Niger Delta Militants a Rebel or a Struggle to Survive

The Niger Delta Struggle is a struggle to survive. Let's face the reality, they need a better treatment.

For quite some time, the Niger Delta has been the issue on the front pages of both local and international tabloids. Its either they are talking about Militants or about an exploded oil pipe line and the accompanying inferno with disgusting pictures of indigenes that lost their lives in the inferno while scrambling to scoop petroleum products that gushed out of the exploded pipes; or it’s the military operation carried out in some areas where the government insinuates that Militants are hiding; destroying properties, maiming and killing innocent and harmless abandoned citizens of Nigeria; or stories of kidnap and abduction and so many scary news.

Sometimes one wonders why these gory tales of once the seat of peace and the garden city of Nigeria and its environs continues unabated. I could remember when I was in secondary school; I usually take some vacation jobs in Port Harcourt and believe me, Port Harcourt City was a model of what a peaceful city should be. Today things are directly opposite to what it used to be and the inhabitants were living in fear until few months ago when the state government began some peaceful moves to bring sanity to the City.

There are some other parts of the Niger Delta that are still experiencing crises. The people that bear the brunt are the same people who for so many decades have been abandoned in spite of the fact that they own the land where the bulk of the oil sustaining Nigeria is being tapped. To make their case worse, the spillage of oil by the oil companies has totally destroyed the one time arable land and even fishing which use to be one of their major occupations is no longer viable because of the activities of the oil companies on rigs and spillage on the sea.

This is the plight of a people who are sitting on the wealth of the nation with empty stomach while the wealth is tapped to enrich another set of people. Its no longer news how much billions Nigeria derives from the sale of oil daily and yet these people of Niger Delta are still leaving in ramshackle huts built mostly on the swamp and can hardly afford a three square meal per day. It’s a pitiful sight – deprived of their rightful possession.

Tom O’Neill, a staff of National Geographic described the sordid situation in the Niger Delta in his book, ‘Curse of the Black Gold’ in these terms, “Beyond the city, within the labyrinth of creeks, rivers, and pipeline channels that vein the delta—one of the world's largest wetlands—exists a netherworld. Villages and towns cling to the banks, little more than heaps of mud-walled huts and rusty shacks. Groups of hungry, half-naked children and sullen, idle adults wander dirt paths. There is no electricity, no clean water, no medicine, no schools. Fishing nets hang dry; dugout canoes sit unused on muddy banks. Decades of oil spills, acid rain from gas flares, and the stripping away of mangroves for pipelines have killed off fish.”

History and origin of the Niger Delta:

The Niger Delta is situated along the South – South and South East and South West of Nigeria in West Africa. As the name implies, it is located on the delta of the Niger River and its environs stretching from the Old Calabar Kingdom through part of the hinter land to part of the Old Benin Kingdom. During the British Colonial Era, Niger Delta was known as The Oil Rivers Protectorate until 1893 when its borders were expanded and renamed, The Niger Coast Protectorate. Their major occupation was Fishing and Farming especially Oil Palm production which gave them the name ‘The Oil Rivers Protectorate’.

They were under the Eastern Province and later Region during the Colonial era. Several crises brewed up due to the marginalization of some minority groups from the then core Niger Deltans. These crises led to the agitation for Calabar – Ogoja – Rivers State which never succeeded until during the Nigeria Civil War when the Nigerian government as a means of destabilizing Biafra, created two states for the agitating parties thus gaining their support to unify Nigeria once more. Southeastern and Rivers States were created out of the Old Eastern Region. Southeastern State later renamed Cross River State which in due course was split into Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State, while Rivers State was also split into Rivers State and Bayelsa State.

The states that constitute the present day Niger Delta are: - Rivers State, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Abia, Imo, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and Cross River States. These are the major Oil producing States in Nigeria, beginning with the agricultural Palm Oil Produce and now the Crude Oil Production. The British were interested in the Oil Palm Produce in the Colonial eras and today the world is also interested in the new found oil – Crude which has brought so much hardship to the Niger Deltans instead of the usual prosperity that flows on the land that hosts the Crude. A blessed people impoverished by the government.

Discovery and exploration of Oil in the Niger Delta:

Oil exploration started in the Niger Delta, then in the Eastern Region of Nigeria in the early 1950s and the first discovery was made on the 3rd of August, 1956 in commercial quantities in tertiary deposits at 12,000 feet below, in a creek town called Oloibiri near Yanogoa, the present capital of Bayelsa State. On February 17th, 1958, the first batch of Nigeria Crude left the borders of the country for the international market.

Nigeria eventually became the eleventh largest producer of Crude and the eight largest exporter of Crude in the world. It was also discovered that Nigeria has the largest gas reserve in Africa (about 176 trillion cubic feet) and at present, the Nigerian Oil production is running at almost 2.45 million barrels per day.

Many multinational and national organizations are involved in the exploration and production of crude in Nigeria and this has placed Nigeria on the map of the important nations in the world. The Oil fields located in the Niger Delta are 606 (355 onshore and 261 onshore) in 1500 host communities. Over 6000 Oil wells have been sunk, 7000 kilometers of pipeline laid, 275 flow stations, 10 gas plants, 14 export terminals, 4 refineries and a liquefied natural gas complex. Virtually, every corner of the Niger Delta has been ransacked in the exploration of Oil and this had brought untold hardship to the aborigines.

Heroes of Niger Delta:

As the agitation for the creation of Calabar – Ogoja – Rivers State was going on, Isaac Adaka Boro declared an Independent Niger Delta republic during the General Aguiyi Ironsi military administration, just before the Nigeria Civil War began.

Isaac Adaka Boro could not succeed and after the Civil war, Ken Saro Wiwa took over the struggle to end the marginalization of the Niger Deltans by the Nigeria government and the degradation of their environment by pollution from gas flaring and oil spillage. His move under the auspices of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People MOSOP received a challenge from the Federal Military Government led by General Sani Abacha, and Ken Saro Wiwa with nine of his kinsmen were hanged.

The Niger Delta Militants:

Pressure continued to mount on the government of Nigeria to come to the aid of the suffering Niger Deltans but the government did nothing tangible to alleviate the peoples’ problems. The government only came up with a quack initiative, ‘the Niger Delta Development Commission’ which became an avenue to enrich their few collaborates.

When nothing seem to be done about the loss of control of their natural resources, the Ijaws of the Niger Delta presented their stand to the Federal government in the Kaiama Declaration in 1998. The Nigeria government in response sent troops to guard the area and the resultant effect being the indiscriminate shooting and killing of the Niger Deltans.

When pushed to the wall, the indigenes took up arms and formed militant groups to demand for their fair share of the proceed from the crude which is being tapped in their land. This ushered the emergence of groups like, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta MEND, Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force NDPVF, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People MOSOP and Niger Delta Vigilante NDV etc.

These groups are demanding for one thing – to take active part in the exploration and management of the Crude produced in their land. So much has been damaged in the pursuance of this goal as the Nigeria government has refused to reason with them.

The international community has done so much to persuade the Nigeria government to listen to the request of these oppressed groups, but it wouldn’t listen but instead drafted the army to the region to unleash carnage on the defenseless people of Niger Delta. Pressure groups and NGOs have also done so much to assist the people of the Niger Delta who live in ramshackles on the swamps of the Niger Delta. One of the members of the militant groups once said “there are no rivers in Abuja but the government built bridges everywhere but in the Niger Delta where there are rivers everywhere, there are no bridges”.

Godwill Agomoh Paul is a Clergy and Authour based in Lagos.

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