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United States Department of State (Washington, DC): Nigeria: US Partners On Security for Oil-Rich Delta Region

March 15, 2007
Posted to the web March 16, 2007

Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington, DC

The United States is partnering with Nigeria to counter growing violence in its oil-rich delta region that is threatening an ally that has made valuable contributions to peacekeeping and regional stability in Africa, says a U.S. defense official.

Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense, told a March 14 forum in Washington, “There are no quick-fix solutions” to the security problems in the Niger River Delta where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced. The forum was sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The Niger Delta extends over an area in southern Nigeria of approximately 70,000 square kilometers and accounts for 7.5 percent of the country’s land mass, according to government statistics.

Whelan said the United States had a number of joint training and equipment programs aimed at helping Nigeria’s military counter the growing violence against oil facilities and their workers that threatens tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues and the more than 1 million barrels a day exported to the U.S. market. Nigeria now accounts for 8 percent of total U.S. oil imports.

Precious Omuku, a representative of Shell Oil in Nigeria, told the CSIS panel that in 2006 there had been 54 attacks against oil installations during which 11 hostages were taken by militants promoting various causes from environmentalism to political separatism.

The result is that “oil companies are now shy about going into the field,” he said.

To counter the problem, Whelan said, the Defense Department proposed a regional maritime awareness capabilities program for the Nigerian navy worth $16 million “to help the Nigerians establish greater situational awareness in the delta and try and address some of the bunkering [large-scale oil stealing] problems that contribute to the violence because it provides money to buy arms.”

In addition, she said, “We have offered to provide training and assistance in small-arms, light weapons identification so they can better understand and track the illegal weapons coming into the delta.”

Planning assistance and training also is being provided by the military to develop a riverine unit that would use patrol boats to go after the oil thieves and militants, Whelan told the panel.

The attacks, which are growing, according to Whelan, no longer are restricted to on-shore installations but involve “near” off-shore oil rigs. This poses a direct threat to the security and development plans of Nigeria, whose government depends on oil for 95 percent of its export earnings and 80 percent of total government revenues.

Whelan said, “The militants appear to be operating with almost complete impunity” and “on-shore oil production has been reduced by 500,000 barrels per day due to the insecurity and that means $1 billion a month in lost revenue” to the Nigerian government.

To make matters worse, the militant’s “tactics and weaponry are increasingly sophisticated,” she said. “We observe a very gradual, but steady and consistent … [progress] in the way they operate and we expect that to continue. And so you will probably see more attacks as time goes on.”

Although the United States is attempting to work with the Nigerian military to confront security challenges the picture has not been all positive, Whelan told the panel.

A major problem is that the 80,000 members of the Nigerian armed forces — who are the main security bulwark against the type of violence seen in the delta — are undertrained and underequipped, Whelan said. Various peacekeeping commitments outside the country also are “drawing off available trained soldiers who could respond to domestic crises,” she said.

Operational readiness rates of the Nigerian navy are low, the U.S. defense official added. “We provided the navy with four U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders and the Nigerian navy also purchased 17 Defender class response boats. The only problem is that the navy is not appropriately trained to use those boats and so for the most part … they sit idle down in the delta.”

Nigerian Ambassador George Obiozor told the CSIS panel members that his government “welcomes the international concern over developments in the Niger Delta.” And he assured them that Nigeria, “like any responsible country in the world, will not tolerate or condone any activities that threaten the lives and property of Nigerian citizens and our international development partners.”

The United Nations estimates that since 1960, oil has generated $400 billion in revenues for the Nigerian government. Under reforms by President Olusegun Obasanjo the federal government now divides 20 percent of total oil revenues among the nation’s 774 local governments. Oil-producing states — mainly the nine in the Niger River Delta — are entitled to 13 percent of the revenues generated within their borders.

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