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Daily Telegraph: Guns not government rule in Niger Delta

Daily Telegraph Nigeria Story

(The Delta’s problems have been ignored for too long)

Posted by Mike Pflanz on 16 May 2007 at 16:57

Nigerian president-elect Umaru Yar-Adua has something of a towering in-tray waiting for him when he gets his feet under the big desk in Abuja in a couple of weeks.

Top of the pile – and to be frank middle and bottom of it as well – will be the perennial problem of the Niger Delta. Nigeria is critically dependent on the proceeds from its oil, which make up 80 percent of foreign currency earnings.

Now, after a month of steadily increasing attacks on pipelines, oil platforms, support ships and staff members, that output is down by a third. Shell has been forced to cut back production, as has Chevron. Contractors working with the multinationals are pulling out non-essential staff.

How will it end? Not any time soon. Those behind the explosions, the killings, the kidnappings and the chaos are no longer only the ideologically committed fighting for a greater share of oil wealth for the Delta people, the poorest in Nigeria.

A hodgepodge of copycat gangs have now sprung up who are aping the hostage-taking tactics of the earlier activist rebels, those who see themselves as carrying the torch lit by Ken Saro-Wiwa and others. These nasty new splinter groups are after cash alone, rather than political point scoring.

So even if Mr Yar’Adua makes the Delta a priority – and he must, very publicly – any promise of fresh investments, new schools, new hospitals, an equitable share of oil wealth, will calm the angers of only a few of those causing today’s mayhem.

By far the majority of the groups carrying out lightning raids in speedboats from their forest bases deep in the delta’s creeks are those who are in it for the money. They won’t stop just because there is a new road being built to a remote fishing village, or electricity installed, or clean water pumped.

This is the true nature and complexity of Mr Yar’Adua’s challenge. His predecessors have ignored the Delta for so long that it is no longer simply about appeasing the activists.

The population at large must quickly and confidently be assured – and shown – that their dire lot is changing, and fast. Only then will they turn their backs on the kidnapping militants who now enjoy a fair measure of begrudging respect from the ignored masses living in this swampy corner of Africa’s most populous country.

And until that respect, and, yes, fear, has gone, it is the men with guns, not those in government, who will rule the Delta.

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You would be forgiven for thinking the nasties of Addis Ababa’s roads had done for me, after the deafening silence following my last blog entry in March on terrible Ethiopian driving. Nothing of the sort, just a rather manic few weeks crisscrossing Africa and finding little time for a posting. Not good enough, I know, apologies for the lack of fresh material.

I’ll make sure to be here a lot more regularly again from now on. Let me know what most interests you, and I’ll have a dig around for some interesting bits and pieces which have not made it to the paper.

Comments:

Thanks, Mike, for offering one of the very few balanced reports on the situation in the Niger Delta. I happen to come from that part of the world and have experienced the misery you’ve alluded to at first hand. It’s a textbook example of the terrible price paid by ordinary people when cynical and merciless oil companies make a common cause with some of the most corrupt and irresponsible regimes on earth. Vast swathes of farmland are literally put out of use by the casual recklessness with which these companies pollute the area. Fishing grounds have become mere oily swamps, incapable of sustaining life of any kind. Oil has literally been turned into curse. As a child, I remember boasting to friends that we had electricity in our village, thanks to the permanent gas flare – the only light that illuminated the area at night. Yet, if you’d just arrived from planet Mars, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the problem is simply one of wanton criminality.

AKPAN at 16 May 2007 19:34

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1 Comment on “Daily Telegraph: Guns not government rule in Niger Delta”

  1. #1 chibisi
    on May 18th, 2007 at 04:57

    Good. Send directly to my mail box next time

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