#Nigeria: Boko Haram Crisis And the Regional Geopolitics of Oil (Part 1), by John-Thomas Didymus

The janjaweed connection: Idris deby of Chad with Nigeria's President and ex-Governor of Borno, Ali Modu Sheriff

by  John-Thomas Didymus ; AllVoices, Oct. 28, 2014

Author’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

With recent developments, it has become clear that the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves in Nigeria’s northeastern Lake Chad Basin, the zone of the Boko Haram insurgency, is a major factor contributing to instability in the region. The recent discovery has attracted the interest of neighboring countries, such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger, and international powers, including the United States, Britain and France.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, discovered new oil and gas reserves in the Borno Lake Chad Basin in 2012 after its francophone neighbors, Chad and Niger, announced significant discoveries on their sides of the Chad Basin. Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo announced in 2013 that the country was preparing to commence oil and gas exploration in the fourth quarter of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014.

It is estimated that the Lake Chad Basin, including the west of Chad, southernmost parts of Niger, northwest Cameroon and northeastern Nigeria, could hold as much as 2.32 billion barrels of oil and about 14.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Further escalation of the Boko Haram threat into a full-blown military conflict, leading to a declaration of a state of emergency in the three northeastern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno in 2013 following the discovery of oil in the region, might seem at first glance a coincidence given the roots of the crisis in the civil conflict with Nigerian security forces in 2009.

The Nigerian government had completed plans to begin commercial oil and gas exploration in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa in 2014. However, with significant sections of the region under the control of insurgent forces who have declared an independent caliphate, the plans have been thwarted.

As the Nigerian political opposition writer Peregrino Brimah notes, “There is no question that the find of oil reserves in 2012 potentially puts the entire conflict in the north in a different light.”

Who stands to gain from prolonging the Boko Haram conflict?

The risk management group Edinburgh International identifies the interest of Nigeria’s northeastern neighbor, the Republic of Chad, in prolonging the conflict. Chad is already benefiting from the inability of Nigeria to commence commercial exploration of oil in the region due to the ongoing insurgency.

From its side of the Lake Chad Basin, Chad has started drawing crude oil from shared underground reserves. Under the so-called “Rule of Capture,” Nigeria’s neighbors can legally draw oil from reserves located in the Nigerian territory provided they do the drilling exclusively in their territory. Billions of dollars in investments are going to Chad’s oil sector. Chad is drilling oil from the Chad Basin for exportation as part of the Chad-Cameroon Pipeline project.

The injection of oil geopolitics into an already volatile mix of ecological factors pushing socioeconomic devastation of the region is further complicated by the involvement of powerful local politicians on the Nigerian and Chadian sides whose personal investments in Chadian oil means that their interest is best served by Chad’s continued exclusive and unfettered access to the oil reserves while Nigeria remains bogged down with the Boko Haram insurgency.

The unfolding of the regional scenario with the commencement of oil exploration on the Chadian side has made explicit previously implicit assumptions about the Chadian government’s links with the Boko Haram insurgents in concert with local politicians who have vested interests in the commercial exploration of the Lake Chad Basin oil and gas reserves.

Evidence of close links between Chad, local Nigerian politicians, Chadian politicians and the Boko Haram insurgents has become clear following recent ceasefire negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram brokered by the Chadian leader Idriss Deby. Nigeria has in the past urged its neighbor to stop the insurgents from using Chadian territory as a safe haven for recruitment, supplies and launching attacks into Nigerian territory.

Chad’s destabilization role in the region, as part of its economic drive to transform into a major oil exporter, with the apparent backing of its former colonial master France, was highlighted by a recent Global Post report which indicted France of supporting Deby’s destabilization policy in the Central African Republic, CAR, with the aim of securing Chad’s unfettered access to its common oil reserves with CAR and disrupting the country’s increasing trade and economic links with China.

According to Kasper Agger, field researcher for the NGO Enough Project, in an interview withGlobal Post: “’Chad is drilling oil from that border region and it’s actually a shared oilfield with CAR’….  While there is no drilling on the CAR side yet, Chad has high interest in keeping tight control over the area.”

Recently, Australian negotiator Stephen Davis, who played a role in the negotiations that led to the granting of amnesty to Nigeria’s Niger Delta militants, repeated previous allegations against former Nigerian governor of Borno state Ali Modu Sheriff that he is one of the major local sponsors of Boko Haram.

Sheriff is known to have had close links with ECOMOG, a political militia that later morphed into Boko Haram under Mohammed Yusuf.

Sheriff is also known to be a personal friend of Chad’s Idriss Deby with significant investments in the Chadian oil industry. As if to confirm his influence with Deby and Boko Haram, he played a key role in brokering a meeting between Deby and Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan which led to the ongoing ceasefire negotiations and talks between Nigeria and Boko Haram to release the Chibok girls.

According to an account by Sahara Reporters attributed to Nigerian intelligence sources:

Mr. Sheriff was actively involved in the recruitment, training and deployment of Boko Haram members.

“… members of Boko Haram sect are sometimes kept in Abeche region in Chad and trained before being dispersed. This happens usually when Mr. Sheriff visits Abeche,” a 2011 memo from field officers in N’djamena, the capital of Chad, read.

When Mr. Sheriff visits Abeche for these activities, he lodges in Chadian Presidential Guest House in Abeche, and is provided security by the Chadian government… Mr. Sheriff is a close friend of the Chadian president, Idris Deby.

In 2011, during the Chadian presidential elections, Mr. Sheriff supported the Chadian president with 35 vehicles, for security, and is believed to have bankrolled Mr. Deby’s re-election.”

Image: President Goodluck Jonathan with Chadian President Idriss Deby and former Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff. (State House photo)