16 Jan 2007
It has been reported by the BBC that a commercial boat carrying 14 people came under attack in the volatile Niger Delta region of Nigeria yesterday resulting in the death of 12 passengers. The 12 victims (all locals) included 4 chiefs of the Kula community in the Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. Two people that survived the attack are currently receiving treatment for bullet wounds at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching hospital while the bodies eight others were apparently carried away by the attackers. The assailants are unknown and the reason for the attack is not clear. This is the first major attack on local civilians since the crisis started over four decades ago. Militants operating in the region have always led their operations against foreign oil companies and the Nigerian state.
The militants claim to be fighting for local control of oil revenues (90% of Nigeria’s oil production comes from this region) or for at least a favorable revenue sharing formula. Revenue sharing in Nigeria is a very contentious issue as different ethnic groups vie with each other over scarce resources in a highly competitive environment. Observers however believe that criminal elements involved in the theft of crude oil are also taking advantage of the fluid security situation in the area to foster their nefarious activities.
Armed militants operating in the Niger Delta have often targeted foreigners, especially those working in the oil sector. Scarcely a week goes by without an incident. Most of those kidnapped, are usually released after the payment of a ransom. Last week, a group of 9 Koreans working at a Daewoo oil facility in Bayelsa State were released following negotiations between Korean diplomats and representatives of the kidnappers.
The origin of the crisis in the Delta Region dates back into the sixties. The late Isaac Adako Boro is generally seen as the pioneer ‘warrior’ that started challenging the ‘irresponsible
behavior” of oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was sentenced to death and hanged by Sani Abacha (late Nigerian military leader) for genuinely championing the fight of the Ogoni people against against the oil companies. The River Niger Delta has the richest biodiversity and the largest concentration of petroleum resources in Nigeria. In the midst of these riches, majority of the area’s 20 million people live in poverty. Oil-generated pollution is increasingly rendering their environment unfit for subsistence farming or fishing. Damage to Environment by the Oil companies and the allocation of resources to the area by the Federal Government constitute the principal grievances of the people.
The former leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari) was arrested and charged with treason for leading an armed insurrection against the oil companies and the Nigerian state.
The Nigerian government, in an attempt to appease the restive people organized a conference in Abuja last year on the problems of the Niger Delta. During that conference, the Obasanjo government unveiled a plan to upgrade infrastructures in the area and generate employment for over 20,000 youths over the next decade. These measures apparently did not go far enough to convince the armed groups to lay down their arms.
The effervescence of militant activity may not be unconnected with the heating up of the presidential elections campaign going on in Nigeria presently.
Njei Moses Timah