Conflict Heats Up in Oil-Rich Niger Delta
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has recently released statements refusing offers of amnesty by the Nigerian state and, as of June 6th, given local and foreign oil workers 72 hours notice of an “imminent attack.” “The warning also applies to greedy individuals from oil communities tempted to carry out repair contracts on pipelines already destroyed,” MEND added.
These statements follow a major military campaign aimed at crushing MEND. As part of the campaign, which displaced thousands of indigenous civilians, the Nigerian military has been accused of indiscriminate aerial bombings and shelling villages. A spokesman from the Nigerian military called MEND’s warning an “empty boast by a toothless gang” and urged oil workers to disregard the threat.
In 2006, MEND began attacking oil installations, sabotaging infrastructure and kidnapping oil-industry workers for ransom. Since then, analysts have noted that the rebel group has grown more sophisticated. In June of 2008, MEND attacked Shell’s main oil platform, which, at 75 miles from shore, was thought to be safe from militant assaults. As a result, the platform, which normally produces 200,000 barrels per day, was temporarily closed, reducing Nigeria’s total oil production by 10% overnight. Since January of 2006, unrest in the Niger Delta has reduced Nigeria’s daily output from 2.6 million barrels to 1.76 million. Niger is the fifth largest importer of crude oil into the U.S.; oil accounts for 95% of Nigeria’s export income.
In January of 2009, MEND called off a four month ceasefire and resumed attacks against imperialist operations and infrastructure. MEND says that oil operations have caused massive pollution, killed local wildlife and left indigenous communities without a means of subsistence. Niger Delta communities use very little oil themselves. Almost no oil revenue makes it to the communities most affected by oil production. Instead it is exported as profits by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, transferred to the First World via price fixing and unequal exchange or consumed by local puppet-elites. Speaking of their own movement, MEND says, “The very reason for militancy is because of injustice. Fiscal federalism is among the things that will silence our guns.”
Under the current schema, imperialism dominates the Nigeria economy. This has predictably led to a social and environmental catastrophe. Traditional modes of existence have been destroyed through activities inherent in the maintenance of the modern global economy. In this case, foreign companies get the oil at the lowest cost possible and with no regard for existing communities or the environment and export it to consumption-based economies of the West. The people of the Niger Delta, instead of finding any benefit from this process, have lost their previous ability to feed themselves from their natural surroundings and have little opportunities to find subsistence level wages on their own land or in their own country. Regardless of natural wealth, imperialism is a death warrant for indigenous Third World peoples.
MEND’s struggle is a just one. Faced with displacement, oppression and exploitation by imperialism, Third World peoples have little alternative but fighting back at those who direct and facilitate such oppression. For groups like MEND, this means a struggle not only against the imperialist oil-industry but also against the Nigerian state. As witnessed by the military’s most recent offensive against MEND, the Nigerian state is itself an agent of imperialism whose main role is protecting, militarily if need be, the interests of multi-national oil companies.
The struggle of the Niger Delta masses against imperialism and its local puppets is one that must be supported by all revolutionary peoples. This is because the struggle in the Niger Delta is part of a larger struggle shared by the vast majority of humanity. A serious blow to imperialism in Nigeria weakens imperialism as a whole, allowing for revolutionary advances on the part of oppressed peoples elsewhere. Conversely, while MEND might be able to land some blows against Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and the Nigerian state, the struggle against imperialism can only come to a victorious resolution through a unified effort on the part of oppressed peoples from countries around the world. Only by way of a global anti-imperialist struggle can imperialist exploitation, and the devastating social and environmental impacts that accompany it, no longer remain a threat to oppressed peoples. Only through the unified struggle of oppressed peoples against capitalist-imperialism and its various local lackeys can a new world, one based on the needs of people, be built.