MEND


In Warri, Delta State, the raging battle between the men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and militants operating in the creeks shifted to the metropolis yesterday as men of the Nigerian Navy invaded the predominately Ijaw enclave, the “Warri Corner” and Miller waterside near the Naval Base and the Warri Port, a move that resulted in a shoot-out that lasted several hours. – This Day Online

The Niger river at Warri photo by davethompsonministries http://www.flickr.com/photos/davethompsonministries/3019276569/in/photostream/

The Niger river at Warri photo by davethompsonministries on Flickr

… the resultant gun battle triggered a stampede as workers from the nearby NNPC Zonal office which also houses the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Warri South Local Government secretariat and the Warri ports took to their heels. Some journalists who were in the vicinity at the time of the invasion took shelter at the nearby Police Area Command office as the bullets continued to fly for over two hours.

The fighting in the Delta is costing the Nigerian government over 1 million bpd, barrels per day, of oil revenue. The JTF shows no concern for civilian casualties. Starting a gunbattle in a city such as Warri, is certain to kill far more civilians than fighters, it is a much more visible show of the JTF’s contempt for human life. There is far greater destruction for now in the villages. The civilians in the village communities themselves are most certainly part of the intended military target, they are not accidental collateral damage

The makers of the film Sweet Crude write:

On Wednesday, May 13, the Joint Task Force (JTF) began aerial and ground attacks on militant camps in the Niger Delta. On Friday, these attacks widened to include at least nine Gbaramatu Kingdom Ijaw communities, including Oporoza, the village where much of Sweet Crude was filmed. Based on our most recent information, these attacks on civilians continue.

According to first-hand accounts by village residents, the JTF used gunboats and helicopters to fire on villages, with women and children among the estimated 500 casualties. Some were killed while fishing in canoes. Residents fled in terror into the bush. The villages are now deserted and as many as 30,000 civilians are displaced without adequate food or water supply.

There is no way to accurately report on the number of casualties, as aid agencies have not been able to get into the region. This leaves the injured without medical attention, as there are no hospitals in the area. It is reported that the JTF has closed the waterways, barring outside access and preventing villagers from traveling and fishing.

There is a tragic history of Niger Delta civilian communities being targeted by the Nigerian military. In 1999, Odi, a community of 5,000 was wiped out completely � all residents were killed and the village was razed. In 2005, Odioma suffered a similar fate, as did the village of Agge in 2008.

And in an email yesterday the filmmakers wrote:

It was reported today that the village of Oporoza, where much of Sweet Crude was filmed and where we have many friends, was burned to the ground by the Nigerian military Joint Task Force. Other villages too. The destruction continues and the region is still blocked off to aid agencies.

Ijaw elders and leaders issued a statement: The Systematic Destruction of the Ijaw. It says the violence and destruction is on a scale greater even than in the Nigerian civil war, and includes these statements:

b) The burning, destruction, complete razing of Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Peretorukorigbene, Kurutie and many other communities and the killing and maiming of innocent people including women and children amount to systemic annihilation of an ethnic race and this is simply genocide. It therefore deserves international condemnation.

d) The Ijaw ethnic nation contributes more than 70% of Nigeria’s wealth. We appear to be a people who have become victims of our own wealth by the use of sophisticated military hardware bought with our own petro-naira to kill our people.

e) It is indeed criminal, unjustified, inconsiderate and callous to declare full military operations on communities in the guise of undertaking a search and rescue mission for hostages and missing personnel whereas it is common knowledge that hostages and hijacked vessels are secured within the precinct of militant camps and not villages inhabited by innocent people. This is nothing but a deeply contemplated systemic killing of the Ijaw people in furtherance of the age-long crave by sections of this country to either forcefully relocate us or make the Ijaw identity extinct in the Nigerian map with a view to taking over full possession of our natural resources.

f) The Ijaw ethnic nation appeals to the United Nations Organisation to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the circumstances surrounding this latest assault and killing of hapless and innocent people since we do not foresee the possibility of justice from a Nigerian government commissioned inquiry.

The violence is losing the country a lot of money, also from This Day Online:

At the present price of $60 per barrel, and at the current exchange rate of N145 against the dollar, Nigeria is losing about N8.7 billion daily …

There are comments on many Nigerian websites to the effect of kill them all, or sometimes just kill all the militants. He may not like the loss of money, but Speaker Bankole appears quite comfortable with the violence:

Bankole: Military Action Part of Peacekeeping
Speaker Bankole yesterday said that the military operation in Niger Delta is part of the effort to achieve peace in the violence ridden region.
Bankole, who spoke with journalists at the Presidential /VIP terminal of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, described the military option recently being employed by the federal government to counter and suppress the insurgence of the militants in the Niger Delta, who have almost held the nation’s social and economic activities to a stand still in the area for some years now, as a necessary option to achieve peace in that part of the country.
As far I am concerned, it is a peacekeeping option that is going on in the Niger Delta,” he said.
On the innocent citizens who are being killed on daily basis in the crossfire, the Speaker said casualties of that status were inevitable in the cause of attempting to resolve any conflict.
“When two people are fighting and you try to separate them, you might get punched as well,” Bankole added.
He also expressed his sympathy for the families of the victims.

Quite touching that last bit, you can tell just how sincerely he cares.

And it is true the militants are a mixture of actions and motives. In many quarters they get little or no sympathy, from Punch:

While one may count millions of reasons why the military should never engage in its present activities in the Niger Delta, the fact that the militants are causing the nation great pains is incontrovertible.

In the beginning, the militants were protesting the rape of their land by oil explorers and many people regarded it as part of the struggles to get those who are reaping the resources of the area to pay attention to the sufferings of the people. Then they were kidnapping foreign oil workers and setting them free after the payment of ransom. Today, the militants have taken the business of kidnapping to a blood chilling level. Now they kidnap everybody including Nigerian men, women and innocent children many of who neither have business with oil in the Niger Delta nor the oil companies. The kidnapping of a three year old girl is a case in point. Recently, the nation was awe struck with the news that a kidnapped young lady was killed after a N10m ransom was paid.

There are and have been strong links between the militants, elected officials, and even the oil companies.

Punch also reports:

Indications have emerged that the Federal Government’s rebuff of pleas to stop further military onslaught against militants in the Niger Delta communities may have been caused by negative intelligence reports on some leaders of the region.

A security source said that some prominent leaders in the region, including state governors, had been found to be fraternising with militant groups before the ongoing operation.

He said, “How can you listen to people you know have openly identified with known militants in the Niger Delta region? Today, they have lost control of the boys and there is nothing they can do about it.

For more information on how this works, Human Rights Watch released an extensive report on the political situation in Nigeria in 2007, called Criminal Politics: Violence, “Godfathers” and Corruption in Nigeria, click here for the Pdf version.

With their village homes destroyed, and their families fleeing, in hiding, or slaughtered, the militants are threatening a nasty escalation, from Punch:

The JRC [Joint Revolutionary Council] is made up of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Martyrs Brigade and the Reformed Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force

The spokesperson for the JRC, Ms. Cynthia Whyte, who accused the Joint Task Force of attacking civilian settlements, including the palace of the Agadagba of Gbaramatu, schools and other public places, vowed that the soldiers would be made to pay for the “desecration of Ijawland.”

Whyte said, “Let us also warn that any bandit soldier of the Nigerian state who breaches the rules of engagement in this campaign will be summarily executed.

“Any attack on unarmed and innocent village-folk will be revenged. Any attack on community people will result in an equal attack on families of soldiers in any barracks we choose to attack. It will be an eye for an eye henceforth.”

The militants debunked the claim by the JTF that Camp 5 of the militants had been taken over by the soldiers.

According to the statement, militants had long vacated the camp, adding that it had already become a tourist centre before it was taken over by the JTF.

The statement reads in part, “Let it be known that Camp 5 had long become a tourist centre and a haven of sorts for various Ijaw organisations who seek to keep the peace.

Let us remind all men of goodwill that the attacks on Gbaramatu Kingdom represent the height of an attempt by a northern cabal to fully sink their teeth in oil production operations in the Niger Delta.”

And this last is one of the huge problems facing Nigeria. The illegal bunkering in the Delta is big time and sophisticated. The criminals and syndicates involved make $60 million a day, by one insider estimate.

From the BBC in an article that also talks about the UK offering Nigeria military assistance for dealing with the militants:

But a source close to the former government of President Olusegun Obasanjo says the problem is not about quashing militants in boats.

Some of the people who run the cartels are among Nigeria’s top political “godfathers”, who wield massive political influence.

“If the president goes after them, they could destabilise the country, cause a coup, a civil war. They are that powerful, they could bring the state down,” said the source, who did not want to be identified.

He says that attempts in the past to bring the trade under control were stopped for that reason.

“This is an industry that makes £30m ($60m) a day, they’d kill you, me, anyone, in order to protect it,” he said.

In order to get away with the theft, the bunkering syndicates operate under the cloak of the conflict between militants and oil companies in the Niger Delta.

They need “security” – gangs of armed heavies to protect their cargos – and threaten anyone who tries to interfere.

They don’t have to look far to find large groups of unemployed youths willing to do what they are told for a little money.

These youths protect bunkering ships, force local community leaders to let bunkerers pass and bribe the Nigerian military.

The thieves may also need “the boys” to blow up pipelines, forcing the oil company to shut down the flow, allowing them to install a tap in the pipe.

“Hot-tapping”, as it is known, requires considerable expertise, usually supplied by a former oil company employee.

The US and the UK have offered Nigeria military assistance of one sort or another. It is quite clear that there is no possible military solution in the Delta. There are criminals on all sides. There are many many more people who are just trying to live their lives. Lawful regulation and transparency in the oil industry and the related banking would make a big difference, along with lawful and reliable policing. And by reliable I mean citizens would not need to fear the police. The problem that needs to be solved is that the people of the Delta have no clean water, no schools, no clinics, no jobs, and a heavily polluted environment that makes traditional farming and fishing impossible. Nobody seems too uncomfortable with the thought of killing all of “them” to “solve” the problem, the current JTF approach. Any military assistance will certainly assist this “solution”.

Kayode Komolafe writes some wise words in an article printed in This Day:

Not surprisingly the information about the latest bloodbath has been murky as everything about the handling of the Niger Delta crisis over the years. There are no means of getting the records of casualties, if any is being taken at all. Deaths are simply counted in dozens and displaced persons in thousands. Newspapers are awash with photographs of hapless children and old men and women who have been displaced. These defenceless folks are fleeing the spots where soldiers are battling it out with militants. Viewers have been treated to footages on television of people streaming out of the creeks to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Even the military task force that is “flushing out” the militants has only invited the media to visit the areas of operations “when the dust settles”. Meanwhile, one does not need to be a security expert to know that helpless people will bear the brunt of the crisis.

It is, therefore, not enough to have official declarations that Camp Five and the Iroko Camp of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have been destroyed. It is even more urgent to stop the suffering of the defenceless persons. While the debate may continue about who is to blame primarily for the Niger Delta debacle, the government and people of Nigeria should be interested about the humanitarian dimension of the fighting now.

It is unfortunate that the nation has ignored the lessons in the tragedies of Odi, Zaki Biam, Umuechem and other places where the military response to attacks on soldiers recorded indefensible collateral damage. The extent of this damage should be made clear as we draw on lessons from the past operations. These are steps that should not be delayed.

For clarity, the government has the responsibility for security in all parts of the republic. And no sane person can justify the activities of criminals who kidnap persons, vandalise pipelines, steal oil or even chase a way construction workers from sites. These criminals operating in the region have distorted the legitimate struggle of the people for justice and equity in the administration of the revenues from oil. The activities of the criminals should be separated from the justifiable protest against the neglect, poverty and underdevelopment of the region. Security and law enforcement forces should be able to deal with criminals without wreaking havoc on whole communities. It is a professional challenge. For instance, kidnappers have operated in other parts of Nigeria outside the Niger Delta such as south- eastern states, Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna. The crime could be fought without unleashing onslaught on the communities.

Yar’Adua should not stop at flushing out militants out of Camp Five and Iroko Camp, he should move swiftly to implement policies that would flush out inequity, poverty, and underdevelopment in the region.

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Nigeria, from the Escravos oil installation area on the left to Warri on the right.  This is the area of the Gbaramatu communities.

Nigeria from the Escravos oil installation area on the left to Warri on the right. This is the area of the Gbaramatu communities.

There are no roads in the Creeks area of the Niger Delta; village residents must paddle everywhere. Gas flare and oil installation in background. Oporoza, Niger Delta, August 2006.  photo: Kendra E. Thornbury

There are no roads in the Creeks area of the Niger Delta; village residents must paddle everywhere. Gas flare and oil installation in background. Oporoza, Niger Delta, August 2006. photo: Kendra E. Thornbury

Oporoza Library

Oporoza Library, which was attacked, at its dedication in 2005, see the library link below for more information, and links to more pictures.

Reports of severe violence are coming in from the vicinity of Escravos near Warri in the Niger Delta. The JTF, Joint Task Force of the Nigerian Federal Government, the FG, attacked several villages and Camp 5, the headquarters of the MEND chief, Tompolo. They brought 7000 troups, 2 warships, and 14 gunboats. Four Ijaw communities have been attacked, and may be destroyed: Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie. The JTF has a history of making reprisals on innocent civilian communities, and destroying them, for the actions of militants and criminals, Odioma and Aker Base are two examples.

From the Vanguard:

Some community leaders from Gbaramatu who managed to escape alive from Friday’s bombardment of some Ijaw communities by the JTF said the number of casualties were high as they were many people who came from far and near to Oporoza for the Amaseikumor festival.

From Punch, by Sola Adebayo in Warri, May 16:

Twenty-four hours to the end of the ultimatum issued by the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta to oil companies operating in the region to evacuate their employees and shut down, the Federal Government on Friday, launched a major operation to dislodge the militants.

MEND had on Wednesday engaged troops of the Joint Task Force in a fierce battle in which several soldiers were feared dead and their weapons seized. The militants also took 15 foreigners hostage.

Saturday Punch learnt that President Umaru Yar‘Adua was angry about the number of casualties on the part of the JTF and consequently ordered that camps of the militants must be invaded and their leaders captured dead or alive.

As a result, two warships and 14 gunboats were in the early hours of Friday deployed in the coastal Ijaw communities in Delta State. Four helicopter gunboats were also deployed to attack the identified militants‘ hideouts and camps.

Sources said that some Ijaw communities like Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie where leaders of the militant groups are believed to be hiding also came under heavy bombardment by the JTF troops. Unconfirmed reports said the communities had been razed as at 3pm on Friday.

The popular Camp 5 operated by a well known militant, Chief Government Ekpomukpolo, alias Tompolo, in Delta State, was also reportedly razed. The fate of the warlord and his lieutenants could not be ascertained as at 4 pm on Friday.

No fewer than 3,000 troops were involved in the operation in the riverside Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. The Ijaw enclave housed the popular militant Camp 5 and Iroko Camp, which the JTF had been itching to invade and take over in the last 10 years.

It was gathered that the troops were mandated to dislodge the militants from the two camps and regain control of the area.

No fewer than 12 soldiers, including a lieutenant were feared killed in Wednesday‘s battle. It was learnt that 13 others sustained serious injuries before the embattled soldiers were forced to retreat following the superior firepower of the warlords.

Saturday Punch investigation further showed that about 20 military weapons were seized by the militants. The militants hijacked two ships.

Already, one soldier whose body has been recovered, has been declared dead while 11 others have been declared missing by authorities of the JTF.

Indications that the JTF was prepared to avenge the killings emerged on Thursday night when movement of soldiers and military equipment into Warri Port for onward journey to Gbaramatu communities and the two militants‘ camps was noticed.

Efforts by the Delta State government and notable Ijaw leaders to stave off the operation were rebuffed by authorities of the JTF, who politely told them that it had been ordered “from above”. It was gathered that Dike, an indigene of the state, who was also contacted to shelve the exercise said it was beyond him.

Consequently, by 5am on Friday, two naval warships identified as NNS Obula and NNS Nwanba as well as 14 gunboats had settled down for business in Camp 5 and at Gbaramatu, Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kunukunuma and Kurutie.

Saturday Punch also gathered that four helicopter gunboats on the fleet of the Nigerian Air Force embarked on air surveillance and rendered air support.

An Ijaw youth, who managed to escape from the scene, told Saturday Punch on the telephone that, ”Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Kurutie towns and Camp 5 in Gbaramatu kingdom in Delta State had been invaded from the air and the river.”

However, Saturday Punch learnt that heavy shooting between the militants and the soldiers still persisted as at 2:30pm on Friday as the warlords mounted stiff resistance at Camp 5.

What is going on in Gbaramatu Kingdom as I am talking to you now (2:30 pm) is a total war between the militants and the Federal Government. You can call it a show of strength because both sides are well equipped and appeared ready for the battle. The picture is not very clear yet but the troops have burnt some Ijaw communities and the notorious Camp 5 have been razed,” a source said.

The spokesman of JTF, Col. Rabe Abubakar, confirmed the operation but hastily added that it was premature to comment on its details. Abubakar said the federal troops were merely on a rescue operation in the area.

Abubakar said the troops were deployed to rescue the hostages, free hijacked ships and fish out the hoodlums who attacked military personnel on legitimate duties on Wednesday.

He said, ”We (JTF) deliberately went on search and rescue operation in some coastal communities in Delta State. The idea was to apprehend and fish out criminals who are involved in abduction of crew members of two ships and those behind the hijack of the ships. We are also after the criminals who attacked our personnel on legitimate duties.

”But in the process, the so-called militants mounted resistance and this expectedly led to a serious gun duel and they retreated to their camps and hideouts. Our men also pursued them to the camps and hideouts. There is no further detail for now, but heavy shooting is persisting as you are talking to me now.”

The Ijaw National Leader, in his reaction said the Federal Government had declared total war on the Ijaw nation.

Clark said, ”The military (JTF) has declared total war on our people in Escravos in Delta State. They are bombing from the air and water, killing innocent children and women in Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kurutie and Kunukunuma. They (Ijaw people) are seeking for safety in the bush. “Please intervene immediately by telling Mr. President not to declare total war on fellow Nigerians particularly when the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan [from the Delta], is away in Europe on official mission.

One of the villages under attack, Oporoza, was host to the people who made the movie Sweet Crude. They send out an email which contained the following information:

There are conflicting reports, but we do know from a friend who called from the bush, where village residents have fled, that the military has opened fire and there are casualties.

We received this text message from one of the film’s main characters:

“The situation is getting worse every minute. Their plan is to wipe Oporoza out of the surface of Earth tomorrow morning.

The leader of the JTF force has claimed the hostages have been rescued, although one hostage was killed, quite possibly by the JTF. However other reports say that MEND still has the hostages. Reports coming in today, Monday, say 9 hostages have been recovered by the JTF. By the time you read this those numbers may have changed. The militants have blown up two major pipelines, one of which was just repaired at great expense. The Vanguard reports:

MEND said it had sabotaged two oil and gas pipelines near to Escravos which supply the 110,000 barrels per day (bpd) Kaduna refinery in northern Nigeria, shut down for maintenance in November.

The pipeline transports crude produced by Chevron-Texaco to the Warri Refinery and Petrchemical Company (WRPC). It is also used to channel imported heavy crude to the Kaduna Refinery. It was damaged by militants some years ago and its repairs gulped a huge sum of money.

Tompolo not dead: A top aide of the leader of Camp Five, popularly known as Tompolo, who was reported to have been killed, however, told Sunday Vanguard, “Nothing happened to him, he is alive”. He also said all the 15 hostages were Filipinos, but the JTF said it rescued six Filipinos and four Nigerians. His words, “All the 15 hostages were Filipinos. Two died and three were seriously injured during yesterday’s (Friday) aerial attack on camp 5.

The city of Warri was being considered as one of the hosts of the Under 17 World Cup. FIFA officials were due to visit this week, but that visit has been called off. Officials in Warri said there was no danger and no worry. But they may find themselves out of the running to participate in the cup.

The JTF is said to be in persuit of Gbaramatu leaders, and may be pursuing them into Warri:

We hear that Okerenkoko is next in their plan to attack and that they are even planning to trail Gbaramatu leaders staying in Warri and arrest them, this will be a dangerous development …

And from Business Day:

Reacting to comments by some groups whom he called “MEND supporters” who allegedly raised alarm that the JTF used aircraft to bomb communities, Abubakar said such comments were wrong as JTF was adopting normal convention of Cordon and Search as no responsible military would carry out actions that would be detrimental to the existence of innocent citizens.

Given the history of JTF thuggery and its targeting of civilian communities, I don’t give this denial much credit for truthfulness. The Punch reports the crisis is escalating:

Also killed in the fighting, in which about 20,000 people are said to be trapped, was another Filipino hostage and a nine-year-old child.

Three more Filippino were, however, freed from the militants and one helicopter recovered by the JTF operatives during the attacks in Kurutie, Kokodiagbene, Kunulunuma, Oporoza and Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu clan, all in Warri South- West Local Government Area of Delta State.

an official of the Delta State Government, who craved anonymity, put the figure at 20,000. “It is true that about 5,000 people have been displaced, but the people trapped are just about 20,000,” he said.

The official craved anonymity because the state government was yet to comment officially.

When one of our correspondents visited the Ogbe-Ijoh General Hospital in Warri South- West LGA, about 5,000 displaced persons were seen weeping as efforts were being made by the council officials to rehabilitate them.

Some of the displaced persons, including seven youth corps members, gave horrifying accounts of their escape from the scenes of the fighting.

The spokesman of the corps members, Mr. Lanre Abayomi, said they were in a library in Oporoza when the JTF operatives invaded the community in jet fighters and gunboats.

Abayomi, who attributed their escape into Warri to divine intervention, claimed that many buildings were attacked from the air by the troops.

[JTF’s] Abubakar said, “The continuous search and rescue operations being carried out were aimed at criminals who made those areas their abode and made it impossible to rescue the remaining expatriates on board MT Spirit earlier hijacked by them.

There have been many claims and counter claims by the JTF and by MEND. The JTF says the militants are lifeless and homeless. MEND says Camp 5 will be the graveyard of the JTF. Reports vary on how much the oil companies are curtailing their activities, or evacuating their personnel. What is clear is that the local communities near the Escravos terminal are under attack, and that the civilians are the ones bearing the casualties and the suffering.

On April 3oth the International Crisis Group issued a briefing:

Since the Yar’Adua administration assumed office in May 2007, its initiatives for ending Delta violence have been ambiguous and at times incoherent. An early attempt to convene a Delta summit was aborted due to local opposition. A May 2008 proposal that militants incorporate as security companies so they could be hired to guard pipelines and other oil installations met with public scepticism and militants’ rejection and never got off the ground. Creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in September 2008 initially drew mixed reactions, but low funding in the 2009 budget, an uncertain division of responsibilities with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and unclear guiding principles have cost it credibility.


On 7 January 2009, a number of the country’s leading civil society groups charged that Yar’Adua’s silence on the report showed he was only playing to the gallery on the Delta issue, and subsequent developments have done nothing to dispel those misgivings. The disclosure by a special adviser to the vice president two months after the report was submitted that yet another committee had been established to study the recommendations, coupled with the lack of any further response since then, are deepening doubts over the government’s sincerity. The longer these doubts grow, the more difficult it will become to engage all stakeholders in an effective peace process.The Technical Committee has been the government’s most promising effort to develop a coherent, long-term strategy in the Delta. Launched on 8 September 2008 with broad and credible membership, the committee was mandated to collate, review and distil all previous reports, memorandums and submissions and “make suggestions for Government’s necessary and urgent action”. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan pledged that its recommendations “will not be treated with levity”. It was widely believed that the government would adopt those recommendations as its definitive roadmap for resolving the region’s crisis.

Right now it does not look like there is much interest in resolving the crisis. It would be interesting to know if the US Africa Command was acting in any advisory capacity in this exercise. I have no particular reason to suppose it is. However the US has been pouring arms into Nigeria for years, and the numbers soared during the Bush administration. The Africa Command was initially set up largely to safeguard Nigerian oil for the US market. This exercise in violence by the Nigerian government does not seem to be safeguarding anything. The US has demonstrated no serious interest to date in peaceful solutions to the crisis in the Delta. The Africa Command, and the mercenary contractors who are their camp followers, are studying to carry out counter insurgency operations in the Niger Delta. Counterinsurgency operations include attacks like these on Delta communities. The mercenary contractors already have a heavy presence in the Delta, in violation of Nigerian law.

As of today, Monday:

A source told Daily Independent at the weekend that production loss to the on-going violence was over 250, 000 barrels per day as foreign firms remove all but essential staff from the areas.

Chevron, the source added, could soon declare a force majeure on oil from the Escravos operation, while the Shell Petro-leum and Development Company (SPDC) has commenced the evacuation of its staff from the swamp and offshore locations in response to threat by the militants to attack oil workers.

Fears that the violent clash in the region of Nigeria could cause price surge also gripped traders at the global market as transaction resumes Monday. … traders believed that the renewed violence in Nigeria could single-handedly skyrocket the price.

And this is what most of the world cares about. We are largely indifferent to the fate of the local people whose land contains the oil, but who receive no benefit from it. The local people receive instead severe pollution and violent assault. I would like to think this current assault is an aberration, but I suspect it is a big step towards an escalation.

burning oil spill in the Niger Delta

burning oil spill in the Niger Delta, picture from the film

Click HERE to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold

Slate featured an 8 minute video using the photos of Ed Kashi and the voices of people from the Niger Delta, Curse of the Black Gold, based on Kashi’s book of the same name, Curse of the Black Gold.

In the Niger Delta, over the last 20 years there have been an average of 2 oil spills per day. N’Delta is one of the great forested wetlands of the planet, part of the lungs of the planet. It is now a lung completely clogged by oil. The oil pollution and the oil business have destroyed every other means of making a living. Oil has detroyed the land and destroyed the communities that live on the land. After years of trying to talk to the oil companies and the Nigerian Federal Government some citizens have chosen the path of armed opposition. MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger is the largest and best known. MEND has successfully shut down a great deal of Nigerian oil production. As one of the people speaking in the film says. If the government wouldn’t allow a dialogue with us before, but now it is reacting to the violence: “… that means the government respects violence, not dialogue.

The film says Nigeria has the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. The US is expecting to get about 25% of its oil from Africa, chiefly Nigeria. If MEND is shutting down production, what will the US do? Will it try to negotiate a fairer distribution of wealth, and help create policies that protect the environment as part of the extraction of oil? Or will it attempt to crush any local opposition to corporate greed and environmental devastation by military means? And whether the US uses its own soldiers, Nigerian proxies, or mercenaries, will it invade another country, this time in the Niger Delta, and devastate the population for oil?

With AFRICOM, a combatant command, leading US foreign policy in Africa as has been described in this report, U.S. Civil Military Imbalance for Global Engagement, the answer seems fairly clear. AFRICOM planners and the mercenary corporations are focused on the Niger Delta.

Many people think there is still time to negotiate and avoid full scale confrontation. It would certainly be to US advantage in terms of its relationship with Africa and the world, and in terms of long term interests, both US and African, to take the dialogue approach. Under the present US administration, that does not seem to be on the table.

AFRICOM has made a big show of coming to Africa to help Africans, partnerships, capacity building, assisting “failed states”, etc. But as Michael Klare writes in Rising Powers Shrinking Planet:

… As in previous centuries, resource-consuming nations will extract as much of Africa’s wealth — in this case, oil, gas, and minerals — as they can, often jostling with one another for access to the most prolific sources of supply. In doing so they will repeatedly proclaim their deep interest in African development, insisting that the exploitation of raw materials will contribute to the improvement of living conditions for the masses of ordinary citizens. If past experience is any guide, however, few of those living in Africa’s resource-producing countries will see any significant benefit from the depletion of their continents natural bounty. (p.149-50)

His words are certainly holding true in the Niger Delta. I remember the optimism oil brought in the 1970s. And we can see the devastation it has brought instead in Kashi’s pictures featured in the video.

Added Sept 9: When I wrote above about invasion of the Niger Delta, I doubt the US has any desire to involve US soldiers in war fighting in the Niger Delta. Although they are training for that possibility, riverine warfare, counter insurgency, African languages etc. I think the US would prefer to use training and military assistance to get the Nigerian military to act as proxies for US corporate interests. In this way the Niger Delta can continue unchanged as a colony of the oil companies with the assistance of the Nigerian government. The US will also employ the PMCs, mercenary corporations, or may encourage the Nigerian government to employ these corporate soldiers. What we don’t see is any effort to strengthen Nigerian democracy and civilian institutions. The Pentagon is leading foreign policy. That is where the US is putting the majority of its foreign policy dollars. That concentration of money and effort in the Pentagon is what is meant by the militarization of foreign policy. The denials the US is militarizing foreign policy ignore how the money is being spent.

GULF OF GUINEA (March 18, 2008) Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Kait, executive officer of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) teaches procedures for underway replenishment to Lt. Nsikan Friday and Lt. Mohamed Olanrewaju Zubair of the Nigerian Navy.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class RJ Stratchko, 080318-N-8933S-016)

US Navy ships continue to ply the Gulf of Guinea. In mid April HSV Swift docked in Nigeria and conducted joint training with the Nigerian Navy. It was written up in the Vanguard:

The exercise to be conducted at the Western Naval Command’s area of responsibility, will focus on the Automatic Identification System aimed at enhancing Nigerian Navy’s capability to monitor vessel traffic in Nigerian waters.

The French Navy has been visiting Nigeria as well:

Abuja, Nigeria (April 16) – A French navy frigate is due in Nigeria Saturday on a five-day visit, just as a US warship arrived in the African nation for a week-long ‘transiting’ visit, PANA reported. The French warship – AVISO NAVY LIEUTENANT LE HENAFF – will arrive the commercial city of Lagos 26 April, and will conduct joint training exercises with the Nigerian Navy (NN).

Earlier on Monday, US warship HSV SWIFT arrived Nigeria for a visit tagged “transiting the Gulf of Guinea.” The ship has already commenced a joint training exercise with the NN.

MEND’s response has been to escalate their activities:

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, (MEND) has warned oil companies working along the coastal region of Nigeria to be ready for war, just as it said the military was not in a position to protect them.

“MEND will offer materials such as explosives to communities that have now realised that it is better to destroy oil facilities in their territory since they do not benefit them in the first place.

And they made their intentions and opinions quite clear:

“On Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 2230 hours, commandos from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), sabotaged a major Shell Petroleum Company pipeline at Adamakiri in Rivers State of Nigeria. That pipeline crosses from the Cawthorn channel to Bonny,” the group said in an e-mail signed by Jomo Gbomo and sent to journalists.

The group also said it provided logistics to the group that attacked a Chevron facility in Delta State on Thursday.

Regarding the Naval visits MEND said in the statement signed by Jomo Gbomo:

“Today’s attack was prompted by the continuous injustice in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria where the root issues have not been addressed …

Then finally, to show our way of saying “welcome” to the US Naval warship, USS Swift which is transiting the Gulf of Guinea.

“Mr president, your warships do not intimidate us. Instead they only embolden our resolve in fighting the Goliaths of the world that support injustice.

“We have nothing to loose because he that is down need fear no fall. Our waters and farms have been polluted by oil companies with double standards. Our girls are raped by soldiers of the Nigerian army with impunity and protesting youths are assaulted and killed daily. Even journalists from your country can not visit the region to report the truth without being arrested and embarrassed.

In an rational world the parties involved would be attempting to work towards a political solution. As Adam Wolfe writes in his blog, in a post titled AFRICOM cannot MEND the Delta:

Now some might try to make the argument that MEND is really just made up of “dead-enders” and greater US cooperation in patrolling the area would bring stability to the region. But wouldn’t a political solution to the Delta region be better than an intensification of the asymmetrical warfare between a larger patrol force (trained by the US) and MEND?

And asymmetrical warfare is what AFRICOM is setting up to engage.