War for Oil in the Niger Delta

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For the past few months, the Nigerian military has waged war on the Niger Delta in a desperate attempt to restore Nigeria’s faltering oil production, which has almost halved due to security concerns.

Tuesday 15th September is due to be the last day of the ceasefire observed by MEND, the main group of insurgents in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The Federal Government’s amnesty for militants expires on 4th October, and beyond it the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the crisis will be remote unless the long-standing grievances of the region are addressed.

Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project writes in a new blog, Niger Delta Rising:

It is clear, that the Nigerian government is getting ready to mount a massive military offensive in the Niger Delta…Despite all the firepower and sophisticated weaponry that it has acquired in recent months, there is no reason to believe that this offensive will be any more successful in bringing the insurgency to an end than any of its previous military operations.

Evidence of the Nigerian government stockpiling arms includes recent international deals with Israeli, Malaysian, Singaporean, Dutch, and Russian companies. And some of these lethal imports have been paid for by Shell Nigeria’s largest business partner and shareholder, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation:

The Nigerian Navy also recently procured 35 new machine-gun equipped fast patrol boats in a deal that was paid for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, reportedly on the instructions of President Yar’adua.

Yar’adua appears to be preparing for a major civil conflict, despite admissions from retired Nigerian General Victor Malu, that there is no military solution to the Niger Delta crisis.

While the crisis is complex, much of the blame falls on the multinational oil companies and their accomplices, the Nigerian Government. Village communities are infuriated by the many broken promises and ongoing neglect and undevelopment of the Niger Delta region, which provides the bulk of the nation’s wealth. As Volman points out:

Most members of MEND say that the government’s amnesty was not made in good faith and that they have no confidence that that the government will honor its promises to improve the lives of the Delta impoverished residents or to fix the massive environmental damage caused by decades of unregulated oil production.

Decades of pollution and gas flaring by oil companies like Shell, aided by a succession of corrupt Nigerian regimes has left the once fertile Niger Delta one of the worst oil-affected ecosystems on the planet, according to a 2006 report by WWF.

The ongoing Nigerian military offensive in the Delta confirms the unacceptable human cost of Nigerian oil. It means extra-judicial killings, routine human rights abuses, torture and imprisonment for any person the Joint Task Force labels a ‘militant’. The military’s objective is to increase oil production. But military crackdowns do not make the region more secure, nor do they address the injustices of decades of pollution and neglect.

Any oil companies with a serious commitment to human rights would refuse to operate behind such a brutal military shield. The Nigerian government must stop its lethal spending spree, and instead invest in protecting its people from the impact of the oil industry by stopping the gas flares and oil spills that are destroying the Delta region.



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