4 October 2007 Edition

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INTERNATIONAL : Oil giants under fire from 'Robin Hoods'

Nigeria’s militants resume attacks

KIDNAPPERS of oil-rig workers in Nigeria have been denounced by the authorities as criminals but some could see the organisation behind the attacks, the indigenous Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), as ‘the Robin Hoods of Africa’. And MEND has just declared full-scale war on the Lagos regime and the oil giants from Nigeria’s Independence Day, 1 October.
Nigeria is the world’s eighth-largest oil producer and the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. Nigeria’s oil resources are mainly located in the Niger Delta. Sadly, the billions of dollars generated by this multinational industry are rarely invested in the region and the people live in continued misery, with few roads, little infrastructure and a decimated environment.
Nigeria is notorious for its widespread corruption and the payments made from oil companies such as Shell and Chevron are kept by politicians and military leaders for their personal gain.
This dire situation has led to years of continued struggle by many of the delta’s local indigenous groups, such as the Ijaw and Ogoni peoples, among others, to receive a fair share of the oil revenues for the benefit of their indigenous communities. These campaigns have been met with stiff resistance from the Nigerian military and the security paramilitary groups funded by the oil companies themselves.

The situation in the Delta is not new.
Many will remember that back in the 1990s, another resistance group, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), came into being, advocating the right of the Ogoni people to autonomy, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands.
Kenule ‘Ken’ Saro-Wiwa, writer, TV producer and environmentalist, was imprisoned several times by the Nigerian military government. In May 1994, he was arrested and accused of incitement to murder following the deaths of four Ogoni elders, Saro-Wiwa denied the charges but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially-convened tribunal, during which nearly all of the defendants’ lawyers resigned in protest at the trial’s cynical rigging by the regime. The resignation of the legal teams left the defendants to their own means against the tribunal, which continued to bring witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa and his peers, only for many of these supposed witnesses to later admit they had been bribed by the Nigerian Government to support the criminal allegations. Very few observers were surprised when the tribunal declared a guilty verdict but most were shocked that the penalty would be death by hanging for all nine defendants. On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders (‘The Ogoni Nine’) were executed by hanging at the hands of military personnel.

MEND leaders are well aware that the reference to MOSOP is nearly unavoidable and have warned that “a repeat of the Ken Saro Wiwa type set-up will fail this time around”. If MOSOP represented the activism of the Delta, MEND is effectively the most militant expression of discontent in the region. Since national elections in the spring, MEND had been on a provisional ceasefire as a show of good faith to the new government in order to push for immediate negotiations. After months of frustration and aggression on the part of the Nigerian states towards communities in the Delta and members, though, MEND decided to resume attacks.
In January 2006, MEND warned the oil industry:
“It must be clear that the Nigerian Government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it... Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian Government to export oil.”
MEND has destroyed nearly 25 per cent of Nigeria’s oil-producing capacity, pushing up gas prices worldwide.
Recently, MEND bombed two pipelines and kidnapped four foreign oil workers, from Bulgaria, Britain, Honduras and the United States. Violence and destruction by MEND in 2007 caused Chevron to shut down some oil production after one Nigerian sailor was killed and six other foreign oil workers were abducted by members of MEND. MEND reportedly attacked the company’s Oloibiri floating production, storage, and off-loading vessel, off southern Bayelsa state, on 1 May 2007.
“We will not sit back and allow our birthright to be exchanged for a bowl of porridge,” MEND said in its statement, adding that Nigeria’s government “has so far concentrated its resources in bribing the so-called militants, politicians and supposed elders of the Niger Delta”, while dedicating little or nothing to conflict resolution.

 News in Brief

AT LEAST 10 African Union peace-keepers were killed and 20 were missing  after an attack on an AU military base in the Sudanese region of Darfur.
The casualties were the most serious suffered by the AU mission since it arrived in 2003, an AU statement said.
Thirty vehicles over-ran the base and vehicles and property were looted or vandalised in an attack suggested to have been carried out by a rebel group.
The attack came as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived in Sudan to support a new peace initiative for Darfur.

THE UN envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has met detained opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the main city of Rangoon.
Earlier, he met some of the country’s military leaders in the new capital, Naypyidaw, where he returned for further talks. So far, neither senior General Than Shwe nor his deputy have made themselves available to meet Gambari, who is attempting to mediate between Burma’s junta and the opposition to end a bloody crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests.

THE people of Ecuador have voted to elect a new constituent assembly designed to radically alter the country’s constitution.
President Rafael Correa, who came to power in January, wants the 130-member body to dissolve Congress and cut traditional parties’ powers. He believes the new assembly will bring politics back to the people after years of corrupt and inept governments as he expects to win more than two-thirds of the vote necessary to implement the changes he has promised. But opposition groups say the move will only concentrate more power in the hands of the president and they claim he wants to turn Ecuador into a socialist state.

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