WAR IN THE NIGER DELTA

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fellow blogger, Reginald Bassey, recently warned that the tension in the Niger Delta required that the region's issues be treated gently and handled with care. In his writing on the Delta he expressed his concern that the problems of the Niger Delta could develop into a civil war that would take the nation by surprise. Unfortunately, recent developments seem to have taken the region and nation one step closer to conflict and the prediction Reginald made.

http://writingcompany.blogs.com/this_isnt_writing_its_typ/images/mend_rebels.jpg

AN OIL WAR DECLARED
On Sunday, September 14th, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta (MEND) declared an "oil war" against Nigerian forces in the area. In a statement released by the group, MEND stated,
"Following a previous warning that any attack on our positions will be tantamount to a declaration of an oil war, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has declared an oil war in response to the unprovoked aerial and marine attacks on a MEND position in Rivers State of Nigeria on September 13, 2008 by the armed forces of Nigeria...

The operation will continue until the government of Nigeria appreciates that the solution to peace in the Niger Delta is justice, respect and dialogue. This military style bullying belongs to the past 50 years when the Niger Delta people responded only with their mouths, pens and placards.

All international oil and gas loading vessels entering the region are warned to drop anchor in the high sea or divert elsewhere until further notice. Failure to comply is taking a foolhardy risk of attack and destruction of the vessel.
Again, we are asking that oil companies evacuate their staff from their field facilities because the brief is not to capture hostages but to bring these structures to the ground."
Nigeria's Joint Task Force (JTF), a special military unit charged with fighting Niger Delta militancy, responded that it would "flush out" the militants. Speaking on behalf of the JTF, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said all militants
"are advised to come to terms with reality as the status quo must be reversed for the good of all. The time for lawlessness, wanton economic sabotage, kidnap and the urge for quick money will soon be over."
Clearly, MEND and the JTF have decided, not just for themselves but for the people of the Delta, that guns and bombs will solve the problems of the Niger Delta. All sides have ignored the need for clear regional development and a permanent ceasefire by militants and other armed thugs as the first step in remedying the fraught situation. As one whose ancestral home in Abonema was recently invaded by gang members seeking refuge from the recent battle that took the lives of many 'York City' residents, leaving the place a ghost town, this saber rattling from both sides is absolutely unacceptable.

And now, MEND has kept its promise by destroying the Alakiri Flow Station owned by the Royal Dutch Shell company (Shell). MEND announced that it killed many soldiers and workers that were inside. This unnecessary act of murder and destruction has now simply escalated the problem and undoubtedly will definitely lead to more military pressure from the JTF.

NIGER DELTA MINISTRY CREATED
The JTF should not have responded to MEND's declaration of an oil war. In my opinion, it should have left that to the politicians instead of escalation the tension. In fact, Yar'Adua should have immediately responded to the threat of an "oil war". When he came to power, he reached out to MEND and they responded positively by issuing a ceasefire. Therefore, Yar'Adua could have again reached out to MEND and said whatever was necessary to ease the tension. Considering the recent announcement of a new Niger Delta Ministry, it was for Yar'Adua, and not the JTF, to respond to the militants.

Yar'Adua announced the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry on September 10, and in a meeting with a visiting representative of the British government said,
"The Ministry will coordinate our efforts to tackle the challenges of infrastructural development, environment protection and youth empowerment in the region."
Despite this explanation for the creation of the new Niger Delta ministry, several questions remain. How exactly does the administration plan to "tackle the challenges" of the region? How will this new ministry correlate with the JTF's threat of all out war with militants and the declaration of an "oil war" by MEND? Why was the creation of the ministry announced with little to no details about how it will achieve its goals? Providing details about the ministry would have fueled more confidence in the move and lessened the cynicism that this ministry will go down the route of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Already, various individuals are criticizing the existence of the new outfit. Some have started a debate over whether the idea to create the ministry belongs to former Vice President Atiku or Yar'Adua. Others are more interested in whether the ministry will be run by a Niger Delta native or not. And, the argument has been made that the new ministry will simply stall any progress in the Niger Delta due to bureaucracy.


WAR IS NOT AN OPTION
No matter what happens, it is crucial that an all out civil war does not break out as a result of the chaos in the Niger Delta. Nigerians will not benefit from an armed conflict. Conflict on the African continent has cost approximately $300 billion since 1990 according to Oxfam. Consequently, Nigerians cannot afford to become another statistic - a nation that falls into civil war like so many of our West African neighbors.
http://www.borgenproject.org/sitebuilder/images/Africa_poverty-383x480.png
Source: Gemzies

If one may borrow from the Swahili proverb, Nigerians should remember that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. As such, we must ensure that no such battle develops in order to preserve a unified Nigeria that will have a chance at becoming a developed and competitive nation. Furthermore, when will Nigerians themselves put their foot down and demand peace in the nation? No president can solve Nigeria's problems without the active and determined lead of the people requiring change. Until that day comes, Nigerians will be the stomped grass destroyed at the feet of mighty and armed elephants. And, if conflict ever comes to Nigeria, we would have squandered our children's future.



UPDATE: MEND has announced a ceasefire but it has "warned it would end the truce if attacked by the army again." (September 21, 2008)


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Femi B said...

Damn, now i have to go fill my tank b4 gas prices rocket again..lol just kidding..
Has this Niger Delta issue gone to far that it can't be solved? Nigeria cannot afford to have another civil war again..it knows the face of war..but are they preventing it the right way?
SND please explain to me ..if you can, how they can solve this effectively and please everyone. Because out of a noble cause..hooligans have been formed and they are multiplying in number day by day. How does one solve the problems of the people..the MEND leaders and also the hooligans..should we just pray for that oil to finish and let everyone focus on something else...lol ?

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Femi B: My sista, thanks for stopping by and actually you should just fill up your tank for good measure, what with production at American refineries at a stop and Nigeria teetering on the edge of madness, a full tank should be everyone's priority. lol!

How can the crisis be solved? I alluded to a solution in the post - "clear regional development and a permanent ceasefire by militants and other armed thugs as the first step in remedying the fraught situation".

The time for rhetoric, in my humble opinion is over. The military will not be able to eliminate militancy - these young men know the power of their guns and they are hooked. Despite that, a clear plan, that shows in stages what will be done to build schools, bring electricity and hospitals to the region would be a great first step from the government in proving its commitment to solving the crisis. That is why I stressed that the new ministry should not have been announced without also announcing clear details. There should be a website for people to check out and hold the administration accountable on. There should be leaflets passed out in the region detailing the progress that is to come. Yar'Adua himself, not some JTF mouthpiece or another, should be on television, and the radio telling the people exactly what will happen over the next 3 to 6 months. This way, he has put the information out there and when the 'leaders' in the area start to use thugs to derail the plans, Yardy can simply let the Delta know what he is doing and that will illuminate the sabotage from within the Delta and the other interests that are hell bent on maintaining the crisis for their financial gain.

Things are not too far gone to not do something. Nigeria does not have the luxury of continuing to fold its arms. Already kidnapping is becoming the new skill attained by our young men. The issue is that whatever is done has to be revolutionary, not the same tactics that have been used in the past by every administration, democratic or military. That is why Yardy is not trusted, that and other issues actually. If he is indeed trying to solve the problem, dropping bombs on MEND, which has shown time and time again that it is willing to participate in ceasefires is not the answer.

Additionally, MEND has to step up and continue to isolate the thugs who have sabotaged MEND tactics for their own monetary gain. Doing so will maintain MEND's credibility. They have done it and in fact must step it up, but they can't do that if they are concentrating on JTF attacks. MEND MUST STOP THE MURDER OF INNOCENTS!!!! No excuses. The destruction of Alakiri yesterday was absolutely unacceptable. Soldiers should not be dying fighting against their own Nigerian brethren over oil when the oil does not benefit any of them, really. Or are soldiers families going to get a cut of the oil when the breadwinner is gone?

I just think that it is stupid (yes, stupid) to continue to fight but I have seen how those with little to no interest in peace have enough money to buy influence and continue to fan the flames of anger. It is we Nigerians and especially we the people of the Delta who MUST wise up and remedy the situation ourselves. But that is my post for Monday next week.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and generate a discussion. Please let me know what you think of my suggestions. Ultimately, we must identify and isolate those who do not have our interest at heart. Then we need to bring development to the region. I know there is a lot of talk about true federalism, but that is a complaint that is made not just in the Delta, Lagosians seek true federalism as well.

Anyway, let me stop rambling and thanks again!

Esmeralda said...

Hmmm...

You have hit the nail on the head on so many points SSD. I worry that this Niger-Delta Crisis will get out of proportion but the christian in me believes that Nigeria can rise above this. How? i cannot readily say as i am not really politically inclined.

I have this to say though, Our main problem in this country is greed! the people in power keep hoarding like ants storing for winter! they dont care about the people who dont have.

and now the previously we-only-want-a-little-consideration Niger-Delta people have also discovered the "benefits" of greed via kidnapping, extortion etc. they no longer want the basics, they want it all! i cant say i blame them!

i could go on and on, but it wont make a difference! everybody knows what our problems in this country are, they are just not being addressed is all.

God help us.

N.I.M.M.O said...

Really good post post again Solomonsydelle. As usual, you have presented the three or four sides of the story powerfully.

I think the underlying assumption here is that NOBODY wants war but can we even be sure of that?

What is MEND's obective? What is its modus operandi? If anyone can define it for me in two sentences without using the word WAR, I will be obliged.

I actually think the Nigerian state has tried for a long time to make light of this issue for its own sake as well as those of the people of the Niger Delta.

MEND declared war on Nigeria from the very first day of its activities in the delta but the politicians have tried to use all sorts of language to describe those activities except what it really is - WAR.

Why is it that when MEND attacks oil installations and kills Nigerians or kidnap foreigners for ransom we call it one name and when JTF attacks MEND hideouts, we scream WAR!?

While I agree that the Niger Delta issue has festered for a very long time - in fact for too long. I think the problem is insincerity. On all parts. The Nigerian government; the Niger Delta political elites, MEND and the so called 'freedom fighters in the Niger Delta. All have been insincere. And who suffers? The Niger Delta people.

Of course, you should not wonder how they get their weapons and ammunition and feed their growing army. I know enough to know that crude oil is still sold on the high seas by these so called 'freedom fighters' everyday.

On the Niger Delta Ministry creation, if it we can have a ministry for the Federal Capital Territory and I remember in the 60s the late Alhaji Musa Yar'Adua was the Minister for Lagos Affairs,(Lagos was the then capital of Nigeria) then its a step in the right direction.

Lets keep our fingers crossed and hope it works.

Anonymous said...

Hi SSD, i'm a few months late but i'm only just reading this post and it is a matter i feel strongly about. I don't mind if my comment is not published because it probably will be quite long.

One of the fundamental issues at the root of this problem is that people are according MEND and other militant groups legitimacy as if they are some kind of noble activists. The truth is they are not. Like their political fathers, they are thugs who have taken genuine Niger Delta (ND) grievances and exploited them for their own gain. I suggest you go back and research how most of these groups were formed and more importantly, who financed their early operations. I wonder whether it never strikes people as odd that a bunch of unemployed people can afford the equipment that they do. If they can barely feed or survive, how can they afford millions of naira worth of weapons?

I was in PH back in 2005 when the most recent wave of kidnappings began. My opinion then was that there should have been swift action by the authorities (the NAVY IMHO) to stem the criminality. There was no need for war, this was a situation where a well-planned, undercover operation could have sufficed without drawing in the ordinary person on the street. And i don't mean a murderous operation either. I'm talking about good intelligence work, rounding up culprits and sending them to trial. There was no reason to believe that the JTF was not up to the task. To date, the JTF is the only body that has demonstrated a good grasp of the issues surrounding militancy.

A number of factors prevented any meaningful action from being taken then. They are typical of the 'Nigerian way' and we are all seeing the fruits of these especially now that Nigerians are bearing the brunt of the violence.

Firstly, people were not alarmed when kidnappings started in earnest because only white people were the victims. The attitude then was ehen, what is our own? Some were even going as far as to agree that oyinbos deserved it, 'in fact they should leave our oil for us'. Well today, most companies have scaled back their foreign staff with wives and children returned home and as many workers as possible moved to other cities. The rest are kept on lockdown with tight security detail attending them. So who is left to kidnap? Yep, you guessed right - Nigerians. Lecturers, bankers, parents, children. And it is only now that our fellow Nigerians are complaining, having realised too late the danger we were in from the beginning.

Secondly, nothing was done at the time that military intervention could have helped because of the identities of the political players involved. We all know that governors in that region, one in particular, had friends in powerful places. There was no way to catch the small fish without bringing down the big men too. And so the criminals were allowed to run free, until their activities spilled over into the streets of PH. Then you had the governor declaring a curfew and announcing reconcilation, amnesty or whatever bull it was. Meanwhile, both the federal and state govts had been paying these thugs off to 'maintain' the peace. And what did they do with the money you ask? Re-invest it in the business, of course!

There is so much more i could say about the motivations of the militants themselves but i'll leave that for another day.

At this point, there is not much that sheer military force can achieve without throwing the region into war because the militants are too well entrenched in the region. Also, i do not hold out much hope for reasonable negotiations. It would be nothing but a farce in my opinion, when you have the architects of the situation now posing as concerned citizens.

On the matter of a solution, i am convinced that nothing will happen until the participants in this matter are brought to justice. Ex -governors and minions alike. Let them be tried and sentenced in public so that everyone can see what is supposed to happen to wrong doers. There cannot be progress without peace and there cannot be peace without justice.
Also, the flow of arms into the Niger Delta must be curbed immediately.

And most importantly, issues of under development faced by your average Jane Doe need to be addressed. People just trying to make a living should not have to endure harassment from two-bit thugs in collusion with their 'leaders'. It is such a shame that many Nigerians cannot see who their real enemies are and wrongly believe that these guys are some sort of salvation, not knowing that they are just a different manifestation of the same problem that has plagued the Niger Delta for decades.

D

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Anonymous: It is never too late to leave a comment on a post. I actually just sat in front of the computer and saw your comment. Thank goodness I had the opportunity to not just read it but actually think about it.

I agree with most of your points and will even take some more time to learn about the origins of many militant groups, MEND included.

A few sections stand out to me. "nothing will happen until the participants in this matter are brought to justice. Ex -governors and minions alike. Let them be tried and sentenced in public so that everyone can see what is supposed to happen to wrong doers."

Amen!

"It is such a shame that many Nigerians cannot see who their real enemies are and wrongly believe that these guys are some sort of salvation, not knowing that they are just a different manifestation of the same problem that has plagued the Niger Delta for decades."

Amen, again!

"One of the fundamental issues at the root of this problem is that people are according MEND and other militant groups legitimacy as if they are some kind of noble activists."

I see your point, but in this post, I was simply discouraging the continued saber rattling between all sides. I do not find it productive for MEND or the JTF to make threats that will only serve to bring more chaos for the people of the region.

I believe that your analysis of the initial attitude towards kidnappings was spot on. For a very long time, myself and other bloggers have had private conversations amongst ourselves where we predicted that these kidnappings would become a more widespread domestic problem. It seems to be the case, although my friends in Lagos swear that all kidnappings happen in the Delta alone.

Nevertheless, the issue remains - how to solve the problem. Like you, I agree that 'justice' is necessary. Accountability is key. Those involved should be exposed and punished for their part in this on-going crime. However, who will ensure that this happens? What must we do to make it possible for some leader to accomplish this? How can we get to that point if we don't recognize the larger issues involved and lack the vision to see that continued delay will only make it impossible to create appropriate remedies in the future?

These are the questions that remain, Anonymous 'D', and I hope that you will humor me by sending your thoughts if you can. Like I always say, i am eager to learn, so if you have thoughts to share, I am all ears.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post and comment on it. Greatly appreciated.

baraal said...

Hi SSD, me again. I must have missed the google button the first time. It's really cool that you responded to my comment. I wasn't expecting that.

Anyway, I have been thinking about what you wrote and i don't know that i have good answers to your questions. Before i talk more about that, i want to go back to the point about according MEND legitimacy. I have to say that you are right about further threats creating more chaos. I did not mean to insinuate that you were recognising militants that way but i was taking the opportunity to rant and i didn't phrase my point very well. What i was trying to get at is the frustrating tendency i've come across in a lot of the commentary on the ND to treat militants like the Messiahs of the Delta.

IMO, it is imperative that Henry Okah has a public trial. I know the prosecution may be concerned about security issues but i really think the benefits of an open trial outweigh any costs here. With a secret trial, all manner of misinformation about Okah will prevail and i fear that it will lend credibility to the man and his cohorts(like what we saw with Asari Dokubo). I want the public to hear straight from the horse's mouth the details of the activities of these groups. If handled properly, there's no way Okah's trial will not implicate other individuals. I think it's time for everyone to hear what our lovely leaders have been doing. Whether this will happen, i don't know. I can only hope.

I also think strong efforts must be made to maintain the ceasefire between various militant groups and between the militants and the JTF. Then, disarmament of these people should begin in earnest. I would have loved to see a Nuhu Ribadu in the legislature, police force, JTF and even government house in Rivers state. People that are interested in pursuing the enforcement of law and order in order to restore a level of sanity to the area. I don't know how feasible this is as it seems like everyone in a position of power is tainted. I just read this evening about soldiers found guilty of selling weapons to militants. It's sad to say but i was not exactly shocked to learn this.

I don't see any overnight solutions for this problem. But like you said we have to begin with accountability. To my mind that requires a civic mindedness and willingness to speak up that is so often lacking in our country. I always found it strange how we can complain about foreigners (i am not letting them off the hook by the way) but cannot seem to protest against our own government which has a more direct responsibility for our welfare and who we have a greater chance of influencing.

On the question of whose job it is to ensure accountability, i think it is all of ours, especially those of us who do not live in the ND. It is easier for the federal government to ignore the issues because of the perception that this is a ND problem only. It has to become a Nigerian concern. I would love to see people with a platform take this issue on and refuse to allow it die.

I think with all our modern technology, we have a greater opportunity to exert pressure on our leaders because now, they cannot hide what they do from us neither can they hide from our demands. For recent examples, see the incident involving Uzoma Okere and now the documentary in Akwa Ibom. I don't believe for a moment that the responses we've seen so far would have happened but for the authorities realising that the scandals were not going away and that people were watching them. I feel like we are taking more of an interest in making our voices heard. I can only hope that this consciousness grows stronger. Blogs like yours are fantastic in this regard but we shouldn't stop there. It is important to keep hammering away at the same issues so that those in charge know that we are not going away quietly. I must say though that I was amazed to discover blogville and a community of people writing about the kinds of things that occupy my mind. I know there are many more people in Nigeria trying to make their voices heard and we must encourage this spirit.

I don’t believe that you need 100% of your population to be engaged, ethical, transparent (though that would be nice) for progress to occur. A look at Britain and the US confirms this to me. You do need enough people that are engaged and we don’t have that critical mass yet in Nigeria.

The only way we are going to get what we want in Nigeria is to ask for it loudly and repeatedly. Obviously this is a long process but like I said, there are no magic solutions and I think it is our only way forward. What Uzoma did was very simple, almost insignificant yet it was incredibly brave. We need more of that i say. More people challenging the status quo whether in a big or little way. I heard Funmi Iyanda once say that Nigerians are overly resilient and i think it works against us. Instead of pushing against injustice, we adjust and carry on with our lives. We need more of a rebellious spirit if you like and what i would call productive complaining. Seeing as Nigerians are already quite good at complaining, we might as well channel it into something useful like activism.

Beauty said...

JTF v MEND does sound like war to me since the innocent are already suffering. Where ever you find big business, war is inevitable and the Niger Delta is a good candidate. It could get worse and that is our nightmare as our so called leaders plan the next owanbe party. The UN Special envoy to the Congo, former President Olusegun Obasanjo spent a very long time in power both as military and Oligarchy dictator. A very long time ago, he dismissed MEND and others as a bunch of bad boys causing trouble. Well, bad boy music is cool today and while his gaffs in the Congo today included "you made me a laughing stock" speaking to rebel leader responsible for mass killings, torture, abductions, forced recruitment of children, forced displacement and destruction of refugee camps, force labour, sexual violence and other horrors of war.

My point, war is stupid but when you have a bunch of clueless and inept people managing a country, what do you get? Dangerous, clueless and inept people. Again war helps big business, oil is huge but forgive me for comparing the Congo where mobile phone technology components come from. If you have a mobile/cell phone, you are helping to contribute to it. We have oil and that is a reason K Saro-Wiwa had to die. So you see, I did not loose all my marbles when I supported AFRICOM.

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