Nigeria, the oil-rich West African nation headed by President Goodluck Jonathan, appears to be experiencing a broadening of security concerns – demonstrated by a string of recent kidnappings.
The West African country derives some 80% of its revenues from oil but is burdened by domestic ethno-linguistic tensions which reverberate strongly within culture, politics and crime.
The broadening political and security threat is reflected in two main developments: rising kidnap risks and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Kidnap for ransom
The kidnapping of seven foreign nationals by Ansaru, an Islamist break-off group of Boko Haram, from a construction camp in Bauchi state on February 16 may mark a change in strategy on the part of Islamist groups operating in the North and North Eastern states of Nigeria.
Ansaru claim already to be holding a French national, abducted after the storming of a compound in Rimi in December 2012. It is not confirmed which group was responsible for the January 2012 abduction of a German engineer in Kano after a series of Boko Haram attacks.
To date, Islamic extremists in Nigeria have mainly attacked symbols of state power such as police stations and prisons with the single exception of the 2011 bombing of the UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
This may be changing. Taryn Evans, one of AKE’s Intelligence Analysts, believes that the leader of Ansaru may have close ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – a key driver of Jihadist violence in the Sahel including Mali and Algeria – and that the incipient pattern of abductions of foreigners may signify kidnap for ransom or political hostage taking (particularly of French nationals) as an acceptable modus operandi for Boko Haram and its affiliates.
These developments, supported by evidence of Boko Haram activity in Mali may signal the formation of a greater and more potent cohesion between Islamic militants across national boundaries in the region.
Worryingly, given the ‘franchised’ nature of Islamist terrorism, AKE’s Evans warns of a potential proliferation of kidnap for ransom by criminal groups ostensibly adopting the jihadist ‘brand’ but working for profit.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea
The second development of importance is the threat to shipping in the Gulf of Guinea in which Nigerians play an important role.
Driven by lucrative returns, fuel insecurity, corruption and chronic instability, piracy, in its many guises, is worsening in Nigerian waters. Numbers of violent off-shore kidnaps have spiked in the last three months; fast-approach vessels typically target ships between thirty and sixty nautical miles from the coast and hold senior crew members ashore for large, usually undisclosed, ransoms.
Off-shore fuel theft, a relatively new phenomenon, is increasingly frequent with tankers targeted along an extended coastal area. Crews are held captive and the tankers are sailed out to sea, whilst sophisticated pirate-vessels steal fuel to smuggle on-shore.
Nigeria’s contentious fuel subsidies are regularly undistributed which compounds problems of inadequate fuel supply and creates a profitable black-market. Local security forces’ aggressive pursuit of sea criminals on-land is allegedly linked to a violent spate of retribution robberies and kidnaps in the Niger Delta’s creeks and ports.
With little reliable naval security and no international strategy, maritime criminality is likely to remain an established source of income in Nigeria.
Escalating threats are founded upon long established grievances against a backdrop of crime and corruption which is exacerbated by the periodic shifts of Presidential power from the South to the North and back.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) continues to represent a major threat to the oil industry. In spite of some success in tempting MEND militants to employment after an amnesty in 2009, MEND’s political agenda is re-emerging with violent attacks on oil infrastructure and the regular kidnapping of oil workers in the Delta states.
With mounting suspicions that President Jonathan may attempt to break electoral convention by standing for a second term in the 2015 elections, political tensions between North and South will become increasingly fraught with serious implications for the rule of law and security in Nigeria.
Such deteriorations signal a downturn in the security prospects for multinational companies working in or sailing past Nigeria and indicate the need for organisations to re-evaluate and act upon their threat exposures.