Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

IYC: Why State, Army Officials Want Conflict in Niger Delta to Continue

Posted in African Politics, Nigeria by ruben eberlein on May 31, 2009

udengseradiriIn the wars of Nigeria’s southern, oil-producing region, government officials, military officers and insurgents often act in collaboration with each other in order to extract funds from the undocumented export of oil or from the security budgets. Read an edited transcript of my interview with Udengs Eradiri, Secretary General of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC, Photo), on that subject.

On 15 May 2009 the Nigerian army, through its Joint Task Force, started a major offensive in the restive Niger Delta. Can you please describe the current situation?

The situation escalates since almost two weeks now. In course of the last days, mainly villages in the Warri South West Local Government Area of  Delta state have been bombarded. The army uses warships, helicopters and ground troops.

Why are these villages attacked?

Officially the military says that it chases the militant groups which clashed with the army recently for several times and sank some of their military ships. After these confrontations, the military fully mobilised. But often non-involved civilian are killed, and in huge numbers. We estimate that since the beginning of the attack over 500 people lost their life. Many houses and infrastructure have been destroyed. They even went to a hospital where the wounded have been treated, drove all the doctors out and arrested some of them. It was alleged that the hospital was used to treat militants.

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The army simply assumes

that all people are militant fighters.

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Do the insurgents have bases in that region?

Yes. These rebel camps are situated close to the villages, because the militants happen to hail from the neighbouring communities. But they are usually not in the community. The military, however, doesn’t move against the camps but against the residents. It simply assumes that all people – if youth or mayor – are militant fighters. Especially if you are a youth you are thought to be a militant and you are shot at sight. That is what is happening. Just yesterday, we went to Warri, and they were shooting and killing a woman and two children there. We have reports in which the military highlight communities as camps.

Why doesn’t move the military directly against the bases of militant groups? 

Because the local military often itself is mired in the big business oil bunkering activities in the Niger Delta. If everything goes smooth, they sit in their army camps and – together with the rebel groups – they profit from the illegal extraction and export of oil. Though if it comes to an argument about these businesses, then the army is called in to go against the communities. Furthermore, politicians visit the rebel camps when elections are approaching and they want them to manipulate these elections. They also need the support of the leaders of the gangs for that.

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The military and the insurgents

are not uncommonly accomplices.

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So you want to suggest that the current military offensive was triggered by disputes within those criminal networks which are involved in the illegitimate export of oil?

Yes, that’s what we are saying. The military and the insurgents are not uncommonly accomplices. They do business with each other and share the profits. When the relationship goes sour, they are saying that they are chasing criminals in the area.

The IYC is calling since some time for the closure of the camps of the insurgents.

The agitation for justice in this region started as a genuine cause. But along the line, the Nigerian government started using it as a way of making money. Every time that they want to rig the elections, they go and meet these boys, buy guns for them and use them to rig the elections. Criminals saw that as a means of making money and started to kidnap a lot of people, some of them stay in these camps. So the IYC decided, in light of these activities: We don’t need these camps, because they are not in the interest of the people. In course of the closure we ask the government to initiate an honest amnesty programme to those who are genuine fighters. Law enforcement agencies should deal with the criminals. So we wanted to use such a process to differentiate between the actual agitators for justice and criminal actors. Government must begin to reintegrate these boys back into society.

But the government was announcing an amnesty …

This amnesty is not what we expect. Such an initiative must have external mediators as it is done in any other part of the world. We want a genuine amnesty. Why not starting with the release of Henry Okah as a sign of good will to get other people on board? He is tried in secrecy. We ask why? Because a public trial would open a can of worms. Even as they were trying him in secrecy, it came up that most of the guns he was supplied were coming from the Nigerian army, and generals have been involved.

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State governments paid

the militants to keep them quiet.

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How do the governments of the states in the Niger Delta deal with the rising militancy of rebels and criminals?

In Delta state, for instance, the governor decided to incorporate these militants into their activities by ensuring that they are given the jobs to protect the environment. The government of Bayelsa, to give another example, paid the insurgents money up until recently in order to keep them quiet and to end the destruction of infrastructure or the kidnapping of expatriates. We, the IYC, think that this is a wrong strategy and called for a stop of those payments. This money is simply used to by more weapons.

About what amounts of money are we talking here?

It was about 200,000 Euro on a monthly basis. But now these practices have been stopped, at least officially.

How do you appraise the role of the central government under President Umaru Yar’Adua? 

This is a failed government. It simply hasn’t any policy for Nigeria. The insurgents say: How can you call us criminals if you are not able to provide us with electricity, education and infrastructure? Who is the criminal here? Apart from that it is well known in Nigeria that officials within the governments are responsible for destroying oil infrastructure in collaboration with armed groups in order to misappropriate finances from the security budget.

How is that working?

If the money of the budgets for security is not used because no oil installations have been destroyed, they will flow back to the state’s coffers. These officials arm the youths and create a conflict scenario simply in order steal public funds and to consolidate their power. That is why it’s not in their interest that a sustainable peace reigns in the region. There is an extreme corruption on all levels and no public control.

How do you see the role of the vice president Goodluck Jonathan who hails from the Niger Delta?

For me, this is an accident of history. In the presidency, he has nothing to say. One of the groups in the Niger Delta is even calling for his resignation saying that he cannot be in the office of a president who ordered a full-blown military attack on my people. There are miliants in the North, there are militants in Katsina. But because there is no economic interest for the nation, nobody cares. You never hear that they are sending the military to these communities and bombard them. Goodluck Jonathan hasn’t got any influence.

The insurgents, your organisation and others from the Niger Delta call for international mediators to defuse the conflicts. Why?

Because we have lost confidence with the Nigerian government. The United Nations should step in. Furthermore we are planning to take the Nigerian government to court. Innocent people, women and children, have been killed, girls were raped, they are using area bombardments.

How do you see the approach by the West vis-à-vis Nigeria?

The Western countries don’t seem to be interested in the situation in the Niger Delta, only in the import of oil and gas. They only take note of the reports by the central government and take them for a realistic account of the conditions here. We hope that the new government in the US is more open to deal with the genuine causes of the crises in the South of Nigeria.

A shorter version of this interview has been published by the German daily Neues Deutschland (26 May 2009). It was conducted on 21 May by phone. Photo: IYC.

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2 Responses

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  1. a.k.a BaGucci said, on May 31, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Sadly…. civilians will always bear the brunt of actions like this — and it only serves to further radicalize the populace more..

  2. connectafrica said, on June 1, 2009 at 11:35 am

    this silent war going on in the Niger Delta is a sad testament to the Nigerian state. it’s unfortunately going to get worse, because rather than a political solution that’s being advocated by the government; a multi-faceted varied approach is necessary. if the people want greater control of the resources let them have it. the refineries in Nigeria are dead and the Government has become a trader and peddler of crude. this is immoral. let the people have a stake in their resources. its only morally right. pay them and their future generations for the exploitation of their resources


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