Monday, December 6, 2010

Nigeria seeks to make nuclear power a main part of it's energy portfolio and has spent years in meetings with Iranian leaders and companies in an effort to partner on that goal. However, any friendship between both countries is now on ice as Nigeria reported Iran to the UN's Security Council for breach of UN sanctions. The discord stems from the discovery of weapons at a Nigerian port that originated from Iran as confirmed by the shipper, CMA CGM. One can only begin to speculate as to why these weapons ended up in the country.


In the days immediately following discovery of the weapons cache, which were packed into at least 13 containers, there was speculation over the origins and ultimate destination of the weapons. In no time, it was revealed that the weapons cache came from Iran. Then it was announced that the weapons had entered India at some point. A few more days passed and the Israeli government upped the ante by declaring that the weapons were sent by Iran with Hamas-led Palestine as the final destination. With Nigerian elections on the horizon, and the fact that the country is in a period of insecurity, outrage over the discovery increased amongst various parts of Nigerian society. And, the nation's Speaker of the House of Representatives stated that whatever country the weapons originated from must face sanctions and other repercussions.

As expected, Iran rejected any accusations of involvement in the affair. In fact, the Iranian government tried to counter the bad press with an announcement that government owned Saipa, a car-making company, would commence operations in Nigeria. Despite that, an Iranian, based in Nigeria, was soon arrested by the Social Security Services (SSS), which answers directly to the president. The Iranian government denied having knowledge of the arrest of a citizen but in time offered it's explanation for why the weapons cache ended up in Nigeria. According to Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who visited Nigeria to discuss the matter with authorities,
"A private company which had sold conventional defence weapons to another country in West Africa had transferred the shipment via Nigeria which raised some doubts with relevant officials...and I believe the misunderstanding has been cleared up"
The shipping company, France-based CMA CGM, acknowledged on October 30th that the weapons did come from Iran. The company also stated that the weapons, which were misleadingly labeled as construction material, were meant for Gambia but mistakenly landed in a Nigerian port where they were seized. However, Nigeria's SSS has shut down all claims that the weapons were intended for either Hamas, as claimed by the Israelis, or Gambia, as claimed by the shipping company. In what can be interpreted as a telling development, Gambian authorities have expelled all Iranian diplomats from the country. The SSS asserts that the weapons cache, contained in 13 transportation containers, were meant for Nigeria and nowhere else. The weapons were to be sent to an address in Abuja. The security group also indicated that it had been monitoring the weapons since before they left Iran in July and that two Iranians have been arrested. The Iranians are allegedly members of an elite unit within Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

Given how complex Nigeria is, there can be any number of factors involved in this recent discovery. For one thing, the weapons were found during election season, a time that is renowned for being dangerous in NigeriaAuthorities admitted as much when in August 2010 it was announced that security would increase at the nation's ports to prevent the importation of weapons by politicians Politicians and their friends tend to arm themselves to the teeth with weapons being used to bully opponents and their supporters or simply protect oneself. Weapons are also used to frustrate the work of election officials. During the 2007 elections, there was a bomb attempt on the Abuja headquarters of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). It was unsuccessful but buttressed the overwhelming sense of insecurity that grows during elections.

There is also the factor of Nigeria's continuing militancy problem. Militants in the Niger Delta have for years attacked pipelines and other oil facilities. Some groups claim that their violence is for the greater benefit of the Delta's citizens who remain poor despite living in the midst of oil wealth. A September interview by Al Jazeera revealed that MEND is fully operational in the swamps of the Niger Delta and very well armed. During 50th independence celebrations, MEND set off two car explosions that killed 14. And MEND is intent on scaling up its operations in the Delta region. In addition to warning of new attacks, the group has increased attacks, exploding pipelines across the country from the Niger Delta in the south to Kaduna in the north, sending some oil companies scrambling. 

In addition to those factors is the existence of violent religious extremists in the north known as Boko Haram. This group of individuals have caused significant damage and death over the last 12 months and assert that they are against western education. There is no doubt that Boko Haram is itself arming up as a woman was caught bringing weapons from neighboring Chad on behalf of the group. Yet, it remains unclear how the group manage to arm themselves but they clearly do so very well as they have killed several police officers and at least one popular Imam in 2010 alone. It is believed that they are sponsored by powerful northerners and possibly others.

However, the US documents released by Wikileaks may shine the most light on this weapons cache matter. In one document, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, said,
"Iranian support for terrorism is broader than just Hamas and Hizballah. Iran has influence in Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Eastern Province of [Saudi Arabia], and [Nigeria]..."
This bit of information, coupled with the obvious fact that the cache of weapons came from Iran, reinforces the Sheiks's concerns that Iran planned to export terrorism into the country. It is also little coincidence that just weeks after the weapons containers were found, heroin was also found in a container at the same Lagos port. The drugs, worth N1.5 billion also came from Iran. This information must be considered within the context of the Jos fighting that has occurred frequently over the last few years. Particularly because in January 2010, a North African Al Qaeda group offered to train northern Muslims to fight and kill Christians. If there are any ties between Iran and this Al Qaeda group, Nigeria must work very hard to stem the influence of aggressors seeking to destabilize Nigeria and the region.

Ultimately, it is most important for Nigeria to address how those weapons arrived in Nigeria and why. Focusing on Iran's role in the matter is significant, but determining which Nigerians were in partnership with Iran to bring those weapons and drugs into the country is essential. Such information would go a long way towards alleviating the insecurities and fears that continue to grow in Nigerian society. It would also serve to discourage other Nigerians from taking steps to foster violence by importing weapons such as a brand new cache of military materials and Union Jack-stickered trucks discovered on November 24th. Will the current set of Nigerian politicians and officials be brave enough to face this challenge or will they avoid dealing with the matter out of personal self interests. The countries 'punishment problem', track record of corruption and the fact that repeatedly, those at the top are all 'dirty' suggests that the various caches of weapons, drugs and sponsors of violence will eventually become old news.

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