Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Niger Delta Crisis

Nigeria's Niger Delta crisis goes back to 1920 and the treaties that the forefathers of the people of the region signed with the imperial masters in Bonny. The Niger Delta spreads out over several states in Nigeria and even before Nigeria's independence in October 1960, there had been serious tensions surrounding the arrangements for the government of the region.

Warri in Delta state is the second most important oil town in Nigeria after Port Harcourt, the capital of River state. Delta state produces approximately 40 percent of Nigeria's oil. It is the richest state in the Nigerian federation. Its capital is Asaba near Onitsha, the biggest commercial market in Africa.

But Warri town is claimed by three ethnic groups: the Itsekiri, the Urhobo and the Ijaw. The Itsekiri, a small ethnic group of a few hundred thousand people whose language is related to Yoruba (one of the Nigeria's largest ethnic groups), also live in villages spread out along the Benin and Escravos rivers into the mangrove forest riverside areas towards the Atlantic ocean.

The Urhobo, a much larger group numbering some millions related to the Edo speaking people of Benin-City live in Warri town and to the north, inland.

The Ijaw live in the south and east also in the swampy riverside areas, spread out over several states. They are part of ten million population, the largest of Niger Delta.

Port Harcourt, the capital of River state, has a mixture of small ethnic groups.

The Niger Delta people submitted their allegiance to the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) which held power in Nigeria for thirty-five years. They left their closest brothers, the Igbos, before and after the Biafran-Nigerian civil war in 1967-1970. They sabotaged the Biafrans from the beginning of the war till 1970 when Biafra officially surrendered to the hands of imperialism. All the Niger Delta’s expectations and promises failed to appear from the Northern oligarchy or the awaiting "Arewa Republic".

This struggle started was in the sixties when the late Major Isaac Adaka Boro, a renegade Ijaw soldier, declared an Ijaw secession in February 1966. After him came the writer Ken Saro Wiwa. He fought against environmental pollution in the Niger Delta under the junta of General Sanni Abacha. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging in the late 90's. Recently, Alhaji Dokubo Asari, leader of Niger Delta Peoples' Volunteer Force (NDPVF), started a rebellion against Nigeria. The NDPVF has been in existence since the late 1980's but not on as high a level as today.

When you look at the situation in the Niger Delta, you will see reasons why they took up arms to fight the Nigerian federation. The Niger Delta has been devastated by pollution from oil spillages. Shell has caused a lot of destruction on their land. Capitalism is only interested in making profit at the expense of the poor masses. The people have no shelter; no food, no electricity, no hospital, no school, no road, even no water for them to drink.

The Niger Delta oil is shared in the following ways by the political bandits: Shell owns 30 percent, Total 10 percent (formerly Elf), Agip 5 percent. The rest goes to Nigeria and the private partners in business. According to OPEC, Nigeria's total oil production is 2.018 million bpd per day. And a barrel of oil cost $30 to $35. Where is the money from oil since the sixties till today? According to Nigeria's 1999 constitution, 13 percent of federal revenue from national resources is returned to the state from which it came, on a "derivation" basis.

In early April 2003, President Obasanjo appointed a committee to try and find a lasting solution to the Warri crisis, chaired by the man who hates the south, General Theophilus Y. Danjuma (rtd), former minister of Defence. (General Danjuma was among the Northern fighters in the Nigerian army in the sixties who killed the first Nigerian general, General Ironsi, in July 1966 in a military coup d' Etat planned by the north, just because Ironsi was an Igboman from the southeast).

In June 2003, General Danjuma visited Warri and was reported as indicating that there was no possibility of any compensation from the federal government to any of those affected by the violence (Vanguard, June 13, 2003). In September 2003, President Obasanjo visited Warri and said that he was considering the final report from Danjuma which reportedly had "remained secret even from members of the committee".

Going for years

The Niger Delta crisis has been going on for years but no government in Nigeria has taken the problem seriously. The people have been appealing to the government to negotiate by a peaceful political process on how to increase the little percent of oil revenues that was given to them but the government never bothers to deal with the request or the suffering of the people. And that is capitalism for you.

On December 30 1998, some unarmed Ijaw youths went on a peaceful demonstration to express their grievances to the military administrator of Bayelsa state, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Edoor Obi, to tell the multinational oil corporations operating in Ijaw lands and territorial waters and indeed in the larger Niger Delta to pack and leave. Instead of calming the youths down and passing their message to his boss General Abdulsalam Abubakar, Lt. Col Obi ordered his military boys in the state house (which was built with oil money) to open gunfire to the protesters. And some protesters died and some were wounded from the gunfire. And that made the youths to go wild in their struggle.

President Abubakar and the governor who were being paid their salary from the tax collected from the poor people, moved in artillery pieces, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, as well as fast attack amphibious craft with 700 soldiers to kill their fellow compatriots whose gold and glass skyline rose out of the Delta's wealth of poverty.

Head of state from 1976-1979, General Olusegun Obasanjo involved himself in further controversy trying to make peace in Benin-City, Edo state, with a wing of the of the youths. During the meeting, he was criticised as being part of the problems of the Niger Delta. He was accused of enacting the 1979 land use decree which transferred ownership of all land to the state. Also, he was blamed for scrapping the derivation formula, approving instead a paltry one percent of oil revenues for oil and mineral producing states. Obasanjo promised the Niger Delta that if he was elected, he would introduce a comprehensive development plan for them. But, all those promises were false; after all what did he do when he was the head of state?

In 1979, President Shehu Shagari took over government and increased the share of the area from then oil revenues to a paltry 1.5 percent. This was after the governor of the old Bendel state, Professor Ambrose Folorunso Alli, waged a titanic battle that ended up in the Supreme Court over revenues accruing to oil producing areas of the country.

In 1985, when General Ibrahim Babangida took over power from General Mohamadou Buhari, he increased the allocation to all areas to three percent. Nigeria has reaped from crude oil sales in the last thirty years the sum of $300 billion, the staggering earnings from oil show neither in the Niger Delta nor in the larger nation, outside Abuja. As matter of fact, Abuja rose from money sourced entirely from the Niger Delta. So did the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, which twenty years later and $4.5 billion project is yet to produce a simple billet of steel. Where has all the money gone? Of course, it was stolen.

The Nigerian military regimes have stolen so much money from the country that they have impoverished it. Each time the Niger Delta people protest, the government refers them to the secretary to government or the minister of petroleum resources or some other officials who really have no capacity to take decisive steps to address the problems.

The head of the oil firm cautioned the government against the ongoing use of force to bring peace to the area. He said that they will not go into these areas under the cover of armed guards. The Eastern Nigeria/Delta Unity Association (ENDUA) in the UK condemned the Obasanjo way of sending troops into the Niger Delta. The government is taking what does not belong to them. They forget to ask themselves this question: "on whose lands are the oil installations situated?" Are these people not entitled to the minimum human rights? Are we about to see the repeat of the crushing of the Ogoni legitimate protest? Are we about to see a new Biafran experience? ENDUA declared that there must be no gunboat diplomacy in the Niger Delta. Fishing boats, not naval boats because Nigeria is not at war.

The stealing of the Nigerian mineral resources by few groups of political bandits in the helm of government has caused Nigerians to drench in misery and abject poverty. These politicians are happy to drive Lincoln navigator, Lamborghini, Limousine, Cadillac, Ferrari, helicopter and jets. Whereas millions go to bed on an empty stomach in this one world. And thousands of people squeeze themselves into dilapidated buses that have no roadworthiness again or technical control.

The oil in Niger Delta is enough to sustain born and unborn Nigerians happy till eternity if properly shared equally among the people. Not to mention other mineral resources like coal in Enugu, rubber in Benin, cocoa in the West, palm produce, precious stones, tin ore, bauxite and even groundnuts, etc.

Because of the government negligence to the masses, unemployment is massive. Master’s degree holders from reputable universities have devised their means of surviving by using motor-cycle to carry passengers for commercial purpose. Armed robbers are terrorising the poor masses. There is no security of life and property as a result of capitalism.

On January 11, 2006, four oil workers were kidnapped by the militias and were released after several weeks of negotiation between the local authority and the government. This is the danger in neglecting to solve the Niger Delta crisis caused by imperialism. If nothing is done by the capitalist masters, believe you me more blood of the poor masses and the bonded slave workers called the Joint Security Forces will be wasting everyday. While their masters are enjoying the beautiful creatures in the cosy presidential palace called Aso-Rock.

The solution to this immediate problem is for the government to deal directly with the people. And to denounce Capitalism in the Nigerian federation. Today our political juggernauts who were elected to improve on the standard of living of the people are now using the resources of the people to buy property overseas. The majority of the Nigerian politicians have not less than ten executive cars in their homes. Some even have helicopters and private jets, all at the expense of the poor masses. Without talking about their special suites in the Nicon-Noga hotel and Sheraton, all in Abuja for free at the expense of the masses from the Niger Delta oil.

The Nigeria finance minister, Dr. Mrs Ngozi Okonji Iwuala, is working tirelessly to retrieve the millions of money that was sent overseas by our political leaders, whereas millions of Naira are lying on her doorstep from these corrupt politicians. These politicians don’t pay taxes or rates. They are institutions and untouchable. Nigerian politicians drive their cars freely on the roads without police control because they all have police escorts that are always with them. But, for a poor Nigerian to travel from Lagos to Enugu or Owerri or Umuahia or Abakaliki or Uyo or Calabar is like trying to get into heaven. The Nigerian police and the tax collectors are everywhere in the Niger Delta to the Eastern Nigeria roads stopping commuter buses and taxis every hundred metres demanding for tax and rates from the people whose resources are taking overseas by the capitalist leaders.

It was because of the nonchalant attitude of the government, the marginalisation of the Igbos and other minorities in non power sharing, together with the interference of outside capitalists, that triggered the declaration of the federal republic of Biafra in 1967 by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. And today many ethnics are rising against the state, such as Niger Delta peoples’ volunteer force (NDPVF) and the Oduduwa Peoples’ Congress (OPC) for the Yorubas. Also, the Arewa republic (AR) for the northerners. Today, many Nigerians are no more thinking of one Nigeria but thinking of their own state secession: a shame to the government for lack of good governance and transparency.

The worst of all is that the oil that is produced in the Niger Delta costs more money to buy in Niger Delta than in Abuja or in Sokoto that is about 3500km away from Port Harcourt. Capitalism has no soul or respect for humanity in this one world. Capitalism in Nigeria should be totally eradicated from our society otherwise there will be more kidnapping, armed robbery, guerrilla attacks by militias, strikes, violent demonstrations and anarchy that can lead to total collapse of Nigerian federation like Yugoslavia. The cruelty of capitalism in Nigeria is so cumbersome that 70 percent of Nigerians live under one dollar per day. While a privileged minority of capitalists and corrupt politicians live more like Bill Gates.

Many Nigerians are running away from the country in search of white collar-jobs in the West because of abject poverty, political crisis and ethnic and religious inquisitions that the government cannot control. In the process, many have died on the desert or on the sea, trying to cross border to the West. Many are languishing in prisons in Europe and America, just on immigration offences. Nigerians in the diaspora and at home should rise against imperialism and take the challenge upon them to address the raging crisis in Nigeria for the interest of our people through a political and economic revolution.

Reports by: Comrade. Bamidele C. ILOANYA
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First published in the Socialist Standard March 2006

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