Grievances Fuel Insurgency, Says Nigeria Media
Americans are held hostage in an oil-rich nation.
Guerrilla attacks drastically cut the country's electrical capacity.
The government seeks U.S. military assistance.
No, the situation in Nigeria is not another Iraq, but a growing insurgency in the impoverished Niger River delta is rattling international oil markets and dominating commentary in the country's online media.
The story broke Feb. 19 when armed men from a group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) kidnapped nine employees of the Willbros Group, a Houston-based oil and gas construction contractor.
At the same time, the militant group launched a sabotage campaign that reduced the country's electrical power output by 40 percent in three weeks, prompting one Lagos daily, This Day (registration required) , to editorialize, "Dark Days Are Here."
The MEND militants are seeking to gain more benefits for the poor people of the oil-rich region. They are demanding that the Shell Oil immediately pay $1.5 billion compensation to indigenous Ijaw communities for environmental damage created by the company's wells. They also want the government to increase the royalty rate paid by oil companies, disband a military strike force which has attacked rebel strongholds, and release two jailed politicians who support their cause.
On March 1, six of the employees were released, leaving three in captivity: Cody Oswalt of Jackson, Miss., Russell Spell of Texas and James Hudspeth of Great Britain. They are reportedly being held in the vast mangrove swamps in southern Nigeria.
This past weekend, the Nigeria government began a massive deployment of troops in the city of Warri, suggesting that hostage negotiations "may have broken down," according to This Day.
A columnist for the Daily Champion news site fears the government is leaning toward a military solution.. A top police official told another daily, Vanguard, that security forces could free the hostages but want to avoid bloodshed.
Last month, Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar told the Financial Times (by subscription) the U.S. had been too slow to help protect the Niger Delta from the insurgency. He said talks with the U.S. over security plans for the region did not "appear to be moving as fast as the situation is unfolding."
State Department and Pentagon officials told the Daily Sun that the United States was reluctant to get involved in the Delta conflict because of "a high level of corruption in the Nigerian military."
Commentators, while not condoning the hostage-taking, are critical of the government and foreign oil companies.
The editors of Vanguard charged yesterday that the Nigerian government's "indifference to the region has dictated the attitude of the multinational oil companies."
The oil companies' efforts to ameliorate environmental damage are "sheer propaganda," they wrote. They say quelling the Niger Delta uprising lies "in treating the people as human being, not some minor and dispensable irritants routinely labeled criminals."
The Daily Independent says the oil revenues, "derived from nature's bounteous bequeaths to the Niger Delta, should not sit in the vaults of foreign banks" but should be used for a massive development program that "addresses the social and economic grievances which lie at the heart of the current hostage taking and slow motion slide into guerrilla warfare."
Kevin Dumouchelle contributed research to this column
By Jefferson Morley |
March 15, 2006; 8:55 AM ET
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