By Terry Hallmark, Visiting Clinical Instructor, Honors College
There have been numerous reports over the last 18 months about terrorist attacks in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. But one long-running hotbed of political violence, Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta, has garnered only a modest amount media attention.
Maybe it’s because the conflict between anti-oil insurgents and the government has gone on for so long, some 20 years, that there’s a bit of “Niger Delta fatigue.” Or perhaps it’s because the Niger Delta militants have no ties to radical Islamic groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS and have shown little or no interest in maiming or murdering the innocent – opting instead to attack targets like drill sites, pipelines, tankers and facilities in order to stifle oil production and cripple the Nigerian government economically.
Or it could be that the conflict hasn’t gotten as much play in the press as it deserves simply because international oil companies working in dangerous places is “old news.”
Because crude oil is such a valuable commodity, international oil companies are practically fearless, impervious to the threats posed by guerrillas, terrorists and insurgents; many of the oil workers are rough and tumble types – “adrenalin junkies” who enjoy the rush of going into such areas to get hydrocarbons out of the ground. But regardless of why the conflict has flown under the radar, what’s gone down in the Niger Delta over the last two decades is worthy of attention – much more so than Boko Haram – for it has a direct impact on the level of oil sector investment and operations in the area, Nigeria’s oil production and economy, and even world oil markets and oil prices.
Peace won’t be easy, but an uneasy détente is possible. Whatever happens will affect not only on oil companies, but consumers, too.
The story, in brief, is as follows: In the late 1980s, several indigenous tribal groups began raising concerns about international oil company operations in the Niger Delta, a region of about 27,000 square miles, larger than the state of West Virginia. The largest and best known of the groups was the Ogoni, an indigenous people of (now) nearly 1 million people. The Ogoni and other ethnic groups – the Ijaws, Itserikis, Urhobos, Isikos, Liages, Ikwerres, Ekpeyes and Ogulaghas – complained that Shell, Mobil and other oil companies were prospering at their expense, as the ethnic groups saw little of the wealth generated by the oil production, while suffering the fallout from widespread environmental degradation caused by exploration and production efforts.
The Ogonis’ response to these perceived wrongs was confined, at least initially, to protests, low-level acts of civil disobedience and minor, occasional acts of sabotage, along with the formation in 1990 of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The conflict escalated over the next few years, and in November 1995, Saro–Wiwa, and eight other activists were hanged by the Nigerian government.
The hangings radicalized the Niger Delta opposition groups, which began to organize and engage in acts of violence and terrorism directed at oil interests.