I recently read a recommended article from New York Times about a young woman terribly wounded by the wanton gunfights that have encompassed her neighborhood in the Niger Delta. The violence of the region is usually aimed at international oil corporations, their workers, and the police and government soldiers. But now the violence is focused at the internal as opposed to the external. The very people who are at the heart of the oil issue and conflict are being hurt and killed in the sights of the unhappy gangs of militias. The young and old are forced to flee the fighting when gangs enter and occupy their relatively peaceful villages.
Democracy returned to Nigeria in 1999, but since then it is known that politicians have used the gangs as spheres of influence around the Niger Delta. The government has claimed that it has cracked down on the gangs. They recently sent in an elite military unit to restore order and stop the violence in the streets. The violence has spread beyond the streets now and into the outlying villages. Traditional chiefs and village councils attempt to deal with the gangs and cults, but that only brings more violence to their doorsteps. In the NYT article a village meeting was said to be overrun by men on motorbikes with machine guns and grenades. The village leaders were killed and dumped in the river. One man is quoted as saying that such violence was completely bound up with politics, “Our politicians cannot stand on their own, so they find those who will stand with guns for them,” Dr. Ogan said. The fragile ceasefire could not last as the Nigerian militias continue to feel disenfranchised for the vast oil wealth flowing from their country.
The conflict in Nigeria is complex with many different sets of actors: individuals, groups, and communities; local, state, and national governments; police, paramilitaries, and navy; and oil company employees, officials, and management. I was recently chosen to be a research assistant to one of my professors working on dissecting the Nigerian oil conflict. This is the project’s goal:
Our project seeks to unpack the complexity of the conflict over oil, environmental degradation, and representation in the Niger Delta. Reducing this conflict down to a single issue-dimension—oil wealth—oversimplifies matters and obscures the linkages between different aspects of this problem, a problem which encompasses the political, economic, and social realms, and is manifested at the local, state national and international levels.
My professor is from Nigeria and has completed extensive work on the conflicts in Nigeria surrounding the oil resource. I have high hopes for the coming semester of research and further education on this pressing issue.