New waves of sabotage and insurrection have been rocking the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. A new group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), has been carrying out sophisticated guerrilla attacks on oil infrastructure, and demanding a variety of political and economic reforms.
The Avengers demand greater ownership of oil resources for the people who live in crude-producing areas. They want environmental repair and compensation for damages inflicted by oil producers. And they want continued government funding for an amnesty program that is largely credited with halting the last round of Delta violence, which mostly ended in 2009.
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has a long and brutal history of environmental degradation and fossil fuel extraction, intimately linked with the dynamics of global capitalism. The situation got particularly nasty in the 1990s, when the military dictatorship responded to mass protests with indiscriminate killings and forced displacement; and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a key local protest leader and popular political figure, was executed by the military dictatorship on trumped-up charges. This lead to even more unrest and dissent that took an increasingly violent approach, and in 2006 a coalition of armed militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), launched a protracted insurgent movement aimed at shutting down oil production and winning the region political and economic rights.
This new wave of insurgency seems even more effective at shutting down oil production; recent attacks have reduced Nigeria’s oil production by 40%, the lowest in some two decades, and exceeding the impacts during the worst periods of MEND’s insurgency, which tapered off around 2009 after peace talks lead to an amnesty program.
Its not clear what direction the NDA will take. MEND rapidly deteriorated from whatever claim to political and popular legitimacy it had as it became subsumed into the corrupt networks of Nigeria’s political and economic elites, and slowly became just another criminal/warlord organization (that is, a capitalist enterprise) with ties to various politicians. The NDA appears to be currently more embedded in local social and political networks: local community leaders are openly voicing their support for the NDA, and newly forming militant political groups, like the Ultorogu Liberation Movement, are also voicing their support.
Its unclear what direction this new anti-imperialist environmental insurgent network will take, and whether it will maintain its apparent political and social orientations; but its certainly worth watching and studying, especially in the context of US special forces in the country, and the massive and growing US military footprint in Africa in general. It might not be long before the institutions and rhetoric of the War on Terror is used to protect the assets of the Nigerian oligarchy and multinational oil companies–not unlike what happened in Colombia around a decade ago.