04 April 2009

Bayelsa paying off militants?

Written by Pemii Ben

Fresh trouble is brewing between the Bayelsa State Government and the insurgents in that state following a recent government announcement to cut the monthly allowances given to militants. Trouble started when the state governor, Chief Timipre Sylva made the announcement after what is credited to the governor as “tough deliberations bothering on funds.” The state government in recent times has complained of lack of funds, raising the eyebrows of stakeholders. Many asked what the state’s monthly allocation was used for, but got no answers. This led to further independent probing of government expenditures.

Results from further investigations then pointed in the direction of the state government’s secret arrangement with militants in the state, which has been confirmed to be gulping over one hundred million naira every month from state coffers. Initially, the government of Bayelsa state dismissed the findings as simply a ploy from one of the administration’s many detractors. Even when it was reported elsewhere that the state government was camping militants in the government house, it was equally dismissed as the handiwork of paid hatchet men who do not appreciate the governor’s efforts at transforming Bayelsa state.

The cat was however let out of the bag by Governor Timipre Sylva himself during one of the sessions of his radio Bayelsa Program titled “Relax with Gov. Sylva”. The day’s subject of discussion was militancy. The governor disclosed that militants have been sending text messages to him threatening to make the state un overnable, should he dare reduce their monthly ‘allocation’ to anything below the usual one hundred million naira. The irony about this development is that the same Gov. Sylva in the recent past granted an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, during which he denounced militants, calling them criminals, gangsters and hungry boys who do not want to be useful to society. Yet the same governor has been funding militants that occupy over ten camps in Bayelsa. Most agree that this places a serious question mark on the governor’s ‘efforts’ at combating militancy.

In a telephone interview, the Action Congress in the state described the threat issued by militants to the governor, as sad, unfortunate and as a serious indictment on the government of Bayelsa state who has persistently denied involvement with militants. The party has described the current situation in the state as critical and as such impedes the development of the state. AC expressed utter disappointment over the channeling of huge sums of taxpayer money into paying off militants instead of building social orientation and rehabilitation centers, where aggrieved and restive youth could be responsibly and gainfully rehabilitated. The party is calling for a review of government policies to reflect people-oriented programmes.

In the interim, local government elections have yet to be held in Bayelsa after the December 2008 postponement for shortage of funds.

27 March 2009

End Gas Flaring

The Nigerian Civil Society Platform Against Gas Flaring, a group comprised of grassroots and community groups based in the Niger Delta, recently sent a memorandum to the Nigerian House of Representatives to urge the body to end gas flaring.

Here is some of what their report and a subsequent interview with one of the campaign’s coordinators revealed:

In Nigeria, 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas are flared per day. This is more than any other country in Africa and equals the greenhouse gas output of all of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa combined. As of 2007, 70% of Nigeria’s oil fields still flare gas.

Gas flaring affects around 20 communities in the Niger Delta, half of which are in Rivers state. The others are in Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa States. Some of the main problems caused by gas flaring in the host communities are:

  • Skin and respiratory complications (although the full impact has not been measured yet)
  • Low birth weight and deformed babies
  • Death of plants and disturbing of wildlife creating hunger and malnourishment
  • Lowered fertility rates

Furthermore, gas flaring contributes heavily to global warming and rising sea levels as well as being a waste of resources for the Nigerian people.

If the Government were to invest in a way to capture, use and sell this natural gas, it would be a huge boon to the economy and also a way to provide cheap power to the people of the Nation. However, since the government thinks they will lose the revenue from the flaring fines they charge, they are not willing to make the long-term investment. But where has this fine money gone?

The Department of Petroleum Resources has been collecting around 16 or 17 million dollars a year from the oil companies, according to some calculation, for the past 40 years as compensation for flaring. This money has never been accounted for and certainly has not been reinvested back into the communities affected. The rate of compensation has actually been raised as of 2008, but the Government has not actually enforced the change.

The oil companies say flares are down. This is true but only because oil production is down as a result of the militancy. Although the oil and gas companies are reluctant to provide any information, there are many good estimates. Here is a crude breakdown by well known companies in order of amount of flaring done and where:

  • Shell (SPDC and SNEPCO) flared 584 million cubic feet per day in Rivers state.
  • Chevron (CNL) flared 486 million cubic feet per day in Bayelsa and Delta states.
  • Agip flares around 375 million cubic feet per day in Rivers state.
  • Total (Elf/EPNL) flared 240 million cubic feet per day in Rivers state.

The Nigerian Civil Society Platform Against Gas Flaring is calling on the Nigerian government to:

  • Enact and enforce legislation to end gas flaring immediately. Previous flare-out dates have been passed in clear violation of the Federal High Court’s ruling that gas flaring is illegal
  • Enact legislation to compel companies to harness the flared gas for power generation nad energy in the Niger Delta
  • There should be a participatory audit of flaring to ascertain damage and give grounds to compensation to community victims of the practice.
  • Force oil and gas companies to cease operations in any field that is still flaring gas.
  • Fines should be imposed on gas flarers should go directly into a Special Community Health Fund to help deal with the direct and indirect impacts of the problem.

23 March 2009

Kono community report

March 21st & 22nd, Kono, Khana Kingdom, Ogoniland

Shell Yorla oil well number nine blew up in May, 2008 causing a substantial oil spill. It was so bad that the creek source, five villages away, had to be dammed to keep the spill from spreading further. The head of the Community Development Committee, produced letters they had been sending to Shell, the regional government, the Ministry of Environment and so on. Nobody has yet to take any action or responsibility. When asked how much oil had spilled, the CDC representatives said they had no idea and that the government urged them to spend 25,000 dollars of their own money to have an environmental impact study done.

The spill has created hunger and has polluted the water severely. This latter issue was borne out upon visiting one of the town wells. The water it produced was yellow and cloudy. The CDC rep said that people ignorantly went on drinking it anyway even though it was dangerous, but admitted that there was no alternative. In the center of the village we inspected a water pump that had been installed by some straw companies as a way to pacify the locals. None of the 12 throughout the village worked or ever has.

Beyond the macroeconomic problems of the Nigerian nation, the main issues faced in Kono are:

- A lack of access to clean drinking water. There have been problems to due seepage from oil installations that have polluted the surface water and underlying tables. The recent spill has made things much worse.

- Health complications and lack of access to care. Eye and stomach problems are prevalent in the community as a result of prolonged exposure to contaminants. Chest and lung problems are also common from continued aspiration of toxic particles. The predecessor to the NDDC built a heath clinic in the town but never sent a doctor

- Food scarcity and contamination. Kono is a predominantly a fishing and farming village. We spoke to the sister-in-law of a man who died from eating contaminated cassava over a period of time. Everyone agreed that the town’s land has been ruined, making it impossible to farm, and that the creeks have been polluted to such an extent that fish and snail populations have been deeply reduced.

- Migration to the city. We met with scores of villagers who had moved to Port Harcourt looking for work in the absence of any alternative in Kono. Most have not been able to find any due to lack of appropriate skills and tribal discrimination. We visited one small room that housed nine alone.

The Kono authorities are calling on the Shell Petroleum Development Company to come and clean up their mess. Specifically, they want a professional, international company with experience to come and do the work. They are also asking for an economic development center that will give local youth a chance to prepare themselves. Finally, some of the farmers are asking for compensation for crops that have been destroyed. They are fully prepared to take a peaceful approach to negotiations but are tiring of the lack of attention from the company and the government authorities.

Bodo community report

From six in the morning on March 21st, residents of Bodo in Gokana Kingdom of Ogoniland sieged an SPDC oil manifold in their community. The protest, attended by some five hundred men and women was held in response to the ongoing neglect of Shell and the government to attend to a large offshore spill affecting their community since September.

From atop the oil manifold, the Youth Council president exhorted the crowd, shouting that they were going to blow up the manifold in a week if Shell didn’t bring relief materials and come with a clean-up plan. When asked if taking this action wouldn’t give the police an excuse to brand them as militants and come and kill them, he answered: ‘Let them come. We are ready for any consequence. If some of us must be killed to make our point, then so be it. We will die just like other Ogoni martyrs before us.’
Shell quit Ogoniland some time ago, but many of the oil pipelines have natural pressure which pushes the oil through, as is the case in Bodo. In essence, Shell gets this oil and has no need to do any maintenance or be available to the community. The burst pipe in question was originally installed in the 1950’s. There have been intermittent leaks in Bodo since 2003, and either nothing had been done, or the company had hired scarecrow remediation companies owned by local strongmen who had no expertise whatsoever and did nothing.

Oil companies have been known to complain that local communities sabotage pipelines to get valuable clean-up contracts. This certainly happens in some places, but in Bodo, they are calling for a professional, foreign company to come and clean up the mess.

Behind the oil manifold enclosure, some 500 yards down a path is the marsh. Total destruction. There is a line a foot up the grass where the oil has risen to. Everything is dead for as far as the eye can see.

After the protest, a group of over fifty women gathered and began shouting their grievances in Ogoni. Via an interpreter from the Youth Council, two matriarchs were chosen to represent the group. They detailed how there was widespread hunger and thirst in the community: all the fish had been killed, the water contaminated, access to the creeks blocked and the ground-soil polluted and crops poisoned. One woman presented a meager basket of cassava meant to feed her family for a week. It was only enough for one person. Another woman pushed forward and said her eight year old son had died of hunger.

A higher up in the Youth Council, the same one who had been interpreting, told of his frustrations and how he felt control slipping out of his hands. He said it was getting impossible to calm the youth in the town and that he was sure some of them would slip into militancy and armed action. ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’ he said. If they blow up the oil manifold next week, it might be one step in this dreaded direction.

18 February 2009

Recent Attacks in Equatorial Guinea

Recent reports have claimed that gunmen from Nigeria sped into Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, and attacked the presidential palace. The government of EG seems committed to blaming Niger Delta-based "sea pirates." Spokesman for the MEND, the largest and best-equipped militant group in the Niger Delta denied involvement, saying, "we were not involved in trying to oust the despot." In a second communication, the spokesman said:

A Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) investigation has confirmed the Nigerian government as the brain behind the failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 to install a dissident based in Spain as Head of State. Militants from the Bakassi axis who were recruited for the operation with monetary inducement has given us details of the state sponsored terrorism which involved the Ministry of Defense, National Security Adviser and the Presidency. The Eastern Naval Command Headquarters in Calabar, Cross Rivers state played a major role in the plot as liaison between the government and the Camp commander through a naval intelligence officer in the rank of a captain. The Navy and military Joint Task Force patrolling the area also ensured that the fighters left and entered Nigerian territorial waters unchallenged.

Since the MEND is the only group that might have the capability to make an attack so far from home, and their spokesman has denied involvement, it seems unlikely there was any involvement from Nigerian militants. When militants attacked an oil rig 70 miles offshore it spiked the price of oil tremendously because it showed a high level of capacity by militant factions. If, in fact, Nigerian groups are able and willing to attack a government installation hundreds of miles away, we should take serious heed. Nevertheless, without a plausible motive or tactical capacity, the attack seems unlikely to have come from Nigeria.

It seems more likely that there is some sort of insurgency afoot in Equatorial Guinea that the government would rather blame on foreign agitators than face publicly. The country has been under dictatorial rule for some time, and an argument for internal tension, and a government campaign of misinformation, seem much more plausible.

09 February 2009

Chevron is acting disgracefully

Chevron is apparently attempting to recover nearly $500,000 in expenses related to it's nearly ten year trial versus a group of Nigerian villagers who claimed the company colluded with the Nigerian military (read
SF Chronicle article).

The villagers thought the company should be held responsible for deaths and injuries sustained during a peaceful protest of an oil platform in the Niger Delta. Unfortunately, the judge didn't agree and Chevron was found not guilty. The decision is being appealed. More coverage of this situation is available on this blog and on the Internet.

Chevron made nearly $24 billion in profits last year. Why do they need to counter-sue villagers, most of whom make less than a dollar-a day? Clearly there is the intimidation factor--don't sue us or we'll sue you back.

Whatever the case, this disgraceful action is not constructive towards building peace and stability in a region that provides Chevron with so much of its bread. The arrogance of the company is really astonishing after barely repelling charges of collusion in murder; they can't leave well enough alone and have decided to strike at those simply seeking redress.

Coventry Report released

To download the full report by Canon Davis, click HERE

06 February 2009

Coventry Cathedral and Peace and Reconciliation in ND

Ahead of the forthcoming release of his organization’s formal report, Canon Stephen Davis of the Coventry Cathedral shared some of his thoughts on the possibilities of peace in the Niger Delta. Coventry Cathedral is one of the world’s oldest religious-based centers for reconciliation. The Cathedral has been extensively involved in Nigeria since 2002 when it played a key role in bringing about the Kaduna Peace Declaration which was signed by the most influential Muslim and Christian leaders in the State.

Here is what he said:

Any realistic attempts to deal constructively with the conflict in the Niger Delta must address the roots of conflict such as ethnic differences, poverty, high unemployment, corruption, revenue distribution and electoral malpractice.

Addressing the roots of conflict is not optional. It is critical to a sustained peace with justice in the Niger Delta.

Peace without justice is a temporary peace. It is merely a lull in the conflict, a prolonged cease-fire.
In the immediate to mid term corruption is the greatest challenge facing the Nigerian nation and one of the most critical issues where significant, clear and irreversible progress is required.

The potential for peace and reconciliation is very much a product of the measures the Federal Government of Nigeria takes in corruption control, illegal weapons and border control, its approach to issues perceived as injustices by the Niger Delta population and its engagement with militia leaders through dialogue.

The political godfathers are powerful and have shown the ability to sabotage peace efforts on several occasions. The power of the political godfathers to intervene must be curtailed before any prospect of a sustained peace could be seriously contemplated.

MEND has agreed to follow the UN weapons destruction process defined by the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs. Weapons destruction should occur under independent third party expert scrutiny and be conducted to international standards.

Efforts to end the conflict in the Niger Delta are unlikely to see a sustained peace without the involvement of neutral international mediator.

Conflict with militia can cease immediately a credible agenda for peace discussion has been agreed.
A restorative social justice plan as distinct from criminal justice will increase the opportunity for a sustained peace and should be designed to strengthen democracy and peace in the Niger Delta. The plan should include:

Peace agreement;
Amnesty guarantees;
Security system reform;
Macroeconomic plan;
Sustainable development;
Reconciliation; and a
Truth Commission.

The peace process should commence immediately. The first step will be the appointment of an independent international facilitator acceptable to all parties whose first taskwill be to secure agreement of the parties to an agenda for peace discussions. The militia leaders have stated that immediately upon agreement for such an agenda being reached the militia will cease all conflict.

A detailed background to the conflict and the peace and reconciliation process are set out in Coventry Cathedral's 300 page Report on the Potential for Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta which will be released within the next week, coincidentally being one year since Henry Okah was extradited from Angola to Nigeria.

03 February 2009

Oil Companies Won't do it Alone

Some of the words spoken by the newly appointed Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Ufot Ekaette, are troubling. While he correctly charges the Oil companies with failing to live up to their agreements with communities and the nation, the minister at no point mentioned the role of the government in facilitating development and infrastructure construction implementation.

This is problematic because it shows a lack of leadership and vision on behalf of government. From the tone of the minister, the government is content to sit back and allow Oil companies to construct roads and job programs on their own. The role of the state is to do these things, not to leave them to the whim of disinterested parties. Without local or national government leadership it is absurd to expect the Oil industry to do anything altruistic. Their business is to make money. To lament their inaction while refusing to regulate or hold them accountable is disingenuous--after all, the job of government is to regulate what happens in the territory and ensure the livelihood and well-being of citizens.