Dwindling Oil Revenue: The Militants And The Militating Agenda

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Historically, the Niger Delta communities prospered as “middlemen” controlling trade within, particularly palm oil products and slaves. But with the development of the colonial state and independence, the region experienced a steady decline and stagnation, for no new sources of wealth developed there to replace these activities. More recently, the failure of the early successive government to follow through on a promise to treat the Niger Delta as a special development area, the steady reduction in the share of oil royalties that states in this area have received, and, finally, the habitual disregard of state needs by non-indigenous military state governors, continued and worsened the problems. To my summation it reveals that neglect is the worst crime man can commit against humanity.

To nurture every creature is another way of showing gratitude to all the goodness of nature. This is clarified in all things that matter. For instance, if any other word could be used in this stead, it would be non-other than “tame”. To bring every fauna to discipline and care, consumes time, valuable resources and overwhelming energy. If I should go further in my explanation; I reviewed this saying in my simplest understanding that to neglect even domestic animals would cause them to go wild into the forest to turn into wild beast, which could one way or the other challenge, brutalize and even kill same specie tamed domestically. The government neglect of the Niger Delta’s development (roads, schools, electricity, and health services all ended well inland before reaching coastal communities) irrespective of the NDDC politics, Nigeria’s overall economic decline since the mid-1980s, and the tendency of educated Niger Delta youths to leave the area, have confirmed its status as an economic backwater. The people who remained behind simply lacked prospects elsewhere.

The Ijaws and the Niger Deltans in general are becoming victims of abject neglect in this nation. The government is frowning at her responsibility to salvage the people in the creeks. The people have lost faith in the system; they put their life on the line to manage to get to this point. Also the authority has continued to pay lip service to the agitating factor hence, government can mute the idea of sending Prof. Ibrahim Gambari to pacify with the agitating zone.

Prof.Gambari appears to have become the target of mounting disappointments. What he role in Burma is the greatest disrepute to the interest of this nation, Nigeria.During his briefing on Burma with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on March 18, this year, Gambari seemed anxious to prove how important his role as special envoy really was. Though he admitted his efforts had yielded “no immediate tangible outcome,” he insisted the efforts of the UN good offices were “relevant” to both sides—the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime.

Gambari even said in his briefing that he had reason to believe that the Burmese government attaches importance to his mission and “continues to value the Secretary-General’s good offices as the best prospect for further cooperation through mutual trust and confidence, and constructive suggestions.

Unfortunately, the facts do not allow the special envoy grounds for such optimism. According to highly publicized state media reports, Burmese Information Minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Hsan urged him to support the junta’s “Seven-step Road map” and stop pursuing alternatives suggested by Western democracies. The regime’s information czar added that if Gambari tried to force the country to meet Western calls for reform, they would be concerned that his task of offering impartial advice may be undermined. As a clear indication of the regime’s lack of cooperation, military chief Than Shwe, the only true decision-maker in Burma, shunned Gambari on his last two visits.

In fact, the junta has already rejected the UN’s key proposals. It turned down suggestions that Burma should set up a broad-based constitutional revising commission in order to ensure an inclusive political process, and establish a poverty alleviation commission. After the two proposals were rejected, Gambari, on his last trip to the country, put forward one more suggestion to the junta—that Burma invite international observers to the upcoming referendum. Reportedly, the junta’s information minister responded with a blunt “no.” like the Odi village that the Obasanjo regime helped the military crush; their anticipating peace in the Niger Delta areas is fence-ridden when over 80 per cent of the people live below the poverty line in squalor and penury. Bad roads poor health facility so maternal death rate is alarming, the Ijaw Youth Council just lost it National Women Leader to the cruel hands of death during child birth due to government negligence.

There is an inevitable and serious conflict of interest between Niger Delta communities that bear the environmental damage of oil exploration and the rest of the nation for which oil money is essentially a free good. The Niger Delta populations, clearly a minority, regularly lose these struggles through government intimidations and killings. Had they some authority over environmental issues, many current problems might be more manageable. Lacking this, and given the federal government’s control over all subsurface resources as well as “ownership” of all land, all the Niger Delta issues inevitably become national issues. The government has failed to resolve these. In its campaign to “buy off” the Niger Delta discontent on the cheap, previous administrations frequently corrupted the Niger Delta community leaders. There is a deep distrust in the Niger Delta concerning the federal government and a feeling among local populations that most other Nigerians care little for their problems, so long as the oil flows. The Niger Delta populations constantly campaign for a larger share of the federal cake, most of which originates in their homelands.

In June 19, 2008 the Militants claimed responsibility for the attack on Shell Nigeria’s Bonga oilfield and the kidnapping of an American oil worker. More than 200 foreigners have been abducted, and mostly released in exchange for money, in the region where crime and militancy surged until late 2007 when there was a lull.

chronologically some major attacks and kidnappings in Nigeria’s oil delta lie in this modal: July 5, 2007 – A 3-year-old British child, Margaret Hill, is abducted in Port Harcourt. She is released on July 8.Again in July 7 – Oil major Royal Dutch Shell says one of its teams was attacked in Rivers state and two Nigerian workers taken hostage. The Nigerians are released on July 11.In July 12 – Francis Samuel Amadi, the 3-year-old son of a traditional ruler in the community of Iriebe, is kidnapped near Port Harcourt. He is released the next day. Aug. 8 – Kidnappers release a Bulgarian and a Briton, employees of British oil company Exprogroup. They were abducted on July 8 from a barge near Calabar in Cross River state. Aug. 28- A Pakistani manager at a construction site run by Italian firm Gitto is released. He had been kidnapped on July 31 near Bodo in the Ogoni area of Rivers state. Sept. 23 – Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) says it will recommence attacks on oil installations and abduction of expatriates following the arrest of leader, Henry Okah, on arms trafficking on Sept. 3.Oct. 5 – David Ward, a British manager from oil services firm Hydrodive in Port Harcourt, kidnapped on Aug. 10, is freed by Nigerian troops. A Colombian and a Filipino, kidnapped on Sept. 27 in a raid on oil services company Saipem, are released. A Colombian colleague was shot dead during the abduction. Oct 20 – Seven workers, four Nigerians and three contractors to Royal Dutch Shell, a Russian, a Briton, and a Croat, are kidnapped at the EA field off the coast of Bayelsa state by gunmen in speedboats. All are freed two days later. Oct 30 – Six Indian and Polish hostages, seized on Oct. 26, are freed. They were taken from the Mystras vessel, an offshore oil production facility operated by Saipem. MEND had claimed responsibility for the attack. March 4, 2008 – A German employee of German-Nigerian construction group Julius Berger, an arm of Bilfinger Berger AG, is kidnapped between the Rumuji and Emuoha areas of Port Harcourt. He is released around 12 hours later. May 23 – Two foreign employees of oil services company Lonestar — one from Pakistan, the other from Malta — are kidnapped at Omoku in the Niger Delta. June 3 – Gunmen kidnap two Lebanese employees of Setraco, a local engineering company, near the town of Amassoma.

Whenever oil is discovered in a country – before or after its institutions of government and political representation undergo firm up to serve as a countervailing force to would-be despots and carpet-baggers. Norway is prosperous because her institutions of accountability were well-established and self-propelling long before she struck oil. Nigeria is a basket case today because her people were still under unaccountable colonial rule when oil was discovered in the Niger Delta in 1956. The machine guns that slaughtered the innocents of Letugbene last August are directly descended from the Maxim guns that Frederick Lugard employed to ‘pacify’ the ‘natives’ at the behest of the Royal Niger Company at the turn of the twentieth century. Shell and crude oil may have replaced Taubman Goldie and his thirst for palm oil, but the marriage of egregious violence and the resources of local people remain undisturbed, a potent link which in the specific case of oil, is illuminated by Prof. Michael Watt’s ‘petroviolence’ thesis.

It is telling that top on the list of the grievances that the MEND militia pointed to in its negotiations with government officials last March was the exclusion of the Ijaw from meaningful political participation in the Nigerian project following the return of electoral politics in 1999. Anxious to arrange a ceasefire so oil production could resume, a delegation comprising two Shell executives and Timi Alaibe, finance director of the government-controlled Niger Delta Development Commission, visited MEND’s ‘Council of Elders’ in Camp Five, a fortified island near Oporoza where they were ensconced in early June. The MEND spokesperson argued that discussions must go beyond ‘mere provision of electricity and water’ and focus on the political marginalisation of the Ijaw because, according to him, ‘we believe that we have to seek first our political freedom and every other thing will follow.

The fact that this ‘wait and see’ attitude should exist at all shows the inadequacy of the government’s response to the Niger Delta grievances so far, not only in its long-term neglect of the region, but also in its dealings with militants and the Martyrs Brigade in recent months. Nigeria which has slipped to position two in Africa after Angola, due to relentless violence in onshore and other fields in creeks of the Niger delta, saw a closure of offshore oil installation which produces about 200,000 barrels per day. The current oil price hiking had heavily impacted on most African states which had also seen food prices pushed high. Many African states had recently experienced riots over escalating food prices in the continent.

Promises to create employment in the socially deprived area have proved too little and come too late for the insurgents, and further major concessions seem necessary if an amicable resolution to current tensions is to be reached. However, the prospect of a military crackdown remains an as-yet payless, unyielding and profitless in the background, although one that President Umaru Yar’Adua is reluctant to redress amidst controversial and fruitless series of summit is the failure of the regime to sort for peace indeed and in view.

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