Moving to militancy

The Nigerian Government will this year receive as much as $66 billion in oil revenues from the Niger Delta region. Yet the people of this region remain impoverished. The results were explained to news agency IRIN in September by rebel leader, Tom Polo: ‘We are suffering in the Niger Delta. If you drink our water, you'll get sick. They [the Government] are not doing anything for us. Every day they say oil prices have gone up, but we don't see any tangible benefits from it.’

Facing such continuing Government intransigence after their 15-year struggle, the Ijaw people of the Niger Delta are moving to militancy. During September the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) battled with Nigerian armed forces in the country’s Ijaw region, blowing up oil installations and taking oil workers hostage. Reports indicated that dozens were killed before MEND declared a ceasefire.

This seems a far cry from the non-violent movement from which MEND grew. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People was started by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, who advocated peaceful resistance to the oil companies’ exploitation of the land. In November 1995 Nigerians were shocked by the summary and illegal trial and execution of the Ogoni Nine. Since that time the region has been occupied, women raped, villages pillaged and the environment degraded. Although the September MEND action lasted just seven days, it clearly established that Nigerian rebel groups are now both prepared and sufficiently well-armed to take on federal government forces.

Sokari Ekine

mag cover This article is from the November 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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