Monday, August 18, 2008

Bakaasi and the Baptism of Blood Oil

As Cameroonians partied and celebrated on the beaches of the northern side of Bakaasi, some 300,000 Nigerian fishermen were forced to swallow the painful and bitter pill of eviction from the Bakaasi peninsula. The loss of their rich fishing culture as a result of the handover has destroyed their way of life. Some 30,000 of them had moved to a location set aside for them at Cross River state, but it has no access to the sea. Cameroonians will own the fishing resources, and look forward to reaping the benefits of the substantial oil fields believed to be deposited offshore, but remained untapped because of the dispute. This offshore resource could be their baptism into the realm of blood oil.

Nigeria observed its commitment to the rule of law, but challenged the ruling of the International Court of Justice against it based on a 19th century colonial agreement between Britain and Germany. Two years ago, it agreed to cede the peninsula to Cameroon – citing the bigger gains of its adherence than the pain of losing ancestral homes. The fisher folks feel however that the government abandoned its duties. The massive displacement of families from Bakaasi could provide a wealth of recruits for the “militants” who are in the business of “illegal bunkering”, and the way of life of these Nigerian fishermen may be transformed beyond what they bargained for because of their desperation.

These “militants” were once armed militias of state governments, recruited to conduct large scale rigging of the 2003 elections. After being abandoned, they turned to oil theft to fund their activities. Most of these militants are gangs led by commanders, who are constantly battling each other for a larger share of their clientele’s business. Their tasks are to provide security to the barges and ships engaged in oil bunkering and neutralize all interference to the systematic theft of oil. They bribe the Nigerian military and coerce local leaders to allow the bunkerers to pass. They are also used by their clients to blow up pipelines to force the oil companies to shut down the flow, allowing them to install taps and valves in the pipeline. The installation is usually done by an expert formerly employed by the oil company.

The oil bunkerers who hire these militants have formed a cartel, and are operated by some of Nigeria’s powerful political kingmakers who brandish immense political influence. Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua likened the situation to the blood diamonds that resulted in brutal civil wars in West Africa, and has called on the international community to assist in ending this illegal trade. Some members of this syndicate may even be supporters and financiers of Yar’Adua himself. Going against them could induce a coup d’ etat, a civil war, or destabilization efforts that could bring the state to its knees. Yar’Adua is thus held hostage by the syndicates that affect his government’s efforts at eradicating corruption.

Less than a handful of the militant groups are genuinely inspired by nationalism. Most are engaged in selling their services to the cartel. This nationalist fervor is used as a cover by the cartel for the massive losses in oil supplies, attributing the theft to the cause of the pro-people activists. But militant assisted theft is just one method. Fake documents, excess loading of oil beyond what is allowed, or simply lifting oil from the dock and diverted to the cartel’s vessels; all with the connivance of oil company officials, ship’s captains and national oil state officials, are also carried out. Around 80,000 barrels of oil are stolen daily, bringing the cartel’s revenues to an estimated US $60 million a day. An amount they would kill for if this revenue stream were obstructed by anyone, including President Yar’Adua.

Nigeria has agreed to work with Cameroon to explore oil in the Bakaasi peninsula. This will involve officials and powerful political figures from two independent states. A partnership that may result in another oil bunkering cartel between the existing Nigerian syndicate and a new Cameroonian bloc. The potential for conflict exists in the essence of the greed and avarice underlying the illegal intent. And if suspicions on revenue undercutting occurs, the result could be bloody with overwhelming political repercussions – including war. Militants may be recruited from the displaced Nigerians, whose bitterness about their own country’s neglect could fuel their passions, but would suffocate their souls. Cameroonian hopes for a better life may be quashed by constant violent clashes with militants, or trapped in a savage war with their neighbors.

These events have not yet transpired but the elements for their fruition are already in place. It may take a couple of years or more for the actual oil production to take place in Bakaasi, if substantial oil deposits do exist. President Yar’Adua already feels his inability to eradicate the cartel as evidenced by his slowing down on reforms and corruption. Seeking assistance from the international community gives a global recognition to the problem, but it does little to impede the cartel’s operations. Either this is merely hand washing on Yar’Adua’s part, or a sincere and meticulous evaluation of the extent of efforts he is willing to take.

Being an intelligent and perceptive leader, President Yar’Adua perhaps realizes that the shadowy forces that lurk beneath and behind government and the aspirations of his people are serious threats to the progress and development of his country. Allowing them to operate unimpeded could return Nigeria to backwardness and despair. This is his Gethsemane. A confrontation with these shadowy forces is inevitable, but at a huge cost and sacrifice on his part – perhaps with his life. This would be the parameters by which his devotion to duty and love of country would be measured; together with the noble heroism by which he stands by his principles for the benefit of Nigeria and its people. Or, he can look the other way and be less than a mere shadow of himself, and the promises he has made for Nigerians. The forked road awaits him. Whatever path he takes, at the end of that road lies his destiny.



Philippine Updates said...

Very good, as usual Durano!

Request: Can we hear your take on the claim of ancestral domains by the MILF? I just don't have time to research about this but heard Jorge Bocobo's pronouncement that both Christian's and Muslim's cannot claim ancestral ownership of Mindanao for they are both invaders. I somewhat agree to the observation but will need some historical sources before I can conclude on anything.


Jena Isle said...

hi Durano, very well written as usual...ang galing mo kabayan. Flows like river,...very commendable.

Kudos to you.

Anonymous said...

The buyers of these stolen or bunkered oil are the oil distributors of the USA, Russia and the UK too. They make bigger profits from this theft by laundering the stolen oil with their legal purchases. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these buying companies support the politicians from these countries too.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi JC,

I haven't got much computer access as I am out of the country and in a place recently ruined by a cyclone some months back. I have all my posts on CD and re-encoded by our home based secretary who has all my passwords. We only get a chance on weekends - traveling some 12 hours by boat and land to get to the city where a dial up service exists.

Anyway, I know that Billy Esposo of the Philippine Star has done several articles on this quite comprehensively...check him out.

I will try to get some facts and make a post on this if its not too late. I only know some heavy US interests are at play which includes Federalism - so it will be easier for them to establish a base, use the vast resources there and block the sea lanes that carries the mid-east oil to China.

It's the old carving out of a country from an existing territory, similar to what they did when they apportioned Arab land for Israel in Palestine.

I'll make effort to get hard facts as best I can. Thanks for dropping by. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Jenaisle,

Thanks again. But you're a great writer yourself, and as far as this weekend goes, I haven't seen your Chapter 15 yet. You're doing an awful lot of good things yourself and I don't know where you find the time too.:-)

Kepp the creative juices flowing. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Anonymous,

I have no data on the allegations you have stated here but I wouldn't be surprised if they were involved in it, or even actually encouraging it.

Oil companies do support politicians in every country and the chances of finding some of them with dirty hands is very likely.

Thanks for the comment. :-) --Durano, done!