Ogoni: Unmet Vows Tied to Ebb of a Truce in Nigeria
A militant group’s announcement that it was ending a cease-fire in Nigeria is linked to the government’s failure to keep promises to the oil-producing region, analysts and activists said Sunday.
Despite pledges of retraining for thousands of militants and development aid for the impoverished Niger Delta region, little has been done since the government announced an amnesty program for militants in August, they said. The militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, warned that it would resume attacks on oil company pipelines and personnel, a threat analysts said was credible.
On Sunday, Royal Dutch Shell announced that a crude oil pipeline in the delta had been sabotaged the day before. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“It is a quite predictable but unfortunate development,” said Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, an activist group in the region. “There has been a growing frustration as to a lack of any discernible program. No attempt has been made to deal with the fundamentals.”
Thousands of fighters from MEND and other militant groups ostensibly laid down their weapons last fall in return for cash payments from the government. But now, analysts said, there is a risk they will return to the 43,000-square-mile region, from which as much as 12 percent of United States crude oil comes, to continue crippling attacks on the oil industry. The analysts put much of the blame on the prolonged absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is being treated in Saudi Arabia for a heart ailment and has been gone since late November.
“The amnesty agenda of the federal government is neither here nor there,” said Anyakwee Nsirimovu, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the delta’s main city, Port Harcourt, and a former member of a special government committee set up to study the region’s problems. “Since the departure of the president, nothing has happened. No progress has been made.”
Bestman Nnwoka, a member of the presidential amnesty panel, said the program was “still being worked out” when the president left the country. “We are faced now with the absence of the president, which has delayed implementation,” he said.
He called for MEND and other militant groups to “be a little more patient.”
“Any resumption of hostilities would be uncalled for and may prejudice other attempts on resolving militancy in the region,” he said.
Attacks on oil company facilities and kidnappings of workers have been going on for years in the restive region; MEND is one of the newer groups, and it is unclear how many militants it controls, or whether nonaffiliated groups are also considering resumption of attacks. Perhaps as many as 15,000 militants may never have disarmed at all.
In a statement issued late on Friday, the group warned of more pipeline attacks, saying that if oil companies did not halt operations, “any operational installation attacked will be burnt to the ground.”
The statement also chastised the government for doing too little for the region. “It is sufficiently clear at this point in time that the government of Nigeria has no intentions of considering the demands made by this group for the control of the resources and land of the Niger Delta,” it said.
Last summer’s peace overtures by government and rebels aside, little has changed in the delta’s underlying conflict, activists in the region said in interviews on Sunday. “The so-called repentant militants, they can be tempted to go back to their former life because of the failure of the amnesty process,” said Patrick Naagbanton of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development, in Port Harcourt.