The discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1956 did not inaugurate a new period of prosperity for the region; quite the opposite. As is so often the case, natural wealth has led to unnatural strife.
From the very beginning, the profits from the Niger Delta’s oil seemed to flow out of the region as fast as the oil itself; most of it going to the big companies like British Petroleum, Shell, and Exxon, and the rest being swallowed by corruption within the Nigerian government, while the people of the Delta subsisted on less than a dollar a day.
Despite the fact that the Niger Delta is the most resource rich region in Nigeria, with its oil constituting around 80% of total government revenue; it is one of the poorest and least developed parts of the country.
Oil operations have not only failed to benefit the population of the Niger Delta, they have caused tremendous suffering. Between 1970 and 2000 there were over 7,000 oil spills, severely contaminating the land and causing mass displacements, but only resulting in relatively minor fines against the oil companies, with little or no improvements to safeguard against further spills, which continue on a regular basis. Hundreds of cases are brought each year over oil spills and pollution. In 2011, Shell admitted spilling 14,000 tonnes of crude oil in the creeks of the Niger Delta in 2009, double the year before and quadruple that of 2007.
Major oil companies make deals with the central government that give them practical sovereignty over the Delta region, and immunity to do whatever they wish, with official backing from the state. Over the past 25 years this has included driving people off of their land, tremendous environmental devastation, and even hiring paramilitaries to open fire on peaceful protesters.
The people of the Niger Delta undertook nonviolent protest against environmental degradation of their region, and the lack of fair distribution of oil wealth throughout the 1990s, until finally in 2006, armed conflict erupted.
Because the region includes a number of different ethnic groups, all of whom feel they are marginalized and disenfranchised, particularly the Ogoni and ijaw, the struggle has often descended into violent tribal rivalries.
The oil companies, one tribal chief stated , ‘seem to be comfortable when their host communities are engaged in war‘. This has led to the militarization of the Niger Delta, allowing the government to essentially occupy the region to secure oil facilities under the pretext of preventing internecine tribal and ethnic violence. The companies carry on their oil exploration and extraction at the cost of the livelihoods of local communities under the protection of the Nigerian army, without any of the financial benefits of the oil returning to support the Delta.
The people of the Niger Delta have a long, grim experience with the collaboration of the state with multinational energy companies; and they have had enough.
They have undertaken perhaps the most straightforward example we have seen yet of targeted system disruption to redress their grievances; bypassing the government, and imposing consequences directly upon the oil companies to whom the government is subservient. In other words, they are addressing the real existing power structure in a way which that power structure can understand; knowing that Chevron, Shell, and the others, are in a position to dictate government policy.
The group “the Niger Delta Avengers” blew up a Chevron facility on May 5th, issuing the following statement:
“We want to pass this message to the all international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta that the Nigeria Military can’t protect their facilities. They should talk to the federal government to meet our demands else more mishaps will befall their installations. Until our demands are met, no repair works should be done at the blast site”.
And a string of other attacks have ensued; the latest being carried out on June 4th against Nigeria’s national oil company and against another Chevron oil well.
This is similar to a strategy that emerged on a limited scale just over a year and a half ago in Egypt, when rebels began targeting multinational companies like Vodafone and KFC, to force them to use their economic influence to unseat the military government of Abdel-Fatah el-Sisi. .
Agitation in Nigeria against these companies in the past led to the creation of the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative, a corporate attempt to appease local leaders, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is dedicated to promoting US business interests around the globe. Chevron met with local community leaders, built some schools and hospitals, and completely misunderstood that, by these very initiatives, they were affirming their authority over the region; placating the people rather than empowering them. The schools and hospitals were ultimately burned down, because everyone viewed them as being what they were: Chevron facilities. The people did not want Chevron to gift them with schools and hospitals; they wanted to build, own, and manage them themselves, with funds derived from a fairer distribution of the wealth being extracted from their region.
Now they are sending a message to these companies, an ultimatum. Their demands must be met, or there will be no oil revenues from the Niger Delta.
These fighters, these rebels against the Empire of Capital, have just demands, and their strategy is right. They are lifting the curtain behind puppet government to deal directly with the puppet masters. The Niger Delta Avengers are pioneering the future of activism, the future of revolution.
Until now, the NDA has refrained from anti-personnel attacks, and publicly urges nonviolence towards the Nigerian army. They have focused exclusively on attacking oil infrastructure, crippling operations, and dealing a blow to the profitability of the multinationals, without shedding a drop of blood.
They have also been careful to disassociate themselves from tribal rivalries, expressing solidarity with other groups in the region and frequently addressing the Deltan people as a whole.
The group’s Twitter account was suspended last week, cutting off one of their key channels for broadcasting their ideas and operations; which is noteworthy considering the fact that ISIS supporters have enjoyed almost total immunity from censorship on the social media site. This alone indicates the strength of NDA’s strategy against the corporate power structure as compared to that of conventional militant groups. Almost immediately upon the suspension of their account, at least two counterfeit accounts appeared on Twitter claiming to represent the NDA; a clear attempt at disinformation, but the NDA website is still online, and the group exposed the false accounts within hours.
What we are seeing in the Niger Delta today, with the emergence of the NDA, is a new and inspiring direction in the struggle for social justice in the era of the Empire of Capital; it is focused, inclusive, non-sectarian, nonviolent, and accessible to even those opposition groups with limited resources. Whatever may become of the Niger Delta Avengers, they are pioneering a model of resistance we can all learn from.