December 30, 2010 by The Mormon Worker
Here are the notes from an interesting lecture I attended recently about the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Enjoy.
The Niger Delta is Africa’s largest wetland and boasts one of the highest concentrations of bio-diversity on the planet, containing more species of freshwater fish than anywhere in West Africa. This incredible ecological bounty allowed for a country that was very nearly self-sufficient in food production. Fishing and the traditional agricultural practices of the various tribal groups in the delta were the primary ways in which the residents of the Niger Delta gained a living. With the discovery of Oil in the Delta this state of affairs has reversed itself.
By the 1980’s Nigeria was nearly completely dependent on oil extraction which generated about a quarter of its GDP and as of 2008 that figure is up to 60%.
Both cash and food crop production have both suffered as a result. Since Nigeria’s move to a petroleum based economy, cocao production has dropped by 43% (having been the world’s largest exporter in 1960) rubber dropped by 29% cotton 65% and groundnuts by 64%.
The states that should be receiving the benefit of the oil wealth extracted from their land have instead grown poorer since 1960. 70% of Nigerians now live on less than a dollar a day and Nigeria ranks 151st out of 175 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.
As is often the case when capitalist interests find a new market to exploit, they have to figure out what to do with the indigenous population which lives on the land they wish to exploit. In the Niger delta this problem was dealt with by a 1979 constitutional addition which gave the federal government full ownership rights to all land in Nigeria. The government then was able to evict indigenous people from their homes and offer them very little compensation in return. The land was then handed over to foreign oil companies primarily Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.
The displaced Nigerians then filtered into urban centers such as Port Harcourt where massive slums emerged. Revenue from oil profits was not filtered back into these communities. Instead they are composed of shanty huts which overhang the Niger River. Government corruption and the mismanagement of oil revenue has lead to river side villages near Port Harcourt which lack basic amenities such as clean water, electricity, medical care and roads. Large slums within Port Harcourt are submerged under piles of waste.
As is typical practice in a capitalist country, the Nigeria Government demonstrated its willingness to intervene in private matters against the poor population to the point of eviction, but was virtually non-existent when it came to regulating the oil companies. Having cleared the delta of its native human inhabitants it then set about destroying its non-human inhabitants as well. Mangrove forests were clear-cut to make way for oil pipelines. Lax regulations on the oil companies allow for shoddy maintenance on oil pipelines and tankers resulting in an estimated 1.89 million barrels of oil spilt into the Niger delta between 1976 and 1996.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation estimates that there are 300 individual oil spills annually.
The ecosystem which had provided the residents of the delta with food and shelter for so long is being decimated. The fishing industry was a particularly important aspect of Nigeria’s economy, providing a great deal of protein consumed by the Nigerian people. As a result of oil spills and habitat destruction the fish population is no longer able to replenish itself and Nigeria now imports frozen fish.
A 1993 report by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation summed up the situation:
“We witnessed the slow poisoning of the waters of this country and the destruction of vegetation and agricultural land by oil spills which occur during petroleum operations. But since the inception of the oil industry in Nigeria, more than twenty-five years ago, there has been no concerned and effective effort on the part of the government, let alone the oil operators, to control environmental problems associated with the industry’.”
In 1992 a group called the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) emerged. The Ogoni are an ethnic group that was hit particularly hard by the Government’s policy of eviction and the subsequent invasion by foreign oil interests. MOSOP organized around a campaign of non-violent resistance to promote “democratic awareness; protect the environment of the Ogoni people; seek social, economic and physical development for the region; protect the cultural rights and practices of the Ogoni people; and seek appropriate rights of self-determination for the Ogoni people.”
The group was lead by Ken Saro-Wiwa, a famous Nigerian author. At the peak of the of the campaign MOSOP demanded $10 billion in accumulated royalties damages and compensation, and an immediate stoppage of environmental degradation and that the Ogoni people be allowed to enter into negotiations for mutual agreement on all future drilling.
MOSOP’s campaign had previously focused on the corrupt Nigerian government but with this ultimatum they pledged to directly disrupt the operation of the oil companies if they did not comply. This, of course, generated a swift backlash. The government banned public gatherings and declared that to disrupt oil production was an act of treason. In May of 1994 four Ogoni chiefs were kidnapped and murdered. Amazingly Ken Saro-Wiwa, though not in the country at the time, was arrested for the murders. Saro-Wiwa along with 8 other MOSOP leaders were given bogus trials and then executed by hanging. Saro-Wiwa was executed last and forced to watch the executions of the other eight.
The two witnesses who accused Saro-Wiwa of the murders later confessed that Shell oil and the military had bribed them with promises of money and jobs at Shell. The Wiwa family is currently engaged in lawsuits against Royal Dutch Shell and its head of Nigerian operation Brian Anderson for their role in murder of Ogoni 9.
In 1998 the Ijaw Youth Council was formed. The Ijaw are another ethnic group which inhabit the Niger Delta. They released a manifesto outlining their position called the KAIAMA Declaration. Some of the premises that the declaration was based on included:
• That it was through British colonization that the IJAW NATION was forcibly put under the Nigerian State
• That but for the economic interests of the imperialists, the Ijaw ethnic nationality would have evolved as a distinct and separate sovereign nation, enjoying undiluted political, economic, social, and cultural AUTONOMY.
• That the quality of life of Ijaw people is deteriorating as a result of utter neglect, suppression and marginalization visited on Ijaws by the alliance of the Nigerian state and transnational oil companies.
• That the political crisis in Nigeria is mainly about the struggle for the control of oil mineral resources which account for over 80% of GDP, 95 %of national budget and 90% of foreign exchange earnings. From which, 65%, 75% and 70% respectively are derived from within the Ijaw nation. Despite these huge contributions, our reward from the Nigerian State remains avoidable deaths resulting from ecological devastation and military repression.
• That the unabating damage done to our fragile natural environment and to the health of our people is due in the main to uncontrolled exploration and exploitation of crude oil and natural gas which has led to numerous oil spillages, uncontrolled gas flaring, the opening up of our forests to loggers, indiscriminate canalization, flooding, land subsidence, coastal erosion, earth tremors etc. Oil and gas are exhaustible resources and the complete lack of concern for ecological rehabilitation, in the light of the Oloibiri experience, is a signal of impending doom for the peoples of Ijawland.
• That the degradation of the environment of Ijawland by transnational oil companies and the Nigerian State arise mainly because Ijaw people have been robbed of their natural rights to ownership and control of their land and resources through the instrumentality of undemocratic Nigerian State legislations such as the Land Use Decree of 1978, the Petroleum Decrees of 1969 and 1991, the Lands (Title Vesting etc.) Decree No. 52 of 1993 (Osborne Land Decree), the National Inland Waterways Authority Decree No. 13 of 1997 etc.
• That the violence in Ijawland and other parts of the Niger Delta area, sometimes manifesting in intra and inter ethnic conflicts are sponsored by the State and transnational oil companies to keep the communities of the Niger Delta area divided, weak and distracted from the causes of their problems.
The declaration itself included the following statements:
• All land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory belong to Ijaw communities and are the basis of our survival.
• We cease to recognise all undemocratic decrees that rob our peoples/communities of the right to ownership and control of our lives and resources, which were enacted without our participation and consent. These include the Land Use Decree and The Petroleum Decree etc.
• We demand the immediate withdrawal from Ijawland of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian State. Any oil company that employs the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian State to “protect” its operations will be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people. Family members of military personnel stationed in Ijawland should appeal to their people to leave the Ijaw area alone.
• We express our solidarity with all people’s organisations and ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and elsewhere who are struggling for self-determination and justice. In particular we note the struggle of the Oodua peoples Congress (OPC), the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (Mosop), Egi Women’s Movement etc.
• We extend our hand of solidarity to the Nigerian oil workers (NUPENG and PENGASSAN) and expect that they will see this struggle for freedom as a struggle for humanity
The IYC was also committed to peacefully struggling for their goals. In December of 1998 the IYC organized Operation Climate Change, an intended non-violent direct action. Operation Climate Change was greeted by the Nigerian military which opened fire, killing at least 3 of the protesters and arresting 25 more.
From 2001 to 2004 the Ijaw Youth Council was headed by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari who later split with the group to form the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF). Having seen many of the non-violent movements defeated in bloodshed Dokubo-Asari decided it was best to fight back with what-ever means necessary. NDPVF is an organization that exists explicitly to gain control over the Oil economy in the Niger Delta. When Asari began openly criticizing the presidential elections as fraudulent Governor Peter Odili began funding an anti NDPVF militia group called the Niger Delta Vigilante led by Ateke Tom.
The state campaign against the NDPVF emboldened Asari who began publicly articulating populist, anti-government views and attempted to frame the conflict in terms of pan-Ijaw nationalism and self-determination.
The NDPVF is closely tied with MEND the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta which seeks “a union of all relevant militant groups in the Niger Delta.” MEND acts as an umbrella group under which several groups operate such as the NDPVF and the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (COMA), and the Martyr’s Brigade.
MEND is highly organized and well armed. Using speed boats in the Niger Delta’s swamps to attack targets in rapid succession. And with advanced combat training they have been able to over power western trained private military guards and elite Nigerian armed forces units in their attacks. MEND coordinates its attacks against the oil companies to inflict the greatest amount of economic damage.
They have carried out campaigns of attack against oil pipelines and a few car bombings, one of the main modes of attack for MEND is through kidnapping. It typically releases these hostages unharmed after a period of negotiations—via intermediaries—with oil company representatives and the government.
MEND’s attacks have had a great deal of impact on the Oil Industry—costing at least eight hundred thousand barrels per day, or over 25 percent of the country’s oil output. A February 2006 attack on two Royal Dutch Shell oilfields accounted for some 477,000 barrels per day of the reduced output.
MEND issued a statement to the Oil Companies that read “It must be clear that the Nigerian government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it…. Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian government to export oil”
MEND enjoys widespread support among the 20 Million, largely, impoverished residents of the Niger Delta. Asari has even achieved the status of a folk hero to some in the delta.