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Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com: Nigeria: Worsening Violence in Delta Could Force Foreign Intervention


In the first half of this year an average of more than four hostages have been seized monthly in the Niger Delta, an unprecedented rate of kidnappings since the first stirrings of violent protest in the early 1990s in the region that produces most of Nigeria’s oil.

The two Filipino hostages freed on Sunday by armed militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta brought to 29 the number of oil workers seized and released since January in the increasingly volatile region.

Armed and equipped with speedboats, militants operating by surprise have blown up pipelines and installations and seized foreign oil workers in the last months before retreating into the maze of creeks and rivers that make up the 70,000 sq km delta.

Nearly all onshore operations to the west of the delta, one half of the entire oil region, have been shut down. The attacks have cut Nigeria’s daily exports of 2.5 million barrels by 500 million barrels or 20 percent of total production.

Instability in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, the world’s seventh largest oil exporter, is a contributory factor in record breaking high oil prices which this year tipped US $70 a barrel for the first time.

Recent attacks by the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which have claimed most but not all of the attacks, have focused on the east of the delta. The group aims to force a slash in oil exports by one million barrels a day until impoverished delta residents win access to oil resources.

Billions of dollars of oil are pumped from the Niger Delta every year, but the people who live atop that wealth live without mains electricity and clean running water.

Onshore oil facilities have been worst hit, as they are most easily accessible, with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell bearing the brunt of the assault. But even the offshore oilrigs that in recent years have sprung up in Nigeria’s waters in the Gulf of Guinea have not escaped the gunmen’s reach.

In May armed militia fighters in boats attacked a rig 60 km off the Nigerian shore. They seized eight foreign oil workers including six Britons, one US national and a Canadian. The hostages were freed days later.

According to Rose Umoren, an independent analyst who has written extensively on the Niger Delta, the rise in violence is a huge concern that is worrying both for President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and for Western countries with huge investments in the region.

“Militants in the Niger Delta are capturing expatriate [oil] workers at will – even planting a bomb right in an army barracks,” said Umoren.

The inability of the government to check the situation might tempt Western countries to intervene militarily to protect their investments, she said.

Already the US government has provided support to the Nigerian Coast Guard. In 2004 the US provided special boats to help tackle piracy, arms and oil smuggling. And a joint military training exercise by US and Nigerian troops in the southeastern city of Calabar focused on fighting in a water environment.

But lessons imparted have so far failed to translate into effective control of the difficult delta terrain.

As the US increasingly looks outside of the troubled Middle East to feed its growing thirst for oil, African governments will face increased pressure to resolve such security problems, says John Bellamy Forster, professor of the University of Oregon, US.

According to Forster, “the major US and Western oil corporations are all scrambling for West African oil and demanding security.”


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