Wednesday, May 17, 2006

 
Expect more violence
Two new pieces of information following the collapse of Nigerian President Obasanjo's attempt to change the constitution to allow him a third four-year term.

First, he may be down, but he's not out. Tom Ashby at Reuters in Lagos has the following:
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has been wounded by the collapse of a campaign to extend his tenure, but analysts say it is too early to write him out of the script in next year's elections.

... Some analysts fear Obasanjo will now try to foment civil unrest or confusion around the 2007 elections as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency in order to stay in office.

"We have to be very careful about Obasanjo because he wants to hold on to power at all costs. He may create a crisis and use that to extend his rule," said Abubakar Mohammed, a political science lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University, whose book on Obasanjo's third term bid was banned by the secret police.

Such a move would not be unprecedented. After what observers said were the cleanest elections in Nigerian history in 1993, then-president Babangida annulled the results in an attempt to stay in office.
The political vacuum created by Obasanjo's failed 3rd-term attempt is ready to be filled by his vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, a Hausa-speaking Muslim, or former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, also a Muslim and "affectionately" known as IBB in the Nigerian Press. Any Nigerian President would be in control of billions in oil revenue. Read it all.

Second, Royal Dutch Shell announced at its recent stockholder meeting that it is now intent on restarting the oil extraction capacity lost to violence earlier this year. (One third of the 500,000 barrel per day capacity lost to violence was on Shell oil fields.)

Shell declared the following goals. Their first stated priority is to send "relief materials to affected communities and environmental cleanup. Once we are back in the field we will work to restore capacity as soon as possible." They have also stated their intention of stopping "gas flaring, a practice residents say leads to pollution and health problems."

Note to readers: gas flaring is the way in which oil companies get rid of excess vaporous gas from oil reservoirs during pumping. It is essentially illegal in the US. Shell has a bad history in the Niger Delta, and it is predominantly because of Shell's need for security and its subsequent collusion with the Nigerian government for that security that violence is the threat it is today. MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, employs violence to meet their goals of regaining local control of oil fields. This is deplorable. However, if you know anything of the history of the Delta, their cause is most just.

Shell's goals are noble, but their history in the Delta suggests that they are not to be trusted.

The upshot is that in a world with very limited excess petroleum production capacity, even the slightest disturbance in Nigeria's rate of petroleum export can have a significant impact on crude oil prices. Issues of peace and justice in the Niger Delta aside, if Obasanjo is desperate enough, a "state of emergency" could be easily manufactured that would allow him stay in power.

Like Michael Klare says, at ThomasPaine.com:
[T]he continuing shift in the center of gravity of world oil production from global North to global South—combined with rising international demand and higher prices—will tend to enhance the perceived stakes in future struggles over the control of oil revenues, leading to more frequent and intense outbreaks of violence.
Expect more violence.

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