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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Nigeria: Delta Crisis Reports

Nigeria: Delta Crisis Reports
Date distributed (ymd): 990613
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This report contains two documents on the crisis in the Niger Delta Region: (a) a summary of the latest report (May 1999) from Human Rights Watch / Africa, and (b) a June 10 report from Nigeria by Africa Fund Human Rights Coordinator Michael Fleshman.

For additional news and background sources see:

A variety of commentary from different Nigerian and international groups focusing on the Delta can be found on the Shell-Nigeria-Action Listserv Archive:

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor,
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA.
TEL: 1-212-290-4700, FAX: 1-212-736-1300
E-mail:; Web Site Address:

May 1999

Copies of the full report are available on the Human Rights Watch website at <>.

For further information:
Bronwen Manby, London +44 171 713 1995 Peter Takirambudde, New York +1 212 216 1223


The Niger Delta has for some years been the site of major confrontations between the people who live there and the Nigerian government's security forces, resulting in extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and draconian restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. These violations of civil and political rights have been committed principally in response to protests about the activities of the multinational companies that produce Nigeria's oil and the use made of the oil revenue by the Nigerian government. Although the succession by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar as head of state in June 1998 brought a significant relaxation in the repression the late Gen. Sani Abacha inflicted on the Nigerian people, human rights abuses in the oil producing communities continue and the basic situation in the delta remains unchanged.

When he took office, General Abubakar canceled the "transition program" established by General AbachaŚwhich had apparently been designed to install the military head of state as a "civilian" president, released political prisoners, and instituted a fresh transition program under conditions of greater openness. Local, state, and national elections were held in December 1998 and January and February 1999, and were intended to lead to the inauguration of a civilian government, headed by president-elect and former military head of state Olusegun Obasanjo, on May 29, 1999. Since the death of Abacha, and in the context of the greater competition within the political environment encouraged by the elections, there has been a surge in demands for the government to improve the position of the different groups living in the oil producing areas. In particular, members of the Ijaw ethnic group, the fourth largest in Nigeria, adopted the Kaiama Declaration on December 11, 1998, which claimed ownership of all natural resources found in Ijaw territory. There has also been an increase in incidents in which protesters have occupied oil industry flow stations and stopped production or taken oil workers hostage.

In February 1999, Human Rights Watch published a 200-page report, The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities, which examined human rights violations connected to the suppression of protest at oil company activities. The report went to press before details of a security force crackdown in the Niger Delta in late December 1998 and January 1999 were available. The current short report describes those events, on the basis of interviews conducted in the delta region during February 1999. We conclude that the military crackdown in Bayelsa and Delta States in late December 1998 and early January 1999 led to the deaths of several dozens of people, and probably more than one hundred; the torture and inhuman treatment of others; and the arbitrary detention of many more. These abuses took place as a response to demonstrations held by Ijaw youths in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, and Kaiama, a community an hour away by road. The demonstrations were initially peaceful, and the majority of those killed were unarmed. Some were summarily executed. In another incident, two communities in Delta State were attacked by soldiers, using a helicopter and boats commandeered from a facility operated by Chevron, following an alleged confrontation that took place at a nearby Chevron drilling rig. More than fifty people may have died in these incidents. Chevron has asserted that it had no choice in allowing its contractors' equipment to be used in this way. The company did not issue any public protest at the killings; nor has it stated that it will take any steps to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Soldiers remain deployed in the riverine areas of Bayelsa and Delta States. While there are genuine security concerns relating to kidnappings of oil workers and to inter-community conflict, especially in Delta State, these soldiers are responsible for ongoing human rights violations. These violations range from routine extortion of money at roadblocks to arbitrary detention and torture. On a few occasions, individuals have also been summarily executed.

The recent elections were deeply flawed in many parts of Nigeria, but the elections held in the South-South zone, the area including the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta, were particularly problematic. Observers noted widespread electoral irregularities in Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta States, those most troubled by recent protests.

Following the completion of the election process, the government of General Abubakar appointed a committee to consider the needs of the Niger Delta, which has recommended the immediate disbursement of 15.3 billion naira, U.S.$170 million, on development projects and the establishment of a Niger Delta Consultative Council, made up of government figures and representatives of the oil companies, to oversee development projects. General Abubakar's government has also held discussions with selected leaders from, in particular, the Ijaw ethnic group, in relation to this plan.

The crisis in the oil producing regions will be one of the most pressing issues for the new government of Nigeria when it takes office on May 29. The level of anger against the federal government and the oil companies among the residents of the oil producing communities means that further protest is likely, as are further incidents of hostage taking and other criminal acts. The crackdown in the Niger Delta over the New Year indicates the extent to which the current government, which has otherwise showed increased respect for human rights, is still prepared to use military force to crush peaceful protest, rather than to seek to address the issues being protested. Yet any attempt to achieve a military solution will certainly result in widespread and serious violations of Nigeria's commitments to respect internationally recognized human rights. To avoid a human rights crisis, the incoming government must allow the peoples of the Niger Delta to select their own representatives and to participate in decisionmaking concerning the future course of the region. The flawed nature of the elections makes it all the more essential that attempts to address the grievances of the delta communities involve discussions with individuals who are freely chosen by the communities of the delta and with a mandate to represent their interests, rather than with individuals chosen by the government as representative. In addition, the government must take steps to reestablish respect for human rights and the rule of law, and to end continuing human rights violations resulting from the deployment of soldiers in the delta region.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria also share a responsibility to ensure that oil production does not continue at the cost of violations of the rights of those who live in the areas where oil is produced. Given the deteriorating security situation in the delta, it is all the more urgent for the companies to adopt systematic steps to ensure that the legitimate protection of company staff and property does not result in summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and other violations. Systematic monitoring and protest of human rights violations by the government, and steps to ensure that the companies themselves are not complicit in such human rights violations, are more important than ever.


Human Rights Watch made extensive recommendations in our report The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities. In addition to the steps set out in that report, Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations to the Nigerian government, the oil companies, and the international community.

To the Current Military and Incoming Civilian Nigerian Governments:

  • Appoint judicial inquiries into the events in Yenagoa and Kaiama, Bayelsa State, during late 1998 and early 1999, and into the attacks on Opia and Ikenyan, Delta State, on January 4, 1999. Publish the reports, institute criminal and disciplinary proceedings, as appropriate, against those responsible for violations of human rights, and pay appropriate compensation to the victims and their relatives.
  • Institute an immediate, inclusive and transparent process of negotiation with freely chosen representatives of the peoples living in the Niger Delta to resolve the issues surrounding the production of oil.
  • Replace soldiers carrying out policing duties in the Niger Delta area and elsewhere with regular police. Immediately withdraw military units suspected of or known to have committed abuses, and, following judicial inquiries, withdraw units identified as abusive.

To Chevron Nigeria Ltd:

  • Publicly condemn the human rights violations carried out at Opia and Ikenyan by the Nigerian military and make clear to the Nigerian government that equipment owned by Chevron or its contractors will not be made available to the army in future unless proper safeguards are in place to ensure that similar gross violations of human rights do not occur, including written agreements relating to the commandeering of oil company facilities or equipment.
  • Develop written guidelines on the provision of security for Chevron facilities and cooperation with government security forces, including rules ensuring the proportionate use of force as well as proper authorization and human rights safeguards should the military seek to commandeer the company's equipment.

To Multilateral Institutions and Nigeria's Bilateral Trading Partners:

  • In discussions with the current and incoming Nigerian governments, insist on the need for investigation and punishment of human rights violations committed in connection with the incidents described in this report, for compensation to be paid to the victims, and for a negotiated solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta.
  • Insist to oil companies operating in Nigeria that they should adopt measures (including those recommended in Human Rights Watch's report The Price of Oil) to ensure that human rights violations are not committed in connection with their operations.

The Africa Fund
50 Broad Street, Suite 711
New York, NY 10004 USA
Tel: (212) 785-1024 Fax: (212) 785-1078

Nigeria Transition Watch

Dateline: Lagos, Nigeria, June 10, 1999

Report on the Crisis in the Niger Delta
by Michael Fleshman, Human Rights Coordinator, The Africa Fund

The violence that has devastated the city of Warri near Chevron's Escravos tank farm is only the most recent and most tragic manifestation of the rage sweeping the impoverished communities of Nigeria's oil fields after decades of repression and exploitation by military dictatorships and western oil companies. Since the current violence began in late May, 600 homes have been destroyed, as many as 300 people have died and thousands more have fled the city center and outlying residential districts to escape attacks by hundreds of young men in military uniforms armed with machine guns and assault rifles. The days old civilian government of newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo rushed thousands of troops into the area and declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew on June 8 in an effort to contain the fighting. The Nigerian press reported yesterday, June 9, that a tense calm had been established, punctuated by sporadic clashes between the opposing sides and with the security forces on the outskirts of town.

The immediate cause of the crisis was a 1997 decision by now deceased dictator General Sani Abacha to relocate a Local Government Authority (effectively a town council) in Warri from a district occupied by the majority Ijaw people to that of the minority Itsekeris. The move was made to bolster the despised dictator's political fortunes and to punish the Ijaw community for its increasingly visible opposition to his regime. Resentment in the Ijaw community boiled over on Inauguration Day, May 29, when Ijaw activists protested the installation of an Itsekeri politician at the head of the disputed LGA, triggering clashes between the communities and spilling over to the Urhobo community, whose young men have also battled armed Itsekeri youth.

Western press reports and the oil companies have focused on the ethnic character of the violence to portray it as "tribal warfare" unrelated to the decade-long struggle by the various minority peoples of the Niger Delta oil fields against the oil companies and military rule. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nigerian human rights and environmental activists, trade union and religious leaders and elected officials say that the failure of both theAbacha and Abubakar military regimes to redress local grievances, the deliberate manipulation of ethnic tension by the military and gross economic exploitation and environmental destruction of the minority communities by the oil companies have driven the indigenous peoples of the region to the very edge of survival and fueled a desperate competition between them for what little resources are available.

Warri, like other towns in the oil fields, presents a harsh contrast of staggering wealth and appalling poverty.Heavily guarded oil company compounds with paved streets, swimming pools, satellite telephones and supermarkets sit yards away from villages without electricity, running water or a school. By law, Nigeria's oil wealth and the land above it is owned by the Federal government, not by the local communities. For decades Nigeria's ruling generals and the oil companies have extracted billions of dollars a year from these communities and returned virtually none in the form of jobs, health care, or education.

Oil spills and decades of pollution and acid rain from gas flaring have destroyed the livelihoods of the indigenous people. Compensation for the devastating effects of oil production is always inadequate, often unpaid, and commonly stolen by corrupt traditional leaders beholden to the Federal government in far-away Abuja for their positions, and to oil company patronage for money.

The small sums of money doled out by the national government to LGAs for salaries and administration are often the only real source of income in local communities, making control of local governments a life-and-death matter, dividing communities along ethnic lines and weakening collective action against abusive government and corporate policies.

The reality of the current tragedy was summed up in an commentary in the current edition of the respected weekly Tempo newspaper. "The animosity, actually, is not among the feuding communities. Rather it is a sort of resentment against the state which exploits the oil -- yielding billions of dollars -- and leaves the area underdeveloped. And when such animosity lasts too long, the concerned people start suspecting one another of collaborating with the enemy or of being too passive with him. Hence the inter-communal clashes, which only justice in the sharing of oil revenue can solve in the long run."

The outstanding head of the Nigerian oil workers union Pengassan, former prisoner of conscience Milton Dabibi, told me last night that only the immediate intervention of the Obasanjo government, and the establishment of a credible dialogue between the communities, the government and the oil companies on a fundamental restructuring of economic and political institutions in the region can bring an end to the bloody crisis in Nigeria's oil fields. In recent weeks he has traveled extensively throughout the Niger Delta, including Warri, to establish just that dialogue. His initiatives deserve the full backing of the international community. But to date the major multi-national producers, Shell, Mobil and Chevron have refused to support it.

Dabibi had high praise for President Obasanjo's efforts to resolve the Warri crisis. The President is expected to fly to Warri on Friday to meet with leaders of the communities in Warri to end the fighting. But until the legitimate demands of the peoples of the Niger Delta for control of their land and resources, for economic and social justice and for an end to repression are met, the political fires raging in the Delta will continue to burn.

Michael Fleshman is traveling in Nigeria for a month. Founded in 1966 by the American Committee on Africa, The Africa Fund works for a positive U.S. policy toward Africa and supports African human rights, democracy and development.

Contact: The Africa Fund, 50 Broad Street, Suite 711, New York, NY 10004 USA.
Tel: (212) 785-1024. Fax: (212) 785-1078.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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