29 December 2008

Possible fallout from the arrest of militant

Earlier today Reuters
reported the arrest of purported MEND militant Sobomabo Jackrich a.k.a. Ebri Papa as he surfaced to attend peace talks. The militant hails from Buguma, an Ijaw community in the Asari-Torlu Local Government Area of Rivers State, and was a high-ranking fighter of Soboma George’s "Outlaws", before breaking away to form his own group. Jakrich purportedly has over 40 fighters in his cantonment and had been involved in violence, and hostage-taking in the Niger Delta region of Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

We asked MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, to explain what this meant for the future of the delicate ceasfire, in place since the end of the "six day oil war."

The spokesman responded by saying:

The arrest of Sobomabo Jackrich by the military during a peace parley where he was invited by a Royal Father [the Amayanabo of Buguma] is an example of the betrayal of trust by the Nigerian government which only confirms their insincerity as feared.

We are deliberating on the next line of action to take and will not rule out ending the ceasefire. It is unfortunate and that is why we have told all local commanders to refrain from having unilateral negotiations that do not have the involvement of the international mediators.

We requested further information about the "international mediators" and were told, "
We are talking to the Coventry Cathedral [... They] will be the main brokers but right now we are still working on the modalities and draft agreements."

11 December 2008

Justice postponed

Earlier this month, Chevron was found not guilty of charges that it helped the Nigerian military kill and maim supposedly non-violent protesters at one of its oil platforms in 1998. To hear it from Chevron itself, one gets a much different picture. Through various press releases, Chevron repeatedly refers to the protesters as "hostage takers" and claims that they "requested the rescue [by the Nigerian military] as a reasonable response to a dangerous invasion of the Parabe platform and, the invaders were harmed when they attacked military personnel." Needless to say, the plaintiffs, a group from the Ilaje community nearby, have vowed to appeal the decision.

Lamentably, Chevron is up to its old tricks of attacking communities demanding justice. A recent field report by Environmental Rights Action of Nigeria shares testimony that the company was involved in the shooting of unarmed protesters at its Escravos facility near Warri in Delta State.

Regardless of their guilt in a court of law, or what they say in their press releases about their investments in the region, Chevron has a clearly demonstrated record of contempt for communities in the Niger Delta. Chevron must be stopped!

10 December 2008

The Deceit Called NGOs in the Niger Delta

Written by Pemii Ben

One age-old tenet that has survived decades of adulteration and willful mitigation is this simple-sounding, yet hard-to-practice golden rule: “do unto others what you will like others to do unto you.” This rule that is enshrined in the Christians’ Holy Book-the bible- finds a deduction in the worlds of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism which is the Law of Karma. In its proper interpretation, this Law of Karma states that every cause has its effect, and what one reaps is the direct consequence of what one sows. In other words, it emphasizes the need to be considerate to others and help them in their time of need. In the Christian realm, this is usually called Christian charity. But in the secular society, it is called humanitarian aid.

Lots of people that live in the Niger Delta can shut their eyes and recite the litany of needs that plague them and how deep-biting it is when these needs are not met even as they sit in the midst of plenty, carted away to meet the needs of people elsewhere. Initially, locals of the region never knew how to confront these economic oppressors disguised as friends. When the core of this enmity was laid bare through the resulting economic strangulation, it became necessary to speak out for reprieve. This is how the late Isaac Boro spearheaded the movement for economic change in the Niger Delta. Boro was misunderstood and sent to an untimely grave by the enemies of progress.

After Boro’s death, another bleak period ensued and it looked as if the Niger Delta would perish forever under backbreaking economic deprivations. Suddenly, there was another sunrise that came in the form of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his renaissance that shook the economic oppressors to their roots. Saro-Wiwa was accused of heading a secessionist movement and his enemies plotted the death of his kinsmen in May 1994. He was accused of the murder of four of his own tribe, and he, alongside eight others, was consigned to a heartbreaking grave on November 10, 1995, against world pleas for amnesty.

Saro-Wiwa said often that his was a battle of the brain and the pen and not that of guns and machetes, but since Nigeria refused to honor a peaceful struggle, the country will eventually contend with armed struggle. Today, his prediction has come true.

The initial charge leveled against Niger Deltans was that indigenes of the region were not organized in their demands, and that they never spoke with one voice and that there was no umbrella of representation. Following this, all shades of groups arose out of nowhere, but were nothing but fronts to enrich certain individuals and their followers. Those who formed the groups that were so richly “blessed,” deemed it fit to form even more groups, coining fine names that served personal, rather than collective purposes.

Like militancy and kidnapping, the formation of Non-Governmental Organisations became an innovative and lucrative trade. The language for the struggle, as far as the proliferated NGOs are concerned, began to change to “dialogue”, “youth empowerment and employment”, “re-orientation” and most recently, “sustainable development”. These beautiful concepts were bastardized and used to serve other ends. Those who have long legs, able to traverse the corridors of power, claimed fallacious representations of sections of the entire Niger Delta, formed delegations that spoke the minds of no genuine Niger Deltan, pocketed the huge sums, and smiled all the way home with take away packages. Seeing the prosperous nature of the new strategic way of trading with the Niger Delta question, the NGO-formation trade boomed significantly and a veritable non-profit industrial complex has become entrenched in the region.

Today, top political appointees and other high-ranking civil servants fabricate all manner of names and even claim to represent non-existent NGOs. These supposed groups are conduits constructed directly to personal bank accounts. The reactions to the testimonies some of the founders of these fraudulent NGOs give in churches are baffling. People give thunderous ovations for the lies well coined, and the liars go ahead to pay tithes on this blood money to the ‘holy churches’. We only hear of the inauguration of these NGOs. The next we hear is fundraising to “enable us meet the challenges in the Niger Delta.” Immediately after the funds are collected, they disappear. The ‘generous’ ones waste some of the money collected on their siblings and package them for public presentations as the fruit of “our endeavors”. The moment such dramatic scenes happen, know that its time to collect more funds. Others simply bid farewell to the public glare after the ‘prestigious’ fundraising and make remarks like: “after all, government officials do worse things with our money!” You may not blame these ‘decent’ militants and astute kidnappers of public funds. After all, some of the government officials they talk about have perpetual apartments in 5-star hotels paid for, with public funds too.

Ironically, the aid that comes to the Niger Delta that has any true impact, comes from the Western world through credible NGOs that really know and feel at heart the pains of human agony and who know the implications of the kind of abject penury those in the Niger Delta face. These NGOs hurry to the aid of the Niger Deltans at their own expense. When some of these foreign NGOs seek government partnership to enable them reach a larger number of the suffering people, the reply in most cases, is in the negative. So the question now arises: who is really killing the Niger Deltans?

08 December 2008

Sinking to new lows

In a recent interview, JTF Brig. General Rimtip essentially confirmed that his forces had been given the go ahead to "shoot-on-sight" any suspected oil bunkers and militants. He further explained that the army would not leave the Delta until all arms had been surrendered and illegal activity ceased. This raises the question: how will the army determine who is a militant or bunkerer? If they are going to be shooting and asking questions later it seems very likely that many innocent civilians will be maimed and killed in the pursuit of these brigands. Furthermore the withdrawal of troops should be a political decision, not one made by the military itself. If the policy articulated by the general, is in fact coming from the upper echelons of the government via the Defence HQ, then it shows just how unwilling the Federal government is to negotiate the peace. If there is to be a genuine push towards lowering the violence in the Delta, then the government must stop sending mixed signals--creating commissions and ministries on one hand, and granting license-to-kill to the army for the indiscriminate destruction of communities.