Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nigerian Government Launches Deadly Siege Against People of Oil-Producing Region

Nigerian Government Launches Deadly Siege Against People of Oil-Producing Region

At least 200 reported killed in occupation of Niger Delta

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

An ongoing struggle between the Federal Government and the people of the Niger Delta in the west African nation of Nigeria has reached a new level in the aftermath of the May 13 military operation in the oil-producing region. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has engaged in acts of sabatoge and kidnapping over the last several years in protest against the exploitation of the natural resources in the area as well as the failure of the government and the multi-national oil firms to utilize the profits from the industry to improve the living conditions of the people.

On May 28 it was reported that a leading activists in Bayelsa State, Ken Niweigha, was shot dead by the police. Although the police claim that Niweigha was killed in a shoot-out, MEND announced in a statement that Niweigha, known as "Daddy Ken", was executed by the authorities.

Nigerian human rights groups have repeatedly claimed that state-sponsored executions are "shockingly common" inside the country. Niweigha, who led the Egbesu Boys, which is affiliated with MEND, was arrested on May 26 and paraded before journalists.

According to police commissioner Onouha Udeka, Niweigha agreed to take officers to his hideout in the city of Odi. "He promised he was going to take us to his hideout in Odi where he hid his weapons," Udeka said. "But we did not know that he had arranged with his gang to attack us and possibly get him freed. Ken was shot trying to escape." (BBC, May 28)

Ken Niweigha was the only person reportedly killed during the alleged shootout. A spokesman for MEND accused the the Nigerian police of "summarily executing" Niweigha.

"The Nigerian government in authorizing extra-judicial killings is sending a clear message to youths from the region that it is better to die fighting for freedom than be killed by a lawless system of government," said Jomo Gbomo in an e-mail statement to the international press. (BBC, May 28)

According to the BBC, 500 women from Odi requested that something be done to prevent fleeing MEND supporters from taking refuge in the town. It is quite rare for people to turn in MEND activists, however, residents of the town remember the attacks carried out in 1999 after the killing of 12 policemen.

The 1999 attacks on Odi resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people at the hands of the military. The current military offensive is being carried out by the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) and has resulted in hundreds of people taking up residence in the Ogbe Ijoh refugee camp.

"The chaos at the Ogbe Ijoh refugee camp was unmistakable. With very little to eat or drink, already traumatized mothers struggled to calm their starving babies. Several of them half-naked and crammed into a primary school building with poor sanitation, with the bare floor for a sleeping space and at the mercy of mosquitoes, desperate women painted a harrowing picture of army attacks on their settlements and their plight at the Ogbe Ijoh camp." (VOA, May 24)

One of those taking refuge at the camp was a local chief from Gbaramatu, Esther Clark. She was quoted as saying that "They brought some food which cannot even take care of one village in our community. Nobody has eaten since morning. It is about 11 O'Clock, all the children, nobody has eaten. We have not seen anything. I was in Opkoroza when the thing happended. I was one of the chiefs in the village. I have never seen a place where the federal government will bring a bombing plane to a community and begin to drop bombs on top of the people. I have never heard it any where in Nigeria before." (VOA, May 24)

Government Expands Offensive

On June 1, the Joint Task Force announced that it would expand the offensive against opposition forces from Delta State to Rivers State. The military said that it had eliminated a militant camp near Buguma creek in the aftermath of a fierce fire fight. Despite the media claims that a ceasefire agreement may be in the works between MEND and the federal government, the armed opposition alliance denied these reports and pledged to continue attacks on oil installations even if offers are made to employ more locals in the industry.

Nigerian military official Col. Rabe Abubakar said that the JTF had no choice but to extend the scope of its operations in the region. He said that "The action of the JTF is aimed at eliminating or getting rid of the criminals who are bent on causing unnecessary tension and apprehension in the region. We wish to once again reiterate that we are not targeting any individual or group but criminals, and we will locate them wherever they are hiding. They can only run but they can't hide." (Nigerian Guardian, June 1)

Nonetheless, MEND spokesperson Jomo Gbomo denied reports of a JTF attack in Buguma. "We can only say at this time that this is a public relations stunt as no serious camp has reported any attacks on them", Buguma said. Military officials have claimed that the operations have uncovered a AK 47 rifle and three machine guns with 50 rounds of ammunition.

The offensive by the JTF has been authorized by President Umara Musa Yar'Adua as well as the so-called Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) which consists of elite social groups from the northern region of the country. The ACF said in a statement on May 29 that "No responsible government can afford to fold its hands and watch a few misguided elements of its citizens hold the nation, including their own people and communities, to ransom." (Nigerian Guardian, May 29)

However, other groups such as the All Niger Peoples Assembly have condemned the attacks and called for an immediate ceasefire by the military. In a statement issued by the Assembly, which constitutes the regional organizations representing the affected areas, the group expressed dismay at the "unconscionable attempt to institutionalize genocide in the Niger Delta, as evidenced by the House of Representatives passing a resolution, which callously implores the Federal Government to extend the carnage in Delta State to Rivers and Bayelsa states, plus the condemnable call for the extermination of the 20 million Niger Deltans by Representative Bala Ibn N'Allah of Kebbi State." (Nigerian Guardian, May 29)

Source of the Conflict

The root of the current repression in Nigeria is the role of U.S. and European-based multi-national oil firms which have looted the resources of the oil-producing areas inside the country for decades. These corporations, working in conjunction with capitalist politicians running the Federal Government, have sought to maximize profits and deny the fundamental political, economic and human rights of the people of the Niger Delta.

According to the Energy Information Administration of the United States Government, "In 2008, Nigerian crude oil production averaged 1.94 million bbl/d, making it the largest crude oil producer in Africa. If current shut-in capacity were to be back online, EIA estimates that Nigerian production could have reached 2.7 million bbl/d in 2008. As a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nigeria has agreed to abide by allotted crude production limits that have varied over the years but do not appear to have an impact on production volumes or investment decisions to the same degree as unrest in the Niger Delta.

"The major foreign producers in Nigeria are Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total, and Eni/Agip. Recent developments in the upstream sector include the start up of the Chevron-operated Agbami field in September 2008, with expected peak production of 250,000 by the end of 2009."

Consequently, the people of Nigeria must build a nationwide alliance to take control of their oil resources which account for 95% of the country's foreign exchange reserves. MEND and other regional groups must be supported by the Nigerian Labor Congress and all organizations throughout the country that are desirous of a new social order independent of U.S. and European imperialism.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. The writer has been following the current conflict in Nigeria over the last several weeks.

1 comment:

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