Nigeria: Niger Delta crisis – collective working class action needed

JTF must end the occupation now!!

The continued attacks by the Joint Task Force (JTF) on some communities in Delta State have claimed hundreds of innocent citizens while thousands others have been chased out of their homes. As we write, the JTF is moving from one community to another bombarding and destroying properties and lives. One eyewitness account of the senseless and brutish attacks on Oporoza community in the Gbaramatu kingdom as reported by the BBC reveals, “The helicopter gunships hovered low over a crowded street, where people had gathered to celebrate an annual festival, and opened fire with machine guns and rockets.”

JTF claimed that they were after the militants who had abducted 12 soldiers and held 15 other persons hostage. This cannot justify attacking defenceless citizens except that the military will prove to Nigerians that all residents of Oporozo are militants. The action of the JTF is nothing but a pogrom and the military high command should be tried for genocide.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) hereby calls for an immediate halt of these senseless attacks and for the JTF to withdraw from all Niger Delta communities.

The House of Representatives has given the JTF the go ahead with the attacks not just in Delta State, but other Niger Delta states; this is condemnable and unfortunate. The level of desperation of a section of the ruling elite to sustain the huge privileges and looting made possible by the oil wealth of the Niger Delta reflects in the argument put forward by a member of the House, Bala N’ Allah that suggests that all Niger Deltans should be wiped off for all other Nigerians to survive. Such position suggests that it does not matter what happens in the Niger Delta, what is paramount is for the main factions of the ruling elite is that crude oil exploration and production continues so they can continue looting petro-dollars. That explains why the region can never be developed under the present ruling elite.

The potential for the escalation of crises in Niger Delta became high when the militants attacked the Bonga Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) on Thursday June 19, 2008 belonging to Shell Petroleum leading to a loss of about 225, 000 barrels per day. This speaks volume considering the fact that Bonga oil field is located about 120 kilometres (65 miles) offshore Nigeria territorial waters in the gulf of Guinea, and had been considered out of reach of militant groups. After the attack, whose responsibility was claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND,) characteristically the federal government ordered further militarization of the Niger Delta and consequently 2 small frigates (NNS Nwamba and NNS Ologbo) were deplored to the Bonga oil field. Subsequently, the presidency gave the top echelon of the military the go ahead to procure more weapons and warships from Asia in order to consolidate the militarization of the region.

How one would explain the swift military reaction to the attack in comparison with the very slow developmental programs for the Niger Delta people? This is because attacks on oil installations threaten the level of income that guarantees the self serving ruling elite of their continued privileges and looting. Besides, as we have always argued, acts of individual terrorism or the sabotage of installations, like the method adopted by the Niger Delta militants, accords government the excuse to increase spending on defence at the expense of development programme and at the same unleash state terror on defenceless communities under the guise of fighting militants. In the past, there had been similar military attack on Odi and Zaki Biam communities under the guise of looking for few killers of some soldiers.

In response to the ongoing attacks on communities in Delta state, MEND has started making good on its threat to attack major pipelines in the region with the attack on pipeline in Abiteye area of Delta state. This has led to shut-in of about 100, 000 barrels per day of Chevron’s production. Some experts have estimated the total loss of revenue as a result of militants’ attacks and the unrest in the Niger Delta to $1billion a month. Between 2005 and 2006 the total shut-in production as a result of violence was between 500, 000 and 700, 000 barrels per day while in the last one year the shut-in production is at 1.4 million barrels per day.

According to the Africa Development Bank (ADB), Nigeria’s total earning from crude oil was about $600 billion in the past 45 years and yet what we have in the region is unmitigated misery and poverty. Oil exploration that was supposed to be a blessing to the people has become a source of nightmare with farmlands for farming and water for fishing that used to be the economic mainstay of the people have been rendered useless by oil spillage and environmental pollution. The aquatic life is also seriously at risk. The emission of gas to the air through gas flaring is hazardous and has a negative impact on the ecosystem. Despite the huge developmental challenges in the Niger Delta and other parts of the federation, we have bold and thieving ruling elite that have stolen $400 billion between 1960 and 1999 according to the UN.

The spate of attacks and hostage taking has become so frequent to the extent many observers would have lost count. The ruling elite have called for peace so that, according to them, they can carry out developmental programme whereas there is no concrete effort that indicates any seriousness for any investment on the people. Give them 1,000 more years and the people will get 1,000 more years of deplorable conditions. Take a look at the federal budget that is about half of the total budget for the whole country (federal, state and local government); it says much about the government’s resolve to keep the people in perpetual misery. This year capital budget for defence is N46 billion; it is much more than the capital budget for education and will be largely used to prosecute the Niger Delta war. On paper some funds have been earmarked for development but in reality these resources have ended in private pockets. As the resources are voted so also we have consultants taking their share; contractors inflating contracts; politicians both in the Niger Delta region and beyond engage in outright looting of the funds and at the end of day development eludes the people.

Armed struggle

The essence of the struggle should be geared towards protecting the resources from pilferage and exploitation by the multinationals and the self-serving ruling elite. In this vain, destruction of oil installations and kidnapping and killing of oil workers whether expatriates or indigenous are acts of individual terrorism and anti-working people. All struggles in the Niger Delta should be geared towards mobilizing all strata of the oppressed, which include oil workers, non-oil workers and community people with the solidarity of the working people in other regions, the rank and file police and military to defend the exploitation of the oil and the oppression of the people. This should also entail taking up arms if necessary to defend themselves from military aggression but all methods and strategies must be under democratic control of the people and not on the basis of militancy of isolated youths who are not under the control of the people. Will it not be better for the oil workers in solidarity with other workers in both the Niger Delta and other regions to down tool alongside other methods in order to defend the interest of people rather than this anarchy of destructions from the militants and military?

The peaceful approaches to the marginalization of the Niger Delta in the past, such as demonstrations, were met with ruthless force from the police and military under the guardianship of the ruling elite and the oil companies. Many peaceful protesters including women and children were brutally repressed. The gruesome state murder of Ken Saro-wiwa and others in 1995 is still fresh in our memory. This has made youths in the region to lose confidence on any measure that will bring attention to their plight other than through violence. Besides, the long history of neglect by government and pillage by the multinational oil companies have thrown up millions of able but unemployed youths who are prepared to take up arms against the government and oil multinationals.

As much as we support the struggle of the Niger Deltans, including their democratic right to secede from Nigeria, if that is the wish of the majority of the masses of the region, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) completely frowns at hostage taking, kidnapping and all other individual terrorist activities. This is because it erroneously presents the militants as liberators among the masses and thus stunts the development of mass struggle by working class and poor, the only force that can defeat oppression and take control of resources out of the hands of the rich. Besides, any act of individual terrorism creates basis for government to spend more resources on arms and ammunition to unleash state terror on the working people under the pretext of fighting the militants.

However, we in the DSM are not pacifists. We, in fact, even support the right of the masses and youth to defend themselves with arms where and when necessary against unjust attacks by the capitalist state and its neo-fascist gangs of secret cults etc. However, the best of armed struggle is the one that constitutes a part of the pan Nigerian mass movement of workers, poor masses and youths against the iniquitous capitalism and imperialism the country.

Resource control and true federalism

Some public commentators, militants and even the Niger Deltan politicians have clamoured for resources control and fiscal federalism as a way out of the crisis. Obviously, the kind of resources control they clamour for is the type that gives more funds – say 50% or more. Such resource control is nothing but ‘more rent taking’. This is because the Nigerian state is not in control of the oil exploration and production. Those in control of the resources are the multinational companies who make more money from the exploration than the country and only pay rent. Besides, in the last 9 years huge funds accrued to the states and local governments in the Niger Delta Region in addition to the one gotten by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have been largely mismanaged and looted as virtually all the governors in the region have been indicted for corruption. The NDDC an interventionist organization just like the previous one (Oil and Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission – OMPADEC) has become another conduit pipe for looting with little to show for its 7 year existence despite receiving over N110 billion so far. Hence, the story will not be different if the ruling elite in the Niger Delta control virtually all the resources as against the present situation. So the new Niger Delta Ministry is another siphon of public resources by the thieving ruling elite.

Often calls for resource control and true federalism are just slogans manipulated by rival sections of the ruling elite as they look for a better share of the loot. For the simple fact that more of the resources are controlled by the states does not guarantee that it will be managed in the interest of the people, a case study is what takes place in all the states of the federation. The only resources control that is sustainable and meaningful is the one controlled by the working people who create this wealth. Therefore, oil industry must be nationalized and put under democratic control and management of organized structures of workers and the communities.

Working class socialist solution

The only way forward is for workers and peasants in the region to begin to build a movement in close collaboration with the working people of other regions and the rank and file of the military/police in order to bring the resources of the region including the oil exploration activities under democratic control and management of the working people This will ensure that resources are committed to rebuilding the entire region in terms of providing more schools, hospitals, roads etc., in total satisfaction of the needs of the people.

The labour movement should have a coherent position in support of the genuine agitation for development of Niger Delta. In absence of this, workers and the poor outside the Niger Delta may support the federal government’s military action to prevent a small minority of Nigeria’s population seizing control over the country’s main source of wealth. We have seen a similar situation with the latest fighting in Sri Lanka where, due to the promise to end over 25 years of bloody civil war and because of the weakness of the labour movement, most of the majority Sinhalese population have supported the government’s offensive to militarily crush the minority Tamil Tigers. While not calling for separation, we call on the labour and pro-masses organizations to include the right to self-determination of people of Niger Delta and other areas in Nigeria in their programme.

The Niger Delta’s agitators themselves must be wary of giving the incorrect impression that it is the entire people of Nigeria, or particularly people from the North, that are responsible for the prostrate conditions of lives in the Niger Delta. Conscious efforts on a constant basis have to be made, to explain the fact that the agitations and restiveness in the Niger Delta are not based on the fact that the oil wealth is being used for the whole of Nigeria, but rather that only oil multinationals and a tiny layer of elements in corridors of power are looting most of this oil wealth. From this analysis, militants, activists and revolutionaries in the Niger Delta must champion a socio-economic arrangement where for the first time, this stupendous oil wealth can be truly used for the benefit of the working masses across the country

We call on the labour and pro-masses organizations to begin the building of a mass working class political party that will wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite in order to install a working peoples’ government run on socialist programme. It is only this that can guarantee, on the lasting basis, the commitment of public resources to meeting the basic needs and aspirations of the working people as well as development of in the Niger Delta and the rest of the country.

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June 2009