The Niger Delta Question: Incubating the Future Suicide Bombers of Nigeria


Hosiah Emmanuel

Paul Bremer was the United States Administrator of Iraq after the fall of Saddam.  Angered by an attack on him in a tiny Shia muslim newspaper, he ordered with an announcement in Arabic that the newspaper be closed.  It was closed but this immediately started the Najaf uprising and the rise of an hitherto unknown Muqtada al-Sadr to fight the Americans. Thousands of Americans and Iraqis have since died on account of this leaving America in more confusion as to what to do with Iraq as ever.  This is one example of how not to use power.

Let's go to Yenagoa in Bayelsa state of Nigeria.  In the desperate attempt by Emperor Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to remove the former Governor Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa, his military men closed the state broadcasting corporation and chased away law-abiding citizens of Nigeria who worked there.  Unlike in Najaf, he succeeded to cow Yenagoa and removed the Governor in a violent rape of the Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria.  However, this among other acts of state-repression of the people of the Niger Delta in particular, has given an hitherto unknown group, 'The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)', a reason for its recent deadly attack on oil installations in Nigeria and the ongoing hostage-taking of four foreign oil-workers.  It is almost 2 weeks since the hostages were taken, but the almighty Federal Government of emperor Obasanjo is yet to secure their release.  The MEND demands the release of both Alamieyeseigha and another foremost Niger Delta freedom fighter, Alh Dokubo Asari who is in prison custody ungergoing a trumped charge of treason as a pre-condition for the release of the hostages.  They also demand that the Anglo-Dutch oil multi-national, Shell Petroleum Development Company honour the proclamation of the National Assembly that $1.5 billion be paid to the Ijaws of Bayelsa as compensation for over 4 decades of oil exploration and environmental abuse.  The Federal Government on the other hand claims that the Nigerian judiciary which is known to be one of the most corrupt and inefficient judiciaries in the world would have to determine the fate of Alamieyeseigha and Asari.  This is the same judiciary whose orders have been flouted recklessly by the Federal Government.

Obasanjo's government has repeatedly shown that the only language it understands is that of violence.  To be given an audience in Obasanjo's Nigeria you need a gun.  MEND has guns and so they have audience with the powerful Obasanjo's government.  When Asari had guns, he had audience with Obasanjo but he was arm-twisted to sell his guns to Obasanjo and today he finds himself in Obasanjo's prison.  With this knowledge, it looks to me that only militancy will resolve the Niger Delta question.  But, what is the Niger Delta Question?

The Niger Delta question dates back to Nigeria's pre-independent, colonial days.  It is the same question for which the Willink 'minorities and Fiscal Commission' reported in mid-1958 after an exhaustive series of hearings across the country.  Though recommendations of the commission were manipulated by the powers-that-be before the final release, there was a somewhat bold and remarkable recommendation that:

    "there is an overwhelming need for a SPECIAL IJAW AREA consisting mainly of the Ijaw people in the Eastern region, and taking in from the Western Region the Western Ijaws, consisting as it does mainly of the delta of the Niger, and that it should, be regarded rather as a special development area, requiring particular economic assistance."

Due to political expediencies of the major ethnic groups of the time, this recommendation was not followed.  The casualty figure that has arisen from the poverty and misery of the people of this endangered region as a result of this non-compliance is not investigated but I dare say that it is collosal!

The Niger Delta question is the same Ogoni question:  The Ogonis led by the late playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa asked this question but were massacred by the Nigerian central government.  The chiefs, youths and their brightest were silenced in the process, such that Ogoni today, has no voice to continue to ask the question.  The Ijaw youths took it from where the Ken Saro-Wiwa Ogonis stopped and they have since faced brutal military force of the Nigerian central government.  There have been massacres of children, women and the aged in Yenagoa, Odi, Odioma, Warri, PortHarcourt and many other parts of the Delta in response to demands for a better deal for the people of the Niger Delta in the Nigerian Federation.

To put it more concretely, the Niger Delta question is simple: that a region which accounts for 90% of Nigeria's revenue be developed;  that the means of livelihood of its inhabitants have been greatly hampered by the exploration activities that feed the rest of the nation.  The question is about a fair deal for some very endangered Nigerians in Nigeria.

Various millitant groups have emerged from the region at different times and circumstances to try to compel the central government to answer this question.  The lack of will of past leaders like the Azikiwes and Awolowos and Balewas to implement the mild recommendation in the Willink Commission report was met with Late Major Isaac Adaka Boro's '12-day revolution' in 1966 but he was suppressed.  The Ijaw Youths of the Kaiama declaration fame in 1992 were also repressed.  Asari Dokubo of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force was arm-twisted, his guns taken from him and presently in prison facing treason charge.

Today, we have a new group, The MEND.  The federal security operatives are still trying to understand the formation of this group. The MEND claims in one of their statements to be:

"a union of all relevant militant groups in the Niger Delta. This includes all units headed by Alhaji Asari."

When asked whom their leader was, they refused to say.  This is a remarkable development because the Niger Delta groups (I call them freedom fighters) seem to have graduated in war stretegies.  Asari was identified as the arrow-head of NPDVF movement and so it was easy to immobilize him and hence his group.  The MEND seems to have no form.  Have they read Robert Greene's "The 48 Laws of Power"?  Especially Law 48 which advised "Formlessness" as an effective means of winning power?  Robert Greene wrote about this Law of power thus:

     "By taking a shape, by having a visible plan, you open yourself to attack.  Instead of taking a form for your enemy to grasp, keep yourself adaptable and on the move.  Accept the fact that nothing is certain and no law is fixed.  The best way protect yourself is to be as fluid and formless as water; net bet on stability or lasting order.  Everything changes"

If they have not, I recommend that they read the entire book.  Formlessness helped Chairman Mao's Communist group to overwhelm and defeat the Chinese Nationalists after the end of World War II.   Mao's communists controlled only isolated areas in the countryside, lacked military experience or training beyong mountain fighting and less sophisticated weaponry.  When the nationalists began to push towards the strongholds of the communists, the communists dispersed to the "out-of-the-way" corners.  Their small units harassed the Nationalist armies, ambushing them here, retreating unexpectedly there, but these dispersed units never linked up, making them hard to attack.  They would seize a town only to give it up soon.  Infact, they were never staying in one place; as elusive and formless as ever.

Initially, the nationalists ascribed this to cowardice and inexperience especially since the communist leader, Mao Tse-tung was more a poet and philosopher than a military strategician whereas the Nationalist Leader Chiang Kai-shek studied warfare in the West and was a follower of the German military writer Carl von Clausewitz.  Mao's strategy eventually became effective as the communists allowed the Nationalists to take over the major cities and then encircle and capture the Nationalists.  The Nationalist soldiers became terrorised and fell for the Communists.

Knowing that the Nigerian soldiers have been used repeatedly to main and kill the poor people of the Niger Delta, what strategy will make them think inward and say "enough is enough" and turn their weapon against their paymaster to protect the poor citizens of the Delta? Could the MEND strategy be effective enough to force the Soldiers to have a rethink of their role in this mission?  I guess time will tell.

But, I see a progression in sophistication of the Niger Delta millitants.  They get more and more fearless by the day; fear less of death.  Are we breeding the first set of suicide bombers for Nigeria?  This is a country that has no capability to respond to the minutest disaster.  The other day, an international airport in PortHarcourt watched helplessly as children burnt to death when a Sosoliso aircraft caught fire.  Buildings collapse and for 48 hours, rescue mission don't arrive.  How is Nigeria prepared for the actions of the first suicide bomber from the Niger Delta?  How will Nigeria respond to a suicide bombing of a refinery, a bank, a tall-building in Lagos, Abuja or Kaduna by a frustrated and hopeless Niger-Deltan?  Why is Nigeria making the same mistake that many past powers made;  same that Isreal continues to make, the United States made  when they entered Iraq and Afghanistan (and have not been able to come out alive)?

I urge the MEND and other restless Niger Deltan youths and freedom fighters to take solace in the fact that history is on their side:  the South African apatheid regime eventually lost to the anti-apartheid movement despite the decades of support they got from world's super powers; the British occupation of colonies in America (including the USA) and Africa was forced to end by bloody but persistent resistance; 
the peoples revolution in Iran prevailed over the Shah; the IRA won over the British; though the jury is still out in Iraq, the opposition has proven to be irrepressible.  I believe that victory for the people of the Niger Delta over the evil of the majority ethnic groups is certain.

I only hope that common sense will soon prevail over the mallady of the central government and thereby avoid the cells of future suicide bombers from growing.

Hosiah Emmanuel