International attention has been focused on the devaluation of the national currency, the naira, but there have been important security developments meanwhile.
Militants, called the “Niger Delta Avengers" (NDA), have attacked oil infrastructure, resulting in a decline in production, with estimates ranging from 40 to 60 percent. As profits from oil and gas account for more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange and more than 70 percent of the government’s total revenue, the events have harmed the Nigerian economy.
In the meantime, Boko Haram in the Northeast is far from destroyed. It continues to carry out operations, though on a reduced scale. There is anecdotal evidence that Abuja is shifting military resources from the fight against Boko Haram to the Delta. There is concern that if military pressure is reduced, Boko Haram will surge.
Against this backdrop, on June 21, Voice of America carried a report according to “a senior official at the state-owned oil company” that the Nigerian government has reached a cease-fire with the NDA. However, on Twitter the NDA are saying: “The NDA High Command never remember having any agreement on cease-fire with the Nigeria government.” The Minister of State for Petroleum is in the Delta at present. He wants to negotiate rather than use force. The incoming secretary general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Mohammed Barkindo, a Nigerian, says, “The government, I understand, are negotiating, they are discussing and we are beginning to see the positive results.”
Some conclusions can be drawn. The government appears intent on negotiations, at least at present, rather than the use of military force. This is positive. Army and police methods in the Northeast were a driver of Boko Haram recruitment, and that pattern might well be repeated in the Delta if the government tries to destroy the NDA by force. But, it is unclear whether the NDA will negotiate. It is also uncertain which individuals are authorized to speak for the NDA, who are likely to be loosely organized and locally based. Too, anecdotes that the government is moving military forces into the Delta as a precaution if the negotiations fail are credible.
Also, in the Northeast, a general from Niger on June 21 said that a multinational force “has begun operations against Boko Haram along the border between Niger and Nigeria,” according to Reuters. “The operations have as their objective (to end) the occupation of all the zones currently occupied by Boko Haram. Our role is to firmly secure the border,” said Niger Brigadier-General Abdou Sidikou Issa. If this is a significant effort, it might help cover the transfer of Nigerian military assets to the Delta.
Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed new Acting Police Inspector General (AIG) Ibrahim Kpotun Idris. His predecessor has retired because he reached the age limit for the position. The new AIG has been an assistant inspector general of police. While sketchy news reports do not indicate whether this appointment represents a housecleaning, one is sorely needed within the police. The police are a national, not local, body, comparable in some ways to the gendarmerie in France. They have been widely accused of human rights abuses which are a driver of public support or acquiescence for Boko Haram and the NDA.