Niger Delta


RT is featuring a documentary about oil in Nigeria called Blood of Nigeria, directed by Philippe Lespinasse. It is well done and worth a look. RT is showing it in two parts. They will be consecutive on the schedule, but there may be other programs in between, and the RT schedule does not indicate which is part 1 and which is part 2. You can see the scheduled times here: Blood of Nigeria, and you can check the program schedule in Moscow time. If you don’t get RT, you can watch it in their streaming video feed at the scheduled broadcast times.

The Niger Delta, one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world, has experienced an average of one oil spill per day, collectively the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill per year, for five decades, 50 years.

Blood of Nigeria film crew travelling on the oil covered water in the Niger Delta. The oil covers the water and nothing lives beneath it.

You can watch the film online narrated in French at Le sang de Nigéria. The full film is about 53 minutes long. You will find more information and another link to the film here.

Dead mangrove in the Niger Delta, suffocated by oil. These wetlands are part of the lungs of our planet.


The approach to an informal oil refinery in the Niger Delta

An FPSO, Floating Production Storage and Offloading, an offshore oil & gas industry vessel, glittering in the sea off the coast of the Niger Delta

After 50 years of massive oil spills the Niger Delta is a Laboratory For Oil Spills In Coastal Wetlands. Even so, no one is studying it, and attempts to study it are prevented.

For a quick and clear explanation of why Nigeria erupted in protests when the fuel subsidy was removed, see Naijablog.
Here is a brief excerpt:

“… the lived reality of citizens of the Nigerian state is that it provides little or no security, no infrastructure, no education and no employment opportunities (apart from mostly McJobs in the civil service). Everywhere in Nigeria, the basic elements of civilised existence have to be taken care of house-by-house, compound-by-compound. You must sink your own borehole for water, buy, install and fuel a generator for power, hire security guards to keep the wolves from the door, pay school fees to ensure your kids get a half-decent education because the public school system is in perpetual meltdown. And to earn enough money to get through the day, you must hustle.

For the past few decades, cheap fuel has therefore been the only form of social contract between ordinary Nigerians and the state and the principle lever to control inflation during times of rising oil prices. With most Nigerians subsisting on US$2 or less, subsidised fuel has also been a survival mechanism, making life only just bearable.

As it is, most Nigerians are poor, and will simply not be able to survive with any comfort on US$2 a day and a doubling of living costs.”

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We have a laboratory that shows us what happens to a vital and sensitive coastal wetland subjected to massive and repeated oil spills. So far very little has been done to study it. The Niger Delta, one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world, has experienced an average of one oil spill per day, collectively the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill per year, for five decades, 50 years. Half the life created in a warm coastal wetland is created in the top two millimeters of slime on the surface of the marsh mud, the food base of the entire coastal wetland, as illustrated below. If this layer is covered by oil and dies, all the animals up the food chain risk starvation. In the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold. you can hear a man telling us that in his Niger Delta fishing community where they have fished for generations, there is now no one who can make a living as a fisherman.

Half of the all the life created in the nature-rich Louisiana coast, one of the world's most productive estuaries, or in any warm coastal wetland, takes place in the thin layer of slime on top of the marshes. Microscopic creatures are a key part of the Gulf marsh ecosystem. (nola.com, click to enlarge enough to read)

Right now BP’s Deep Horizon well is spilling what may be the equivalent of one or more Exxon Valdez spills per week. The well may be compromised downhole (from dougr at the Oil Drum) and leaking in multiple locations. How, and even if it can be stopped are open questions to which no one appears to know the answer. In the Niger Delta we have the laboratory for how this massive a spill might effect people, plants, animals, land, and water. But it has been very little studied. The effects of this oil spilling on people has been almost completely ignored.

Meredeth Turshen wrote of the Niger Delta in 2004:

Specific effects of oil development on women’s health seem not to have been investigated. Although I found an article on the effects of exposure of crocodiles to sub-lethal concentrations of petroleum waste drilling fluid in the Niger Delta basin, I could find nothing on the health of women who live near oil wells and oil production stations, and nothing on reproductive outcomes in areas adjacent to petrochemical plants. Yet it is known that cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead are contained in the refinery effluents that are constantly discharged into nearby bodies of water. At high concentrations these metals cause metabolic malfunctions in human beings. They enter the food chain through the drinking water and the local fish that people consume.

Right now we are just beginning to see similar exposure to US citizens.

Oil spills have destroyed lives and livelihoods throughout the Niger Delta. You can see and hear what has happened to people:
Click here to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold.
It is based on Ed Kashi’s book of the same name, Curse of the Black Gold.

Neither the oil companies nor the Nigerian government want anyone to know what is going on. Investigation and research is actively discouraged. Those engaged in research or reporting may find themselves threatened and at risk of arrest, beatings, injury and death. And now The Mercenaries Take Over, mostly hired by the oil companies to protect their interests and prevent interference and investigation.

The same thing is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has hired mercenaries to keep the news media and the public away from the places the oil has come ashore and prevent investigation.
Louisiana response to Gulf of Mexico oil spill obstructed by BP and federal agencies, state officials say
or
Barriers to news coverage of Gulf of Mexico oil spill remain despite promises

Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access.

The threats and dangers are not now as pervasive and severe as in the Niger Delta. But they are there, and this is just the beginning. You can see in the following picture the vast extent of the oil spill, covering 18, 473 square miles on June 19, and growing. Much of that oil will be coming ashore in the wetlands. Storms are likely to drive it to land and inland. Much oil remains suspended in the water along with a great deal of methane that has been escaping with the oil. The oil and methane will kill marine life and make their habitat uninhabitable.

Strong thunderstorms form large, dense masses of bright white cloud in this MODIS/Aqua satellite image of the northeast Gulf of Mexico taken the afternoon of June 19, 2010. But it's clearer than the MODIS/Terra image taken the day before, and reveals fresh oil upwelling around the location of the leaking Macondo well, source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Slicks and sheen span 18,473 square miles (47,847 km2) on this image. Thin patches of slick and sheen appear to be making landfall from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Perdido Key in Florida, and from Grayton Beach State Park to the Seacrest / Rosemary Beach area along the Florida coast. (from SkyTruth on Flickr: flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4722626008/ , click to enlarge)

In Nigeria Claytus Kanyie says:

The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.

And another Nigerian fisherman speaks:

If you want to go fishing, you have to paddle for about four hours through several rivers before you can get to where you can catch fish and the spill is lesser … some of the fishes we catch, when you open the stomach, it smells of crude oil.

Soon this will be true in the Gulf of Mexico, as will all the health effects and economic impact of wetlands saturated with oil, and of a sea depleted of oxygen and filled with oil and toxic chemicals.

Up to 13 million barrels of oil have spilled in the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years, representing about 50 times the estimated volume spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989. Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, PDF.

Oil spill in the village of Ikarama, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 7 February 2008  © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Oil spill in the village of Ikarama, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 7 February 2008 © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

These spills equal the amount of 1 Exxon Valdez sized oil spill per year. And this is taking place in one of the most sensitive wetlands of our planet, part of the lungs of the planet. The spills pollute the land, pollute the water, clog the creeks, and gas flaring pollutes the air and the rainwater, bringing down toxic acid rain on land and water and all that live there.

As one Niger Delta fisherman stated:

If you want to go fishing, you have to paddle for about four hours through several rivers before you can get to where you can catch fish and the spill is lesser … some of the fishes we catch, when you open the stomach, it smells of crude oil.

The Niger Delta is one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world and is home to some 31 million people. The Niger Delta is also the location of massive oil deposits.

Under Nigerian law, local communities have no legal rights to oil and gas reserves in their territory.

This report focuses on one dimension of the crisis: the impact of pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry on the human rights of the people living in the oil producing areas of Niger Delta.

This report is a report from Amnesty International Nigeria: Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta – Report PDF. The report was released June 30, 2009.

The main human rights issues raised in this report are:

  • Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food – as a consequence of the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries, which are the main sources of food for many people in the Niger Delta.
  • Violations of the right to gain a living through work – also as a consequence of widespread damage to agriculture and fisheries, because these are also the main sources of livelihood for many people in the Niger Delta.
  • Violations of the right to water – which occur when oil spills and waste materials pollute water used for drinking and other domestic purposes.
  • Violations of the right to health – which arise from failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws to protect the environment and prevent pollution.
  • The absence of any adequate monitoring of the human impacts of oil-related pollution – despite the fact that the oil industry in the Niger Delta is operating in a relatively densely populated area characterized by high levels of poverty and vulnerability.
  • Failure to provide affected communities with adequate information or ensure consultation on the impacts of oil operations on their human rights.
  • Failure to ensure access to effective remedy for people whose human rights have been violated.

The report also examines who is responsible for this situation in a context where multinational oil companies have been operating for decades. It highlights how companies can take advantage of the weak regulatory systems that characterize many poor countries, which frequently results in the poorest people being the most vulnerable to exploitation by corporate actors. The people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights undermined by oil companies that their government cannot or will not hold to account. They have been systematically denied access to information about how oil exploration and production will affect them, and are repeatedly denied access to justice. The Niger Delta provides a stark case study of the lack of accountability of a government to its people, and of multinational companies’ almost total lack of accountability when it comes to the impact of their operations on human rights.

More oil is being prospected and discovered throughout Africa. Rather than an outdated holdover from an ugly past, Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta is probably the model for oil exploitation across the African continent. Only if African countries stand up for themselves and their people, can the devastating effects be mitigated. Far too many governments in Africa are not accountable, or only barely accountable to their people. And even where there is a will, the outside powers and donor countries will not make it easy. Look at what is happening in Somalia, another potential source of oil. The international donor countries are keeping it destabilized in the name of fighting “terrorism”. When Somalia did develop its own government in 2006, it was rapidly crushed by the US using Ethiopia as a proxy. This is what is known as stability operations.

In response to a question, I was talking to someone in the neighborhood where I work about pollution and oil exploitation in the Niger Delta. He was not really interested and brushed it off, saying, “we have to get our oil from somewhere.” This is someone with whom I’ve had a number of friendly conversations, and generally think of as a nice guy. I think his response typifies the attitude of people in the US, and in the developed and rapidly developing world.

Just as the European colonial powers spoke of bringing Africa the 3 Cs, Christianity, Civilization and Commerce, the US, and the US Africa Command speak with straight faces of bringing Africa the 3 Ds, Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. It was a mirage the first time, and this is pretty much the same thing, minus Christianity. It is not done to benefit the people of Africa but to fool them. It is like the distraction of a magician, so you don’t see how he does the trick.

As Dr. Wafula Okumu testified:

To paraphrase Kenyatta’s allegory, “when the Whiteman came to Africa, he was holding a Bible in one hand and asked us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes after the prayer, his other hand was holding a gun and all our land was gone!” Africa’s colonial history was characterised by military occupations, exploitation of its natural resources and suppression of its people. After testing decades of independence, these countries are now jealously guarding their sovereignty and are highly suspicious of foreigners, even those with good intentions.

There are many professed good intentions, and very few genuine good intentions among the powers gathering around for this latest scramble for Africa, particularly in the search for oil. It behooves Africans to be very wary indeed.

Burnt palace of the monarch of Gbaramatu kingdom in Oporoza near the volatile oil rich Niger Delta. Photo: GEORGE ESIRI

Burnt palace of the monarch of Gbaramatu kingdom in Oporoza near the volatile oil rich Niger Delta. Photo: GEORGE ESIRI from 234next.com.

Here is a rundown of a variety of news reports and commentaries on the JTF attacks in Nigeria’s Delta State.

Sokari writes of the initial attack, and includes moving testimonies of what happened from the surviviors:

On May 14, 2009 at about noon, Gbaramatu Kingdom,Delta State, was in a festive mood. There had been an influx of guests into the community from far and near. They all came to witness the presentation of the Staff of Office to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ogie the third. The palace located in Oporoza was filled with well- wishers as the day also marked the King’s one year anniversary. Suddenly, three low flying helicopters were seen approaching the Kindgom. The community people initially thought they were flying dignitaries to the ceremony or that they were part of the glamour for the ceremony. They were wrong. Dead wrong!

The three choppers were actually gunships of the Joint Military Task Force, on a mission to mow down the Gbaramatu Kingdom. Suddenly the gunships started bombing everywhere, the King’s palace inclusive.

Next reports that the JTF assault on the Gbaramatu communities is of questionable legality:

The legality of the current onslaught against militants in Delta State by the Joint Military Task Force is stoking controversy among lawyers, lawmakers and military officials spoken to by NEXT on Sunday

Although the Nigerian defence headquarters claimed it sought and got the nod of the Nigerian president, Umaru Yar’Adua to embark on the campaign, critics of the action said the president erred in not seeking the support of the National Assembly for the exercise. The Assembly, last Wednesday however, voted to support the campaign.

Neither the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan nor the Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan received any prior notice of the action, as NEXT reported last Sunday.

The lack of debate in the House is also said to be responsible for the rather lax operating rules under which the military is conducting the war.

A Lagos lawyer, Jiti Ogunye said: “The commander of JTF sometime last week said that they were looking for a monarch and that they found some incriminating documents after ransacking his palace. I shuddered with amazement. The question is who made soldiers to be investigating crime? Where did they get that kind of right? They sacked the man’s house in the first instance, which is not right, or shall we now say that we are now subjected to a martial law? I mean all these are very important.”

Paul Adah, the deputy chairman of the House of Representatives Defence Committee said there was no act of parliament that establishes or recognizes the Joint Task Force. He, however, said the Nigerian President, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has the powers to set up such task forces

Samuel Okikiola writes an account of a visit to Camp Five before the attacks, and has this to say about TomPolo:

TomPollo has an effective communication network with which he communicates with other fighters and inhabitants of smaller martial camps. His deputy did the talking most of the time. He said Tompollo was the head of the Ijaw struggle for emancipation. His other assistant has a Masters Degree from the University of Nigeria , Nsukka. His real name is Government Ekpomupolo. He will be 40 this year.

TomPollo has a vast business empire. He has a house in South Africa, where many of the current Niger-Delta governors passed the night whenever they visited. He was a consultant to Chevron, which sustained the relationship with him, owing to his integrity, honesty and charm. He was also a consultant to Shell Petroleum.

Top government officials have been visiting Tom Pollo in the past two years. The government was said to have made several overtures to him, including the post of a minister of state, which he rejected. His deputy commandant said the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan had visited Camp 5 on two occasions; while a woman, said to be President Umaru Yar Adu’a sister, paid TomPollo a visit in 2008,appealing to him to “give her brother a chance to rule Nigeria peacefully.”

The account also describes Camp Five as clean and disciplined.

Ibiba Don-Pedro writes an analysis of the JTF attacks and the war in the creeks:

Two weeks after it began, on May 13, ongoing military attacks on Ijaw communities are taking a high toll on ordinary citizens in the area. The Joint Military Task Force has insisted that its mission was pegged on a search and rescue operation to locate 18 of its officers and men, missing in action since an encounter with fighters from the camp of Ijaw militant, Government Tompolo. The missing soldiers have not yet been found and each day brings fresh reports of attack on another Ijaw community and fresh civilian casualties along the Escravos River.

On Wednesday, May 27, Kokodiagbene, an Ijaw community of mostly fisher folk was invaded. Before this, communities including Oporoza, Okerenkoko, Azama, Kurutie, Kunukunama and Abiteye, among others, were destroyed within the first few days of the military offensive. In the following days, installations of Chevron were attacked by men of MEND, in a show of nerve, leaving unknown casualties.

Although not much has been heard in terms of actual casualty figures, the ongoing military blockade of the Escravos and surrounding creeks has raised fears over the fate of perhaps thousands of women, children, men and the aged who are forced out of their communities into the forests and swamps.

A rescue mission by the National Emergency Management Agency has assumed tragi-comedy proportions, as relief efforts and personnel are being ferried from Ogbe-Ijoh laboriously, through the meandering creeks by hand-pulled canoes. Yet, to reach the closest of the communities to Warri ordinarily takes two hours by a speedboat.

Condemnation of the military action has poured in, even as the military, through the Joint Media Campaign Centre, struggles to shift attention away from the reality of huge human casualties and continued suffering.

This latest bloody battle, coming barely a week after the expiration of a three month notice by the Ijaw Youth Council, given February 5, 2009 to all militants to disarm and demobilize their camps, is being seen as the Federal Government’s version of the final solution to the Niger Delta conundrum.

It is a solution many groups had warned the administration not to explore. “State sponsors of terrorism cannot sustain oil exploration and production.

Next also has accounts of survivors of the attack on the Gbaramatu communities:

They all fled from Okerenkoko and Oporoza communities. Depending on who was telling the story: the people were either fleeing from soldiers or members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta.

There has been continious bombardmenent of the area since May 13. A common trend, however, in the narrative of all actors in the saga is that residents of these communities in Gbaramatu kingdom of Ijaw nation, the fourth largest nationality in Nigeria, have become homeless. Many have been killed and many more rendered homeless. Families have been separated with some mothers not knowing the whereabouts of their children.

There are almost no men among the visible refugees. Those who are alive are still hiding in the bush. Any male is likely to be killed or arrested as a militant. The stories of families separated and missing family members are heartbreaking. One woman had to leave her mother because her mother could not walk. Many don’t know where their children are. Another young woman described how:

Together with her three sisters and her mother, she swam for nearly an entire day just to get away from the cascading bullets from helicopters. The whereabouts of their father and brothers remain unknown. She said they were in the bush for three days where they were kept company by the regular sounds of gunshots.

New reports say the JTF Didn’t Raze Ijaw Communities, Say NEMA, Red Cross

Officials of National Emergency Manage-ment Agency (NEMA) and international voluntary relief organisation, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, have said they did not find evidence of communities that were totally razed by Joint Military Task Force (JTF), in the Niger-Delta.

The officials said after visits to at least seven Ijaw communities in Warri South-West Local Government Area, Delta State, where the security task force had extended their two-week military campaign against the militants, they could say without fear of contradiction, that certain accounts they had read in the newspapers were a far cry from the reality on ground.

Although a number of houses had been torched in the communities visited, there was no evidence of large-scale destruction of residential buildings as reported in some newspapers, they said. “What we found remarkable was that only women and children came out to receive the relief materials we took along with us during the visit,” the Red Cross official said, noting that they had decided to take the relief materials provided by NEMA, despite reports that “no lives remained in the affected communities.”

As reported above, and in other places, NEMA and the Red Cross were only allowed to visit the communities in wooden boats with paddles, even though “to reach the closest of the communities to Warri ordinarily takes two hours by a speedboat“. Regardless of the scale of the destruction, it is clear the military assault has created a huge internally displaced refugee population.

Sokari writes:

The back story to the present military operation in Warri South West is beginning to unfold in some quite sinister ways.

… if one takes the view that the military option is a part of a well planned offensive against the Niger Delta resistance by the Northern mafia that runs the country AND the latest report from chidi opara reports then something might be brewing.

Another piece in this unfolding tragedy is the British and more lately French governments offer to send arms to be used against militants and their support of Nigeria having a seat on the Security Council.

Two issues are at stake here for both Nigeria and these two European governments – the free flowing of cheap oil and preventing the break up of Nigeria in which all three of them will loose big time.

The US is not mentioned here, but it has been increasing its arms transfers to Nigeria for several years. The Niger Delta has been a focus of AFRICOM, and of the mercenaries, the private military and security corporations who thrive on armed conflict.

chidi opara reports says the JTF assault is the result of advice from a secret group of security advisors to Yar’Adua:

Information available to chidi opara reports indicate that the mandate of the Joint Taskforce On Security(JTF), currently engaged in fiece gun battle with the Movement For The Emmancipation Of Niger Delta(MEND) in the creeks of Delta State, may be expanded, if the advice of a group of shadow security advisers to the President is accepted. The JTF currently have a mandate that is limited to the Niger Delta region.

This group, according to a senior Presidency contact, “met recently and forwarded a memo to Mr. President to expand the JTF mandate to include the South-eastern and the South-western regions of the country“. This group we learnt comprises retired senior security and military personnels from Northern Nigeria. It has a retired Colonel who served in the military intelligence corps during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida as leader.

Meanwhile, chidi opara reports can now reveal that there is increased security survillance on some vocal elements in the country. We can now confirm that security survillance on Professor Pat Utomi, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Professor Tam David-west and others have increased in the last few days.

chidi opara reports also reports they are ceasing operations for the time being. Due to surveillance they feel there is too much danger to their contacts and volunteers to continue publishing for now.

“it has become necessary to scale down our operations because of the need to protect our network members and contacts, most of whom the security agencies I learnt, have started closing in on”.

This Day is reporting today that the militants may be interested in amnesty.

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said at the weekend it would consider the federal government’s offer of amnesty only if the movement’s leader, Mr. Henry Okah, was released from detention.

However, THISDAY checks, reveal that many of the militant leaders have been making overtures to government that they were ready to lay down their arms but that they do not trust political leaders from the area.

One of MEND’s commanders, Farah Dagogo, told Dow Jones the movement could also hold off further attacks on the oil industry if the companies can embark on mass employment of capable people from their host communities.

According to Dagogo, “President Umaru Yar’Adua says ‘we want to give amnesty. They should start with (Henry Okah). At least we will know they are sincere.”

I remember hearing someone say there is more to a left hook than meets the eye. That is most certainly metaphorically true in the Niger Delta.

Sixteen foreign-based civil society organisations have called for the prosecution of the Joint Task Force Commander, Gen. Sarkin Yarkin-Bello, over the killing of civilians in Gbaramatu, Delta State.

Warri Gbaramatu area

Chanomi creeks Gbaramatu area

Sola Adebayo and Ibanga Isine continue in the Punch:

The groups, in a joint petition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands also requested a probe into the role played by President Umaru Yar’Adua in the incident.

The civil society organisations include Trans Africa Forum, Centre for Civil Society, Environmental Justice Project of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Sweet Crude, Communities for a Better Environment, the Borneo Project, the Justice in Nigeria Now and the Center for Third World Organising.

Others are Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Crude Accountability, Oil Change International, Counter Corp, Foreign Policy In Focus and Sustainable Energy and Economy Network.

The groups claimed that the military carried out land, water and aerial bombardments of Oporoza, Kurutie, Kunukunuma, Kokodiagbene, Okerenkoko, Azama, Benikurukuru and Ubefan communities in Gbaramatu Local Government Area, “under the guise of attacking militants.”

The petition reads in part, “Residents of the villages and those visiting for a festival on the day the bombing began were forced to flee their homes and villages. They are hiding in the bush and do not have adequate food or medical supplies.

“The JTF has not allowed humanitarian aid groups or journalists into the area. As of today, the coordinated aerial and ground attacks by the JTF and mass starvation continue.

“Reports suggest that thousands of innocent civilians are dead already. Reports also suggest that this was a well planned attack with the possible collusion of state government officials.

“We urge the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to use its power to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes against humanity, including Brigadier General Yarkin-Bello, who is reportedly in command of the JTF’s operations. Questions regarding President Yar’Adua’s involvement must also be investigated.”

The destruction of the Gbaramatu communities in Delta State continues. Sola Adebayo writes in the Punch:

Peace remained elusive in the Niger Delta on Saturday as troops of the Joint Task Force in Delta State razed Benikrukru community in the Gbaramatu clan of Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state.

Report also indicated that the soldiers advanced toward another community identified as Kokodiagbene after the Benikrukru operation. Kokodiagbene community, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt is adjacent to Benikrukru.

Many persons, including an octogenarian, identified as Kuku Olobio, were reported dead during the Saturday raid.

Bello said the raids would continue until the wanted militant leader, Chief Government Ekpomukpolo, popularly known Tompolo was found dead or alive.

He also tied the withdrawal of the troops to the discovery of the 12 military personnel declared missing in a clash with the militants in Gbaramatu.

It was gathered that the latest raid at Benikrukru, followed the earlier pattern with the JTF using jet bombers, gunboats and warships on the community.

A source from Benikrukru said, ”The community was burnt down this morning. Many people were killed in the air and land raids on the hapless community. The JTF was about to cross over to nearby Kokodiagbene when I escaped from the area.”

Also, some ethnic and political as well as youth leaders in the region have gone underground as the detectives embarked on manhunt for them as a result of their alleged relationship with the militants.

Sunday Punch gathered that wanted leaders, who had a prior knowledge of the planned action, had since fled their homes.

”We (JTF) are after some political and ethnic leaders who have been fingered as sponsors of militant operations and some of them who have benefited from the unwholesome activities of the militants. Some youth leaders are also under surveillance.

We are aware that some of them have taken cover but they can only run but cannot hide. It is a total onslaught this mess they call militancy once and for all,” our source who craved anonymity added.

Meanwhile, President Umaru Yar‘Adua has directed the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike, to establish military bases at the two militants‘ camps seized by the JTF in Delta State.

The hideouts identified as Camp 5 and Iroko Camp were seized by the federal troops on Saturday and Monday, respectively.

A source in JTF told our correspondent that the President gave the directive to facilitate the monitoring of the activities along the waterways in the area.

The centrality of Camp 5 in particular, the source added, would ensure easy monitoring of the creeks in Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Ondo states and keep the trouble makers under constant check.

Meanwhile, the President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, on Saturday raised the alarm that the JTF troops had invaded Warri on the manhunt for innocent Ijaw persons.

Ekiyor in a text message to our correspondent said, “Killings continue as soldiers now invade Warri in search of successful Ijaw business for extinction.

Also, the Delta Waterways Security Committee on Saturday said the peace process in the state was on course. The committee in a statement by its Secretary, Mr. Patrick Origho, said, “Everything was being done to ensure that normalcy returns to the creeks of the state, which was the scene of conflict in the past one week between a group of armed youths and JTF.

However, the JTF has approved the request of a committee set up by the state government to distribute relief materials to displaced persons to carry out its assignment.

The JTF, however, said only wooden boats would be allowed to convey the items to the communities.

This Day reports this statement. This is the deliberate language of discrimination. Paraphrased in shorter version it reads: it was “unfortunate” we had to kill so many, but it was “necessary”, they brought the problem on themselves. It is genuinely unfortunate that this seems to be a common reaction to the slaughter and displacement of the Ijaw communities.  The military action is called Operation Restore Hope. The JTF attacks are successfully characterized as a fight against the militants. It is not clear how badly the militants may have been harmed. But the communities have been destroyed. In the long run these actions just create more militants, and more incentives to crime as communities are destroyed, while the inhibitions against crime are destroyed with the communities.

Chief Sunny Okogwu, business mogul, has said resolution of militancy in the Niger Delta region lies with traditional rulers in the area.

Okogwu said given the level of influence the royal fathers wield among their subjects, all they needed to do was to direct cessation of such activities.
Speaking with newsmen in Kaduna, weekend, Okogwu said, “the traditional fathers know who these boys are and they always obey them. All they need do is tell the boys, ‘enough of these’ and the boys will obey them.”Commenting on the current military operations in the area, Okogwu blamed the militants for incurring the anger of the military by first killing some military personnel on a rescue mission, noting that the action of the militants was tantamount to a declaration of war of some sort.

While decrying the killing of innocent persons during the military operations, Okogwu said, “military tactics they call it. If you declare war on a nation and one man is the cause of the war, destroy him. There is no war without the innocent dying. If you analyse what causes a war and breakdown of civil disorder, it is unbelievable who causes that war. It is the innocent.”

… the re-branding Nigeria project has succeeded in rebranding everyone in the Niger Delta militants, including women, children, governors, aged, kings, chiefs, physically challenged et al. – Niger Delta Women

Arms and ammunition recovered from militant camps in Delta State... on Thursday May 21. Sola Adebayo

Arms and ammunition recovered from militant camps in Delta State... on Thursday May 21. Sola Adebayo

The destruction of the Ijaw communities in the Niger Delta is terrorizing people into fleeing their homes and creating thousands of internally displaced persons. The JTF and the House of Representatives have threatened to attack “militants” in Ondo, Bayelsa, and Rivers states. People in the communities in those states are fleeing, as they are terrified by what happened to the communities of Delta State.

ABUJA, 22 May 2009 (IRIN) – Thousands of civilians have fled their villages in Nigeria’s Delta state after government troops launched an offensive against militant groups in the state on 13 May.

Villagers in Delta state’s Gbramatu kingdom reported Oporoza and Okerenkoko villages being attacked with heavy machine-gun fire from low-flying helicopters on 15 May. Eyewitness accounts reported at least 100 bodies, according to Amnesty International’s Nigeria campaigner Lucy Freeman.

The Nigerian Red Cross estimates that 1,000 displaced people have fled to Ogbe Ijoh – capital of Warri south government area – where they are sheltering in a primary school and hospital.

Witnesses report that about 3,000 people have fled and Amnesty International estimates that as many as 10,000 could be on the move.

Patricia Okolo from Okerenkoko told IRIN from Ogbe Ijoh: “I had to run from my home. I did not take a single item with me. I have 10 children but I don’t know where any of them are. I could not count the number of people who were killed or injured but there were many. I could not even count.”

“I don’t know where my husband is. I am the only one who got here.”

Most of the displaced are women and children as most men are too frightened of being attacked or killed
, said Nigerian Red Cross officer Egbero Ococity from Ogbe Ijoh. Many men are hiding in the forest with no access to clean water, food or shelter, he said.


“They [the displaced] need food, water, shelter and blankets to relieve their suffering,” the Red Cross’s Ococity told IRIN. “They are sleeping on the bare floor. They are traumatised as a result of the attacks and what they went through in the mangroves while escaping.

“You can see the frustration in their faces. Hunger is taking its toll because most of them did not have anything to eat for four days.”

The offensive suggests a “worrying change in direction” in the government’s approach, Freeman told IRIN. In recent months a government committee recommended amnesty for some politically-motivated militants.

In February 2009 the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua assured the UN Human Rights Council it would refrain from military offensives in the Delta region because of the risk of loss of innocent lives.

In my previous post I quoted from the statement of the Ijaw elders and leaders: The Systematic Destruction of the Ijaw. The women of the Niger Delta have issued the statement: Niger Delta Women call for an end to genicide, excerpted below:

… the Yar’adua administration has manufactured its own excuse for a greater massacre of Niger Delta women and children under the guise of fishing out militants. Beginning Wednesday, May 13, 2009 the Joint Task Force has been bombing Kurutie, Kokodiagbene, Kunukunuma, Oporoaza and Okerenkoko communities in Gbaramatu kingdom of Delta State, killing innocent persons, majority of them, women and children. Many more persons are rendered homeless; the Punch of Monday, May 18, 2009 reported that about 20,000 people are trapped in these riverine communities because the waterways are blocked by the JTF.

The displaced persons who took refuge in the Ogbe-Ijoh General Hospital were further made to flee the camp due to the invasion by soldiers from the Joint Task Force. As at Tuesday, May 19, 2009, the soldiers proceeded to carry out a house to house gruesome burning of persons and properties Okerenkoko community. The implication is that the re-branding Nigeria project has succeeded in rebranding everyone in the Niger Delta militants, including women, children, governors, aged, kings, chiefs, physically challenged et al.

Thousands of harmless women and children have been killed while some are displaced. Schooling has been disrupted for a great majority of children in the Gbaramatu kingdom of Niger Delta; having access to food and shelter has suddenly become a luxury; safety & security is far from the people; development has become a mockery; access to sanitary facilities for the women is out of the question. Many are scrambling to safety but no thoroughfare. The cries of the Niger Delta women have re-echoed. The Federal government is the killer of women and children. Instead of giving them food, education, health and security; the women and children of the Niger Delta are given bullets, blood, grief and poverty. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

WE SAY NO TO THE JOINT TASK FORCE!
WE SAY NO TO THE GRUESOME MURDER OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN THE NIGER DELTA!!
WE SAY NO TO MILITARY INVASION OF THE NIGER DELTA!!!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in an essay in Curse of the Black Gold:

I have heard from many well-to-do Nigerians who, in the midst of talking about the unrest, the corruption, the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta, equate everything to these words: “the problem of the Niger Delta is that the Ijaw are too lazy.”

This is the language of discrimination. When we discriminate against a group of people, we call them lazy, stupid, ignorant, greedy, promiscuous, unhygienic. These words, individually or in combination, should serve as an immediate warning that discrimination is taking place. This language allows the majority, or minorities that hold power, to oppress and even slaughter an inconvenient group of people. They can feel comfortable with themselves by using these words. Whatever actions they take against the group may then be called “unfortunate”, but “necessary”, or even “for the best”.

Nigeria’s House of Representatives has endorsed the JTF’s violence in the Delta:

N’Delta Crisis: House Backs Military Action
From Onwuka Nzeshi in Abuja and Segun James in Warri, 05.22.2009

Amidst protests and rowdiness, the House of Representatives yesterday threw its weight behind the ongoing military operation in parts of Delta State.
They also demanded that the onslaught against militant groups in the area be extended to Bayelsa and Rivers States to forestall the relocation of the militants to other parts of the Niger Delta.
The lawmakers said given the large scale criminality associated with the militant groups, it would be an aberration for the Federal Government to continue to tolerate their excesses or halt the military from crushing their apparent insurrection against the Nigerian state.

Although Hon. Daniel Metu and Hon. Tam Brisibe backed Agoda on the call for restraint, their resistance soon crumbled as the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Hon. Mohammed Ibn N’Allah (PDP, Kebbi), took the floor by storm and unleashed a tirade of verbal attacks on the militants. …
We can do away with 20 million militants for the rest 120 million Nigerians to live,” N’Allah said.

This comment was also quoted in Punch as: “for the survival of 100 million Nigerians, we can do away with 20 million.”

[from N’Delta Crisis…]The comment sparked off widespread protests amongst lawmakers from the Niger Delta region who demanded a withdrawal of the statement and apologies.
There was tension and proceedings of the House were stalled for at least five minutes before N’Allah in a veiled retraction said it was a “parliamentary joke”.

Although communities have been terrified and destroyed, it is unclear if the actual militants have been hurt much at all. Tompolo is still alive and free. From the gun battle in Warri, the JTF alleged they captured 9 militants, assuming they are militants, and not just men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sola Adebayo’s picture of the weapons seized is reproduced above. After bragging about all the heavy and high tech weaponry they seized from the militants, this was all the JTF had to display.

Abubakar disclosed that the suspected militants are now in JTF’s custody.
The JTF, however, failed to parade the suspects before newsmen when the Commander, Maj. Gen. Sakin Yakin Bello, addressed the world press on the activities of his command in the last one week.

Abubakar said the arrested men are “to assist the force in carrying out investigations to determine the level of their involvement in the militancy in the Niger Delta”.

In a twist, Bello declared High Chief Government Ekpemupolo (alias Tompolo) wanted dead or alive – a week after the reports claimed the militant leader had been killed.

Journalists were surprised that no arrests were made during the JTF operation, a situation which gives the suspicion that every moving object in the area was killed by the invading soldiers.

The military paraded what they claimed were the weapons of the militants.
Journalists were shown rusted dane guns, normally used for hunting, unserviceable collection of old guns and dirty old machetes.

It would appear that the militants’ armoury was not as sophisticated as been claimed by the JTF.

No AK47 weapon, said to be the weapon of choice of the militants, was captured by the JTF, even though several militants have been said to have died in gun battle with the soldiers.

Bello refused to name the number of persons killed so far by his man, but declared that they were prepared to kill more, while also pursuing the militants to wherever they were known to hide.

Bello’s declaration followed persistent questions from journalists over the handling of the operation by the JTF whose soldiers invaded the Ogbe-Ijoh General Hospital to harass and arrest doctors who were treating victims of the military attack on communities in Gbaramatu kingdom area of Warri.
The action of the soldiers forced the management of the hospital to close down and discharge all the patients.

The commander denied knowledge of the hospital invasion, but promised that such would not repeat itself.
Bello admitted that a scanty number of weapons, including a pistol, a submachine gun, an Uzzi, a rifle, and a Mark IV, among others were captured from Tompolo’s personal house at Oporoza.

He denied that innocent persons were killed in the operation even when he was confronted with the fact that the attack took place on the day of a traditional festival for which a lot of people from far and near had come to Oporoza.

This Day reports that in the United States Congress Senator Feingold asked President Obama to become involved:

Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate, Senator Russ Feingold, has asked President Barak Obama to intervene in the ongoing military action in the Niger Delta.

Feingold in a statement, issued in Washington yesterday said “I urge the Obama administration to think creatively about how we can work multilaterally to help end this long standing crisis in the Niger Delta.

“Some military actions may be justified to stop the criminality, kidnappings and killings by militants in the Niger Delta, but such measures should be accompanied by a larger political strategy.”

“Genuine peacemaking will require not only legitimate political negotiations but a convincing case for transforming the illicit war economy into one of peace,” he stated.

Feingold lamented the killings of thousands of civilians since the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) began its operation in Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri, Delta State, about a week ago, to fish out militants taking refuge in parts of the Kingdom. He said in order to achieve a lasting peace in the region, federal government “needs to undertake a serious and sustained initiative to address the underdevelopment of the region.”

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mr. Johnnie Carson, has described Nigeria as the US’ most important strategic partner in the African continent
. He disclosed this at the meeting with members of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum led by the chairman, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in Washington, last Wednesday. The Governors are in the US on a working visit. The team include Alhaji Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State.

Carson expressed the need to strengthen the relationship between Nigeria and the US, while promising to push the process that will further deepen the US-Nigeria relationship. He commended the Governors for their patriotic initiative and assured them of his commitment to their cause. He said his doors were open to the Governors Forum at all times.
Carson also described the Governors’ visit as a new dawn in US-Nigeria relationship, “This is a new dawn in the relationship between our two countries. We have never had it so good,” he said. He noted that the Governors were the first foreign visitors he was receiving since he resumed office on Monday, last week.

The Governors also visited the Capitol Hill, America’s legislative power house where they had a meeting with Black America’s most powerful congresswoman, Mrs. Sheila Jackson-Lee.
Welcoming the Governors to her office, Jackson-Lee observed that the visit was the first by any delegation of Governors from Africa to any congress person on the Capitol Hill. She said she would be leading a delegation of the congress to “West African sub-region very soon”.
She commended Nigeria for her efforts in global peace-keeping, especially in Dafur, Liberia and Sierra-Leone.

The displacement continues in N’Delta communities. People are fleeing their homes in terror seeing what the JTF has done in Delta State, and hearing the threats that more is coming. We could call this state sponsored terrorism, and not be wrong. From the Punch:

Following the ongoing military onslaught against militants in the Niger Delta region, some Ijaw living in coastal areas of Ondo State have begun fleeing their communities for fear of being attacked by the men of the Joint Task Force.

Eleitu-Uguoji who is the National Coordinator of the Ijaw Consultative Forum blamed the indiscriminate attack of civilian settlements in Delta State for the apprehension among Ijaw people all over the country.

He added that the people were afraid because they believed that the men of the JTF were looking for Ijaw people since it was difficult to distinguish a militant from innocent civilians.

He explained that although community leaders were appealing to people in their areas not to panic, he stated that it was not possible to prevent them from fleeing due to the news of killing and maiming of innocent civilians in Ijaw communities in Delta State.

He said, “Although we have not seen either military presence nor militants‘ presence in our communities the people are afraid and they are leaving, especially the women and the children.

“They are afraid because militancy is not written on anybody‘s face and it will be almost impossible to know who is a militant among the crowd.

With this development, even if the soldiers wipe out all the militants today more militants will still rise up if our areas are not developed.”

The Special Adviser to the Ondo State Governor on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Bekekimi Idiarhi, told our correspondent on the telephone that he was not aware of movement of Ijaw in Ondo State to safer places. But he said that there was palpable fear among the Ijaw people living along the coast from Ondo State to Akwa Ibom State .

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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