The Niger Delta Crisis

Cultural Solidarity vs. Corporate Interests

In the Western world, they say that ignorance is bliss. But in Africa we say ignorance kills.

– Orikinla Osinachi

Royal Dutch Shell first tapped its commercial oil well in the Niger Delta in 1956. A half century down the road the horrors of Western corporate interests are still taking their toll. On August 13, 2007, senior oil workers threatened to vacate the Delta region if the violence persists. As a result, militants have flooded the streets of Port Harcourt, frisking “suspicious” individuals. All too predictably, President Bush has dispatched armed attack boats to aid President Obasanjo in his aggressive in his aggressive police-state tactics. It is such bi-lateral corporate endeavors that have led the rebels of the Niger Delta region to drastic and desperate measures. Globally, they have been given the title as “the bad guys” (a literal term used in an article at allafrica.com). But, as is often the case, their exhaustive attempts at reformation have been overlooked . . . merely their actions, not their motives, are cause for media discussion.

Nevertheless, the crisis in the Niger Delta is exemplary of how environmental and economic degradation has led to a violent response infused with cultural solidarity. Nigeria’s history is one of long running environmental, economic and cultural exploitation. Resources are essential to the Nigerian economy; oil accounting for 90% of exports and 80% of government revenue. Nigeria, today, earns about $7.09 billion annually from crude oil. Success in the oil industry has earned Nigeria the title of the 11th nation to join OPEC in 1971. But according to UNDP, although Nigeria is one of the world’s leading oil producers, it ranks 151st out of 177 of the world’s poorest countries. Nationally, 50 to 80 million people are living below the poverty line. In the Niger Delta, the foci of oil production, 72% of households live below the poverty line. A nation with such abounding resources should not be facing an economic crisis that has persisted since its liberation in 1960. The Nigerian federal government, in cohorts with oil multinationals, works collaboratively to maintain such bourgeois ideals. Meanwhile, Niger Deltans continue to economically vegetate in an evolving global corporate market. Perhaps these conditions begin to make more sense when we acknowledge that 10% of the country controls 40.8% of the country’s wealth. Indeed, the ruling hands of the elite are to blame. While some insist that oil money can be used to facilitate the launching of future development plans, the progression towards development remains stagnant. As we have seen so many times before, there is a conflict in the capitalist agenda and humanitarian efforts.

The people of the Niger Delta have attempted reformative tactics in vain by protesting peacefully for decades. Aside from minor uprisings in the 1990s, any violence inflicted generally stemmed from the Nigerian government who acted to maintain their corporate ties to the global market economy. Yet the Niger Deltans continued to try reformative ideas to alleviate the situation: demanding compensation via institutional/financial agreements for oil producing communities and implementing laws regarding more efficient means of resource control. However, just compensation and resource efficiency are far from being realized. Thus, economic, cultural and environmental degradation persist despite countless decades of peaceful protest and reform attempts. But now, chaos has erupted.

The frustrations emanating from the lack of attention given to environmental degradation and perpetual exploitation by the oil industry has led to a hardened resentment of the corporate world. The Human Rights Violations Investigation Committee states:

Oil, one of the greatest blessings God has showered on our country, has turned out to be a curse. Oil became, in the hands of the ruling elite and the political class, an instrument sounding the death knell of good governance (Civil Society Forum 2005)

While the world continues to turn a blind eye to the ethical issues at hand in the Niger Delta, the acts of violence and vandalism steadily increase. Futile attempts at reform have given way to violent disruptions, costing corporate oil companies millions in damages. The dialogue surrounding this issue grows steadily as civilians are proving to be militant, blowing up oil refineries and kidnapping its workers as in the 2006 MEND Hostage situation. Who is to blame? And how do we end this chaos? Certain scholars, like Anthony Maduagwu, target Nigerian infrastructure and federal government as the source of instability: “NEPA and oil refineries are two of the fingered authorities that are being manipulated. It is the job of the government to fish out these elements of anti-progress and deal with them accordingly.” Yet when oil production profits are in the hands of the political elite, the target of concern becomes not only civic, but corporate as well. There is a substantial reason why these acts of violence and vandalism are not solely directed at the federal government. These acts of violence, although targeted at the oil industry and Nigerian federal government, are intended to be heard around the world. To quote John F. Kennedy, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

At first glance, it would appear that the largest obstacle facing the indigenous protestors of the region is cultural fragmentation. With over 250 different cultures residing in Nigeria, the region’s history is one of long and complex cultural conflicts. Yet in the face of opposition, cultural solidarity is crucial for transformation. Despite years of conflict, various ethnic groups in the Niger Delta region are allied in their resistance to the federal government and oil companies. The Chikoko Movement, consisting of Ijaw, Itsekiri, Ogoni, Andoni, and Ilage, and the Odua’s People’s Congress, is exemplary of cultural unification within the region. In February 2006, a series of oil workers have been taken hostage by armed militant leaders who identify themselves as members of the Ijaw tribe. The group is responsible for a series of strikes in which 14 people were murdered and 11 proved missing. While the Ijaw are allied with other indigenous tribes, they are highly autonomous in action given the extremity of their situation. More so than other tribes, the Ijaw remain restricted from everyday Nigerian politics and civil society. As a result of the oil refineries, Ijaw public health has deteriorated and environmental conditions continue to worsen. Thus, violence persists. As tension mounts, miniscule cultural conflicts begin to subside and give way to communal rebellion. It is far more practical to oppose as a united front than a fragmented network of individuals. Slowly, collective revolutionary tactics are taking a toll on the corporate market. Continued unrest in the region has led to a decline of daily oil exports of 2.5 million barrels by 10%. Many Nigerians have realized that cultural unity provides a platform for effective opposition. The difficulty remains in swaying the upper class Nigerians away from the beckoning finger of the Western “corporatocracy”.

Jessica Long is not a fan of corporate globalization. She can be reached at jessimarie12@hotmail.com. Read other articles by Jessica, or visit Jessica's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Michael Kenny said on August 26th, 2007 at 9:02am #

    I wasn’t aware that it was still acceptable in polite society to refer to African peoples as “tribes”. Nobody calls the Germans a tribe, or the Chinese or the Jews. Might the same courtesy not be extended to the Ijaw people? In general, the language of the article is extremely dated, like it was written around 1950.

  2. jessica said on August 26th, 2007 at 9:07pm #

    Hi Kenny
    This is the author of the Niger Delta article. Actually, I’ve lived in rural Kenya for months and (in my experience) the African people prefer to be called according to their “tribes”- I lived with the Luo tribe, who was very proud of their title and actually introduced me as “tribes” themselves….”tribes” (as I learned in the case with the Luo tribe) have their own manner of dress, language, culture, dance and song….. to lump them together as merely African or Kenyan is an insult to them, a disregard for their cultural heritage of which they are incredibly proud and is at risk of extinction with globalization and the mentality of people like you. I think it’s interesting how we point the finger often times without actually experiencing the situation first hand. I welcome constructive criticism as I am a young writer… and still have alot to learn but feel your reasoning is highly ignorant. As for the dated criticism, methods of globalization and first world imperialism were not openly discussed in 1950- neither was the Bush administration’s militarizing of third world countries. Regardless, thank you for your feedback, and I hope you do your research next time you attempt to criticize.
    Best Regards.

  3. osinaike michael said on November 13th, 2007 at 1:17pm #

    hi i am very much interested in the Niger Delta crisis especially as an academic. permit me to say foremost that, Nigeria is like a giant with a ‘rotten brain’ and ‘rotten legs’. rotten brain in terms of a corrupt and sick leadership. and rotten legs in terms of an ignorant people without focus. at the risk of sounding too idealistic, i believe that, this crisis can come to a peaceful end if only we allow and work it. it is imperative to note that, not only government but selfish individuals have been maximising this crisis as an avenue to prosecute their evils. even if any victory at all it will be a pyhrric victory for us all. the costs of this violence are obviously too enormous, thereby eroding the accruable benefits. i opine that, we all use this forum to proffer a plausible remedy to this ‘terminal disease’ that threatens to terminate the destiny of not only the Niger Delta peoples but Nigerians at large. if people can be mobilised for violence such as we witness, then they can be mobilised and motivated towards peaceful resolution. this indeed transcends intellectualism and as such requires practical steps. i strongly believe that through a joint effort we can turn ‘swords into plowshares’. this we can do by providing a platform to re-direct and re-engineer the mentality of the Niger-Delta people to see beyond the present exploitation and come out of its grip.

  4. Marcus Ibe said on February 29th, 2008 at 8:14pm #

    Pls for crying out loud, i am a NIGERIAN and i don’t think i will sit back and watch you publish unfair opinions like that of Osinaike Michael. That comment is too rash and i plead with him to please come out publicly and apologise to Nigerian because that’s slandering. Again i don’t think he really knows anything concerning the Niger Delta. First and foremost, he didn’t pu into consideration the causes of this chaos and its origin. Well the crisis in the Niger Delta was borne out of the shear desire for peace, equity and justice. It was initiated by a group of individuals from the region who could no longer withstand the marginalization the region by the federal government of Nigeria that comprises leaders from the Western and Northern part of Nigeria. These leaders continually siphone oil revenues to their personal accountand also channel developmental projects to the regions thereby neglecting the owners of the resources who are left to the mercy of environmental degradation caused by the oil. Well whosoever is interested in the issue of the Niger Delta, i will for time sake refer the person to the following writeups:
    Andrew Rowell, Green Backlash, Routledge, London, 1996.
    Ogoni Bill of Rights, Saros International Publishers, Port Harcourt, 1992
    Ike Okonta and Oronto Douglas, Where Vultures Feast: Forty Years of Shell in the Niger Delta, Sierra Club Books/Random House, New York, forthcoming.
    Nick Ashton-Jones, Susi Arnott and Oronto Douglas, The ERA Handbook to the Niger Delta, Environmental Rights Action, Benin city, 1998

  5. Placid O Ugoagwu said on March 7th, 2008 at 9:03am #

    We should put an end to the niger delta crisis using dialogue and also improving the lives of people.This will be done through carrying out programs that will wipe out poverty in the area.

  6. Ike Okonta said on June 10th, 2008 at 7:19am #

    IN February 2008, I, Ike Okonta was one of the victim, i never expected I could be come a victim not until there was a co-exitence as a result of a tremendous collission in an area that affected me unexpectedly.

    Encyclopedia2008

  7. JAYE GASKIA said on June 29th, 2008 at 3:19am #

    RETURN TO HISTORY: RECLAIMING OUR HUMANITY

    Three or four phases can be identifies in the evolution of the Niger delta crisis: the first is the period of colonosation when the object was a different kind of oil; palm oil. The desire to control that trade and the production and extraction of that oil made the niger delta a contested terrain and a zone of conflicts.
    The second phase is the discovery of crude oil and gas, and the subdequent inhuman and unconscionable exploration and production processes.
    The third is the environmental degradation occassioned by oil and gas exploration activities, which destroyed the livelihoods of the peoples of the Niger delta and thus exacerbated the crisis.
    The fourth is the emergence of the Niger delta resistance in its modern form. Ofcourse even in period of oil palm the peoples of the delta resisted the military expeditions to conquer them. The modern resistance can also be traced back to the 12 days revolution of Isaac Adaka Boro in 1966.
    All the recent expressions of that resistance since the 1980′s have derived inspiration from that bold attempt.
    It is important to note that to resolve the Niger delta crisis requires a comprehensive and integrated approach which combines economic, environmental, livelihoods, social and political initiatives.
    Without an end to environmental degrading processes, without the restoration of the health of the environment through its rehabilitation; without pursuit of a process which focuses on livelihoods restoration and enhancement; without a massive publics works program which focuses on rebuilding and making available basic infrastructures and services in the Delta, targetting environmental rehabilitation, provision of affordable housing, roads, transportation, education, health services, and using direct labour of youths; without putting in place a political structure and process which deliberates encourages and ensures the adequate representation of the peoples of the delta in local and national governance; there can be no resolution of the crisis.
    What this means is that the military approach will not help, it will further compound the crisis. What is called for is the development approach, the restructured state becoming leading directly the devlopment process and directly provisioning the basic needs of the people through accessible social services provision.
    To achieve this requires mass organising and mobilising of a scale greater than it was in the last 2 decades of the last century.
    This requires a pan niger delta organisation which will drive a pan niger delta movement for social transformation.
    This pan niger delta movement should work towards establishing a pan niger delta assembly which will negotiate with the Nigerian state.
    All of these calls for the Reconstitution and reformation of the Pan Niger Delta Resistsnce Movement – CHIKOKO.
    This is the time to act. Once again we need to scientific, organised, conscious and massive return to the streets and creeks.
    Let us mobilise the masses into the streets and let us silence the guns and reverse the militarization of the Niger Delta.
    A coordinated campaign which daily expresses itself on the streets of the Niger delta, simultaneously across the region, with eachj state and ethnic nationality establishing its own assemblies for the coordination of the protests, and with each of these sending delegates to a pan niger delta assembly will win the battle for us.
    I CHALLENGE EVERYONE INTERESTED IN WINNING THE BATTLE FOR RESOURCE CONTROL AND SELF DETERMINATION IN THE NIGER DELTA TO HEED THIS CALL, TO COME TOGETHER AND MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

    YES WE CAN!

  8. mobo agbi said on July 17th, 2008 at 1:44am #

    stopfightindelta

  9. Henri Ikah said on July 28th, 2008 at 6:50am #

    Am reall impressed by your vast knowledge on the niger Delta crisis in Nigeria. I would want to tap from your wealth of knowledge.Am presently an Msc student and would love to know your opinion if proliferation of arms in the niger Delta would lead to national insecurity and als the role of globalization in the proliferation of arms in the niger delta. i hope you can be of help.Thanks and take care.

  10. Baba Aye said on November 24th, 2008 at 12:42pm #

    I have not yet read this article as I was actually browsing with regards to a something else, but will bookmark it for the next few days reading. I was however of the opinion that the issue of “tribe” as a category being okay, because some of the people it is used to describe are proud of it is not only unscientific, it is as well patronizing. I hardly hear people talk about the Welsh, Irish or Bavarian tribe…is it because they understand its atavistic nature while the Kenyans socialized through nuanced education that filtered trough the modernizationist histories of the Trevor-ropers are ready meat for such s**t?

  11. kahar said on March 16th, 2009 at 2:51pm #

    Baba Aye, I think this point and the use of language is quite interesting. The term “clan” is used for the various Scottish families and their descendents but the english word “tribe” is a derogatory term reserved exclusively in reference to people of color. Not only is it used in the case of Africa/Africans but you will find it also used in the western press to demean Iraqis and also Arabs in general, because they are so primitive and stupid you see. The word “asheera” is an arabic word which I instinctively most closely translate to “clan”, not “tribe”. Why is the word “tribe” preferred by the western press? Well if you think about it, the catch phrases “tribal war” and “primitive tribes” pop into your head instantly at the mention of that word, because all of the mass media repeat these phrases over and over again all the time..

  12. Barry99 said on March 16th, 2009 at 4:21pm #

    ‘Tribe’ has been a term in disfavor in the West for several decades now. One problem is the lack of suitable replacement terms. A common one by anthropologists is ‘population group.’ A rather flavorless term, no?. ‘Clan’ of course, in anthropology usually refers to extended families – and so the people the author spent time with may very well be in clans but were identifying themselves in a larger population group (here goes – tribe). Urbanites in Africa are less likely to think in these terms but in rural areas – which constitutes most of Africa, the term ‘tribe’ is common in some (many?) areas. Have they internalized the European terminology/ideology? Or have they redefined the term for themselves?

  13. bozh said on March 16th, 2009 at 4:31pm #

    barry,
    try “ethnos”. “tribe” is dysphemestic. or use slav “pleme” from which derives the word “plemenit”, meaning noble/honest, etc. tx

  14. Barry99 said on March 16th, 2009 at 5:50pm #

    Bozh – They sound fine, I suppose and I would try most anything – but I don’t have any influence over changing terminology in scientific disciplines or society at large.

  15. MARXIST KOLA EDOKPAYI said on June 4th, 2009 at 5:07am #

    Since the inception of Yar Adua’s era, suffer me to say that national and economic problems have become worse and the contunuation of Nigeria as a nation is being threatened and jeopardised, standard of living have deteriorated beyond wildest dreams while his programme of action(seven points agenda) do not improve and are not capable of improving situation. Seven points agenda of Our president is a monumental disaster,there is no way Nigeria can be one of the 20 biggest economies by the year 2020 where corruption is legalised, development of the underdevelopment is exercerbated by the political robber and , the exploiters of the weak, When about 70% of my people live below poverty line yet Our legislooters are given #114,000 each day for feeding allowance whereas majority of the masses cannot feed with #100 a day. Niger Delta issue cannot be resolved and be solved by the presidential weakling. President Umaru Yar adua.
    Scientifically and rationally speaking, Yar adua’s era is the continuation of dictator Olusegun Obasanjo inglorious and capitalist regime.

    Army teaches a lesson in Niger Delta again by invading villages, death toll in the fighting has risen to over 200, with about 15 persons reportedly killed. They ARE mainly innocent women and children who were killed in the invasion. This is tantamount to the Odi genocide of November 1999 in which the sadistic then president order the invasion of Odi. I dont think any so called militant was killed.
    Let me run through the pages of history of Niger Delta struggle
    Even before the 1967-1970 civil war there was a fruitless attempt by a group of Ijaw ethnic minority youth – the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) then led by Isaac Adaka Boro, to secede from Nigeria, by declaring the Niger Delta Republic in February 1966 in a bid to protect “Ijaw oil”Shortly before the eruption of the civil war in 1967 between Biafra led by Ojukwu in the Eastern region, the four regions of Nigeria (North, East, West and Midwest) had been abolished and replaced with twelve states, three of which were in the ethnic minority regions of the Niger Delta. From 12 states in 1967, Nigeria currently has 36.
    Apart from the state-creation exercise, the method of oil revenue allocation also changed over time. The share of oil revenues allocated to the minority rich oil-producing states of the Niger Delta fell from 50 per cent in 1966 to 1.5 per cent in the mid-1990s. It then rose to 13 per cent in 1999..
    Since the 1990s, the indigenous peoples or ethnic minorities of the oil-rich Niger Delta have protested against the exploitation and pollution of their lands and waters by international oil companies operating in partnership with the Nigerian state oil company – the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Notable among the social movements and ethnic minority organisations that embarked upon a national and international campaign against the state-oil partnership in the 1990s was the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), led anOgoni rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. He was hanged on 10 November 1995 along with eight other Ogoni activists on the orders of a military-constituted tribunal that found them guilty of inciting a mob to kill four of the “pro-government” Ogoni elite, after a trial that was described internationally as unfair and ridiculous.
    Nevertheless, the crisis in the Niger Delta is exemplary of how environmental and economic degradation has led to a violent response infused with cultural solidarity. Nigeria’s history is one of long running environmental, economic and cultural exploitation. Resources are essential to the Nigerian economy; oil accounting for 90% of exports and 80% of government revenue. Nigeria, today, earns about $7.09 billion annually from crude oil. Success in the oil industry has earned Nigeria the title of the 11th nation to join OPEC in 1971. But according to UNDP, although Nigeria is one of the world’s leading oil producers, it ranks 151st out of 177 of the world’s poorest countries. Nationally, 50 to 80 million people are living below the poverty line. In the Niger Delta, the foci of oil production, 72% of households live below the poverty line. A nation with such abounding resources should not be facing an economic crisis that has persisted since its liberation in 1960. The Nigerian federal government, in cohorts with oil multinationals, works collaboratively to maintain such bourgeois ideals. Meanwhile, Niger Deltans continue to economically vegetate in an evolving global corporate market. Perhaps these conditions begin to make more sense when we acknowledge that 10% of the country controls 40.8% of the country’s wealth. Indeed, the ruling hands of the elite are to blame. While some insist that oil money can be used to facilitate the launching of future development plans, the progression towards development remains stagnant. It is a shameful thing that Nigeria sells a liter of fuel higher to its citizen than any other oil producing countries. As we have seen so many times before, there is a conflict in the capitalist agenda. It is clear that the demand for fuel is about 31 million litres per day Owing to the government ineptitude,our refineries now produced 6 million litres leaving a huge gap of about 25 million litres.
    To meet this lacuna,the government contracted companies in spain which is not an oil producing state to refine petroleum products for Nigerian market.The cost of refining oil is always high compare to the countries that refine their products in their countries. This is laughable.
    In fact, Nigeria under the parochial leadership of political weakling Yar adua is approaching spiritual death and war. The blood is these innocent citizens is on his hand.
    A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
    Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war.
    John F. Kennedy.
    The people the government call militants are nothing but human rights activists who felt depressed and exasperated by the incessant development of the underdevelopment of their regions by successive administration. They have no other means than to subscibe or result to armed struggle.
    Niger Deltans carrying arm is not new, even Nelson Mandela subscribe to arm struggle when Umkhonto we Sizwe (or MK), translated “Spear of the Nation,” was the active military wing of the African National Congress in cooperation with the South African Communist Party in their fight against the South African apartheid government. MK launched its first guerrilla attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and media, and banned. Like MEND and others are labeled as militant groups by the Nigerian government, who have chosen to be the enemies of the people and exploiters of weak.
    Yar adua should face trials for violating the human rights of the people; for violating the rules of law; and for ordering a full scale military operation in a civilian domain.
    I am using this medium to call on the Nigerian masses to come together under one political platform and wage a marxist revolution in which the bourgeosie, political vampires, enemies of the people shall be overthrown violently and that will mark the inauguration of socialism in Nigeria. For this time calls for revolution. With SOCIALISM, the Niger Delta and Nigerian problems will be solve.
    From the blind passion of those that worship power May allah Saves Our country
    Marxist Kola Edokpayi

  16. Derry Opukiri said on July 7th, 2009 at 7:03am #

    an interesting read. it is pitiful on the part of president ya ar adua to think he can solve the problems in the region by creating a ministry of the niger delta. if the nddc and other ministries could not what makes him think this will succeed? it will rather lead to further disintegration as other ethnicities will agitate for same treatment. all in all, God help us.

  17. ALWELL OWUPELE said on November 3rd, 2009 at 4:50am #

    The nigerian government is never sincere.The programs they claim to have put in place to avert the impending crisis in the oil rich Niger delta is a mere illusion..a move to deceive the people so as to continue in their selfishness.The emergence of these militant groups is indeed a move backed up by haven.