By Adedayo Ojo
The dark days of kidnapping in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry have returned. Seven expatriates working for a contractor to Chevron Nigeria Limited at the Pennington oil platform offshore Nigeria were recently abducted. Six of the men are Russians and the seventh is believed to be an Estonian.
A criminal gang attacked a barge offshore Niger Delta in the last quarter of last year, killing two Nigerian sailors, injuring two other Nigerians onboard and abducting one Indonesian, one Iranian, one Malaysian and one Thai national. The foreigners were eventually freed a few weeks later. Around the same time, Augustine Wokocha, Rivers State commissioner for Power was kidnapped.
The most telling of these kidnap stories close to the end of 2012 was that of Kememe Okonjo, a retired professor of sociology and mother of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the country’s finance minister.
The return of these acts of brigandage in the oil and gas industry is to say the least a bad omen with grievous negative implications for investments. It casts an eerie, horrific shadow on the government’s so-called transformation agenda, the perception of success of the amnesty programme and the effectiveness of Nigeria’s national security.
Kidnapping for ransom is rampant in a few places around the world. Iraq, Mexico and Colombia have all featured as countries with high incidents of kidnapping.Statistics on kidnap incidents are hard to confirm because most victims do not report attack.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Times named Phoenix, Arizonaas America’s kidnap capital, reporting that every year hundreds of ransom kidnaps occur there, virtually all within the underworld associated with human and drug smuggling from Mexico.
Somalia ranks high on the list of countries with the highest reported cases of kidnap. Somali incidents are largely associated with piracy which has been a persistent problem in the territorial and international waters off Somalia. Between October and December 2011, an average of two people were kidnapped a month with each held for an average of 90 days, according to data compiled by the British-based company AKE, which tracks threats across the world. Many of the victims are ship crew and aid workers trying to deliver food to starving Somalis. In 2009, the British think-tank – Overseas Development Institute – calculated that 41 out of every 1,000 United Nations workers in Somalia were attacked in some way, including kidnapping and other threats.
However, incidents of piracy and kidnap in Somalia have fallen to a three-year low because of joint action by international navy and the enlistment of armed security guards by shipping companies. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that seventy attacks were reported by ships in the first nine months of 2012, compared with 199 incidents in the first nine months of 2011. From July to September only one ship reported an attempted attack by Somali pirates, as opposed to 36 incidents in the same three months last year.
A Nigerian Problem
Kidnap incidents in Nigeria attracted national attention in 2006 when Niger Delta militants resorted to abducting foreign oil workers to press home their demand for a larger share of the oil resources found in the region. The criminals have since become more daring, omnipresent and commercialised. The vice eventually spread from the Niger Delta to virtually all parts of the country. The people behind the wave of criminality now include armed robbers, the unemployed, and fraudsters. Similarly, victims have changed from being predominantly foreign oil workers to just about anyone who can afford the ransom.
The years of unrest in the Niger Delta limited crude production which only recovered following the 2009 amnesty programme initiated by the Federal Government. Prior to the amnesty, the unrest in the country’s oil producing belt threw up criminal gangs and militants attacking oil facilities, with the main targets being to blow up pipelines.
Although the unrest has been reduced, criminality – largely induced by crude theft – remains widespread. Millions of barrels of oil and condensate are stolen in the country each day. Hijackers of tankers in the Gulf of Guinea have raided ships, siphoning fuel cargo and diverting the stolen product to the lucrative black market.
The Amnesty Programme
The offer of unconditional amnesty to Niger Delta combatants who renounced militancy and surrendered their arms in 2009 at least provided a break and paved way for dialogue.
The decrease in militancy and the improvement in oil production indicated that the amnesty program was a modest success. Reports from government indicate that oil production figures improved from 800,000 barrels per day at the peak of the hostilities in 2006-2008 to about 2.4 million barrels per day today. Many of the former militants have been retrained both in Nigeria and overseas.
The return of kidnap incidents and the improvement in total produced oil volumes may suggest that the amnesty programme was mere window dressing or at best, a treatment of the symptoms without a comprehensive diagnosis. Any notion that all the arms in the Niger Delta region have been surrendered is illusory at best. Besides no one has stopped the influx of new arms through the routes that brought in the arms that were surrendered.
Many fear that a large number of the guns are still in the hands of criminal youths in the region. This situation threatens to railroad the gains already recorded in the amnesty program.
The amnesty programme has also been derided as having been reduced to a money-making exercise. The leaders of the disbanded militant groups have suddenly become wealthy by summiting names of supposed members of their groups. Many youths in the region that did not participate in the militancy and the associated kidnap incidents now see themselves as losers. This appears to be contributing to the return of the problem. Today’s kidnappers seem to be targeting their own payday.
Ex-militants turned mega security contractors
It is now public knowledge that a few leaders of disbanded militant groups who held the Niger Delta region to ransom are currently executing security surveillance contracts for which they are paid hundreds of millions of dollars. Many question the rationale of the undertaking in the wake of current spate of kidnap incidents and attack on oil industry personnel. Meanwhile, Nigeria continues to lose a significant volume of its daily crude oil production to oil thieves who constantly parade the country’s extensive coastline and break pipelines to steal crude oil. The notion that the money paid to the ex-warlords is wasted is supported by the new wave of kidnapping and the increase in incidents of oil theft.
Securing the Niger Delta
The personnel and the facilities that make up the oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta as well as the civilian population require security. Nigeria’s economy depends on it. In order to make the region more secure, the federal government needs to strengthen the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), improve on the gains of the amnesty programme and prosecute sponsors of criminal activities.
The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) has the mandate of securing the Niger Delta, particularly oil facilities in the region. The military outfit has been stretched thin by the daunting task of securing and policing the region. There is the need to make the JTF more efficient by deploying more men to the task force, ensuring that the men undergo the state of the art training in combating the peculiar challenges that the region is known for and ensure that they have the modern equipment.
Improve on the Amnesty Programme
The amnesty programme has recorded some gains. Today, Niger Delta youths are receiving training in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, India and so many countries around the world. Soon, many of these youths will become pipeline and under-water welders, pilots, boat builders, seafarers, marine engineers and computer professionals. There is the need to emphasise more of these types of training in the future and less on the money that is paid to the ex-militants. The skill training is the option that is sustainable.
In addition, the government has to design a comprehensive programme that targets all the youths of the region. Any one of the youths can be vulnerable and has the potential of taking up arms if they erroneously believe that such moves will secure his future or at least grant him a place in an amnesty program that will bring him money and send him overseas.
It is generally believed that the criminal activities in the Niger Delta Region are been sponsored by highly regarded individuals in the region. Yet not one the sponsors have been brought to justice. The arrest and prosecution of the ring leaders will send a strong signal that the federal government is serious about stamping out criminality from the region.
These measures will restrain rampaging youths in the region from resorting to criminality. There are enough issues related to the PIB and the transformation of the oil & gas industry for stakeholders to deal with. No one needs the menace of additional security challenges.
Adedayo Ojo is Lead Consultant/CEO of Caritas Communications Limited, a specialist reputation strategy and corporate communication consultancy based in Lagos. Caritas is the West Africa affiliate of Regester Larkin, a pioneer reputation strategy and management consultancy with offices in London, Washington and United Arab Emirates.