Nigeria’s rebels rock markets like a hurricane

FILE; DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images Why are oil prices bouncing back? A hurricane. Kind of. Beginning this weekend, rebels in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region launched “Hurricane Barbarossa,” an operation they claim has left 29 Nigerian soldiers dead. Violence has spread to 10 villages in and around the city of Port Harcourt. Reuters says there have ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
592535_080917_nigeria5.jpg
592535_080917_nigeria5.jpg

FILE; DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images

Why are oil prices bouncing back? A hurricane. Kind of.

Beginning this weekend, rebels in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region launched "Hurricane Barbarossa," an operation they claim has left 29 Nigerian soldiers dead. Violence has spread to 10 villages in and around the city of Port Harcourt. Reuters says there have been 100 casualties in all. Rebels claim to have taken 27 oil workers hostages. Oil pipelines, flow stations, and facilities have been destroyed. The country's oil output is down by 115,000 barrels per day.

FILE; DAVE CLARK/AFP/Getty Images

Why are oil prices bouncing back? A hurricane. Kind of.

Beginning this weekend, rebels in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region launched “Hurricane Barbarossa,” an operation they claim has left 29 Nigerian soldiers dead. Violence has spread to 10 villages in and around the city of Port Harcourt. Reuters says there have been 100 casualties in all. Rebels claim to have taken 27 oil workers hostages. Oil pipelines, flow stations, and facilities have been destroyed. The country’s oil output is down by 115,000 barrels per day.

The rebels’ message to the world? Ships should not dock, foreign workers should be evacuated, and journalists should come see the destruction. As their spokesman e-mailed journalists on September 15, 

If the Nigerian military is confident of its capabilities, let them be bold to take journalists and photographers to Orubiri to assess by themselves the aftermath of Barbarossa. We will henceforth begin documenting our raids by providing digital cameras and camcorders for each fighting unit.”

So what the hurricane is going on over there??

Since coming to power 16 months ago, Nigerian President Omaru Yar’Adua has promised peace talks to end the years of feuding. The rebels claim that their region has been neglected — underdeveloped and decimated by environmental destruction. So, Yar’Adua promised a Niger Delta summit, a high-power moderator, and a lot more economic development. But fickle fights, waffling, and a lot of animosity from all sides have prevented plans from going forward. The government is charging one of the legendary founders of the rebel movement with treason. And it doesn’t help that the Nigerian president is battling off rumors that he is sick and resigning.

With talks a nonstarter, the Nigerian government — desperate to keep oil revenues flowing — saw just one option: the military. State forces attacked rebel territory on Sept. 13, and the rebels quickly mobilized for what has become the heaviest fighting in two years. 

For months, rebel groups in the Niger Delta had grown fragmented and corrupt, kept wealthy by selling black market oil and accepting government handouts. Too many personalities had emerged for one cohesive fight.

All that might be changing. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, an umbrella group whose colorful threats rarely used to pan out, seems to be able to deliver now that the various rebel factions are united against the government.

How soon will the storm battering Nigeria, the third-largest provider of crude oil to the United States, calm waters again? Hold on, because this is not your typical hurricane.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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