13 August 2008

The problem with 50%

Akwa Ibom based NGO, Community Watch of Nigeria, called for 50% of oil revenues to be shared with the Niger Delta as a possible solution to the conflict there (read article here).

All of this is well and good, but it seems like routing more money through corrupt agencies or state or local governments will merely increase the chaos. Yes the Niger Delta deserves its fair share of revenues, but how do you ensure that the money actually benefits the residents of the area, rather than further enriching a governor or local elite?

The term "resource curse" exists for a reason, and the Niger Delta is a classic example. More money flowing into the Delta simply means more to steal, and further instability.

11 August 2008

What happened in Agge?

As we all know the community of Agge, in Bayelsa state, was hit pretty hard by a JTF raid recently. Most recent tallies say that over 1000 have been displaced and the whereabouts of another 30 are unknown. Rather than commenting on these events, which are outrageous and shameful, it seems necessary to bring something else to light.

While the local print media in the Delta does a commendable job covering the ongoing strife in the Delta, it remains nearly impossible to find reliable photographs on anything that is going on. Attacks on communities by the Nigerian military or police must be made public beyond Nigeria's shores. This very infrequently happens. There is international coverage for militants who attack installations, but when the government hits back, in typical cowardly fashion against unarmed communities, nothing appears.

This lack of coverage and attention to human rights abuses is caused by two factors: one, it is difficult and dangerous to get images out of the Delta. In a personal correspondence with a MEND spokesperson months back, prodding them to be more savvy about how they use images, Jomo Gbomo responded with the following: "We are trying to develop a team to take pictures and video coverage of events happening down there. We try to be extremely cautious because being caught with a camera is a death sentence."
Is it more of a death sentence than being caught with a rifle? There are countless other groups that rely heavily on using images to promote their cause, surely we can find a way to do so in the Niger Delta. Furthermore, there must be a more concerted effort on behalf of activists and militants to get images of these abuses out into the world.

The second factor is a bit more complicated, but it seems like the "struggle" doesn't really understand - or the ideas are not privileged sufficiently - how to use such atrocities to build moral advantage. Clearly there are individuals and groups fighting for justice in the Niger Delta, but when something like that in Agge happens, these groups must come together and denounce the actions of the government as a unified front. So far the recent crisis in the Niger Delta has been cast as being primarily about economics; about how many barrels have been knocked out, about how much the republic has lost in revenues, etc. How about we start counting how many people have been killed in the conflict since 2006? The protection of the populace must become a leading edge for the militants and activists, and they must figure out a way to convey it more effectively.

03 August 2008

One way to disarm the delta

It seems that the Nigerian police apparatus has become reticent to restock its riverine police stations with arms (read article here). Militants have been so persistent at attacking and looting police armories that most local commanders now feel a strong dis-incentive to restock. Apparently, they feel that restocking will draw the attention, and fresh attacks, of militants.

What all this shows is a weakness on behalf of the state. This weakness, evident to all will probably have a positive and negative outcome. On the positive side, the fewer violent contacts between local police and militants, the better for the overall population. If the police are unarmed and afraid, they will be less likely, at least in theory, to pester and harass the local population. Unfortunately, when a police system fails, it tends to be replaced by a strategy of militarization. This has been the case in the Niger Delta, and will probably continue to be for some time.

Perhaps the militants will find a way to disarm the army as well...