January 29, 2010

COIN 101

Let’s be clear, MEND did not break its ceasefire with the Nigerian government. Having committed multiple attacks since summer 2009 and shown no real inclination to laying down arms, its latest announcement wasn’t to clarify its position regarding the Niger Delta conflict.

It was to terrify.

"It is sufficiently clear at this point in time the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group for the control of the resources and land," MEND said in a statement. “All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught against their installations and personnel.”

But if any type of terrorism is "good" MEND would qualify. How much the organization actually represents the Niger Delta people is highly debatable, but the reality remains that the region has been stripped of resources and environmentally devastated without seeing any benefit in return.

Shell, Chevron and a multitude of oil companies, in league with Nigeria's government and private sector, would be facing an insurgency in any country after their behavior over the last 50 years.

MEND’s terror is effective too. It has no intention of attacking civilians - the target is Nigeria's vast network of oil pipelines that it knows intricately and is already crippling. Declaring a full-scale war will rattle the state and possibly international oil market; following through and knocking down Nigeria’s output will certainly affect global oil prices.

MEND is also taking advantage of the ongoing presidential crisis with Umaru Yar'Adua, who negotiated the temporary truce. As the country feuds over Yar Adua’s future and legal status, now is the perfect time to drop a psychological bomb.

Obama could have another big headache in Nigeria in a few years should MEND follow through and open a year long campaign. He needs to pay attention too because Hillary Clinton is aggravating it.

Speaking from Washington no less, "The failure of the Nigerian leadership over many years to respond to the legitimate needs of their own young people, to have a government that promoted a meritocracy, that really understood that democracy can't just be given lip service, it has to be delivering services to the people, has meant there is a lot of alienation in that country and others."

Deploring that illiteracy is growing and health standards are falling, "There has to be a recognition that in the last 10 years a lot of the indicators about quality of life in Nigeria have gone in the wrong direction.”

This is not the way to resolve Nigerian’s presidential crisis, engage its leadership, or counter MEND and its offshoots.

If anything go to Nigeria and deliver the message in private. Clinton is hoping to appear tough on an unpopular government, a sound hypothesis, except it will have no effect on MEND. There is likely no way to defeat MEND militarily.

Clinton even acknowledges this, saying, “I do think that Nigeria faces a threat from increasing radicalisation that needs to be addressed, and not just by military means."

Nigeria needs a full-spectrum counterinsurgency spearheaded by diplomacy and government reform; America may be the only external actor capable of influencing the government and holding it to a framework. Clinton should take her own words to heart and stop paying lip service.

Importing almost half of Nigeria’s oil, our third largest source, America is feeding what Clinton criticized as “unbelievable” corruption and propping up failed Nigerian leadership.

Obama must use the threat of a US embargo to bring about reform in Nigeria. This seems to be the only way to force its government to work with oil companies like Shell and Chevron, which is where America especially comes in. Environmental damage must be neutralized and local economies and infrastructure rebuilt. Simultaneously the Delta people and their militant manifestations must be sincerely engaged by coordinated Nigerian leadership.

Unrealistic as this strategy is, slapping Nigeria from 3,000 miles away could leave Clinton without any fingers. MEND cannot be underestimated. This flea has all the advantages and it's about to bite.

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