07 Jun Hunter, bruised, returns to Lagos to investigate the security strategy of the Oil Majors
“You said the government is planning to escalate its aggression against the DNDR?” Duke asked rhetorically. “Your routine stories never hinted at that.”
“Boss, have you forgotten that, in the tradition of this newspaper, assignments like this are for special reports.”
“You are correct, Hunter,” Duke said as his star reporter paced across his office.
“These militants are the kings of the creeks. I saw them in action, sir. They are masters of the scene. They know every tree, every shrub, and every wave in the water. They can hide in broad daylight and navigate their boats in the dead of the night.”
“No wonder they are always so evasive,” commented Duke.
“The DNDR is prepared to continue fighting as long as it takes. Simple escalation will not intimidate or overwhelm them. The government’s only chance to defeat them is to declare all-out war and annihilate them with air strikes. Anything less is a waste of time, effort, energy, and humanity.”
Duke drew in a deep breath. “Would you really recommend that the government engages in air strikes against its own people?”
“Absolutely not!” Hunter said. “We’re talking about genocide here.”
“So, what do you propose, then?” Duke wondered.
Hunter paced for a few more steps and let out an exhausted sigh. “First, we need to state the obvious,” he said. “The government’s emphasis on the use of force is not working.”
“And minor increases in that force will simply be met with minor—or perhaps major—increases in the intensity of the DNDR’s attacks,” he added.
Musa Duke changed his chewing gum, something he often did when he was enveloped in thought. “You have reported that the DNDR does not consider negotiation to be an option,” he said, “and everyone knows that the government will not meet their demands without some assurance that it will not appear to have given in to home-grown terrorists.”
Hunter grunted. “Why does it always have to be about keeping up appearances?” he asked. “We’re talking about human lives here, as well as the environmental health of the region.” He paced a few more steps. “In the end, diplomacy is the only way to bring this to an end, but I honestly don’t even see that as being viable. There have been so many broken promises in the past. There is no system of checks and balances, and the government’s word does not seem to have credibility.”
Duke shrugged. “Even if it did, it doesn’t sound like the DNDR is willing to sit down at the bargaining table. For now, they want it their way or no way.”
“That is right.”
“I feel tempted to print some of your ordeals in The Hub as soon as possible,” Benson confessed.
“But the paper’s style is to investigate all the angles of a crisis before reporting it as a feature. ”
“I can’t wait for you to finish.”
( ( ( ( (
Hunter’s stay in Lagos was to enable him recover from his ordeal in the creeks, but he soon noticed that even going by Boyd’s checklist, there was much work for him to do in the bustling economic capital of the country. He had to monitor the crisis in the Niger Delta from news reports and his sources as well as investigate the statements of oil companies, most of which had their headquarters in Lagos. So for the weeks that followed, he worked in Lagos, but always on the alert to dash to the Niger Delta when there were major turns in the crisis.
He discovered from his investigation in Lagos that each company had either recently formed or instantly overhauled its own official Crisis Management Team. Some teams met on a daily basis to discuss the circumstances in the Niger Delta and the effects they were having on a particular company’s production, public relations, and most of all, revenue.
The information did not fill Hunter with optimism, but then again, he was hardly naïve enough to think it had the potential to do so. Many of the companies had withdrawn more of their employees from facilities in the most affected areas. This suspended oil production, affected oil prices, and had repercussions in the world economy.
Under the table and away from the media spotlight, Hunter was sure that some hawkish companies were pressuring the Nigerian government to subdue, if not completely eradicate, the militancy so that they could feel safe to resume business as usual. Hunter was worried about what might happen once the government caved in to that pressure. The planes might fly and the bombs might be dropped—and the carnage would definitely be massive.
Hunter’s research discovered that some oil company representatives had been lobbying the local and national governments for the dispatching of Navy gunboats to protect their offshore facilities. Offers were made to cover the military’s expenses, including those connected with supplies and repairs. Hunter wondered if a bidding war was underway. Would the company that paid the biggest wad of cash see its facilities receive the greatest protection? Perhaps there was a strategy involved in that manner of thinking.
If one company could buy up all the protection, the others would be forced to fend for themselves because of the small number of gun boats available from the Nigerian Navy. Yet, down in the creeks, there was no let up. Smaller militant groups were springing up like weeds, and incidences of hostage-taking had begun occurring on a regular basis.
American and European abductions were met with spirited efforts and negotiations. Filipino abductions were met with mild indifference, and Nigerian abductions were largely ignored. Three Nigerian men working for a drilling company had gone missing for a considerable length of time.
The affected company eventually reported that it had recovered their vessel, but the workers had not been located. Hunter tuned into some unofficial chatter that suggested that the men’s corpses had already been recovered after the company refused to pay a ransom demanded by a group of militant kidnappers. The company, however, maintained that it was still actively searching for the workers, whom they described as “missing,” a strategy Hunter assumed was being deployed to buy time or deflect any criticism from other employees. Hunter felt an overwhelming urge to break this particular story wide open, but he was committed to his style of digging up all the information during an assignment first.
In addition to forming crisis management teams, some multinational companies had engaged security consultants to investigate the Niger Delta situation for intelligence reports to guide corporate decisions. He was sure that attempts were being made to infiltrate the DNDR to siphon as much information out of the network as possible.
He heard some daring intelligence operatives had wanted to be stationed at some oil facilities, covered with bugging equipment, and being deliberately set up to be taken as hostages. But no oil company would approve this strategy, fearing proprietary information might be made public.
Hunter tried to talk to members of the crisis management teams of the major oil companies. Perhaps there would be at least one person who could vividly describe to him the internal level of urgency, even if the information was relayed off the record. His frustration grew as his calls, emails , and personal visits were always met with the usual smiles and corporate press release statements.
Hunter felt like he was treading water in a sea full of sharks. He wasn’t buying the optimistic retorts. He knew the people running these companies were too smart and too experienced not to recognise the gravity of the situation. He wished he could find just one person who was willing to trust him.
“I have no intention of publishing confidential information,” he told one oil company executive. “I honestly believe I can help in this situation if you will just give me a chance.”
“I’m afraid that I am not at liberty to speak any further on this matter,” the executive said.
Hunter soon heard that same reply from several oil company representatives. In fact, it was repeated so often that Hunter could practically mouth the words with them as they spoke. The routine was getting old, to say the least, so he enlisted the help of modern technology.
( ( ( ( *
On the job, nothing stopped Hunter from getting what he wanted. He had visited the Crust offices on several occasions and was close to its media team. On one of the visits, he sought proof the company felt concerned enough to work on the resolution of the crisis. His doubts arose because it always declined to make statements about security matters. He always sensed that certain things were not being said in his presence. There were even moments when he was convinced that they were actually speaking in some kind of code to prevent him from completely understanding the details of their discussions.
This morning, the company had finished a crisis meeting, and Hunter was happy to be shown the crisis room.
“It is always chaired by the managing director and had in attendance key production, safety and environment, and security staff,” said Hunter’s guide, Fola, a stocky and gentle-mannered man from the media team as they arrived the darkened windows.
“Big meeting,” Hunter said. He had decided not to say or do anything to ruin his chances.
At the door, a security man with a permanent smile swiped his ID button near the door, and it opened. Standing in the room was a young man, most likely an intern, wiping down the top of the ornate wood table with a soft cloth. The lemon scent of the furniture polish wafted through the air.
The room was filled with sophisticated IT conferencing and audio equipment glowing with lights.
As Fola explained the schedules of the meetings, Hunter walked around, nodding his head. But he needed more than the schedules.
“Can I see the minutes of one of the meetings to familiarize myself with the aspects of the crisis that are of major concern to the oil companies?” Hunter asked on their way back to Fola’s office.
“Trust me, you are safe,” Hunter told him. “You know I am not a desperate or frivolous reporter.”
“I knew you first by reputation, Hunter,” Fola said. “But we don’t do that here.”
“Trust me, Fola. You can do it.””
“Okay, I will see what I can do to help, but give me a day or two.”
Two days later when Hunter returned to Crust, Fola simply slid a minute flash drive into his hands as he saw him to the lift.
That evening, Hunter sat back on his living room sofa and listened to the voices that were recorded by his device at the Crust Oil offices earlier in the day.
“I am an optimist, even in this situa…but…challenges…”
He had listened to the managing director of the oil company a couple of times and even with the cracks, he was certain that was his voice. At first, he wondered if the cracks were deliberate to discourage him but he soon concluded that the recording was poor. He released the pause button to let it play on.
“As you are well aware, our Group Chairman visited top government officials yesterday to reinforce… on the need for more diplomacy and the use of more carrots than the stick…….”
There was a break and mumbling of faint voices.
“…. but there seems to …. big hawks in government who want the militants humbled. But……… ah, how do they do that when they don’t even have functional naval boats …..and ….. to secure essential oil and gas facilities….. and…..can’t stop the kidnapping in the city?
Another break and several voices came on. Moments later, the voices became clear again. “The state governments must be more cooperative when it comes to hostage negotiations,” another voice said. “The foreign governments will become agitated if their people are being taken hostage and the local officials do nothing to either prevent it or resolve it.”
“Gentlemen, may I make a suggestion?”
Hunter concentrated. This voice was new. The accent was definitely American. “Certainly, Mr Canaday,” the managing director acknowledged.
Canaday? Hunter quickly reached for a notepad and scribbled down the name. He was excited at the opportunity of seeing the young American he had met at the death camp.
“We cannot expect this situation to resolve itself,” Canaday began, “so we need to prepare ourselves for the worst possible scenario.”
Hunter heard some incoherent murmurs from the other men.
“This crisis is going to get worse before it gets better,” Canaday continued. “The government has completely mishandled its negotiations with the militants, and the governments in Europe and the United States are losing patience.”
“We understand that, Tom,” another man said, “but how are we supposed to intervene?”
Tom Canaday, Hunter scribbled into his notes. The Canaday he met at the death camp was Jones, not Tom.
“Why should we intervene?” another man asked. “We are an oil company, not a law enforcement agency. These so-called militants are really just local criminals. Criminals should be thrown in jail.”
Hunter shook his head. Jailing so-called militants had done nothing more than antagonize legions of other militants. At this point in the crisis, it was a useless suggestion.
“The possible results are dire, sir,” Canaday maintained. “Nigeria needs to enhance its oil production as quickly as possible in its own interest and in the interest of its trade partners. We need to keep the pressure on government to do the right thing. I am aware that some countries are doing that, and as a company, you have to do same. I am not sure the decision makers get the correct briefing that government is losing the war…..
The recording did not provide Hunter with much more information about Canaday. He couldn’t determine if Canaday actually worked for the company or if he was just a consultant. Hunter was determined to discover more than just his name. He wanted to know who he represented, and more importantly, what his motives were.
Hunter spent some time researching Canaday with little success. Placing the name Tom Canaday in any Internet search engine produced a few hits, none of which seemed to fit Hunter’s man. On top of that, Hunter was only assuming that the man’s name was actually Tom Canaday. In truth, he had no means of confirmation. His friends in the industry he called didn’t know the name.
In the end, he decided to recollect any possible clues from the tape.
“Yes-s-s!” he said excitedly. At the end of the reel, he heard the security manager would be meeting with Tom in his hotel room in Eko Hotel over the weekend.
Hunter flashed a self-satisfied smile as he wrote down the information.
( ( ( ( (
As was always the case, dozens of people were milling around the Eko Hotel lobby when Hunter arrived. The resort by the ocean was a popular events centre. Finding his way in the usual chaotic traffic to the hotel was easy. Finding the man within it would be hard.
Hunter did not know Tom Canaday’s room number. He didn’t even know what the man looked like. He was sure he’d recognise his voice when he heard it, but what if he didn’t hear it? He had nothing else to go on.
He decided to employ the most obvious route and approached the desk clerk.
“Excuse me,” Hunter said. “I’m trying to locate a gentleman named Tom Canaday. He is registered here.”
The clerk tapped a few keys on his computer’s keyboard. “And what is your name, sir?” he asked.
“My name is John Hunter. I’m with The News Hub newspaper.”
The clerk shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr Hunter,” he said, “but Mr Canaday has a list of people he is prepared to receive while he is here, and your name does not appear on it.”
Hunter wasn’t about to give up so easily. “Could you call his room and ask if he will see me?” he said. “Tell him that I have participated in meetings with him on the Niger Delta.”
The clerk was not impressed. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “The best I can do is to take your information and pass it on to him. Perhaps he will contact you—and perhaps he won’t.”
Hunter bit his lip. “Is that really the best you can do?” he asked. He pulled an envelope he had loaded with thousand-naira bills out of his jacket pocket, opened it slightly. “You know Aliyu and Clement?” he asked.
“No, sir,” the clerk returned quickly. “I thought you were looking for Canaday.
“See them here,” Hunter pointed at them on the money. “That is what we call the thousand-naira bill.”
The clerk’s mouth twisted into a small smile. “Mr Canaday is not in his room right now, sir,” he said quietly.
Hunter pushed the envelope to him and whispered. “Where is he?”
The clerk said nothing. He simply held out his hand and waited. After a short stare-down, Hunter released the envelope to him.
“He’s out by the pool,” the clerk said.
Hunter moved away for a look at the pool area. Many people were wandering around. Some splashed in the water, while others stretched out on lounge chairs.
“Can you be more specific?” Hunter said.
“Sure,” the clerk said. “He’s one of the men there, the one alone and in a white T-shirt.”
With that, the clerk turned and walked away, a richer man.
Hunter’s eyes scanned the crowd. He soon noticed a man sitting in the outdoor dining area—alone.
As Hunter approached the table, he saw that the man he was looking at shared little resemblance with the Jones Canaday he had escaped from the death camp with. The new Canaday looked taller, more muscular and had a receding hair.
At the table at last Hunter said, “I hope you haven’t been stood up.”
“Ah…no,” the man said. “I’m just waiting for dessert.”
Hunter recognised a similarity with Jones as the man turned to him – the gap teeth. “Did you enjoy your meal, sir?” he said.
“Ah…yes, thank you.”
“I hope they served you fish from the Niger Delta,” Hunter said.
The man looked a bit confused. “Excuse me, but have we met?”
“My name is John Hunter I write for The News Hub.”
The man nodded in recollection. “I should have recognised you,” he said. “I’ve read a great deal of your work. I’m Canaday.”
“Certainly not Jones Canaday,” Hunter said.
“Oh, are you the man he spoke about?” he said and extended his hand.
Hunter shook it. “May I join you?” he asked.
Canaday gestured for him to sit down. “Tea or coffee for you?”
Tom made the order and shifted their conversation to the hospitality of the hotel until the tea and his dessert came.
“So where is my camp mate?” Hunter asked as the waiters left.
“He is my cousin,” Tom said.
“You know Nigeria that much,” Hunter said.
Tom ignored that.
“Surprisingly, they didn’t want the press to feast on it and he was happy when I didn’t report it,” Tom said
“I don’t want much attention drawn to my assignment yet. For now, I do only routine stories.”
“Apparently you guys were on opposite sides of the big oil issue.” “Yes, but that is for another day,” Hunter said quickly to indicate his disinterest in the subject.
Attention shifted again to the tea and fruit salad and back to the growing militancy in the Niger Delta. It didn’t take long for them to discuss the danger of the militancy and the need to resolve it. Hunter was fascinated by Tom’s detailed logic. His predictions for the future sounded as if they were extracted directly from the prophetic American Oil Shockwave experiment report. He was about to ask Tom if he was familiar with the scenario, but he decided to hold back.
“How are you guys in the West handling this? The government here is not getting it right?” Hunter asked.
Canaday swallowed and the put down his spoon. “I’m working with some oil company security teams to come up with solutions, or at least stalling strategies,” he said, “but I honestly don’t believe that the answers lies there.”
Hunter was intrigued. “Really? Where else would they lie?”
Canaday looked Hunter in the eyes. “With the Nigerian government,” he said. “The government needs the help of the oil companies, no doubt, but first it must gain the confidence of its own people, especially those living in the Niger Delta. When they can trust government to care for them, the problem is about ninety per cent solved.”
“I know people who understand the situation in the creeks, and they share this view,” Hunter sighed. “All other views are erroneous and unhelpful.”
“I guess views have been biased by the desire for cheap oil money. I get the sense it’s like the effect of drugs on addicts.” Canaday wrote his number on a piece of unused serviette before him. “I have to go now.”
Hunter registered the number of his cell phone and stood up to leave.
“I will get yours when you call,” Canaday said.
With the unspoken understanding that they should not be seen together, Hunter left Canaday there and headed to the restaurant on the tenth floor of the hotel for his own dinner.
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