|Urhobo Historical Society
Fraud Fuels Oil Delta Strife
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Friday, December 31, 2004
diplomats, who take a great interest
in Warri because of the number of expatriate oil workers there and its
strategic importance for West Africa, privately criticize Delta state
governor James Ibori's handling of the crisis. "He thinks troops in
Warri will keep the peace and he never tries to deal with the
underlying problems even though he could quite easily do so. The
situation would gradually get worse toward 2007," said one diplomat.
It was polling day in the
sweltering oil city of Warri and at election
headquarters everything was quiet. Very quiet. A dozen women were
asleep, slumped on their desks and electoral material was nowhere to be
seen. Ballot papers eventually arrived at the dilapidated headquarters
a day late. They never reached polling stations. "It was not election,
it was selection," said Samson Mamamu, the local chairman of the
militant group Ijaw National Congress, who accused the authorities of
stealing the ballot papers to rig the results in favor of their tribal
rivals, the Itsekiri.
Electoral fraud in this city of 400,000 people might not ordinarily
bother the rest of the world, but in this case observers say it should.
Not only does it illustrate Nigeria's failure to implement a working
democracy five years after the end of military dictatorship,
campaigners say, but the abuses are at the root of a seven-year-old
conflict that has chronically damaged oil supplies from the world's
eighth largest exporter. Political tensions were rising ahead of the
Dec. 3 poll, amid fears that vote rigging would spark fresh violence in
Warri, where charred buildings and military checkpoints are a constant
reminder of ethnic clashes that left hundreds dead and halted oil
output last year.
While the immediate aftermath of the election was calm, Ijaw leaders
warned of more trouble ahead. "We will register our disapproval to the
results of the election that was not held," said Bello Oboko, leader of
the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities. "Our opposition will be in
a programmed form. We will do anything reasonably possible to stop the
continuous exploration and exploitation of oil and gas from Ijawland."
The western side of the vast delta around Warri pumps about half of
Nigeria's 2.3 million barrels of oil daily.
Political rivalry between the Ijaw and the Itsekiri exploded in 1997
after the state handed the Itsekiri control of one Warri local
government district, Warri South-West, by creating more electoral wards
for the tribe. It was one of the three areas under contention in the
election, when three Itsekiri were declared winners. The Ijaw demand
control of Warri South-West, where they form a majority, and propose to
leave the other two to the other two tribes in the region, the Itsekiri
and Urhobo. The Itsekiri justify their political dominance,
they are aborigines, a claim which is hotly disputed by the Ijaw and
"Warri is our homeland, it is the only place where we have a political
standing. Nobody owns any place jointly, homelands are separate and
distinct," said Itsekiri chief Isaac Jemide. Council positions are
highly valued in the country because they give access to a slice of the
country's oil revenues, which are often embezzled, and power to award
lucrative government contracts. Fighting reached a new peak in the
run-up to last year's general elections, when the Ijaw launched a broad
based revolt against the Itsekiri, the government and oil
multinationals who were forced to evacuate their facilities, shutting
in around 40 percent of Nigerian oil production.
Analysts and community leaders say the rivalry is fed by widespread
poverty in the wetlands of the delta, and politicians jostling for
positions ahead of general elections in 2007. "If there is development,
nobody will care whether you are Ijaw, Itsekiri or whatever," said
another Itsekiri chief Gabriel Mabiaku. "But now dog is eating dog,
that is what is causing all this trouble."
Warri, Nigeria's second-largest oil city after Port Harcourt, has
become a coalition of distinct ethnic ghettos. Many residents have
moved to relatively safer areas -- usually districts dominated by their
own ethnic group -- since the March 2003 bloodletting which killed
hundreds and led to the deployment of about 5,000 troops to the area.
"It is dangerous for an Itsekiri for instance, to live in an area
dominated by the Ijaw and vice versa," said a resident who asked not to
be named. Western diplomats, who take a great interest in Warri because
of the number of expatriate oil workers there and its strategic
importance for West Africa, privately criticize Delta state governor
James Ibori's handling of the crisis.
"He thinks troops in Warri will keep the peace and he never tries to
deal with the underlying problems even though he could quite easily do
so. The situation would gradually get worse toward 2007," said one
diplomat. Others point the finger at President Olusegun Obasanjo
himself, saying the former army ruler has failed to live up to hopes
for clean democratic governance since his election in 1999. Obasanjo's
re-election last year is still being disputed in the courts and
nationwide local polls in March were subject to widespread fraud,
according to monitors. The violence which accompanied them killed at
least 100 people across the country.