By Hassan Ansah for World Issues 360
Nigerian Delta Crises fumed by Global influences
Tensions still seem to be running high in the southern Niger Delta region a year after Nigeria held its third national elections since the end of the military rule in 1999. A number of rebel groups have begun allying themselves to local politicians with national political aspirations. Many claim that these groups and others continue to manipulate legitimate grievances, such as poverty, environmental destruction and government corruption, in order to justify the increasingly destructive attacks against oil industry and government targets. With the growing global energy crises effecting everything from airline tickets to food cost, this problem surely needs deeper restructuring from economic powers such as the United States and Great Britain.
Would removing the incentives for violence require granting a greater degree of resource control to the local villages? It seems as if engaging the rebel groups in sustained, transparent dialogue remains a critical factor in finding a workable and balanced solution to the militant issue.
Demands from rebels have included the creation of additional states for Ijaws (the dominant Tribe in the Delta region), amenities and jobs for rural communities, contracts and oil concessions for local political leaders, and even calls for secession. One spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ( MEND), one of the largest and best organized of the rebel organizations, states that his organizations goal is to attain resource regulation concessions or simply wreak chaos in the region.
Attacks since January of 2006 have at times forced oil production shutdowns of up to 700,000 barrels per day, threatening the Nigerian Government plans to nearly double oil production to four million barrels a day by 2012. Only a small fraction of those production losses have actually been offset by these recent offshore developments. Only two companies with actual foreign shareholders signaled in August 2007 that they would be withdrawing from the Niger Delta due to the increasing security concerns. This would have a tremendous effect on an already fragile global energy crises.
It seems that the most effectual strategy in the rebel’s arsenal is the growing discontent among the areas’ twenty million inhabitants. After more than seven years of civilian rule, officials at the local, state, and federal levels are perceived to have failed to give forth tangible economic and social reforms for the regions disenfranchised residents. Rebel groups have largely seemed to be negligent concerning the incremental governing standards begun since 2004 and are succeeding in drawing upon the discontent against a pervasively ineffective system of governance inherited from the military era. Rebel groups have been able to win sufficiently broad support to operate openly in most local communities and have been undeterred by the imprisonment of warlord Alhaji Dokubo-Asari. However that being said, the rebels have not been sufficiently organized or united to create a truly viable and effective separatist insurgency.<br>The April 2007 election was characterized by massive irregularities ranging from vote rigging, shabby preparation by the Independent National Electoral Commission and violence that was recorded in virtually all areas of Africa’s most populous country. So, right the start, new President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was dealing with a great handicap and his credibility severely dented. As fate would have it, over the past year he seems to have turned this to his advantage. He has found his own vision and a platform to express it. He has formed an electoral reform committee, charged with the responsibility of re-examining the nation’s electoral system and its processes to correct any obvious flaws. It would be difficult at best to assess whether or not he has failed in his delivery of such things as power generation, improved infrastructure, peace, security, and land reform because in all fairness its too early to assess.
Environmental concerns are increasing becoming tied to the concerns of the Delta’s insurgency and need to be independently addressed. Residents have long complained that leaking oil from out dated pipelines has devastated, not only the local farming areas, but the fishing industry as well. Western oil companies insist that the vast majority of spills have only occurred in recent years as a result of sabotage by local oil thieves and militia groups looking to extort compensation payments.
Resolving the Niger Delta crises will require a far more serious commitment on the part of the International community, Nigerian Government ,and the western oil companies in ensuring the energy industry operates humanly and transparently within the region. Without committed and sustainable reforms, the global community stands to lose.
To the Western Oil Companies:
Make the individual company project environmental impact assessment(EIA) research more assessable and transparent to local groups. Get community analysis before proceeding with infrastructure and other projects.
Abide by the decisions of international independent arbitration and court decisions looking into environmental claims.
Encourage corporate transparency by releasing detailed, reports of expenditures, including cost of development and payments to governments, community groups and contractors.
Abolish the host system of payments to political groups in favor of a system that deals with communities more holistically through ethnic and regional councils.
To the Nigerian Government:
Restructure or reform legislation such as the Petroleum Act and the Land Use Act that effectively deprive local residents of an ownership stake in land and resources.
Pass the proposed Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative bill to jump start recent oil and other mineral industry reforms.
Create a constitutional provision to abolish criminal immunity for the president and state governors, and encourage law enforcement bodies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to prosecute cases of local and state government corruption.
Create Negotiations with a broad-based delegation of Niger Deltans from the region’s various religious, ethnic, and civil groups.
To the United States, Donor Governments, and Global Community:
Create legislation that requires U.S based companies with overseas operations to publicly disclose all payments to foreign governments. This proposal should work in conjunction with the group of eight in order to provide international credibility to stimulating transparency efforts throughout Nigeria.
Make budget and expenditure transparency a priority for aid to the Nigerian government, as well as ending investments with local and state administrations that have failed to fight corruption.
Discourage heavy-handed military and police operations and facilitate peaceful negotiations between the Nigerian government and the Niger Delta groups.
Provide resources, information, and support for an independent environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Niger Delta as well as a credible, independent judicial mechanism in order to facilitate compensation claims ensuring the credibility of such an environmental assessment. This will also ensure that compensation is distributed transparently and benefits communities rather than benefiting the wallets of politicians, rebels, and traditional leaders.