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Analysis: Nigerian oil protests intensify

Militant groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta say they are fighting for a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth. However, detractors criticize the group and others for using their professed advocacy as a cover for illegally siphoning oil from pipelines, a practice known as "bunkering," and selling it on the international black market.
by Carmen Gentile
Miami (UPI) Feb 12, 2009
Nigerian oil workers are delaying their strike amid hopes of federal government action in response to protests against unsafe working conditions in the Niger Delta, caused by the ongoing violence wrought by armed militant groups and gangs, which has increased in recent weeks to include high-profile kidnappings.

The protest came amid continuing uncertainty as to whether members of the country's two largest petroleum workers' unions would call for an industry-wide strike over unsafe work conditions in the delta, where Nigerian oil workers have been increasingly targeted by armed groups in recent months.

The leaders of the unions are giving the government three weeks to take action, the Daily Trust reports.

"We would stay away from work," warned Peter Akpatassan, president of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, "since we can no longer work with any assurance of safety of our lives and that of our families."

The protests began earlier this week outside the offices of French energy company Total in Port Harcourt, the de facto capital of the oil-rich delta.

Militant groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta say they are fighting for a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth. However, detractors criticize the group and others for using their professed advocacy as a cover for illegally siphoning oil from pipelines, a practice known as "bunkering," and selling it on the international black market.

Meanwhile, leaders of Nigeria's largest oil union, the Petroleum and Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or PENGASSAN, threatened to start the strike Wednesday if its demands for greater security measures were not met. Nigerian lawmakers appealed for both PENGASSAN and NUPENG to consider the losses that would be incurred by Nigeria were both groups to call for a work stoppage.

It remained unclear Wednesday whether both unions would in fact begin their strike as promised by Feb. 11, though some union officials said they would likely call off the strike some time Wednesday.

Oil workers' grievances over security in the delta were brought to international attention when earlier this month the wife of a former Nigerian energy minister was kidnapped from a bar in Port Harcourt. Gladys Daukoru was returned days later unharmed.

Others have not been as fortunate. Last month gunmen killed the 11-year-old daughter of a Royal Dutch Shell employee and kidnapped her 9-year-old brother, who subsequently was released unharmed.

Armed groups like MEND and others have taken hundreds of local petroleum workers and expats hostage over the last few years. While most are returned unharmed, companies must pay large ransoms to the groups for their release.

MEND and others claim they see little benefit from production of oil and gas in the region, either from the national government or the oil companies. And while poverty continues and increases, the residents suffer the environmental pollution typical of such an industry in a developing country. Not all violence is political, as many kidnappings are merely for ransom money.

That the increasing activities by MEND and others appear to have prompted the latest security concerns by petroleum workers is certain, though just how far they are willing to go to obtain safer conditions is not, according to analysts like Mark Schroeder, a sub-Saharan Africa analyst for Stratfor Strategic Forecasting Inc.

While security is a concern, "it is in the union's own self-interest to make any strike short-lived," Schroeder told United Press International Wednesday, as a prolonged strike could exemplify excesses in the union workforce, were production levels not to drop as much as expected.

"The longer they are off work, the more people will look at how production is impacted," said Schroeder.

The oil unions' strike threat was just the latest in a series of labor battles in the country's strife-ridden petroleum sector.

Last year U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil suffered millions of dollars in losses and 800,000 barrels of production per day during a prolonged strike by oil workers.

PENGASSAN's grievance with ExxonMobil began in March 2008, when the union threatened to walk off the job in protest of the company's decision to fire 100 union workers.

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Analysis: Iran and Tajik energy
Washington (UPI) Feb 12, 2009
Iran is filling an investment gap in Tajikistan left by the United States and Russia, agreeing to spend on hydropower and other quality-of-life projects.







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