The Nigerian Pirate Story

Pirates in the Niger Delta fight for the oil wealth to be returned to their communities

Pirates in the Niger Delta have been called everything from a “menace” to “terrorist. Nevertheless, the media only presents one side to the story.  So far this year, the area surrounding the Niger Delta has had a record amount of twenty pirate attacks and eight cases of hijacked ships. The increase of piracy has been attributed to the rise of militant groups in the area known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Since its establishment in 2006, MEND has been responsible for attacks on oil pipelines and kidnappings. These criminal activities have reduced oil output in the Niger Delta by roughly one-third. The disruption of the oil industry is part of MEND’s overall objective, which is to gain complete control of the oil wealth that people of the oil Delta claim they have been robbed of.

Since the oil boom in the 1970’s, Nigeria’s economy has come to be highly dependent on oil. The United States is the nation’s biggest oil importer, as it supplies over 8% of U.S. oil imports, nearly half of Nigeria’s daily oil production. In 2008, Nigeria made more than thirty-eight billion dollars from trading with the United States alone. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), the future looks bright for Nigeria’s economy. It is expected to grow at an average range of 3.5% in the next five years.

Map of location of the Niger Delta

Yet for the people in the Niger Delta where twenty percent of Nigeria’s oil deposits are located, there are no signs of progress. Instead there are signs of retrogression. Oil companies in the area have not brought jobs or money to the communities in the Niger Delta. In fact about 66% of the population now falls below the poverty line of about a dollar a day, compared to 43% in 1985. There is an increased amount of environmental degradation, due to the Nigerian’s government’s failure to regulate foreign oil industries.  As many as 546 million gallons of oil have spilled into the Niger Delta over the last five decades. The increase in oil production has resulted in riverbank erosion, frequent gas flares, and deforestation. as production gets under way, Farms and sacred lands are either acquired for oil and gas development or polluted.

Oil pipes are close to local communities and have caused detrimental effects on the environment

The increase of piracy in present-day Nigeria results from the frustration of Nigeria with the oil companies. One of the main contributions of this is unemployment. Because oil companies hire only a small percentage of people in the Niger Delta, thousands are left without work. Environmental pollutions have also contributed to the unemployment, as fishermen can no longer find fish in heavily polluted areas.  Much of the supporters of the MEND also attribute problems to the Nigerian government’s failure to place regulation on foreign oil companies. Past dictatorships have granted control of Nigeria’s oil deposits to international oil companies, such as Chevron, and most notably, Shell. Because of these laws, regulation of internationally oil companies has been a challenge. Nonetheless the people of the Niger Delta are fed up with oil companies and the lack government initiatives to control them. It is clear that the people in the region have lost trust in the government.  The MEND has taken matters into their own hands to gain autonomy of the Nigeria’s oil. In various attacks on oil companies in the region they have outlined their intentions.  “It must be clear that the Nigerian government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it…. Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian government to export oil.”

The MEND militant group is composed of victims of the oil companies, which leave with profits and stripped the Delta of everything. Piracy in the Niger Delta continues and MEND remarks that it will not halt until all foreign companies leave the Delta and no longer deal with the Nigerian government.