Copy of a memo drafted by the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) of General Sani Abacha’s regime, which confirmed the death sentence on Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists in 1995. Highlights of the memo:
*Abacha said “no sympathy should be shown” to the condemned men, and the executions “would be a lesson for everybody”.
*The PRC admitted Ogoni grievances caused by previous government’s failure to bring development to the Ogoni area.
*Saro-Wiwa was described as “a separatist” masquerading as an environmentalist.
*The PRC overruled the concerns of one of its members who urged the government to delay the executions until after Abacha’s return from the Commonwealth Conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Ultimately Saro-Wiwa and the others were executed by hanging, while the Commonwealth Conference took place.
Great reports in the Guardian and by the UN showing that:
1) The pollution in the Niger Delta will cost $1 billion and take over 30 years to clean.
2) Friends of the Earth and some Niger Delta residents are suing Shell in the Hague, in the Netherlands.
Read the full report by the United Nations entitled “UN environmental assessment of Ogoniland – Executive Summary”, which details the devastating pollution in the Delta.
Another insightful article from the Economist asking what will become of the Niger Delta anmesty programme now that a ‘local’ man from the Delta (Goodluck Jonathan) is the President. Since the amnesty programme last year, there is little news of what became of the militants that accepted amnesty. Does the solution lie in getting international bodies like the United Nations to supervise the process?
For those that have not yet had a chance to see it, there is a very good documentary film about the Niger Delta oil crisis called “Sweet Crude”. You can watch a trailer of the film here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJIaremXipo – trailer
The film’s Director Sandy Cioffi was also interviewed and she shares some astute thoughts and recollections on the politics of oil in Nigeria. These include the not too pleasant experience of being arrested by Nigeria’s State Security Service.
If you want to be sent a DVD of the film, you can sign up on the film makers’ website at:
Ken Saro-Wiwa’s son Ken Wiwa came into the public limelight after Saro-Wiwa was executed in 1995. Father and son originally had a strained relationship while Saro-Wiwa was alive. However his father’s death politicised Ken Jr and he took on a more public role. In this interview, Saro-Wiwa’s son Ken talks about his father’s campaign against multi-national oil companies polluting his Ogoni homeland, his father’s execution and how his family has coped without his father.
For those who missed it, there was an excellent documentary on Sky One on UK television last week regarding piracy and oil bunkering in the Niger Delta. Ross Kemp (yes – he formerly of Eastenders!) travelled to Nigeria in search of pirates operating off the waterways of Lagos, and of course in the nebulous creeks of the Niger Delta. This was part of his “In Search of Pirates” TV show.
This programme had some distressing scenes. Kemp went into Ajegunle…some awful scenes of poverty there. The conditions that human beings live in Ajegunle is awful. Kemp highlights the awful pollution caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta, the commercial oil bunkering taking place there, interviews a ship owner who confesses that his crew are attacked by pirates several times a week, and manages to get an interview with Rivers State Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Note the scene in Amaechi’s breakfast room (clip 4) and contrast it with the slums of Ajegunle. Amaechi’s “breakfast room” looked more like the banquet hall of a Five Star hotel!
Niger Delta armed insurrection did not begin with MEND, Okah or Asari-Dokubo. Decades before them an Ijaw nationalist named Isaac Boro led an armed campaign for greater Niger Delta autonomy, resource control and self determination for the inhabitants of the Niger Delta. So who was Boro, and what was his story?
The Background of Isaac Adaka Boro
Boro was an Ijaw nationalist that burned within with passionate zeal to remedy the injustice that minority ethnicities in the Delta suffered in a Nigerian state dominated by the large ethnic groups. Boro noted that “most of the youths were so frustrated with the general neglect that they were ready for any action led by an outstanding leader to gain liberty…. we were clenched in tyrannical chains and led through a dark alley of perpetual political and social deprivation. Strangers in our own country! Inevitably, therefore, the day would have to come for us to fight for our long-denied right to self-determination”. He complained at the economic and material neglect of the Niger Delta:
“Economic development of the area is certainly the most appalling aspect. There is not even a single industry. The only fishery industry which ought to be situated in a properly riverine area is sited about 80 miles inland at Aba. The boatyard at Opobo had its headquarters at Enugu … Personnel in these industries and also in the oil stations are predominantly non-Ijaw,”
After briefly working as a teacher Boro joined the police and worked in Port Harcourt. However Boro’s maverick nature saw him go AWOL and start working as an instructor at the Man O’War Bay Character and Leadership Center in Victoria, Western Cameroon. He was fired from his police job for going AWOL.
Upon his return to Nigeria Boro enrolled at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to study chemistry. While there he became president of the students’ union. His itchy feet managed to stay at university for two years before he once again departed, this time on a tour to solicit support for the Ijaw cause. His journey saw him head to Ghana (in the company of Samuel Owonaru) to solicit financial aid for his mission to liberate and gain self autonomy for the people of the Niger Delta. He was also an admirer of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and made a stop at the Cuban embassy in Ghana to claim solidarity. However Boro and Owonaru’s appeals for Cuban support were unsuccessful and they were ejected from the embassy.
However Boro was not dissuaded. He and Owonaru returned home and with their comrade Nottingham Dick, and began to recruit young men to their cause under the umbrella of an organisation known as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF). They eventually set up a military camp at Taylor Creek. Their recruits were given training in the use of firearms and explosives in the creeks and bushes. Dick served as the “chief of army staff” and “adjutant”. Eventually they managed to muster a force of about 150 men split into three “divisions”.
On February 23, 1966 the three divisions moved out from their Touton Ban camp with Boro, Onwonaru and Dick as their divisional commanders. Before going into battle the troops were given a rallying call:
“ Today is a great day, not only in your lives, but also in the history of the Niger Delta. Perhaps, it will be the greatest day for a very long time. This is not because we are going to bring the heavens down, but because we are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression….Remember your 70 year old grandmother who still farms to eat, remember also your poverty stricken people and then, remember too, your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins, and then fight for your freedom”.
The NDVF men attacked a police station at Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some officers including the police officer in command of the station. They also blew up oil pipelines, engaged the police in a gunfight and declared the Niger Delta an independent republic. The revolt was suppressed and Boro, Owonaru and Dick were put on trial on a 9 count charge of treason at Port Harcourt Assizes before Judge Phil Ebosie. Boro was found guilty. Before sentencing Boro made an impassioned plea of defiance. He claimed that his people:
“had long sought a separate state not because they loved power but because their conditions were peculiar and the authorities did not understand their problems. There is nothing wrong with Nigeria. What is wrong with us is the total lack of mercy in our activities.”
DEATH AND BEYOND
Despite his plea Boro was sentenced to death by hanging. In the melee of crisis and conflict in 1966 Nigeria, the sentence was not carried out and he was pardoned by then Nigerian Head of State General Gowon. When war broke out in 1967, Boro surprisingly enlisted and fought on the side of the federal Nigerian forces against whom he campaigned. He was killed in action on May 17, 1968 aged just 32. He was buried in Lagos at the Ikoyi cemetery. His widow Georeie Deyeha Adaka Boro is still alive. She was pregnant with their child Deborah when her husband was killed, and gave birth to Deborah after her husband’s death.
The old adage states that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In Nigeria’s Niger Delta the armed gangs who have mounted a years’ long armed campaign against the Nigerian federal government have so far been tagged “militants” despite a sustained campaign of vandalism against oil installations and kidnapping which has badly disrupted Nigeria ‘s oil production and contributed to spiralling global oil prices.
Despite their activities, the armed gangs responsible for these attacks have not been dubbed “terrorists”. In today’s post September 11 dichotomy, being labelled a terrorist organisation is a death knell and would cripple their struggle. Perhaps the gangs have been able to avoid the terrorist yoke because there is genuine sympathy for their cause in Nigeria and abroad.
OIL, “BLACK GOLD” AND THE NIGER DELTA GRIEVANCES
While daily oil drilling and gas flaring causes oil spills which pollute their water supplies, kill their crops, poison their lungs, disrupt their daily life and stunt their children’s development, the residents of the Delta have little to show for the “black gold” and billions of dollars of oil revenue pumped from their lands. The spectacular sums of money derived from the Niger Delta are evident in the lavish six lane highways and skyscrapers in Abuja and Lagos that were built with the blood and sacrifice of Niger Delta lands and communities.
THE DERIVATION FORMULA
Under Nigeria ‘s constitution, mineral resources (including oil) belong to the federal government. However the principle of derivation states that a certain percentage of oil revenues produced by a state is returned to the state from which the oil was obtained. This is meant to “compensate” the state from which the oil was obtained. When substantial amounts of oil first started being pumped in southern Nigeria in the late 1960s, 50% of revenues from oil were remitted back to the state of origin. However the increasingly powerful federal government and military regimes gradually decreased the derivation percentage until it fell to a miserly 2%. It was eventually raised to 13% by the time civilian democratic rule returned in 1999. The oil-producing states of Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, and Akwa Ibom, received twice as much oil revenue as the other states of the federation. Yet those four states are no better off (and in many cases are worse off) than their counterparts elsewhere that survive on a fraction of the revenue.
THE DELTA: A HISTORY OF REVOLT AND INJUSTICE
Niger Delta agitation for a fairer distribution of oil revenues is nothing new. As far back as February 1966, a former police officer from the Delta named Jasper Adaka Boro was leading a rebellion on behalf of the Niger Delta. Boro recruited 40 men into an organisation known as the Niger Delta Volunteer Force. Boro gave his men training in the use of firearms and explosives in the creeks and bushes. On February 23, 1966 the men attacked a police station at Yenagoa, raided the armoury and kidnapped some officers including the police officer in command of the station. They also blew up oil pipelines, engaged the police in a gunfight and declared the Niger Delta an independent republic. The revolt was suppressed and Boro and his men were sentenced to death (the sentence was not carried out).
KEN SARO-WIWA AND MOSOP
In the 1990s Ken Saro-Wiwa attempted a more peaceful agitation for compensation for environmental damage caused by oil drilling and a greater slice of oil revenues. Saro-Wiwa’s charisma and appeal for greater autonomy struck a dangerous nerve with Nigeria’s then military regime which brooked no opposition and was hyper-sensitive to any threat or challenge (real and imagined) to its control of oil resources. Saro-Wiwa and his followers were sentenced to death by a Civil Disturbances Special Tribunal and hanged.
THE MODERN DAY STRUGGLE
With Nigeria returning to civilian democratic rule in 1999, the latent frustrations that were brutally suppressed by past military regimes were released as increasingly confident Niger Delta youths began an armed campaign and demand for greater control of the oil resources from their land.
Unlike armed resistance movements in other countries, the Niger Delta gangs are not one organization operating under a common leadership with unified ideology. There is no central chain of command like the IRA had or clearly defined political ideal. Rather the gangs are a loose eclectic mix of several aggrieved armed factions like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force. The gangs’ modus operandi is reminiscent of other armed groups and guerrilla armies around the world. They operate and place themselves in the midst of heavily populated civilian areas, making it difficult to distinguish fighter and civilian. They also take advantage of their superior knowledge of dangerous and inhospitable home terrain.
Their shadowy nature is an asset and a hindrance. While their mystique makes their detection and suppression difficult for the Nigerian security forces, it has also made them faceless and prevented them from making political progress. They lack a single articulate spokesperson who can speak for their cause such as a Gerry Adams or Yasser Arafat. The multi-headed militant hydra is not easy for outsiders to understand. This is where they are in dangerous territory.
The gangs’ activities has brought the issue of the Niger Delta to the world’s attention and has made it a major political issue within Nigeria. However while the public are vaguely aware of the Niger Delta issue, the gangs have been abysmal at articulating their demands. The Delta militants have failed miserably to turn publicity gains into political gains. Several years into their campaign, the derivation formula remains pegged at 13% and there not nearer to achieving any of their objectives.
Despite the disruption to oil supplies, the Delta violence benefits the government in a financially perverse way. Continued attacks on oil installations by the militants disrupts the global oil market and drives prices higher. Higher oil prices equals more money for the federal government. The federal government is therefore able to sustain a localized low intensity conflict for years without an existential threat to Nigeria or its control over other areas of the country.
The hidden danger is that if the status quo does not change, the gangs will be tempted to become increasingly daring and amplify their violence. This could emerge by way of a spectacular mass casualty attack or by extending their operations to non-riverine areas and major population centres like Lagos and Abuja. Should they do so, the Nigerian army’s hands are tied. If they retaliate with massive force, they will incur heavy civilian casualties and exacerbate the crisis. The IRA and Palestinian groups used the intensification of violence as a political tool. Originally operating almost exclusively within Northern Ireland, the IRA took its bombing campaign to the streets of England in cities like Birmingham and London and in two separate failed attacks, nearly succeeded in assassinating the entire leadership of the English government. The Palestinians of Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades similarly decided to take their struggle from the alley ways of the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza into the streets of Israel . They carried out suicide bombings inside Israel as a way of bringing their grievances to the doorstep of every single Israeli.
The militants’ cause has also been hijacked by criminal gangs who kidnap the wives and infant children of civilian officials. Being tainted and associated with such elements makes the militants appear like bandits. The militants quite simply do not have enough firepower, numbers or political stroke to achieve their demands by armed struggle alone. Now that they have the federal government’s attention, they need to make the evolution that the ANC, IRA, and PLO made from armed rebels to political parties. The militants require a political wing and a skilled orator to present a human face for their struggle. If they rely on brawn alone…they will disappear like Boro and Saro-Wiwa.