Monday, February 20, 2006

Instability in Nigeria


"Militants holding nine foreign hostages in southern Nigeria said they attacked an oil pipeline Monday and blew up a military vessel in violence that has cut about 20 percent of crude production in Africa's oil giant.

"The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said they attacked a Shell-operated oil-pipeline switching station known as a "manifold" and a navy vessel. "Both were destroyed with explosives," the group said in an e-mail."

Harlan Ullman, in the forthcoming Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest, notes that while most people's attention is still focused on Iraq, we better start focusing more on what happens in Nigeria:

"Of the less visible potential danger spots, Nigeria must rank among the highest on this list. We know that Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, with its 129,000,000 people, half of whom are Muslim; has huge oil reserves (2.3 million BPD, about the same as Iraq on a good day) and natural gas reserves; and is being led by an elderly president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is term-limited. Presidential elections will occur this time next year. The makings for crisis and insurgency are present and intensified by rising tribal and ethnic brutality, huge corruption (including the theft of about $1 billion of crude oil a year called “bunkering”), and the desperation of a population riddled with AIDS and other diseases.

"In January insurgents attacked two oil rigs belonging to Royal Dutch Shell and attacked an Agipa pumping station. Meanwhile, China acquired a majority interest in a Nigerian company, as part of its strategy to secure long-term access to energy. That acquisition followed its decision to withdraw its bid to buy the U.S. energy firm Unocal, following a strong negative reaction from Congress.

"The unknown unknowns are striking. Are Al-Qaeda and other jihadi extremists eying Nigeria as a potential target, given the size of its Muslim population? We have already seen a rise in Islamic militancy. If Nigeria is being actively targeted by jihadists, what is the timetable for action? If an Islamic insurgency—or, for that matter, another civil war—were to break out, to what extent would central Africa be affected? Also, how might oil importing countries, such as the United States, and the world economy be affected if an interruption in the Nigerian flow of oil should send the price sky high?

"Despite the Bush Administration’s best efforts, Congress has restricted financial and military assistance to Nigeria because of its sheltering of Liberia’s former dictator, Charles Taylor, from an arrest warrant filed by Sierra Leone, even though Nigeria took in Taylor in order to aid Liberia in its efforts to recover from years of ruinous civil war. Unfortunately, American public and preventative diplomatic efforts have been minimized. Nigeria is a good bet for a crisis in the not too distant future—an unknown unknown that poses the most profound implications for U.S. and global security, both because of oil and the potential for humanitarian disaster that chaos would create. Should a real Islamic insurgency break out and the flow of oil be cut, gasoline at $5 a gallon or more is not unthinkable. "

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