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NIGERIA: No Oil Company Will Know Peace in the Creeks

YENAGOA, Nigeria, Feb 1 2010 (IPS) - Three flow stations in the oil-rich Niger Delta have had to be closed after a pipeline was sabotaged, according to Royal Dutch Shell.

2004 photo of Ijaw militants in a Niger Delta village. Credit:  George Osodi/IRIN

2004 photo of Ijaw militants in a Niger Delta village. Credit: George Osodi/IRIN

The company said the Jan. 30 leak on the Trans Ramos oil pipeline was due to sabotage, but no group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.

A represnetative of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta told a Nigerian newspaper at the end of January that it was ending a truce agreed in October 2009.

Amnesty

An amnesty and disarmament programme initiated in the Niger Delta in October ended more than five years of insurgency by militant groups. Twenty thousand militants belonging to scores of groups surrendered their weapons in exchange for a monthly stipend equivalent to around 430 U.S. dollars to each fighter.

Disarmed and abandoned?

Frustration is highest among militants who are not being paid the monthly stipend at all, on grounds that they disarmed too late.

Stephen Livinus is one. He says he brought the 226 boys in his camp to Yenagoa for the disarmament and rehabilitation. Stranded without assistance in an unfamiliar town, Livinus says he regrets turning in his weapons, because he and his boys are now suffering.

"Initially I was filled with joy when I disarmed. But today I am regretting dropping my gun. Right now myself and my soldiers we don't have where to sleep, we don't have what to eat," he told IPS.

In Yenagoa alone, at least 15 former militant groups are not being paid any stipends on grounds that they registered late. On several occasions, hundreds of ex-fighters have taken to the streets of the town, forcefully demanding money from passersby.

Livinus and the other former militant leaders were considering going back to the creeks to take up arms when IPS interviewed them in late December. "I can't wait here any more, anytime from now I am going back to the creek and continue to destroy oil pipelines," he says.

Livinus had a warning for western oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. "We, the 15 commanders with our soldiers, we shall go back to the creeks, and continue to destroy the pipelines and other oil installations. I tell you Agip will have no peace, Shell will not have peace, Chevron will not have peace. No company will have peace in the creeks."

Udoiwei says it will not be difficult for him to raise another militia group. "There are many boys; there are thousands of boys outside there. With a whistle the barracks will be full again. They (government) think they have taken my boys away, but others are still there. To get the boys can not be a difficult thing because everyone is feeling the pains."

Livinus echoes him. "We started the game with nothing, but you can see how many guns we dropped during the disarmament. Some people dropped 100 rifles, some dropped 50 rifles."

While the insurgency lasted, the groups fighting for a share of Nigeria’s oil revenue regularly attacked oil pipelines, abducted oil workers and sold as much as 100,000 barrels of oil per day on the black market. Before the disarmament, the militants succeeded in reducing Nigeria’s oil output by more than half.

A key complaint in the Niger Delta is that proceeds from five decades of oil exploitation have not improved the lives of local communities. Instead the profits are divided between the Nigerian government and the oil companies operating in the region.

Living the high life

Former militant leader Edward Udoiwei was one of many who made quick money. “When I was in the forest, I made more than three million naira ($20,000) per month. I can call the oil companies, ‘Hey! My boys are hungry, bring two million naira.’ and they will answer me quick quick,” he told IPS in late December.

The monthly stipend of 65,000 naira is a far cry from the millions of naira militant leaders were making carrying guns in the creeks.

“What I am now being paid per month is what I spend in two or three hours in the bush on my boys,” says Udoiwei. “In the bush, I enjoy better than this. I get more money than this. The N65,000 is too small for me as a leader.”

Broken promises

The militants are also angry that the Nigerian government is yet to fulfil its promise of a post-disarmament programme. This was to include a rehabilitation program as a prelude to capacity building, training and skills acquisition aimed at changing their lives for the better.

The Nigerian government says the programmes cannot commence as scheduled because there are no facilities in place for their rehabilitation and training. The government has asked militants who moved from their camps in the creeks to the cities for rehabilitation to return to their villages while it puts facilities in place.

But the militants are reluctant to return home, saying there is nothing for them to do there. Most of the more than 6,000 former militants who moved to Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, remain in the town, roaming the streets aimlessly.

Government says the objective of the amnesty is to create an atmosphere conducive to bringing development to the region. Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, a member of the Presidential Amnesty Implementation Committee, says the program offers the best hope for the changes the militants are agitating for.

“This amnesty offers them that opportunity to be free people and gives them the right to speak on behalf of themselves and for the issues that they have been agitating and fighting for,” she says.

Political paralysis

But – perhaps hampered by the serious illness Nigeria’s president, Umar Yar’Adua – implementation of the terms of the deal has been slow. The pipeline sabotage could signal that militants’ patience is already at an end.

Another former militant who gave his name simply as Monday says it will be cheaper for the government to meet the aspirations of the former militants than absorb more attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure.

“They should know that we are going to cause trouble. The money they would use to go and solve that trouble, I think they should use it now to settle anything that wants to come up that is my idea,” he says.

In the same vein, MEND – although it’s not clear which part of the group’s leadership stands behind the statement – is suggesting that the end of the ceasefire will come at great cost to Nigeria’s oil industry.

“All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught against their installations and personnel. Nothing will be spared,” says a MEND statement.

If the militant group makes good on its threat, Nigeria’s oil industry may have to prepare for a major decline, with serious consequences for the economy. The implications for the country’s poor – particularly the still-impoverished people of the Niger Delta – are not good.

 
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