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DELTA #3 1/12

  + Recent attacks on oil installations and widespread ethnic violence have
  rocked the Niger Delta, claiming the lives of 200 people, destroying whole
  settlements and causing damage estimated at $50 million.
  Frustration had been mounting in the oil producing communities about the
  lack of infrastructural development and continuing poverty in a region which
  provides most of the country's wealth. The people's inability to influence a
  distant, uninterested government, coupled with the disruption and distortion
  of the social fabric by oil companies, had compounded the tension felt by
  the marginalised communities. The relocation of a local council office from
  an Ijaw to an Itsekiri town sparked the crisis: Ijaw youths occupied flow
  stations in the oil rich Warri area, and a descent into ethnic violence
  began, lasting from March until May.
  Ijaw council relocation
  The Ijaws are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, with 3 million
  people spread over five southern states. Although much of Shell's oil
  production is on their land, the Ijaws are marginalised by nature of being a
  minority in all but one state in the Niger Delta and because oil company
  investment, negligible though it is, has been concentrated outside of most
  Ijaw communities. Warri town, which the Ijaws claim as theirs, hosts the
  western zone operational headquarters of Shell, Chevron and Texaco, and here
  the Itsekiris have sustained a political and economic advantage gained
  during the colonial period and particularly approaching Nigerian
  independence in 1960.
  Being numerically dominant in the Niger Delta, however, and keen for
  political recognition and self-determination, the Ijaws have a great
  potential to disrupt the company's flow of oil and the regime's flow of
  cash, something which the latter two are acutely aware of. Their
  mobilisation in Nembe in 1993-4 forced the regime and Shell to negotiate
  with them. The trade-off was the creation of new council areas under Ijaw
  control, thus giving the Ijaws the illusion of more power and bringing in a
  little money from the federal government.
  In December 1996 'Warri Central' was created by the Federal government, with
  headquarters in the deprived Ijaw town of Ogbe Ijoh. The regime tried to
  favour the Ijaws by locating the offices in Ogbe Ijoh, and at the same time
  favour the Itsekiris by using the name 'Warri', their power base. The Ijaws
  successfully built the headquarters and the administration began
  functioning. But the Olu (King) of Itsekiri, known to non-Ijaws as the Olu
  of Warri, pushed for the offices to be moved to his territory to stop the
  Ijaws asserting their influence.
  Nationwide local council elections were held on March 15 this year. At the
  same time, with ethnic tensions high due to the voting, the military
  administrator of Delta State, Col John Dungs, announced changes to the
  council area: some Itsekiri areas would be included and the headquarters
  would be relocated from Ogbe Ijoh to the Itsekiri village of Ogidigben -
  effectively turning the Ijaw council into an Itsekiri one. The Ijaws were
  furious and vowed to fight until "the last drop of our blood."
  Shell flow stations seized
  In a carefully-planned attack, up to 100 Ijaws overran, occupied and shut
  down six Shell flow stations in protest, and rapidly took control of the
  surrounding creeks. Oil production was cut by 90,000 barrels per day (bpd),
  10% of Shell's output from Nigeria and nearly 5% of the country's total,
  forcing Shell to declare force majeure. 127 Nigerian workers were taken
  hostage and some beaten in the occupations before negotiations secured their
  release from the Jones Creek and Egwa flow stations over the following week.
  The Itsekiris reacted by attacking Ijaw businesses and buildings in Warri
  town. They burnt down the homes of several Ijaw leaders including former
  Information Minister Edwin Clark, whose bodyguard was killed, and destroyed
  a market. Ijaws then went on the rampage in the riverine areas, ambushing
  boats carrying oil workers and taking over the waterways completely.
  Supplies to Shell and Chevron were cut off, with the latter forced to shut
  down three of its flow stations for a weekend. 
  Youths from both sides then started attacking each other's settlements in a
  spiral of violence. The Ijaws burnt down and destroyed Ugbuwagwo, Gbogodo
  and Ebrohimi, killing five and kidnapping an oil service company site
  manager, and Itsekiris burnt down several villages and kidnapped and killed
  Ijaws living or working in their midst.
  At the same time in the oil-rich east of the Delta another five flow
  stations in the Ijaw region of Nembe were occupied by villagers protesting
  at local council changes there. This riverine area is particularly
  under-developed and potentially very explosive. Shell's shortfall rose by
  another 120,000 bpd to 210,000 bpd, and shares in the company dropped
  slightly due to concerns about its operations in Nigeria. 
  Curfew imposed
  Paramilitary police deployed to deal with the situation in Warri were
  disarmed by the youths, who had more sophisticated weapons than them. Both
  ethnic groups were well-armed, with the Ijaws reported to have light assault
  rifles, grenades and rocket launchers. The government then sent in a
  high-level delegation, including Naval Chief Rear Admiral Mike Akhigbe of
  the regime's Provisional Ruling Council, and warned that any further
  protests would be crushed, with rioters shot on sight if necessary. A dusk
  to dawn curfew was imposed on Warri town from March 28, security was stepped
  up and 500 police sent to guard the oil installations. Shell provided refuge
  to some workers and called on the navy to evacuate to Warri 2000 Itsekiris
  from the Ijaw-dominated oil town of Forcados.
  According to Africa Today, government plans to deploy the army to protect
  oil installations were opposed by the oil companies, particularly Shell, who
  wanted soldiers to stay in the communities. The company is sensitive to
  accusations of working behind a military shield in the oil producing areas,
  and felt that communities might attack the soldiers who would retaliate by
  killing villagers. This would bring Shell into direct opposition to the
  communities and escalate the conflict further. 
  But this scenario was dismissed totally by Nigerian activist Ike Okonta:
  "That is classic PR rhetoric from Shell, far removed from the reality of the
  situation. Shell knows that only force will keep these youths down. The army
  was needed to smash them."
  Violence spread to the nearby towns of Forcados, Sapele, and Egbeme in Edo
  state, and with Warri town under curfew, the surrounding creeks and
  waterways again became the focus of activity. Gradually an uneasy calm
  started to fall on the area. 
  Renewed violence
  Shell managed to resume almost all its operations, but as the curfew was
  lifted on April 12, riots began again in Warri and nearby, with both ethnic
  groups attacking each other's houses and settlements. Shell decided to shut
  down its oil wells situated between Warri and Forcados, declaring force
  majeure for a second time within a month.
  With news of more villages being sacked, Iksekiri elders in Koko had to
  restrain the youths from attacking Ijaws living in the town. By mid-April
  the Ijaws were forced to leave. They returned three days later, and with
  dynamite, petrol bombs and automatic weapons blew up and burnt down Itsekiri
  houses and part of the hospital. An Itsekiri leader was axed to death and
  beheaded, and two others killed. The Ijaw village of Oromoni was stormed and
  an 82 year old woman, unable to run away, was caught and burnt alive at a
  stake for being the mother of "troublesome Ijaw youths". 80 Itsekiri youth
  attacked Ikpokpo with guns, cutlasses and petrol bombs and killed 44 Ijaws.
  Two others were killed in a creek and one at Chevron's base at Escravos.
  Further attacks were launched from the creeks and waterways.
  Warri town saw street fighting and battles, with armed youths killing at
  random and burning down leaders' houses and businesses. Several women were
  abducted and two policemen were reported killed. The market was destroyed
  and the police station attacked after police protected Ijaw women traders.
  Up to 100 people were killed in one week. State radio reported mass arrests
  of suspected rioters, with over 600 held at one point.
  The army and navy were called in at the end of April. Soldiers patrolled the
  streets and occupied key sites, including the oil installations, and a
  warship was deployed. But they had difficulty bringing the situation under
  their control. Both the Ijaw and Itsekiri fighters had former military
  officers amongst them, forcefully retired from the army in mid-career, and
  their military skills, the sophisticated weaponry being used, and the
  people's knowledge of the local terrain defeated most of the military's
  On land, poor roads hindered the army's activity. In the water, the creeks
  were often too shallow for the naval assault craft, while the groups used
  small high-speed motor boats. One heavily-guarded naval vessel was reported
  to have had its propellor removed by an Ijaw diver who swam underwater for
  over half a mile to sabotage it. 
  Severe punishment for oil saboteurs
  Shell claims that oil installations were sabotaged. Petroleum Minister Dan
  Etete ordered that "community leaders should restrain their youths who have
  formed the habit of vandalising extremely expensive oil equipment and
  machinery," and warned that the government "will not tolerate a situation
  where every political grievance is taken out on the oil installations and
  operations of oil companies." According to Nigeria Today, the oil companies
  had complained at the ease with which Nigeria's economic mainstay was being
  threatened. And based on discussions with the oil companies, severe
  punishment of individuals who damage oil installations will be ensured.
  The Warri oil refinery, one of only four refineries in the country, was
  closed by the government at the beginning of May due to continuing
  disturbances, giving rise to the beginnings of a fuel shortage. Tankers were
  also unable to load up because of the dangers of sailing on the River
  Escravos, which links Warri to the Atlantic. The government gave an
  assurance that ships would be protected, and made moves to re-open the refinery.
  As violence subsided, the Ijaws and Itsekiris exchanged accusations and
  angry words. The Ijaws accused the Itsekiris of bribing military personnel
  to kill them, and the Itsekiris claimed that 1000 of them had been killed
  and 3000 injured since March, with over 15 settlements attacked or destroyed.
  Col John Dungs launched a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the fighting,
  which held its first sitting in the Delta State capital Asaba. Two weeks
  later, however, the Itsekiris withdrew from it after fresh violence erupted
  over ownership of market stalls in Warri. At least 24 more Itsekiri
  buildings were destroyed and 16 Ijaw youths and two Itsekiris killed. Both
  Ijaw and Itsekiri police were subsequently withdrawn from the area and
  transferred to elsewhere in the Niger Delta. The inquiry is continuing.
  'Nothing to do with us'
  Shell asserts that the unrest in the Niger Delta has nothing to do with
  them, and Chevron says it is neutral, caught up in disputes not of its
  making. Many would disagree. "The problems in the Delta have everything to
  do with the oil barons. It is they who are plundering the resources from the
  people. It is they who keep the oppressive regime in power, with all the
  associated violence and poverty, and who have worked with successive regimes
  to legislate for easy theft of resources. And it is they who have polluted
  land, rivers and creeks and destroyed a sustainable culture," says one
  observer. These are the condition that gave rise to the recent unrest.
  "The companies distort and rot the social fabric of the environment" by
  their very presence. Even the spokesman for Delta State Government, Austin
  Iyashere, blames the oil industry for the area's general problems, accusing
  the companies of giving money directly to corrupt, influential individuals
  rather than developing the communities. The Olu of Itsekiri is very close to
  the regime and known to be in the pocket of Chevron, for example.
  There is also clearly an element of genuine rebellion from the youths, if
  not yet true resistance. Representing authority and wealth in the area, the
  oil companies are seen as legitimate targets both in themselves and as
  institutions closely linked to the government. For some, the oil companies
  are the government.
  "The whole area is neglected. The youths have had few opportunities in
  society and can't see a future. They are angry and they are armed. Shell and
  Chevron were hit at first and the junta was forced to respond, but now they
  are lashing out at anyone,"  Okonta said. "Their energy is needed if we are
  going to change anything in Nigeria. But it must be directed at the right
  targets, and at the right time. Tribal conflict must be avoided."
  Directing resources
  The regime is keen to divert the people's anger into ethnic conflict which
  it continues to foment through territorial manipulation and other political
  games. And many see the oil companies' role in the unrest equally as active
  and conspiratorial: Moffat Ekoriko in Africa Today writes, "Another
  government official claimed that the oil firms deliberately polarised the
  groups in the area as a check against the formation of a common front to
  fight them over acts of environmental spoilation." 
  Ike Okonta told DELTA, "The state doesn't want another MOSOP, with a defined
  target and a clear vision. So the ethnic groups must be pitted against each
  other, even provided with arms." The Ijaws accuse Chevron of providing the
  Itsekiris with weapons and logistical support. "It's a high-risk strategy,
  but the stakes are even higher: the survival of the regime and continuing
  profits for the oil companies."
  Preliminary investigations by Environmental Rights Action (ERA) into the
  Warri crisis suggest that some of the villages were burnt down not by
  genuine Ijaws or Itsekiris but by 'unknown persons' - that is, agents of the
  State.  Such a strategy was used by the regime and Shell to try to subvert
  the Ogoni struggle: in 1993-4 soldiers and agents posing as Andonis attacked
  and killed hundreds of Ogonis with logistical support from the company.
  These were characterised as 'ethnic clashes.'
  When major disorder looms or with oil production seriously threatened then
  the army is sent in. The Free Nigeria Movement's Commission on Justice
  initiated a dialogue between leaders of the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo ethnic
  groups in early May to address the killings. The consensus that emerged was
  that the clashes were "orchestrated by subterranean elements working for the
  Abacha military junta in order to create discord and panic", and thereby
  legitimise his rule "under the pretext of maintaining law and order." This
  would turn "yet another oil producing area into a militarised zone for the
  unhampered flow of Nigeria's oil through multinational corporations such as
  Shell Oil, Texaco, and Chevron."
  And indeed, by mid-August the regime had announced that the military
  presence in the Nembe area of Bayelsa state would be re-inforced, with
  systematic patrols of the creeks. This further militarisation of the Niger
  Delta, known as 'Operation Salvage', was announced by the Military
  Administrator of Bayelsa state, Naval Captain Caleb Olubolade, in the
  presence of the oil companies themselves.
  DELTA: News and background on Ogoni, Shell and Nigeria
  Box Z, 13 Biddulph Street, Leicester  LE2 1BH, UK   
  tel/fax: +44 116 255 3223  e-mail: lynx@gn.apc.org      
  web: www.oneworld.org/delta