Nigeria: imperialist plunder impeded

Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude oil exporter, shipping 42% of its oil to the US and 19% to the EU in 2006, and overtaking Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to become the third largest oil exporter to the US. However, exports from Nigeria have been cut by up to 40% since 2003 through the actions of armed groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) which are demanding greater benefits from and local control of the wealth generated by oil production, and insisting that foreign oil companies leave the country. Over this period, thousands of foreign oil workers have fled, and more than 150 have been taken hostage in the last eight months alone.

Although the origins of MEND lie in the local corrupt Niger Delta elites, there are signs that the organisation has been moving in a more progressive direction, breaking its links with corrupt politicians it has previously defended. In July 2007, MEND was quoted as saying that ‘companies are moving away from the Niger-Delta region...The same companies...have been there for nearly 50 years and what have we got from their presence? Pollution and menial jobs for the people of the Delta. They will not be missed. As long as there is oil, I assure you, they will return at our terms... The temporary exit of these dubious oil companies is a very small price to pay for freedom.’ The southern Niger Delta region is where all of Nigeria’s oil is extracted, generating 95% of government revenues.

MEND is a loose coalition of militants who operate with sections of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the Martyr’s Brigade and others. From 1999, non-violent organisations, such as the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), emerged to lead the ‘struggle for self-determination’ in the Delta. However, the IYC split into factions following a leadership crisis. Asari Dokubo, one of its leaders, went on to establish the NDPVF, denouncing the peaceful methods of the IYC as ineffective. Although Asari and the NDPVF declared ‘war’ on the Nigerian government in October 2004, they promised not to damage the oil installations themselves, and subsequently agreed to disarm and were paid up to N400m ($3.2m). Asari was at one time a hired thug for Peter Odili, ex-governor of oil-rich Rivers State in the Delta who embezzled N200bn ($1.6bn) in state oil revenues. Asari was later arrested and imprisoned on treason charges for 21 months. In February 2006, the government bombed villages in the western Delta killing several civilians, a trigger for the formation of MEND.

At present MEND is directing its attacks at imperialism’s main representatives in Nigeria – the oil companies. Sophisticated attacks on heavily guarded facilities since February 2006 in the Western Delta region have forced the Warri and Kaduna refineries to shut down. Oil multinationals have been compelled to pull out staff and stop production in many parts of the region. Nigeria has lost an estimated $16bn in export revenues between December 2005 and April 2007. In July 2007, Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell claimed to have lost $1.3bn a month or $23bn since early 2006. Alongside MEND’s actions, state-supported gangs and militias have ravaged large parts of the region with killings, rapes, extortion and shootings, as they act on behalf of local factions of the bourgeoisie.

What’s behind the militancy?

The growth of organised resistance has been sparked by the plunder of the Delta region’s massive oil resources by imperialist companies such as Shell, the associated pollution, and the rampant corruption of both local and national political leaders. Between June 1999 and April 2007, oil revenues amounting to N2.4 trillion ($19.2bn) have been embezzled by the southern leaders, and most Nigerians, especially in the Niger Delta, live in squalor, with no access to clean drinking water, electricity, schools, paved roads, medicines or even shelter.

In 1999, 2003 and again in 2007, following decades of direct military rule, politicians in the Niger Delta recruited and armed unemployed youth to intimidate their political opponents and rig the elections. Oil company executives provided cash and logistics for their favoured candidates. According to former vice president Atiku Abubakar, there was an agreement in 1999 that the presidency would ‘rotate’ after eight years between ‘North’ and ‘South’. When former president Olusegun Obasanjo broke this to run for a third term after 2007, sections of Nigeria’s ruling class descended into open warfare with Obasanjo and Abubakar and their supporters accusing each other of ‘corruption’.

One of MEND’s demands was for the release of two corrupt local leaders, Diepreye Alamieyesiegha and Mujahid Asari Dokubo. Alamieyesiegha is the former governor of oil-rich Bayelsa State, who looted over $6m into British, US and French banks. He is an ally of vice president Abubakar and so opposed Obasanjo’s third term agenda and was subsequently gaoled for 12 years for embezzlement. Both he and Asari were released by July 2007. In a further sign of its political development, MEND has broken its links with Asari, describing him as a ‘charlatan’, and now describe the release of the politicians as ‘peripheral to the main issue’. There are seemingly different trends involved in MEND some of which are responding to pressures from below and are beginning to articulate the demands of the poorest sections of the Delta. Protests and occupations of oil platforms by unarmed women and villagers receive little media attention but have become daily occurrences.

Meanwhile the Nigerian government has attempted to maintain ‘economic activity’ in the Niger Delta, that is, the continued plunder of the oil resources together with a massive privatisation of state assets. The Delta is permanently under heavy military occupation with police, army, navy and State Security Service (SSS) officers guarding oil facilities. The Nigerian security forces also use rape to intimidate communities in the Niger Delta and as a means of torture to extract confessions from suspects in custody. The Nigerian government plans to import $2bn worth of arms to crush the militants.

Imperialists arm Nigerian military
Shell secretly approached the US military in March 2006 to see if it could intervene in the Delta to ‘protect our investments’. The Gulf of Guinea Energy Security Strategy (GGESS) was established in 2005 by the US and Britain, with Canada, Norway, Netherlands and Switzerland as ‘observers’. In December 2005 the US announced it would install a navy maritime spy facility in the island of Sao Tome and Principe. US and British instructors have also been training Nigerian military personnel at the Jaji Military College in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. On 30 August 2006, the US and Britain agreed to provide assistance and a network of radar and communication facilities to assist Nigerian security forces in monitoring territorial waters.

With an era of perpetual war predicted in the Middle East and oil and gas industries being nationalised in Latin America, the imperialists have been searching for diversity of supply, and Africa is being resurrected as a major alternative source. Hence the crocodile tears over Darfur – a prelude to invading Sudan. The US has set up an African Command, Africom, a major military presence in the Gulf of Guinea, to secure access to West African energy reserves. This will begin operations in October 2007. Whilst it is not yet clear what final political direction MEND and its allies will take, anti-imperialists must support their demand for an end of imperialist plunder of Nigeria’s oil resources.
Charles Chinweizu

FRFI 199 October / November 2007