THE Niger Delta communities are again being militarized and the people are already counting the costs of brutal invasion by the armed forces in search of the so-called Niger Delta Avengers (NDA). Community people suffer brutality of different kinds, and 50 soldiers have been reportedly killed. As it is so often the case, the people are torn between the devil and the deep blue sea as neither side is in the final analysis fighting for their interests but selfish interests at the centre, of which is control of oil resources.
However, socialists organised around the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and supporters of their ideas are not particularly surprised at these turn of events. For long, have we warned that at the root of agitations for secession by groups like MASSOB and IPOB, intra-religious conflicts, clashes between livestock and arable farmers, militancy in Nigeria and other forms of collective or individual acts of terrorism by groups such as Boko Haram, are: the exploitation and monopolisation of the collective resources of the people by an elite few in the capitalist class; the unresolved nationality question; and the absence of a labour movement seeking the unity of all oppressed Nigerians and fighting for the overthrow of the anti-poor capitalist system on the basis of socialist ideas. At the same time as working to build unity between working people, Labour should also demand the convoking of a genuine sovereign national conference dominated by elected representatives of the people and their organizations especially the labour, youth, women and student movement to democratically agree on nature and character of governance.
The Niger Delta region is home to over 40 million people, which is about 24 per cent of the entire population, with the region covering eight per cent of Nigeria’s landmass and constituting the largest wetlands region in Africa. Shell Petroleum began oil exploration in the region in 1956 and since then, petro-dollars have so corrupted the Nigerian ruling elite that it abandoned agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the economy. Nigeria was the world largest cocoa exporter in 1960 but cocoa production nosedived by 43 per cent by the year 2000. Production and export of other cash crops like groundnut, cotton and rubber plummeted considerably as well, job losses became the order of the day and many Nigerians since 1960 became poorer not just the Niger Deltans, but across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Oil spillage and pollution by the multinational oil companies had gone on unabated. According to the Poison and Fire documentary, 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilled into farms, rivers and forest since 1950s, thereby distorting the ecosystem and economic activities like farming, fishing etc. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientists discovered that at least 10 Ogoni communities had been drinking water contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons for years, and this is the fate of many communities in the Niger Delta.
On February 10, 2016, the NDA began series of attacks by severing the Bonny Soku Gas Export Line and since then has claimed more than 13 other attacks. These attacks, according to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, have reduced oil production to 1.6 million barrel short of the 2.2 barrel per day. In a desperate move to reduce the attacks on oil infrastructure, the Federal Government ordered the military ceasefire on June 7, 2016 for two weeks to enable discussion with the militants and potentially dole out new amnesty and agreement similar to the 2009 amnesty agreement.
Yet, it must be recalled that all previous policies have only scratched the problem on the surface, including the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission in the year 2000 (a body funded to carry out some projects in the oil communities but which has also turned conduit pipe for mostly corrupt bourgeois politicians from the region), the 13 per cent derivatives given to the oil producing states and the Amnesty Programme that began in 2009 and which has since gulped over N250 billion targeted at mostly bribing some top militants and their foot soldiers out of militancy.
Against this background, no amount of repackaged amnesty as a fallout of negotiation will resolve the present problems except massive investment in basic infrastructure to create mass productive jobs, cleanup of the entire Niger Delta region by the oil companies, end oil spillage and gas flaring, adequate compensation to communities and families whose farm lands and fishing ponds/rivers were destroyed by oil exploration and the implementation of other pro-masses policies.
The claim by the militants that they are fighting for the Niger Delta people and interest is generally false, though there has been some genuine community-based agitations against environmental degradation caused by the oil companies that was often crushed by the state. Their acts of individual terrorism not only give a false hope to the people of “troops” fighting for their interest, but also make the vast majority inactive in the struggle for better society. And it explains why the militants are quick to abandon the agitations whenever the petro-dollar crumbs, running into billions of Naira, are doled out to them. Individual terrorism can never be a replacement for mass action.
We socialists support the agitation of the Niger Delta people for better living condition, clean environment, productive and gainful employment for the teeming jobless people including, when necessary. But we also emphasize that it is only the mass struggle of the people under democratic control armed with socialist policies that can wage a spirited and sustained battle that will lift the entire Niger Delta region out of the bestial living conditions.
Bosah is National Secretary, Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN)