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The elusive peace in Nigeria’s oil rich delta

January 31, 2017
tags:#militia, #Niger-Delta, #oil industry, #oil spill, #Shell
by:Bob Koigi
Decades of perceived disenfranchisement among the youth of Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta area coupled with economic dislocation and deliberate underdevelopment of the local communities by the government have been the sparks that have ignited decades of attacks on oil installations in the area leading to kidnappings, deaths and crippling of the economy of Africa’s most populous nation.

2016, the worst year in the country, saw the rise of dreaded militia groups that continue to agitate for government’s commitment in sharing the oil wealth with the community living in Niger Delta. The groups carried out some of the most daring and well-choreographed attacks that brought Nigeria into a recession which also saw international oil companies halting operations, a process that pushed up international oil prices by up to $50 a barrel on depressed production.

When economically viable oil wells were discovered in Southern Delta, a maze of waterways, in the 1957, the Ogoni people who inhabited the area were forced to give up their land by the government to oil companies without their consent, setting up the stage for protracted conflict with the oil companies. The war would reach fever pitch in the 1990s and early 2000 when piracy and kidnappings became a tool to demand wealth. But an amnesty programme introduced in 2009 by then president Umar Musa Yar'Adua, would bring the age old conflict to a halt. The programme included a monthly stipend and job training to oil militants who denounced violence. They could earn as much as $400 a month in what costs the economy $500 million a year. Analysts and international communities lauded it as one of the most proactive and strategic moves in addressing conflict of such magnitude.

“Conflicts of such nature require multi-pronged approaches that entails give and take. It is either you arrest the militia and spark another set of violence from those they inspired, or cede some grounds for the long term solution. It worked well with Yar’Adua and he has even today been celebrated for such a move,” said Dr. Pius Mwakio a conflict resolution expert who has worked in conflict prone areas in Africa including Nigeria. 

Yar'Adua’s successor, Good Luck Jonathan, who hailed from the South, would carry on with the programme. But in 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari took over office, and with a cash strapped economy, he vowed to cut the monthly stipend for the militants by 70 per cent, with a view to ending it by 2018. The country erupted again, with a resurgence of militia groups and an avalanche of attacks now being common place.

Already five militia groups have emerged, reenergized by Buhari’s actions. The groups include Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). But it is the Niger Delta Avengers that has nearly brought Nigeria to its knees, with the group’s highly trained and sophisticated attacks taking the country into near limbo, in what it calls ‘Operation Red economy.’ The group has carried the same message as former militia groups insisting that the government has to share the oil wealth with the people of Niger Delta and chase foreigners away.

“As we get prepared for the challenges ahead 2017, We make bold to tell the people of our Niger Delta, sane minds in Nigeria and the community of nations that the remaining 11 months and couples of weeks in 2017 will be filled with surprises and a reconfiguration of the struggle for the liberation of our motherland.," the Niger Delta Avengers said in a statement it posted in their website.

“Niger Delta Avengers has emerged as one of the most dangerous groups in Nigeria, even more dangerous that Boko Haram. The daring attacks on some of the most guarded oil installations and the amount of support it is receiving from people who feel abandoned by the government should tell you that it will keep mutating into something even more dangerous,” Dr. Mwakio said.

Immediately it launched its operation in early 2016, it blew up an underground pipeline by Royal Dutch Shell which saw the company close one of the largest terminals that used to produce 250,000 barrels a day. It was the first time in 50 years that Shell was closing its operations in the country.

The Niger Delta Avengers would then attack an oil installation of US firm Chevron which also saw the company close its operations in the area.

“The NDA high command is restating our commitment to attack the interest of oil corporation and international refineries operators that bring in vessels to the Niger delta territory to buy our oil that every successive government have refused to used and reapply the proceeds towards any development in the region since 1958. If they refuse be heed to our advice will result to sinking of two their mother vessel as an examples to others They should not undertake any repair of pipeline, oil and gas facilities that is damaged or attacked by our forces during this period of “Operation Red Economy” until and/or after the dialogue,” the group further stated in a press statement.

By attacking the international oil companies, the avengers and other militia groups are hitting the government where it hurts most. Oil exports earn the government 80 per cent of its revenue. The attacks have seen production levels in the country dip to levels last witnessed over two decades ago.

Threats by the country’s military that it would crack down the militant groups have only served to embolden and inspire more attacks.

President Buhari’s recent infrastructure plan for the delta which includes a $10 billion package to build schools, roads and major investments in the area has done little to inspire confidence. While there has been a lull in attacks recently following a visit by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and a call to allow peace and dialogue to prevail, analysts say what is being experienced is volatile peace which could erupt into even more serious attacks anytime.

“I mean big figures are being floated around like $10 billion. Buhari has done little to inspire the confidence of the people who have been marginalized for so long. His approach immediately he took over office of scrapping the amnesty programme was his biggest undoing. The people of Niger Delta have lost total confidence in his administration to deal with their grievances. He should win their trust first,” said Ms. Asha Yusuf a foreign policy analyst from Maseno University in Kenya.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Embed from Getty Images
Illegal refineries in Niger Delta
Embed from Getty Images
Members of the Joint Task Force , Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), on patrol in the creeks looking for illegal oil refineries on April 19, 2017 in the Niger Delta region near the city of Warri. Nigerian forces are cracking down on illegal oil refineries in the countrys oil heartland.
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