Thursday, April 27, 2006

Analysis from PINR on the Niger Delta

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has scaled up attacks on oil facilities in the Delta in recent months. They have signaled their intention to continue their efforts to regain enough local control of the vast mineral under their feet. Their aim is to lift themselves (predominantly ethnic Ijaws) and others (such as the Ogoni further east) out of the poverty that has plagued the Delta for as long as anyone alive can remember, poverty that is effectively enforced by Nigerian government policy in its close financial relationship with oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and others.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) released a new "intelligence brief" on the crisis in the Delta that I found factually balanced and a good primer on the problems (although any serious student of the Delta should definitely get their hands on two books, "The Next Gulf" by Andrew Rowell, et al., and "This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis" by Karl Maier).

The risk, as I see it, is that the Delta's signficance in world oil production (crude prices have probably gone up $5 a barrel in the last month or so just because of violence there), its relative proximity to the US, and the new thinking spawned by the Bush Administration that all local conflicts are essentially terrorist, will all persuade big Oil Consumers, like the US and China, to enact the simplistic response of condoning, if not supporting, continued oppression -- or worse, seeing armed intervention in the Nigeria as a necessity without treating the basic injustices that led to the conflict in the first place.

As PINR puts it:
Security conditions in Nigeria show no sign of improvement. A new Ijaw tribe militant group in the Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D.), is tallying up the number of successful attacks against government security forces and multinational oil companies. M.E.N.D. is a shadowy organization that first came to prominence on January 11, 2006 when it kidnapped oil workers based at Royal Dutch Shell's offshore EA oil rig. While the workers were released, M.E.N.D. has proven to be a capable, armed organization. For instance, since January, M.E.N.D. has killed at least 24 soldiers and police, kidnapped 13 oil workers and caused severe damage to several critical oil pipelines.
It's all too easy (and simple) to paint MEND as a just another terrorist group, lined up like ducks in a row in the Global War on Terror. But to those who are immersed in the Delta and its conflicts, it looks very different. On Democracy Now! (April 19), Amy Goodman interviewed Nigerian Nobel Laureate playwright Wole Soyinka about the conflict in the Delta (emphasis mine):

AMY GOODMAN: And the Niger Delta, we talked about it in our first part of the interview, but the level of militancy, the anger at the oil companies coming into the Niger Delta, this organization called MEND, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, can you tell us who they are?

WOLE SOYINKA: They're very young, mostly, very highly motivated people who, however, have links with some of the elders, the progressive elders in the region, in Bayelsa, for instance, in Ijaw region, many belong to the Ijaw ethnic group, and from all indications, they're very articulate. The ones whom I’ve spoken to asked me to intervene in a number of ways in Nigeria, very articulate, and at the same time, they're reluctant rebels. Take, for instance, an email which one of them sent to me, said, "Prof, listen. We are people who would rather be with our families raising our children, sending them to school. We’re not happy sort of carrying out operations in the creeks. We want to be home. We want all this to be over so we can return to our families, but what future do our children have? There are no schools, there are no clinics. All the wealth in this region is going to Abuja, is going to sustain the rest of the nation, so it's about time that we took a stand. We want you to understand this." This is the kind of language which they use. It's not bravado; it’s not crude, thuggish kind of people, at least the ones whom I’ve spoken to.

AG: The way it's conveyed in the United States is kidnappers, thugs, people who blow up oil pipelines.

WS: Well, it's unfortunate that they have that image. I've discussed this with them also. I’ve tried to persuade them, for instance, that hostage-taking will be counterproductive and will actually alienate lots of supporters, that they should -- they must learn not to follow a particular pattern of condemnable violence. And I have a feeling that once the negotiations, which have yielded a certain result at the Yenagoa Accord, once the conditions, the conditions of those accords are fulfilled by the government, once the international community actually supervises and compels the federal government to, you know, abide by those agreements, I have a feeling that we will – and once a greater deal of autonomy is conceded to that region, in other words, the right to control their own resources, to pay a tax to the center and to determine the priorities of their own development, whether it’s education, health, to actually develop that entire degraded area. Once these just demands are met, I have a feeling that we'll see the end of unrest in the Delta region.

AG: And the responsibility of the oil companies, what do you see it as?

WS: Oh, that's part of the conditions also. The oil companies are expected to pay compensation for the damage they have done to the environment. Yes, that’s one of the conditions they’ve written there.

Should the crisis in the Delta escalate, we in the West must be very careful to avoid seeing our higher gas prices vis-a-vis Nigeria as a result of terrorism.

PINR is close to making this leap (emphasis mine):
These factors demonstrate why instability will continue in Nigeria, primarily in the country's Niger Delta region. The frequent instability has already cut Nigeria's oil exports down about 20 percent; on April 25, for example, ExxonMobil announced that it evacuated non-essential staff from Nigeria's Qua Iboe oil facility, the country's largest export terminal, over concerns that an attack was imminent.


Expect Ijaw militants to continue, and probably escalate, their attacks against government and multinational interests, and watch as energy companies, and government security forces, struggle to adapt to this pervasive threat.
No mention from PINR of how the Nigerian government and the oil companies might see a way forward through good old-fashioned conflict resolution.

Remember, our navy is already there.

No comments: