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.

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