For some reason, the Financial Times recently attributed Nigeria's fuel shortage to "[a] showdown between President Umaru Yar’Adua and powerful Nigerian oligarchs over his moves to break their grip on the lucrative fuel importation business..." This is positive P.R. for Yar'Adua who is generally considered an inept President that has yet to produce on any of his promises. While I cannot speculate as to why this was the explanation given by such a widely read international publication, I, for one, was immediately curious and began to think critically about the current fuel shortage and resulting violence in the Niger Delta.
YARDY 'FIGHTING' OIL CABALS
Nigeria is a net exporter of oil with 44% of its product going to the U.S. in 2008. Despite this reality, Nigerians frequently suffer from fuel scarcity and must sometimes line up for hours or buy product at the black market price. Civil society and ordinary individuals bemoaned the current fuel shortage and groups like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) took to the streets in protest. The government soon reached out to explain that the shortages stemmed from its attempts to fight the 'cabals' (or oil mafia, as some refer to those in control of illegal bunkering) and even the NLC gave some limited/temporary support of the government's efforts.
THE PEOPLE ARE COLLATERAL DAMAGE
It seems that to prove its commitment to rooting out the horrible oil cabals, the government chose to start dropping bombs in Delta State. The result is 1000 civilian deaths in the first 5 days of fighting in the state. As was the case with the Odi Massacre in 1999, Nigeria's military has used its weapons against the very people they are supposed to protect - Nigerian citizens. There are people who are trapped, unable to leave the area of the offensive and the fighting prevents medical doctors and other aid workers from reaching those unable to flee the area.
WHAT EXACTLY WILL MEND ACCOMPLISH?
MEND is not helping the situation either. It rejected an amnesty offer, continues to take hostages and its very presence in Delta State has put innocents at risk. For over a month, the group has been threatening war in the region, and most recently, it announced that it will target northerners involved in the oil industry stating,
"Our message to the Northern Sultans and Emirs is this: The period of exploiting the Niger Delta is coming to an end. It is not the birth right of your people to rule the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"The war is just beginning and by the time it ends, Nigeria will practice true federalism such as fiscal federalism which will benefit the entire populace. Let your people brace themselves to develop their resources and such a bold change will be remembered..."MEND might have started out with best of intentions, but at this point in time, it is just as culpable as the corrupt government and system it claims to fight against. My own family members in another Niger Delta State, Rivers State, are nervous about the killing in Delta State. They fear that MEND will simply choose to return to Rivers State which will then bring down the wrath of JTF, as was the case in 2007 when parts of the state were under siege by dueling militants and the JTF. The fact that MEND just blew up a Chevron station a few hours ago only cements the reality that these fears are valid. , like many others, fear that this oil war will get out of hand. MEND and the JTF will probably not like what develops if this fighting goes on much longer. Neither will the Nigerian people.
A SAD DISTRACTION?
I strongly believe that just as the government has chosen to put on a show of proving that it will root out militants, it must show the people that it will root out those in control of illegal bunkering, and by that, I mean the domestic and international interests who directly impact and control fuel supply in the country.
Personally, I cannot help but wonder if this war with MEND, at this particular time, is not a diversionary tactic to confuse the issues. Yes, MEND's activities affect the nation's ability to meet its OPEC quotas - that the country lost its position as the "African King of Crude" to Angola is no secret, but the government cannot forget to focus on bukering and I definitely would like to hear more of the government's plans to deal with that issue. Furthermore, the simple creation of more schools, hospitals and roads in not just the Delta, but across the nation would do wonders to stem the growing national discontent that feeds the causes of groups like MEND while whittling away at what, if any, goodwill the people have for the federal government. But, of course, these changes can never happen as long as Nigeria's political elite, (Femi Otedola has been fingered by the Financial Times), elected officials and others invested in the status quo continue to benefit from what is the current chaos in Nigeria. Individuas and businesses alike are benefitting from the nation's lack of regular electricity, just as these same individuals make millions from stealing oil and shipping it off to China or whoever is williing to pay the highest to receive it.
The fact that the second anniversary of the President's inauguration is in less than 3 days cannot be ignored. As noted above, Yar'Adua is generally considered an inept president by many and it appears that on the eve of his anniversary, the President seeks to revamp his image and appear more forceful. However, this is the wrong time, and the wrong way to 're-brand' his image, particularly as it comes with the deaths of citizens, the suffering of the poor and a seeming stalling on progress in electoral reform (don't forget the recent Ekiti elections), electricity reform (still no word on improvements to the woeful power situation) and a host of other crucial issues that must be solved for Nigeria to consolidate its many assets and stake its claim as a powerful and successful nation. While no Nigerian President's job is ever easy, the entire world continues to watch and see what will happen with this distratcing oil war and indeed, what will become of Nigeria. The pressure will stay on, so this President must get it right. He only has 2 more years to do something.
- War In the Niger Delta
- No Longer King of African Crude?
- The Global Food Crises, Nigeria & MEND
- Port Harcourt & Nigeria Under Siege
- Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground for Terrorism?