24 November 2008

How Corporations and the NDDC Sponsor Militancy and Criminality in Niger Delta

Written by Pemii Ben

Once the issue of militancy, kidnapping and their attendant vices are mentioned in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, accusing fingers are pointed at abstract figures and shadows. Nobody takes responsibility for the sponsorship of this menace and its effects. More often than not, militancy and other forms of unrest in the Niger Delta are blamed on lack of job opportunities, underdevelopment, and the large scale squandering of public funds by the governments of the Niger Delta states. In as much as these are highly contributing factors and undeniable realities, one must call public attention to another source of militancy, criminality and the general state of unrest in the Niger Delta region: the corporate bodies operating in this region.

The popular claim from most oil servicing companies in the Niger Delta is that youths from the region are not employable because they lack of qualification. This is not always the truth. More importantly, how would these youths be able to fund their education when the drilling activities of these same oil companies have ruined their parents’ farmlands and destroyed aquatic life, that both served as veritable sources of income in most communities?

Furthermore, most of these oil firms do not announce available vacancies. They simply recycle such opportunities among themselves and their cronies. Thus, a visit to some of these oil firms in the region will find people from selected ethnic groups in an unconquerable majority. Once in a long while, when some of these companies announce vacancies, over ten thousand applicants fight over about twenty job openings and they are often made to pass through despicable rigors in the name of “selecting the best hand.”

If the oil firms were to be the only sector responsible for this oddity, the problem would be easier to tackle. There is the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, an interventionist agency established by Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime in 2003. From its inception several billions of naira have been expended, with no results other than fictitious projects and mass forgeries of the most disheartening caliber.

By way of concrete example, in the city of Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, Nigeria, there is a primary school building in front of the popular St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. This school was built in the days of the missionaries, but the NDDC, in its treacherous maneuvers did substandard renovation work on this school and pasted this inscription on the school building “Built by NDDC”. The funniest thing is that the said NDDC is run by indigenes of the Niger Delta who should know the plights and predicaments of their own people.

By dint of political gimmicks, there are nine’s Niger Delta states covered by the NDDC. Abia and Imo states, going by the strict yardsticks used in the assessment of the true composition of a Niger Delta, should not qualify for this inclusion. But since the Commission’s inaugural chairman, Ugochukwu Onyeman, was from Abia State, and a loyal crony of former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the state was included. Worse still, the inclusion of Abia, Imo and Ondo states in the Commission’s list was further informed by the usual pacification strategy that was aimed at pleasing the Igbo and Yoruba speaking parts of the country.

NDDC’s greatest achievement, since its inception, has been the execution of non-existent projects and poor quality renovations with a smattering of other failures spanning the length and breadth of the Niger Delta. Those who head the Commission always ask Niger Deltans to tighten their belts and be ready for action, while NDDC’s funds go into their and others’ private pockets. To perfect this fraud so as to look and sound genuine in the global market, the Commission seeks partnership with “credible” agencies which, in most cases, are owned by some of the helmsmen of the Commission. The youths who know about these pranks, of course, get restive.

But sometimes, some of these youths are “settled” and sing the praises of the Commission’s non-achievement and those of the helmsmen, which they deceptively present in the media as inviolable milestones. Should you follow legitimate procedure to push through a proposal at the Commission, you, surely, will be wasting your precious time unless you have secured the services of the most dreaded fetish priests who often disguise themselves as “Men of God” and sometimes come to the Commission for “prayer sessions.”

Once in a while, the Commission organizes what they usually call “Skill Acquisition Programmes,” which, when properly examined, are another avenue to siphon funds. After all, most of the so-called skills the youths are forced to acquire are archaic and unproductive, which is as good as having done anything. The Commission does not offer scholarship schemes of any sort. They leave the youths to ferment academically and thus become viable tools for mayhem of the most regrettable sort.

22 November 2008

Some serious problems with the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Act

"The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act" is deeply flawed and provides little to no protection for environmental protection for degradation caused by the oil and gas sector. Last time we checked, the Niger Delta is still part of the Nigerian Federal Republic. If that is still the case, why then are the most pressing environmental issues facing the region completely ignored in the Federal legislation meant to protect people and the environment? We are not dealing with some corrupt politicians looking the other way while oil and gas companies pollute the region, with both making off like bandits. Instead we are talking about official, national legislation that gives these companies the right to ignore any and all standards of decency and environmental protection. This type of shoddy legislation continues the government's pattern of abuse and neglect for the Niger Delta region and only enforces the bitterness felt by so many in the creeks.

Lets take a more in depth look at the Act, which specifically exempts the oil and gas sector from nearly all provisions, allowing it to operate essentially outside of the law and any regulation. The Agency is:

- Exempted from complying with standards for hazardous materials {7(g)}
- Exempted from compliance monitoring {7(h)}
- Exempted from environmental control measures (registration, licensing and permitting) {7(j)}
- Exempted from public education on environmental issues {7(l)}

With relation to the oil and gas sector, the newly established environmental regulation agency will NOT have the power to:

- Conduct public investigations on pollution and the degradation of natural resources {8 (g)}
- Develop environmental monitoring networks at national and international levels {8 (l)}
- Research causes, effects, extent, prevention, reduction and elimination of pollution {8 (m)}
- Share information with agencies or organizations regarding the effects on the environment {8 (n)}

In the Financial Provisions section (V), the Agency, with relation to the oil and gas sector, is specifically barred from:

- Making regulations on effluent limitations, on existing and new point sources, for the protection of human, animal, marine and plant life {24 (3)}
- Co-operating with Government agencies for the removal of any pollutants discharged into the Nigerian environment {29}

20 November 2008

JTF to Militants: Surrender Arms IF You’re Sincere

Written by Pemii Ben

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent.”

Those who have been following the trend in the Niger Delta in recent years would be the first to admit that it has become more and more of a bloodbath, not because of any declaration of a Civil War, but because of the armed struggle aimed at the economic emancipation of the region. This was, ab initio, spearheaded by Alhaji Muhajid Asari Dokubo’s Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militant group that claimed to have as its mission, the economic salvation of the Niger Delta region. Other groups soon sprang up following incessant disagreements in the mother group.

Initially, these militant groups and their acclaimed missions enjoyed a free rein in the region, having no restrictions or counter attacks from any quarters, save those of rival groups. Several innocent lives were lost and property worth billions of naira went down the drain. When the Federal Government eventually talked sense into Asari and the groups loyal to him, he found reasons to, at least at face value, “surrender” his arms and convinced his boys to do same.

Also on the prowl was the physically challenged Ateke Tom of the Niger
Delta Vigilante along with splinter groups, such as the Niger Delta Patriotic Force (NDPF). These groups seemed to find no reason to accept dialogue. To Ateke and his associates, the creeks seemed to have been the friendliest habitation. This, besides earlier provocations, ignited the use of military might to curb the menace.

The initial military intervention seemed as if nothing much was achievable in the face of the growing militancy, especially when the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) came on board. The tension increased and every movement of unknown persons was doubly checked with maximum suspicion and closer watch.

In all this, lots of blames were laid on the Federal Government whom many said lacked the political will to tackle the problem. Imbued, in some backwards way, with a will to solve the Niger Delta problem, military might was released in full force to combat militancy. Since then, the clash of the Titans had raged on.

Several years into the epic struggle of military versus militants’, yours truly ran into Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, the spokesman for the Joint Military Task Force. Assessing the situation, the JTF spokesman said “it’s nothing unusual, from time-to-time we do have clashes with militants. We are doing our job with the needed commitment, just the way it should be done.” He noted that here are some who, for the sake of personal gain, dislike “the good job we are doing, but that does not deter us.”

Sometimes in the recent past, rumors were rife that some military personnel were behind the recruitment and training of militants. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said “I have not heard of that allegation. It is just a claim which has to be proven. I have not heard any case of that.”

Those with diligent observational prowess will also notice that militancy activities are concentrated in Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta States. This gives the impression that the other Niger Delta States where militancy activities are not felt do not need the much trumpeted economic deliverance. Commenting on this, the JTF Spokesman said in those states where militancy activities are rife, “we are doing our best so that everything does not degenerate into a breakdown of law and order.”

There have been allegations against the JTF that in the course of their operations against militants, some innocent civilians were sent to their early graves. Not mincing words about the allegation, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said “it is not true. It is sheer propaganda from militants.” He gave an instance of other such propaganda when the militants had said they killed over 20 soldiers, a thing that was promptly reported by the media, which, according to the JTF spokesman, was false. This also applies to regular claims by militants of blowing up oil installations, he said.

It would be difficult to believe that in their fight against militants and their activities, the military would have had their battalion intact without the loss of some men at the hands of the militants. The common expectation is that the military is bound to record some casualties in spite of their professional proficiency. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa agrees with this point but stated that the military has lost about 2 to 3 men, quite contrary to the “propaganda of the militants. There is no need for us to hide those killed on our side” he added. He emphatically stated that in the recent resurgence in some parts of Rivers State where he is based, there were no casualties on the part of the military but for an officer who sustained injuries and who will soon be discharged from the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

The recent declaration of a unilateral cease-fire by the militants is one thing that has gladdened the hearts of many. But then, the JTF spokesman said “the issue of cease-fire does not arise because we are not at war. At the JTF level, we will continue to do our job, monitor the situation, and wherever our men are, they should be at maximum alert. Our mandate is to ensure that an enabling environment is created for all law-abiding citizens to go about their legitimate businesses and we will not shy away from that responsibility. If MEND really means what it calls a cease-fire, then they should surrender their arms.”

Some critics have slammed the military option used to tackle the menace of militancy in the Niger Delta, while Lt. Col. Sagir Musa respects these opinions, he stressed that besides the military option, there has to be the political will to tackle the problems of the region, and with it, economic empowerment of the youths, holistic development of the region, functional education and health systems, among others, should be given priority. The JTF Spokesman stressed that religious leaders have profound roles to play in the fight against militancy. In his words: “the religious leaders must continue to expose the fallacy of a life of militancy.”

Africa is credited with a maintaining respect for elders, a thing that accounts for the survival of the traditional stool, not only in Nigeria, but in the Niger Delta as well. For this reason “our traditional leaders must condemn militancy,” as well as those Leaders of Thought whose voices cut beyond frontiers. “The entire society,” said Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, “should rise in total condemnation of the menace of militancy.” “This is the solution to the Niger Delta crisis.” By deduction, the JTF spokesman affirms the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry, which he noted could bring about development in concrete terms.

In spite of all odds, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa expressed complete confidence that the situation in the Niger Delta is under control. He however regretted the fact the media have succumbed to the propaganda of the militants especially those of MEND whose email, he said, the media swallow hook, nail and sinker. In any case, he acknowledged that alertness should be encyclopedic, leaving no room for miscreants to capitalize on.

It has been rumored in the media and in some other quarters that some 1,000 soldiers are on their way to the Niger Delta to beef up security on the ground. To this allegation, Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said, “it’s not true. There is no such intention. What we have on ground is enough to deal with the situation. With recent happenings, it is clear that militancy has come to an end. They did not stop at the so-called unilateral cease-fire, but they sent emissaries to Abuja asking for the dialogue they had initially turned down. I keep saying that nobody or group of individuals is beyond the capabilities of the Nigerian Army. Militancy is an in-house crisis and so we are managing it.” The JTF spokesman reminds the militants by way of advice that there is no option better than peace and so everyone should remain law-abiding and peaceful.

19 November 2008

Bad couple of weeks for Chevron

These last couple months have been quite problematic for Chevron. This week the company declared force majeure on 90,000 barrels per day of Nigerian oil exports following the sabotage of a main supply pipeline to its Escravos export terminal. In addition to its economic woes, the company's public image is in jeopardy due to the opening of the damages trial in U.S. District court in the "Bowoto v. Chevron" case. The case is a reaction to events during May 1998, when unarmed residents of the Niger Delta protested at the company's offshore Parabe platform, demanding that the corporation contribute more resources to the development of the area, and were met with violent opposition from the Nigerian military and Chevron security, resulting in the maiming and death of protesters. The suit further attempts to implicate Chevron in gross violation of environmental standards leading to the destruction of ecosystems, and land erosion.

Clearly, Chevron is beginning to lose credibility with respect to its dealings in Nigeria. At what point do the international community and Delta communities begin to lump Chevron with other nefarious companies like Shell and demand openly or through continued sabotage, that they quit the region?