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Benign Oil Militants, Heartless Nigerian Government


Where does one draw the line between a legitimate government and an insurgency? And what is it exactly that makes a government legitimate?


By Chippla Vandu
In most parts of the world, a sacred document called a constitution, to which all citizens are expected to abide by, is simply what gives a government its authority. Most constitutions, this writer believes, expect governments to listen to those whom they govern. But I pretty much doubt if most contain clauses that clearly specify what citizens should do when their governments and its courts fail to listen or administer justice.

Writing about the crisis in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria has become something of a bore. The Anglo-Saxon dominated mainstream media only seem to be interested in news from this region when oil facilities get blown up or when foreign oil workers are taken hostage.
The BBC does a much better job than the American CNN in the provision of in-depth analysis. Just that the BBC still seems to be suffering from a pre-1960 hangover. Nigeria, a former British colony, became independent (whatever that means) in 1960.

When oil militants in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria took nine foreign oil workers hostage a few days ago, the attention of the international media turned toward Nigeria. As ever, the American CNN so much emphasized the fact that there was an American citizen among them.
Some of us couldn't be bothered by where the hostages came from or what they looked like. What mattered was that foreigners had been taken captive and it was imperative that the Nigerian government secured their safe release as quickly as possible.

But the truth of the matter goes deeper than that.
This was the second time in a month that the so-called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was holding foreign oil workers in captivity. Judging by previous hostage takings by this and other militant groups in the Niger Delta, hostages are almost always released unharmed—provided a handsome ransom is paid, I believe. In rare instances, such as one that occurred about two and a half years ago, foreign oil workers get killed in gun battles.

Members of the MEND oil militancy have demonstrated that their aim is not to harm oil workers or aimlessly destroy oil facilities, but to bring the world's attention to their plight.
According to this Associated Press article (reprinted in the Washington Post), six of the nine hostages have been released with three "high value" hostages--two Americans and a Briton--still being held. Whether or not the Nigerian government would eventually listen to the oil militants is unknown.
However, the government has been wise in keeping the military out of the crisis. The use of military arsenal would most certainly have been disastrous. The Niger Delta with its creeks and swamps is an unforgiving terrain.

With the Niger Delta in a mess and oil output cut by almost 20%, it is surprising the government of Olusegun Obasanjo has been busy pulling strings behind the scenes to perpetuate its stay in power, rather than addressing key issues head on.
Till this day, Mr. Obasanjo is yet to come out in pubic and clearly state that he would be leaving office at the constitutionally required date of June 2007. Rather, his government has been openly trying to amend the constitution to allow him serve a third term. While Christians and Muslims were slaughtering themselves over Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, public hearings were going on as to whether or not the constitution should be amended. What a shame!

Without a shred of doubt, the current government has been corrupted by power, beyond redemption. It is possible that Mr. Obasanjo, who publicly claims to be a born again Christian, sees himself as a messiah sent by God to redeem Nigeria of all its ills. Well, the Nigerian constitution requires that even messiahs have a limited term within which they should fulfill their duties.
The amendment of the constitution to allow Mr. Obasanjo stay in office beyond 2007 (if it comes to be) will be the most wicked and insulting injustice committed on the country since the late dictator, General Sani Abacha tried making himself life president. As fate would have it, Abacha died weeks before realizing his dream!
Vandu is a Nigerian academic and writer,  based in Holland.  He blogs at chippla.blogspot.com

Trouble in the Nigerian Oil Region

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