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In Nigeria, former bandits getting government pay

Children sail past an oil pipeline head near their home at Andoni settlement, Bonny waterways in Rivers State on April 12, 2011.

Jeff Horwich: From Nigeria, the Wall Street Journal has a provocative piece this morning on how the country's protecting its oil industry. The government's paying warlords, thieves and terrorists to guard the same oil pipelines they once plundered.

Drew Hinshaw reported the story. He's with me this morning from West Africa. Good to talk with you.

Drew Hinshaw: Good to talk to you too.

Horwich: Set the scene for us first, how important is oil to Nigeria and what’s been the problem in the Niger Delta?

Hinshaw: Well, oil accounts for almost four-fifths of Nigeria’s total government revenue. And almost all of it comes from the Niger Delta where residents feel that they haven’t really benefited from this gold mine they’re living on top of. The problem has been for years that aggrieved residents have struck out in a variety of ways. For the past ten years there were a number of kidnappings of oil workers and they would ransom them off and make money that way. There was theft from oil pipelines or even bombings of pipelines and police stations and big gun battles with oil thieves and the government.

Horwich: So the government is deputizing former bad guys, handing them millions to pay their men to guard the oil infrastructure.  How’s it working out?

Hinshaw: It’s not working out too great. There’s just too much money to be made in stealing oil. Right now, they’re probably stealing more oil than they’ve stolen before. There’s a sense that everyone’s in on this, expect the oil companies, that the government is getting kickbacks, the police are looking the other way, that the ex-thieves are actually thieving oil from the pipeline. So, it’s a web of corruption that is keeping the peace, right now, in the Niger delta.

Horwich: And these are, by in large, foreign oil companies the government is trying nominally trying to protect here.

Hinshaw: Right, you have the big major international oil companies that operate in Nigeria – and Nigeria is good place on some level. These guys are thinking of going off-shore and doing more off-shore drilling and getting out of these swamps that they are drilling in now. The scary thing is what if they decide to move off-shore and someone decides to buys small fleet of speed boats.

Horwich: Drew Hinshaw, reporting from West Africa, thank you so much.

Hinshaw: Yeah, thank you.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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