Friday, September 26, 2008

Rising Oil Prices Breed More Repression in the Niger Delta

Rising Oil Prices Breed More Repression in the Niger Delta

US imports more African oil but poverty and underdevelopment intensifies

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil producers. Over the last several years, greater amounts of oil from the African continent is being imported into the United States. Some estimates suggests that approximately 25% of foreign oil utilized in the US comes from Africa.

Despite the growing reliance on oil from the continent and the recent spike in oil prices on the international market, the peoples of Nigeria's petroleum producing region, the Niger Delta, have sunk deeper into poverty and underdevelopment.

In response to the disparity between the increase extraction of oil, the rising prices on the international market and the astronomical increase in profits reaped by the multi-national oil corporations, the peoples of the Niger Delta have stepped up their resistance to the exploitation of their land and resources.

This resistance has taken on both an armed and mass character. In recent years, women's organizations have occupied and disrupted oil production facilities to illustrate the social and environmental impact of the exploitation of the national oil reserves by multi-national corporations.

There also has been the formation of a guerrilla organization known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The group has engaged in the seizure of oil workers for various multi-national firms as well acts of sabatoge against oil installations and pipelines.

Just recently MEND claimed responsibility for a series of strikes against pipelines, flow stations and other oil and gas facilities. This was ostensibly done in response to what MEND claimed were ground and air attacks against its bases by the military forces of the Nigerian Federal Government.

In the aftermath of these highly publicized attacks by MEND, the organization declared a unilateral ceasefire on Sept. 21. In a statement from MEND, the organization said that: "We decided to 'stop outside Baghdad' even at a time of victory over the military and utter helplessness of the oil companies,".

"Effective at 7 p.m. EDT on Sept. 21, exactly one week after we launched our reprisal, MEND will begin a unilateral ceasefire till further notice."

Impact of Attacks on Oil Production

Officials from the Nigerian Federal Government have admitted that attacks against oil pipelines in the Niger Delta has significantly curtailed production. It was announced that up to 150,000 barrels per day (bpd) were lost during the week of fighting between the military and MEND forces.

MEND claimed that it suspended its operations as a result of pleas made by elders within the communities surrounding the oil production facilities. A spokesman from the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) welcomed the announcement by MEND but added that the group had to demonstrate its willingness to refrain from attacks on oil pipelines and installations.

"We will continue to carefully and firmly monitor the situation, and exercise some level of restraint until their delcaration is seen to have been actualized," Lietenant-Colonel Sagir Musa told the Reuters news agency on Sept. 21.

"We are hoping it will not be another tactical deception which we have already prepared to contend," he said. This is not the first time that MEND has delcared ceasefires. They have often resumed military operations in response to what they claimed were provocations from the Federal Government's forces.

MEND was held responsible for six attacks over the course of one week. This has been the most intense series of attacks in several years against installations in Nigeria which is the world's eighth largest oil exporter. Royal Dutch Shell, which has been hit the hardest by the recent spate of attacks, declared a "force majeure" on shipments on Bonny Light, a type of crude oil. Force majeure is a contractual term utilized by oil suppliers that indicates they are unable to reach their quotas as a result of conditions beyond the company's control.

Royal Dutch Shell, which drills onshore in Nigeria in partership with the state-managed Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has been reluctant to issue any exact figures as it relates to the fall in oil production.

The oil workers union, PENGASSAN has criticized the Federal Government for taking a "lacklustre" approach in regard to negotiating a meaningful settlement with the people of the Niger Delta. As a result of the continuing unrest in the Niger Delta, the southwest African nation of Angola is increasingly gaining in its proportion of oil produced on the continent.

PENGASSAN in a statement issued on Sept. 21, stated that: "Because of the protracted crisis...Angola has become the alternative haven of oil investors."

MEND claims that it wants a greater share of the oil wealth allocated for development in the region, which has been devastated by environmental toxicity resulting from the lack of concern by both the multi-national oil companies and the Federal Government as it relates to pollution and the residual effects of production.

However, there is also the reality of a large market in the informal sector where enormous amounts of oil is stolen and sold outside the recognized commercial channels. The seizure of oil workers also brings in money for the gunmen who are paid ransome for the release of those who are employed by the multi-national firms.

MEND is not the only organization engaging in sabotage activities against the multi-national firms. Among the Ijaw people, a relatively small nationality, there has been the development of armed groups which engage in sabotage against oil pipelines and installations. Just recently representatives of these groups declared a "full-scale war" against the Joint Task Force of the Nigerian military.

An Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, held a press conference on Sept. 17 saying that the source of the conflict in the oil producing Niger Delta stemmed from the failure of the Federal Government to develop a system where the people could benefit from the large-scale extraction and production of petroleum.

Clark, who formerly served as an information minister in the Federal Government, criticized the JTF for atrocities carried out against civilians in the region. "Recently, the JTF in Delta State attacked an innocent Agge Community and burnt over 150 houses," according to the ThisDay newspaper in Nigeria.

Clark continued by saying that: "We sympathized with the Army when their base was attacked in Bomadi by some few militants, but we have also observed that each time it appears that peace will return to the area, the JTF will always launch an attack without any reason, in order to give reason for their stay in the Niger-Delta where most of them engage in illegal bunkering." (Nigeria ThisDay, Sept. 17, 2008).

National Unity and the Struggle Against Big Oil

There is not a lot known about the general program of MEND and other groups engaging in sabotage campaigns against the multi-national oil firms and the NNPC. However, it quite obvious that Nigeria, which has the largest population of any country on the African continent(estimated at over 100 million), needs a national unity program to effectively challenge the multi-national oil firms who work in conjunction with the Federal Government to rob the people of their most profitable resource, oil.

During the late 1960s, the contradictions between the peoples of the eastern region and the those in the north and the west, erupted into a civil war that lasted between 1967-1970. This tragic epidsode in Nigerian history, known as the "Biafran War" brought about devastation to the peoples of this region of the country.

These regional divisions in Nigeria are the direct result of the legacy of Brtish imperialism inside the country. The colonial policy of "divide and rule" was utilized by the British to maintain control of the agricultural and later oil resources of the country. When the country gained independence in 1960, it was almost inevitable that these divisions would continue and consequently hamper any genuine effort aimed at genuine national unity and development.

In general the peoples of the east and south have been separated economically and socially from those of the west, and the northern people have traditionally dominated the military. Adding to this crisis in governance is the dominance of the oil industry and the corruption in breeds. The failure of capitalism and capitalist production methods in Africa is most starkly illustrated in Nigeria, where there is very little equitable distribution of the wealth emanating from the exploitation of oil and other national resources.

It will be absolutely necessary for the trade union movement, which has an umbrella federation known as the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), to link up with the people residing in the rural areas where oil is extracted to build a people's front designed to take control of the production of oil and utilize this national resource for the benefit of the people.

Sectional struggles based on ethnicity and regionalism will not be sufficient to fight effectively against the multi-national oil companies and the successive governments that have been all to willing to carry out the bidding of these international conglomerates.
Articles by Abayomi Azikiwe have been published in newspapers, magazines, journals and web sites throughout the world.

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