Tag Archives: militants

BBC reports that bodies of Nigerian police found after an ambush in the Niger Delta

April 10, 2013

A view of the Niger Delta (file image)

Nigeria’s Deadly Delta

“Nigeria’s security forces have recovered the bodies of 11 of the 12 policemen killed after an ambush in the oil-rich Niger Delta on Friday, police have said.

Some of the bodies had been mutilated and burnt beyond recognition, AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying.

Last week, a militant group said it would it resume attacks after its leader, Henry Okah, was jailed for a bombing campaign in 2010.

However, many people are poor, fueling resentment towards the national government and oil companies.

At the weekend, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had ambushed a police boat in the creeks and waterways of Bayelsa state, killing the policemen.

Police spokesman Alex Akhigbe said 11 bodies had been recovered, while one was still unaccounted for.

The bodies were transported by boat to the regional capital, Yenagoa, while relatives waited at a morgue, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports.

At the weekend, police denied the attack was linked to the jailing of Okah.

They said it involved a dispute among militants over amnesty payments given by the government.

Police boats were escorting an ex-militant to a funeral when one of the boats broke down and became a “soft target” for gunmen, a police spokesman said.

MEND had been fighting to gain a greater share of the oil wealth from its part of southern Nigeria, but had been inactive since a 2009 amnesty was put in place.

Okah, its leader, was sentenced to 24 years in prison last month for masterminding bomb attacks in the capital of Abuja in 2010.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer.”*

*Note: By accounts with which I am familiar, Angola may now be Africa’s largest oil producer.

Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

The Council on Foreign Relations tracks security in Nigeria

Council on Foreign Relations

Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.

One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”

Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now.  It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well.  The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.

The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”

This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:

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Sons of Iraq vs. Niger Delta Amnesty Program

I have been in correspondence with a Polish conflict researcher who has asked me some interesting questions about the Niger Delta Amnesty Program (NDAP) and that in Iraq, called the Sons of Iraq. Drawn from the Awakening Council, the Sons are Sunni former insurgents in Anbar Province who have been paid stipends by the U.S. military and the Iraqi government to now maintain security against both Shiite and Sunni militants who are still fighting against the American occupation and the new Iraqi political leadership. Although it would seem counter intuitive to arm and pay fighters who had been attacking American forces, the Bush administration reasoned that this tactic would both reduce the number of anti-American militants and help curtail the strength of Shiite forces backed by Iran.

 

Son of Iraq on patrol.

 

Niger Delta Amnesty Program

 

There are similarities between the two efforts.  Both in Nigeria and Iraq the governments have created “jobs for the boys” programs that aim to turn insurgents into members of a citizens’ patrol, from aggressors against foreigners and the government to defenders of them. Also, both programs are prone to immense instability and fraction, but for different reasons as I explain below.

However, I see immense differences in comparing the Sons of Iraq and the NDAP.  These variations between the two seem to be based on 24 years of stable dictatorship, the presence of the American military, the suddenness of political instability, and over millennial religious tensions in Iraq, all of which are not conditions found in Nigeria.  In contrast, Nigeria’s political history is one of perpetual coups and constant abnegation of foreign interference, and is defined almost solely by its status as an oil state suffering from the resource curse. Some differences that I can note:

1. Iraqi Sons are ideologically and religiously motivated in (large) part. The Sons must battle anti-American Shiites on a large-scale, and there is also infighting between pro-American Sunnis and suspicious-of-American Sunnis within the employment program itself. ND rebels today are not ideologically nor religiously motivated in that same way, but fight to steal oil and kidnap to get money. As opposed to the Sons, ND militants are more like a mafia that uses violence to make money, i.e. they engage in extortion. There would be security issues in Iraq with or without the Awakening, but ND rebels are the ones actually making the security problems to begin with. So, with that said, ND militants receiving Amnesty benefits are absolutely not maintaining any form of security like the Sons, but rather are being paid to stop stealing oil and committing violence. As one of my interview subjects aptly phrased it, “It reduces crime and since we have the money, it is OK.  You pay them to reduce the violence in the country.” In Nigeria, there is perhaps a price on peace.
2. Transparency: Presumable Awakening fighters trust that U.S. forces will pay them when promised, and the program is comparably fiscally transparent. One of the reasons that Nigerians are suspicious of the NDAP is that a) the government cannot be trusted to pay fighters as on time or even at all, and b) exact amounts being transferred are unclear, so there is probably much more corruption in the ND program in Nigeria than that in Iraq.

3. I don’t know exactly how the U.S. pays fighters in Iraq, but a big problem in Nigeria is that the most violent kingpins like Tompolo and Dokubo are being paid huge sums, and then very little is actually being given directly to lower-level fighters. In Iraq I suspect there is more equity in payment amounts among various fighters but in ND the money is concentrated in few hands, and that creates problems when lower-level fighters feel a sense of unfairness that leads to greater violence.

4. In Iraq there is a clear enemy that the U.S. and the U.S.-installed government hope their employment program will weaken: Al Qaeda.  In contrast, there is no clear enemy in the Niger Delta Amnesty Program for participants to battle, as the biggest threat is the factitious insurgency itself, the very men being paid and trained in the program.

5. As reported several years ago, the most salient concern for the U.S. and the Iraqi government is that the Sons of Iraq program may backfire and end up just giving newer and better arms to former insurgents who could do an about-face, thus fueling a prolonged civil conflict to a greater degree. They have publicly stated that a priority is disallow the Sons to gain enough power to become an independent authority, which was a possibly after the U.S. made the mistake of disbanding the Iraq military after its invasion. However, although ND militants have firepower that competes with that of the Nigerian military, insurgents there do not seem to have the desire to overtake the military particularly. Relinquishing arms is a large part of the NDAP mandate, with the goal that former fighters gain training abroad to come home as welders, electricians, carpenters, etc. In Iraq the participants receive training to become better fighters against threats to security in Andar, not to have a professional trade that would benefit them after the war ends.

This leads one to wonder about what all the Sons of Iraq (and NDAP participants) will do once  their stipends dry up.  Years of fighting, and being trained to do so, often do not translate into stability for soldiers when a conflict ends.

Job Creation is Not Enough to Stop Militancy

Fighters in a boat

Fighters in a boat (Photo credit: IRSN)

Perhaps in response to the recent WSJ article, a blog reader recently emailed to ask my opinion on the assertion that job creation stops militancy. There are two trains of thought, one is that oil companies should make the jobs as payment to Nigerians for use of land and the other is that the jobs should come from local and non-oil sources in order to contribute to a diversified and stable economy.  I will start with the first. In my opinion, it is not correct when people say that job creation in the oil-related sector stops violence.  Job creation lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but even once they are employed with foreign firms Nigerians are underpaid and have the lowest positions and rarely move up. Then they become disgruntled employees (as opposed to just disgruntled unemployed men). The reason that they are underpaid and have the worst positions is because they often don’t have the formal education, job skills, or work culture to function well at foreign oil companies. I would amend this idea to say that the creation of well-paid local jobs would stop the violence, but those jobs will never ever be well-paid when Chinese, Indian, and Russians workers are imported to Nigeria to work for the same amount, and be seen as better employees than local Nigerians.

As to job creation in non-oil sectors, yes, that would lower violence but that is really a larger issue of overall economic development in Nigeria. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the Niger Delta insurgency, since violence is inversely proportional to economic development generally. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta (surely hovering around 50%) will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta.

Niger Delta Amnesty Program Fails to End Militancy

The Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw recently reported on the Niger Delta Amnesty Program (See article here). He wrote:

Alhaji Dokubo-Asari once stalked the mangrove-choked creeks of the Niger Delta, a leaf stuck to his forehead for good luck, as a crew that he ran bled oil from pipelines and sold it to smugglers. “Asari fuel,” they called it.

Last year, Nigeria’s state oil company began paying him $9 million a year, by Mr. Dokubo-Asari’s account, to pay his 4,000 former foot soldiers to protect the pipelines they once attacked. He shrugs off the unusual turn of events. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said the thickly built former gunman, lounging in a house gown at his home here in Nigeria’s capital.

Nigeria is shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year to maintain an uneasy calm in the oil-rich delta, where attacks ranging from theft to bombings to kidnappings pummeled oil production three years ago, to as low as 500,000 barrels on some days. Now production is back up to 2.6 million barrels daily of low-sulfur crude of the sort favored by U.S. refineries, which get nearly 9% of their supply here.

The gilded pacification campaign is offered up by the government as a success story. But others say the program, including a 2009 amnesty, has sent young men in Nigeria’s turbulent delta a different message: that militancy promises more rewards than risks.

Violence in the Niger Delta

Militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta began a campaign of kidnappings and pipeline bombings in the early 2000s, upset over pollution and the region’s endemic poverty. After a government-sponsored amnesty program in 2009, violence dropped and production went back up. But oil theft, a lucrative criminal industry, has drawn many militants new and old back into the delta’s winding creeks. While richly remunerated former kingpins profess to have left the oil-theft business, many former militant foot soldiers who are paid less or not at all by the amnesty, and have few job prospects, continue to pursue prosperity by tapping pipelines.

Now, oil theft appears to be on the rise again. Royal Dutch ShellRDSB.LN +1.12% PLC’s Nigerian unit estimates that more than 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen from Nigerian pipelines daily. That is one of the lower estimates. In May, theft from one pipeline got so bad that Shell simply shut it down. “Everybody seems to believe…that the Niger Delta problem is over,” said a former government mediator, Dimieari Von Kemedi. “It’s just on pause. The challenge is to move from pause to stop.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria is facing a separate militancy, in the form of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram, whose guerrilla attacks on churches and police stations in a different part of the country have left hundreds dead. Some legislators have proposed extending amnesty to Boko Haram, as well. It is an expensive proposition. This year alone, Nigeria will spend about $450 million on its amnesty program, according to the government’s 2012 budget, more than what it spends to deliver basic education to children.

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Under the arrangement, the government grants living allowances to tens of thousands of former members of the bandit crews and sends them to vocational classes, in sites ranging from Houston to London to Seoul. These costs are on top of millions of dollars paid at the outset to the crews’ leaders for handing in their weapons. For a few, the program has meant spectacular rewards. To improve ties with former delta warlords, the government invited the top “generals,” as they call themselves, for extended stays on the uppermost, executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton hotel.
The Nigerian state oil company, according to one of its senior officials, is giving $3.8 million a year apiece to two former rebel leaders, Gen. Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Victor Ben and Gen. Ateke Tom, to have their men guard delta pipelines they used to attack. Another general, Government “Tompolo” Ekpumopolo, maintains a $22.9 million-a-year contract to do the same, the official said. A liaison to Mr. Tom declined to comment on the contracts. Mr. Ekpumopolo didn’t return phone calls and messages. Mr. Ben, when reached for comment, asked, “How much money is involved in this interview?” and then hung up. Later, he sent an enigmatic text: “Very wel dn im nt dispose bt cnsider 100%al u wnt ,we need investors in niger delta absolute peace is guarante.”

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ReutersEx-militant Alhaji Dokubo-Asari, pictured here, who was granted bail in 2007, supported Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012.

For President Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Delta native, such lavish expenditures have become a political liability. Despite a growing economy, his country of 167 million struggles to finance even the basics, starting with power plants, roads and sewers. A blossoming middle class in Nigeria’s cities has put further strain on public infrastructure. Yet because four-fifths of government revenue flows from the oil fields, aides to the president defend the high cost of peace by saying the treasury would face an even worse drain if a full-blown militancy in the delta flared up again. “If it’s too huge, what are the alternatives?” said Oronto Douglas, a senior adviser to Mr. Jonathan. “For you to address the whole issue of poverty and development, you need some kind of peace,” added Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director for Shell’s Nigerian unit. “That is what I think the amnesty program has offered.”

Enticed by the program, the militants emerged a couple of years ago from the oil-soaked swamps of the delta. Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton and through much of 2010 and early 2011 spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge’s complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P. cognac, priced at $51 a shot on the room-service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes—gumbos, Jollof rice pilafs, goat stews—they rubbed shoulders with the country’s leading politicians and influence peddlers, who often live in the floor’s $700-a-night art-deco rooms. “These are young men who came out of the creeks and were given the opportunity to hang out with the crème de la crème, wearing gold watches and drinking from gold-rimmed teacups,” said Tony Uranta, a member of the government’s Niger Delta Technical Committee advisory group and a frequent Hilton executive-floor guest. “It’s a natural thing.” Most have since moved out of the hotel. “It’s too high-profile,” said an aide to one ex-warlord, Mr. Tom.

Meanwhile, thousands of former militant foot soldiers have been given job training, a feature of the program that officials call its most indisputable success. The question is how many will be able to make use of this training. In Nigeria, the government estimates, there are 67 million other people waiting to be employed. Kempare Ebipade says he spent six years guarding creekside armories as an oil militant, in the course of which he took two bullets to the thigh. In 2009 he accepted amnesty and was sent to the U.S. for two weeks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. He displayed a booklet of Dr. King’s speeches from which he said he sometimes reads to villagers. Mr. Ebipade is a skilled welder now, trained in the craft by the amnesty program. But the father of four struggles to imagine how he will find clients for a welding workshop he has set up, or how he will continue to afford his apartment’s rent of $1,100 a year. The government has vigorously pushed oil companies to hire locals. Mr. Ebipade says that out of the former militant army of 10,000 he belonged to, he has heard of only five that landed jobs with oil companies. Shell’s Mr. Sunmonu warned against the idea “that every trained ex-militant is going to get a paid employment, because if you just look at the number, it’s probably huge. So we therefore must broaden our solutions to focus more on self-employment: small enterprises, medium enterprises.”
 The Niger Delta has seen promising economic progress. Construction on a regional highway is under way. Nigeria’s overall economy is projected to grow at a brisk 7.1% this year. But much of the growth is in cities far from the delta, and a population boom reduces the degree to which the growth helps with the unemployment problem. In the delta, years-old electric towers punctuate village skylines, but many don’t carry electricity, having never been connected to the overtaxed power grid. Children travel to scattered schools aboard canoes, navigating creeks coated by the rainbow stains of oil slicks. A United Nations office has estimated it would take 30 years to clean the waters, which once sustained fisheries. Amid this landscape, oil-related crime lures locals like Atu Thompson, father of 18 and self-described oil thief, who says he and others see few other ways to provide. “You can take me to amnesty, give me a good contract—but others are still there,” Mr. Thompson says.

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AFP/Getty ImagesAnother ex-oil militant, Ateke Tom, turned in weapons as he accepted an amnesty in 2009. Mr. Dokubo-Asari, 48 years old, used to be prominent among them. While not all of his account of life in the mangrove swamps could be verified, he long was one of Nigeria’s best-known oil marauders.

About 25 years ago, Mr. Dokubo-Asari left overcrowded university classrooms, he says, to study guerrilla warfare in the Libya led by Col. Moammar Gadhafi. He says he was given $100,000 to stir up trouble back in Nigeria, an oil competitor to Libya. Fomenting conflict proved easy in the restive Niger Delta he returned to in the early 1990s. From a local governor, Mr. Dokubo-Asari says, he procured weapons and money to build a militia that ultimately was several thousand strong. For years, as he tells it, they broke open pipelines, filling canisters with crude oil and refining some of it through timeworn techniques used by locals to boil palm-tree sap into wine.

The government struggled to lure him out of the mangroves. Mr. Dokubo-Asari responded to one amnesty offer that he considered meager by announcing a death threat against petroleum workers. Shell evacuated hundreds of expatriates and oil derricks briefly slowed to a stop. The next day, oil prices hit $50 a barrel for the first time. Nigeria’s government offered Mr. Dokubo-Asari a truce and $1,000 apiece, he says, for his AK-47 rifles, numbering 3,182. He says he took the deal and used the profits to purchase more weapons and return to the swamp. There, he recounts he was finally arrested and coerced into another round of negotiations. Fearing assassination, he fled to Cotonou, Benin, where he says he founded a school for Niger Delta children. He showed a video of him teaching kids kung fu at the school. New warlords quickly took Mr. Dokubo-Asari’s place. Marauding under noms de guerre like Gen. Shoot-at-Sight, Gen. Africa and Gen. Young Shall Grow, they formed a loose confederation of gunmen calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, and crippled enough oil infrastructure to bring Nigeria’s production on some days to a near-halt.


That was when Nigeria announced the 2009 amnesty. In televised ceremonies, guerrillas dropped off rifles, machine guns, tear-gas canisters, dynamite bundles, rocket launchers, antiaircraft guns, gunboats and grenades to be sold to the government, which also offered the nonviolence training courses and nine-month vocational classes. Theft fell sharply. Yet now, just as Nigeria’s state oil company has begun institutionalizing pipeline-watch jobs for some ex-militants, theft has blossomed again. “It’s quite an escalation. If nothing is done, it will continue to increase because more and more people will just come to feel that this is a gold field,” said Shell’s Mr. Sunmonu. “We’re not going to give up on this and run away from it. We believe it can be stopped.” Maclean Imomotimi left an overpacked university four years ago, the muscular 30-year-old says, to rob barges in the Niger Delta swamps. Now, befitting his new career, he is known as Gen. Imomotimi.

He says he accepted the government’s amnesty offer in 2011 on the expectation he would be feted, his hotel bills and bar tabs paid; instead, he was disappointed to receive a living allowance of just 65,000 naira ($413) a month. So Gen. Imomotimi has returned to the waterways, this time, he says, not to rob barges but to steal oil. “I take amnesty’s money—what [little] they give me—I take it and I buy other guns,” he says. “There’s much, much more money in the creeks.”

 

NIGERIA DETAINS TWO AFTER SHOTS FIRED AT U.S. EMBASSY

Originally posted on Beegeagle's Blog:

Red beret of the Nigeria Police Anti Terrorism Squad

Red beret of the Nigeria Police Anti Terrorism Squad

BLOOMBERG
By Maram Mazen and Elisha Bala-Gbogbo
March 26, 2012

Nigerian police detained two suspects after two shots were fired today in the vicinity of the U.S. embassy in the capital, Abuja.

“We refer you to the Nigerian police for further information,” Deborah MacLean,a spokeswoman for the embassy, said in an
e-mailed statement, without giving more information. A spokesman for the police in
Abuja, Moshood Jimoh, said by phone he was unaware of the incident.

Abuja and the mainly Muslim north have seen a surge in violence that has left more than 1,000 people dead since 2009. Authorities in Africa’s top oil producer blame Boko Haram, which draws
inspiration from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, for the unrest. Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 suicide-bombing of the United Nations building in the capital…

View original 59 more words

PDP Candidate is the New Governor of Bayelsa State

Yes, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in Bayelsa, Henry Seriake Dickson, won over 90 percent of votes in Saturday’s gubernatorial election, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission. The previous governor, Timipre Sylva, was barred from running again for allegedly threatening the President.

Timipre Sylva

Reuters reported that at least one person was killed and several injured at a pre-election rally on Tuesday and turnout during Saturday’s ballot was low due to security concerns. The state deployed around 15,000 police to deter any potential unrest. Around 800 people were killed after last year’s presidential election in three days of violence between rival supporters and in clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs.

Some opposition parties refused to accept the result, saying there were irregularities, including ballot box snatching, multiple voting and harassment of party officials. Such accusations follow most Nigerians elections so they are not surprising.

This election matters for three reasons.  First, the federal government doles out oil revenues to states, and then states are supposed to in turn distribute funds to localities.  However, localities rarely receive the sums allotted to them because of state-level graft, so governors are key players in determining the degree of corruption in Nigeria. Second, Bayelsa is considered to be the hub of militant activity so the strength of leadership there has a resounding impact on the Niger Delta crisis and foreign companies’ comfort in investing in Nigeria.  Third, having a PDP governor in office in his home state undergirds Jonathan’s presidency, as he was elected in large part because of professed ability to coordinate easily  with state politicians there to handle security more effectively.

Henry Dickson is the new Bayelsa State Governor.

MEND Attacks Resume

On Saturday, the oil pipeline of the Italian-owned oil company ENI was attacked by MEND fighters.  The company says it has lost 4,000 barrels per day but this attack has not had a noticeable impact on global oil prices so far. A MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, publicly claimed credit for the attack on the oil pipeline in Bayelsa, as well as for a separate attack on the home of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe.  He said, “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta understands the negative impact our assault on the Nigerian oil industry will have on the ordinary citizen in a country which relies almost entirely on one source of revenue. Unfortunately, the extremely irresponsible, floundering government of Nigeria is more concerned with enriching themselves and family members than attending to the problems of the Niger Delta and the continuously depreciating standard of living of the ordinary Nigerian.” Gbomo warned that  “traitorous indigenes of the Niger Delta” need to be careful.

The very same day a popular hotel near Warri in Delta State suffered a bombing after ex-militants staying there protested perceived poor treatment by the national Amnesty Committee’s consultant responsible for their rehabilitation training and living quarters.

Last week’s violence is important because it is the first flare of violence since the Niger Delta Amnesty Program, created under the late Preside Yar’Adua, was implemented. Managers of the amnesty program claim that over 26,000 ex-agitators have already been demobilized and that over 7000 are currently being trained in Nigeria and abroad while 12,000 are being processed in order to do so.  The major educational reintegration camps within Nigeria are located in Cross River State in the East and in Lagos State in the west.  There are a number of women who have accepted the amnesty program and are living with their children at the Cross River State camp. Additionally, ex-militants have reportedly been sent all over the world, including to Malaysia, Russia, India, South Africa, and the Philippines. Not surprisingly, it is a fairly common belief that people who were never part of the agitation have emerged to claim amnesty in order to enjoy its benefits.

So, MEND is back, at least for now. Does this mean the amnesty has failed?

A Visit to the Poorest Communities of the Delta

I had heard about Ikebiri long before visiting.  The Ikebiri Kingdom of the Southern Ijaw region in Bayelsa State is well-known for being at the epicenter of militancy.  The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) emerged not far away, and the area is considered to be one of the “hottest” in the Niger Delta.  It hosts the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, which locals blame for the destructive oil spills and gas flares that have killed local wildlife, poisoned drinking water, and ruined agricultural land. There have been several incidents of Ijaw women from Ikebiri demonstrating in the capital, and four years ago they threatened to march nude to Agip in protest of the lack of economic development in their villages.

To access Ikebiri from Yenagoa, we took an old speedboat an hour and a half towards the ocean. We passed two military checkpoints along the way that required us to raise our hands upon approaching, to show that we meant no harm and didn’t carry weapons. Although we were stopped for having a white person onboard, the soldiers were amiable. We maneuvered around fishermen in their canoes and made sure to avoid the nets that they were floating using empty water bottles. We waved to farmers along the banks as they dug up yams and cassava.  Families were living in thatched-covered homes perched on stilts, some constructed out of scrap wood and others out of reeds. Most of the women we saw were washing clothes or bathing themselves in the muddy water and children were fishing or diving for snails in their underwear.  It was a world apart from the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods that rely on the oil underground there.

Spending less than an hour at Ikebiri makes it clear why residents demand more economic development from the Nigerian government. Our first stop was at the health clinic, which services the thousands of people in the Kingdom.  From outside it looks new, but once inside we saw that the building was simply a skeleton.  There was nothing inside except for two dilapidated twin beds and a few foam pads on the floor; there were no medicine cabinets, furniture, nor machines of any type.  Wondering about machines is highly optimistic though since those machines would require electricity or a generator, which the clinic didn’t have. The only doctor on staff, a 23-year-old recent college graduate doing his National Youth Service, said that he performs surgeries using satchels of drinking water, but if those satchels run out the he is forced to boil river water.  When a human rights activist that I had traveled with asked about health problems related to the ongoing fire on a Chevron rig, which has been burning for almost three weeks, he seemed overwhelmed and mumbled that it was causing asthma and gastrointestinal issues with the patients.  Two older men interrupted to point out their red and pussy eyes.  I don’t know if these problems can be linked to oil pollution or the poor living conditions in the community in general, but hospitals need medicines, machines, and doctors, and this one didn’t have any of those things.

During our walk back to the boat, it suddenly dawned on me why this community had felt unusual.  The majority of the residents were children.  All around were children carrying babies, children washing babies, children feeding babies.  The children must have outnumbered the adults almost ten to one.  Additionally, the adults I did see were women, and almost half of those women were visibly pregnant.  Presumably the men must have left to go find work, since fishing and agriculture are no longer able to sustain families anymore, but somehow the community still managed to have astronomically high birth rates. Nigeria has a young population, with over 1/3 of the population under the age of 24, but this community must have had an even more dramatic youth bulge.

Each community we visited seemed to have even more noticeable poverty than the one before it. As the seat of the Kingdom, Ikebiri I receives the majority of resources, so that newer Ikebiri II was noticeably less developed.  Our final visit was to Otorgbene, an island community situated in muddy mangroves.  We went to ask about the thousands of fish that had washed up on shore in the last few days, probably as result of the ongoing rig fire. Residents told us that every morning they would wake up to find more and more fish on the banks, and that they didn’t know what they could do to stop it.  They told us about common health problems they experienced; foremost among them was malaria, a problem certainly predating the development of the oil industry.  They asked about the free mosquito nets they had been promised months ago by the federal government, and the investigator had to tell them that a state government official had been caught selling the nets for personal profit, and so there were no more left. They admitted they had been excited when our speedboat pulled up because a white person was on it; they thought we were arriving to deliver food and medical supplies.

We carefully made our way to where the Delta creek meets the ocean at the village of Kolu-Ama.  We went to see the smoke fumes caused by the Chevron fire.  The billows came up out of the trees and then disappeared into the sky.  We had passengers in our boat from a community that is in a legal battle with Kolu-Ama over land rights, so we didn’t want to approach too closely out of fear of provoking a conflict.  I was glad to see the Kolu-Ama community that I had heard about in recent weeks, the one in which women marched to the Chevron office in Warri and then to Government House in Bayelsa to demonstrate against the company’s failure to put out the fire. It is still burning.

On the ride back to Yenagoa, I chatted with a pleasant woman who had joined us for the day.  When she showed me a picture of her deceased son, I realized that she is the mother of the 20-year-old who was shot by police for refusing to pay a traffic bribe. It is well-known story here. The two of them were coming home from church, his mother tried her best to protect him during the altercation, and he was killed holding a bible in his hand.  The police involved were acquitted of all charges except mishandling a firearm. The parents have filed a civil suit and are being assisted by the human rights activist who had led the site visit.  I couldn’t help noting the irony that her husband helps head the Joint Task Force (JTF), which has had a very heavy hand when dealing with collective action in the Delta.  The very organization that was representing her in her case for her son’s murder is the same one that speaks out against rights abuses perpetrated by the JTF in the very areas we had visited. The Niger Delta is a complicated place.

To see photos from the site visit:

Gathering Data on Pollution in Ikebiri, Nigeria