THE RETURN OF MILITANCY IN THE NIGER DELTA
THE RETURN OF MILITANCY IN THE NIGER DELTA
NIGER DELTA AVENGERS ATTACK OIL INFRASTRUCTURE AS GOVERNMENT MILITARISES COMMUNITIES
By Chinedu Bosah
Militancy has staged a dramatic comeback in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Between 2008 and 2009, it was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), now the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) seems to have stunned everyone by blowing up one pipeline another and forcing a significant reduction in the production of crude oil.
The Nigerian military has also responded in typical fashion by militarizing the communities and claiming its readiness to crush the rebellion although the government has now announced a two-week ceasefire to negotiate with the militants.
Nigerian military cannot provide solution
But Niger Delta communities are again being militarized and the people are already counting the costs of brutal invasion by the armed forces in search of the so-called avengers. As it is so often the case the people are torn between the devil and the deep sea as neither side are in the final analysis fighting for their interests but selfish interests at the centre of which is control of oil resources. For example, it cannot be ruled out however, that the elements currently promoting this latest militancy are organized around erstwhile looters of the economy and beneficiaries of horrendous amount of so-called ‘defence’ contracts under the immediate past regime.
However, Socialists organized around the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and supporters of their ideas are not particularly surprised at these turn of events. For long have we warned that at the root of agitations for secession by groups like MASSOB and IPOB, intra-religious conflicts, clashes between livestock and arable farmers, militancy in Nigeria and other forms of collective or individual acts of terrorism by groups such as Boko Haram as well as are: the exploitation and monopolization of the collective resources of the people by an elite few in the capitalist class; the unresolved nationality question; and the absence of a labour movement seeking the unity of all oppressed Nigerians and fighting for the overthrow of the anti-poor capitalist system on the basis of socialist ideas. At the same time as working to build unity between working people, Labour should also demand the convoking of a genuine sovereign national conference dominated by elected representatives of the people and their organizations especially the labour, youth, women and student movement to democratically negotiate and agree on nature and character of governance and the basis of relationship by the different peoples today in Nigeria.
Thus, the issues will always remain the same – agitations spiced with radical rhetoric and in the unfolding tit for tat, the poor community peoples suffer more deprivation and squalor and subjected to high handedness by the combatants, especially by some of the military.
Corrupt ruling class undermined economy
The Niger Delta region is home to over 40 million people, which is about 24% of the entire population, with the region covering 8% of Nigeria’s landmass and constituting the largest wetlands region in Africa. Shell Petroleum began oil exploration in the region in 1956 and since then petro-dollars have so corrupted the Nigeria ruling elite that it abandoned agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the economy. Nigeria was the world largest cocoa exporter in 1960 but cocoa production nosedived by 43% by the year 2000. Production and export of other cash crops like groundnuts, cotton and rubber plummeted considerably as well, job losses became the order of the day and many Nigerians since 1960 became poorer not just the Niger Deltans, but across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Oil spillage and pollution by the multinational oil companies had gone on unabated; according to “Poison and Fire” documentary 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilled into farms, rivers and forest since 1950s, thereby distorting the ecosystem and economic activities like farming, fishing etc. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientists discovered that at least 10 Ogoni communities had been drinking water contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons for years, and this is the fate of many communities in the Niger Delta.
Avengers begin campaign
On February 10, 2016, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) began series of attacks by severing the Bonny Soku Gas Export Line and since then has claimed about 13 other attacks. Just like in 2008 when the federal government responded with heavy militarization so also some communities in Delta and Bayelsa states have come under siege and brutality of armed military men. Alleged atrocities committed by the military are brutality, arrest and detention of mostly youths, assaults etc. In the ensuing crisis, it was reported that 50 soldiers have been killed. These attacks according to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu have reduced oil production to 1.6 million barrel short of the 2.2 barrel per day and could potentially go down.
In a desperate mode to reduce the attacks on oil infrastructure, the federal government ordered the military ceasefire on June 7, 2016 for two weeks to enable discussion with the militants and potentially dole out new amnesty and agreement similar to the 2009 amnesty agreement.
Yet, it must be recalled that all previous policies have only scratched the problem on the surface including the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission in the year 2000 (a body funded to carry out some projects in the oil communities but which has also turned conduit pipe for some corrupt bourgeois politicians from the region), the 13% derivatives (earnings from oil) given to the oil producing states and the amnesty program that began in 2009 and which has since gulped over N250 billion targeted at mostly bribing some of top militants and their foot soldiers out of militancy.
Against this background no amount of repackaged amnesty as a fallout of negotiation will resolve the present problems except massive investment in basic infrastructure to create mass productive jobs, cleanup of the entire Niger Delta region by the oil companies, end oil spillage and gas flaring, adequate compensation to communities and families whose farm lands and fishing ponds/rivers were destroyed by oil exploration and the implementation of other pro-masses policies.
Arguably, the investigation of Tompolo, a top militant who also benefitted from the amnesty program and juicy pipelines monitoring contracts under Jonathan’s government, for money laundering by the federal government alongside the army of armed disenchanted youths have sparked the new wave of militancy. A background factor is the continual rivalry and infighting between the different groupings of Nigerian capitalists. Jonathan’s defeat meant a change in which capitalist gangs had their hands on the top of the state machine and especially some of those from the South-south lost out. Some of these elements can also be hoping that the renewed Niger Delta militancy, and the resultant loss of oil exports, gives them some bargaining power with the federal government. Militancy is also an offshoot of cult activities, oil bunkering and local refining, sea piracy that began decades’ back, but the root cause is the overwhelming neglect of the region as well as the ongoing degradation that have produced a large army of unemployed youths and large-scale poverty.
Despite the amnesty program of 2009, the gravity of militancy shifted to sea piracy which increased so much in 2013 that Nigeria became the second most pirated nation in Africa after Somalia.
Genuine mass action needed
The claim by the militants that they are fighting for the Niger Delta people and interest is generally false, though there has been some genuine community based agitation against environmental degradation caused by the oil companies that was often crushed by the state. The so-called militants are not trying to create a mass movement democratically led and controlled by the larger Niger Delta people. Their acts of individual terrorism not only give a false hope to the people of “troops” fighting for their interest, but also makes the vast majority inactive in the struggle for better society. And it explains why the militants are quick to abandon the agitations whenever the petro-dollar crump, running into billions of Naira, are doled out to them. Individual terrorism can never be a replacement for mass action and furthermore mass involvement and activity is essential if the different peoples living in the Delta are going to be united in common struggle.
We socialists support the agitation of the Niger Delta people for better living condition, clean environment, productive and gainful employment for the teeming jobless people including, when necessary, the taking up of arms to defend themselves. But we also emphasize that it is only the mass struggle of the people under democratic control armed with socialist policies that can wage a spirited and sustained battle that will lift the entire Niger Delta region out of the bestial living conditions.
Although the Niger Delta Avengers, like MEND, are demanding resource control among other demands so also are the ruling elite in Niger Delta and southern part of the country. Demands for resource control by a region or ethnic group do not answer the question of which class will exercise that control? The reality however is that under capitalism, the so-called resource control or increased funding for the states will not meet the needs of vast majority. In actual fact, these competing ruling elites are only agitating for increased funding that will guarantee their privileges and life of opulence. In reality, resources control is not possible in a situation where the profit of multinational and national oil companies dominate the production and exploration of oil. Only nationalization of the oil companies both in the upstream and downstream alongside the nationalization of other commanding heights of the economy under democratic management of the working class and communities can usher in genuine and democratic resource control of the vast majority of the people as against the current control by tiny multinational oil companies, their collaborating national companies and the ruling elite.