Saturday, June 03, 2006

Oil bullish for kidnappings

US crude oil prices jumped $2 a barrel to $72.33 yesterday on news of yesterday morning's Nigerian oil rig kidnappings.

But the kidnappings had no effect on oil production! The rig from which the hostages were taken was exploration-only. It's amazing that an event with no direct impact on supply would send skittish oil marketers into such a tizzy. On the other hand, according to Mike Guido, director of commodity strategy in New York for bank Societe Generale, trading volume wasn't particularly heavy. "It was a typical pre-weekend rally in oil," he said.

On the Nigerian side, MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) has officially denied responsibility for the kidnapping. This is significant, since MEND has become the poster child for what I'm sure Admiral Ulrich would call "terrorism" in the Niger Delta, despite their rather just dispute with the Nigerian government and petroleum multinationals over environmental and economic rights. In an email today, MEND said that they believe the kidnapping was "purely a money-making scheme."

It is very important that the Western press avoid demonizing MEND. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria's first Nobel Laureate, in an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, said the following about the people of MEND:
They're very young, mostly, very highly motivated people who, however, have links with some of the elders, the progressive elders in the region, in Bayelsa, for instance, in Ijaw region, many belong to the Ijaw ethnic group, and from all indications, they're very articulate. The ones whom I’ve spoken to asked me to intervene in a number of ways in Nigeria, very articulate, and at the same time, they're reluctant rebels. Take, for instance, an email which one of them sent to me, said, "Prof, listen. We are people who would rather be with our families raising our children, sending them to school. We’re not happy sort of carrying out operations in the creeks. We want to be home. We want all this to be over so we can return to our families, but what future do our children have? There are no schools, there are no clinics. All the wealth in this region is going to Abuja, is going to sustain the rest of the nation, so it's about time that we took a stand. We want you to understand this." This is the kind of language which they use. It's not bravado; it’s not crude, thuggish kind of people, at least the ones whom I’ve spoken to.
MEND is not Al Qaeda. It is not the Taliban. For a better analogy, think of the Kurds or the marsh Arabs under Saddam. Don't let our military or the press get away with calling them terrorists.

(Image REUTERS/Luis Enrique Ascui)

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