against the military. The men were reportedly manning a gunboat and the militant group’s leader has threatened to “execute them at the appropriate time.” The Army has denied the report, while the militants claim they have the gunboat. The truth will emerge eventually, and it is, of course, quite possible that the military is not being entirely honest in its reports.

Regardless, the Nigerian military has now said it will respect the negotiation process, but continue to defend itself as well as national critical infrastructure. However, those words haven’t quite worked, with another series of pipeline attacks over the weekend causing widespread damage to supply lines.

The ongoing instability in the region has yet to significantly impact shipping in the Gulf of Guinea. Although we are noticing a slight increase in robbery reports, there have been no major attacks against merchant ships or vessels supporting the oil and gas industry; or at least none that have been widely reported. Small scale crime continues to slip under the official radar in Nigeria, as has always been the case.

However, kidnapping of oil and infrastructure support workers remains a cottage industry in Nigeria; locals are regularly abducted in the Delta’s many creeks and waterways and crew kidnap remains a lucrative industry at a time when oil prices make tanker hijack less profitable than it was in 2014-15. The main concern is that the military operations to protect land-based oil infrastructure will drive militants out onto the water, where softer targets can be found. While the Nigerian Navy claims to be doing good work suppressing piracy, we have received reports to the contrary. One recent incident which the Navy claimed to foil was followed up by a report from sources in the region which stated the three Nigerian Navy vessels sat idly by for a long period of time after receiving the merchant ship’s alert.

There is no doubt that the Navy has done well recently, but that it remains relatively unable to properly fight piracy and maritime crime for a host of reasons. While the militants continue to attack Nigeria’s oil facilities, they at least are staying off the water.