Jitters In Nigeria's Oil Region Again!
By Akanimo Sampson - Port Harcourt,Nigeria
THE alleged designs by agents of the Nigerian government to muffle the freedom and endanger the life of Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the militia group agitating for improved socio-economic and environmental conditions in the Niger Delta,the country's main oil and gas producing region, is currently producing fresh jitters in the region.
There is a palpable air of uncertainty in the region over the alleged threat on Dokubo-Asari’s life, who most Niger Delta youths have come to accept as the symbol of the oil and gas producing region’s struggle for socio-economic and environmental justice.
Amnesty International (AI) Nigeria Group 17, claimed in a statement last week in Warri, Delta state, that they have uncovered designs by agents of the government to muffle the freedom and endanger the life of the militia leader who recently surrendered his weapons in line with the ceasefire agreement reached with the Presidency.
Apparently uncomfortable with the potentially dangerous allegation which government was yet to deny, some of the armed youths are currently pushing for resumption of hostilities in the oil fields.
Already, Columbus British Ebipade, the general commander of Dokuo-Asari’s volunteer force, has said that if the government acts funny, “we will return to the trenches”.
According to him, ‘any harm done to the leader of the NDPVF will push us to the limit of taking some reprisal actions the magnitude of which has never been witnessed in Nigeria. If our leader is killed, we shall raze down the foundation of this country. This is no empty threat.”
The alleged designs to endanger the life of Dokubo-Asari, seems to be providing a rallying point for political leaders and power seekers opposed to the widely speculated third-term schemes of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Such politicians, Saturday Independent gathered, are currently considering the possibility of engineering a wider political protest that would affect the whole Niger Delta in the event of any harm done to Dokubo-Asari.
There are also serious security issues in the region for the oil companies, who according to a senior Total official, a French oil giant, “must” be concerned to safeguard their staff, especially given the alleged number of small arms still circulating in the oil region.
There are equally guarded whispers in some circles in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, that the oil service companies would not be left out if violence erupts again in the Niger Delta.
For the NDPVF’s General Commander, Ebipade, “many oil service companies would be targeted both in their own right, and because we also see them as representatives of the Nigerian state that is repressing, oppressing and exploiting us without mercy.”
Five major oil companies are however, operating Joint Ventures with the Nigerian government through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The oil giants are Shell, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Total and Agip.
Although the cycle of protest and repression that affected the Niger Delta under the military dictatorship has relatively eased, armed security forces are still widely deployed across the region, mostly at oil facilities. Security operatives are allegedly still abusing the rights of the oil bearing communities on a routine basis.
The United States’ international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has persistently claimed that respect for human rights has hardly improved in the Niger Delta since May 29, 1999.
“The Federal Government should seek to achieve a negotiated solution to the fundamental demands of the peoples who live in the oil-producing areas of Nigeria. In addition, government must ensure proper discipline over the security forces and hold them accountable for abuses”, says the US group.
Meanwhile, the Amnesty International Nigeria Group 17, had claimed that government had commissioned a squad of the security agents comprising both Nigerian and foreign nationals to monitor Dokubo-Asari and his group.