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Nigeria gov’t siege traps Niger Delta’s people

Published Jun 7, 2009 8:34 PM

An ongoing struggle between Nigeria’s federal government and the people of the Niger Delta has reached a new level in the aftermath of the May 13 military operation in the West African oil-producing region.

Nigerian women fight for the benefits
from their petroleum in 2002.

The root of the current repression in Nigeria is the role of U.S. and European-based multinational oil firms that have looted the resources of the people of the oil-producing areas inside the country for decades. These corporations, working in conjunction with capitalist politicians running the federal government, have sought to maximize profits and deny the fundamental political, economic and human rights of the people of the Niger Delta.

Fighting for the rights of the people, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has carried out acts of sabotage and kidnapping over the last several years. MEND is protesting the exploitation of the natural resources in the area and the failure of the government and the multinational oil firms to utilize industry profits to improve the people’s living conditions.

A May 28 report stated that a leading activist in Bayelsa State, Ken Niweigha, was shot dead by the police. Although the police claim that Niweigha, known as “Daddy Ken,” was killed in a shootout, MEND announced in a statement that the authorities executed him.

Nigerian human rights groups have repeatedly claimed that state-sponsored executions are “shockingly common” inside the country. Niweigha, who led the Egbesu Boys, which is affiliated with MEND, was arrested on May 26 and paraded before journalists.

According to Police Commissioner Onouha Udeka, “He [Niweigha] promised he was going to take us to his hideout in Odi where he hid his weapons. But we did not know that he had arranged with his gang to attack us and possibly get him freed. Ken was shot trying to escape.” (BBC, May 28)

Ken Niweigha was the only person reportedly killed during the alleged shootout. A spokesman for MEND accused the Nigerian police of “summarily executing” Niweigha.

“The Nigerian government in authorizing extrajudicial killings is sending a clear message to youths from the region that it is better to die fighting for freedom than be killed by a lawless system of government,” said Jomo Gbomo in an e-mail statement to the international press. (BBC, May 28)

According to the BBC, 500 women from Odi requested that something be done to prevent fleeing MEND supporters from taking refuge in the town. It is quite rare for people to turn in MEND activists, however. In this case residents of the town remember the attacks carried out in 1999 after the killing of 12 policemen, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people at the hands of the military.

And women have been especially active in this struggle. In 2001 the heroic Nigerian women inspired women everywhere when they took over several Chevron-Texaco installations and demanded reparations in the form of jobs, health care and economic development.

The Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) is carrying out the current military offensive, which has resulted in hundreds of people taking up residence in the Ogbe Ijoh refugee camp.

“The chaos at the Ogbe Ijoh refugee camp was unmistakable. With very little to eat or drink, already traumatized mothers struggled to calm their starving babies. Several of them half-naked and crammed into a primary school building with poor sanitation, with the bare floor for a sleeping space and at the mercy of mosquitoes, desperate women painted a harrowing picture of army attacks on their settlements and their plight at the Ogbe Ijoh camp.” (VOA, May 24)

One of those taking refuge at the camp was Esther Clark, a local chief from Gbaramatu. She said, “They brought some food which cannot even take care of one village in our community. Nobody has eaten since morning. It is about 11 o’clock, all the children, nobody has eaten. We have not seen anything. I was in Opkoroza when the thing happened. I was one of the chiefs in the village. I have never seen a place where the federal government will bring a bombing plane to a community and begin to drop bombs on top of the people. I have never heard it anywhere in Nigeria before.” (VOA, May 24)

Government expands offensive

On June 1, the Joint Task Force announced that it would expand the offensive against opposition forces from Delta State to Rivers State. The military said that it eliminated a militant camp near Buguma creek following a fierce firefight. Despite media claims that a ceasefire agreement may be in the works between MEND and the federal government, the armed opposition alliance denied these reports and pledged to continue attacks on oil installations even if offers are made to employ more locals in the industry.

Nigerian military official Col. Rabe Abubakar said that the JTF had no choice but to extend the scope of its operations in the region, claiming that the opposition were “criminals” and that “we will locate them wherever they are hiding. They can only run but they can’t hide.” (Nigerian Guardian, June 1)

Nonetheless, MEND spokesperson Jomo Gbomo denied reports of a JTF attack in Buguma. “We can only say at this time that this is a public relations stunt as no serious camp has reported any attacks on them,” Gbomo said.

President Umara Musa Yar’Adua, as well as the so-called Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), which consists of elite social groups from the northern region of the country, have authorized the offensive by the JTF. (Nigerian Guardian, May 29)

However, other groups, such as the All Niger Peoples Assembly, have condemned the attacks and called for an immediate ceasefire by the military. In a statement issued by the Assembly, which constitutes the regional organizations representing the affected areas, the group expressed dismay at the “unconscionable attempt to institutionalize genocide in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the House of Representatives passing a resolution which callously implores the Federal Government to extend the carnage in Delta State to Rivers and Bayelsa states, plus the condemnable call for the extermination of the 20 million Niger Deltans by Representative Bala Ibn N’Allah of Kebbi State.” (Nigerian Guardian, May 29)

Source of the conflict: oil grab

According to the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. government, “In 2008, Nigerian crude oil production averaged 1.94 million bbl/d [barrels per day], making it the largest crude oil producer in Africa. If current shut-in capacity were to be back online, EIA estimates that Nigerian production could have reached 2.7 million bbl/d in 2008.

As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nigeria has agreed to abide by allotted crude production limits that have varied over the years. These limits do not appear to have had as great an impact on production volumes or investment decisions as unrest in the Niger Delta has.

“The major foreign producers in Nigeria are Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total and Eni/Agip. Recent developments in the upstream sector include the start up of the Chevron-operated Agbami field in September 2008, with expected peak production of 250,000 bbl/d by the end of 2009.” (AEIA)

Consequently, the people of Nigeria must build a nationwide alliance to take control of its oil resources, which account for 95 percent of the country’s foreign exchange reserves. MEND and other regional groups must be supported by the Nigerian Labor Congress and other organizations throughout the country that are desirous of a new social order independent of U.S. and European imperialism.