Patriotic forces in the oil-rich, west African state of Nigeria have warned that stepped-up British aid to their country’s military may presage yet another colonial war by British imperialism.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown used July’s G8 summit in Japan, and a visit to Britain the next week by Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, to offer British military help aimed at quashing a popular insurrection in the Niger Delta region, which in recent months has contributed to reducing Nigeria’s oil output by a quarter and hence to the rise in world oil prices.
However, Brown’s bravado spectacularly exploded in his own face – the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the main armed group fighting for the rights of the local people, ended its two week-old ceasefire, sending oil prices soaring higher still.
In a statement, Mend said: “Should Gordon Brown make good his threat to support this criminality for the sake of oil, UK citizens and interests in Nigeria will suffer the consequences.”
Prior to the cut in Nigerian output, which allowed Angola to take the first position, Nigeria was Africa’s largest oil producer. Last year, Nigeria and Angola together exported more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia.
Mend’s central demand is that a greater share of the oil revenue be given to the local people, as the Niger Delta remains one of the poorest regions in the whole of Africa despite being one of its main oil production centres.
Writing in the Independent of 11 July, Claire Soares described a little of the poverty and misery endured by the local people in the midst of almost unimaginable riches:
“Amid the serpentine creeks and rivers; in the ramshackle wooden huts perched on stilts above the oozing mud; among the muddy puddles where children gather to collect drinking water, there is little hint of the vast oil wealth on which the entire Niger Delta is sitting.
“Nigeria might be the world’s eighth-biggest oil exporter, but these villagers remain mired in poverty. Getting to the nearest clinic means a day navigating the waterways; in the absence of proper schools, children idle their days away among the swamps.
“The people of the Delta do not get to see even the most meagre crumbs from a table that is ever more bountiful as oil prices reach record highs. What they get instead is the pollution.”
She went on to describe how oil monopolies like Shell and Chevron burn off around 2.5bn cubic feet of gas that comes out of the ground as the oil is pumped:
“Round the clock, flames shoot from the ground, turning the sky black with acrid smoke, and coating everything with a fine soot. At night … the area resembles a scene from Tolkien’s Middle Earth – a Nigerian Mordor. Residents blame these gas flares for polluting the fields and waterways, making it impossible to fish or grow food.
“The Nigerian government was supposed to start fining companies that had not shut down their flares at the beginning of this year, but rolled back the deadline after pressure from oil multinationals who said they would not be able to comply without shutting off production.” (‘Pollution and poverty stain a land divided by oil’)
It is such misery and oppression that has seen Mend go from strength to strength in recent months, with support from the people:
“MEND has become increasingly sophisticated despite its arsenal of rusty Kalashnikovs. Proof of this came three weeks ago with their audacious night-time raid on the Bonga offshore field, forcing Shell to shut down the 200,000-barrel-a-day operation, and serving notice that deep-water facilities, once seen as safe, were no longer out of bounds.” (Ibid)
In a 23 July statement, Mend denied regime propaganda that it had received pay-offs to end its armed struggle, adding that to prove the point it would destroy the Chanomi creek and other major pipelines within 30 days:
“MEND will never sell its birthright for a bowl of porridge when the impoverished masses in the region continue to live in abject poverty,” the group said.
Mend has pledged to resist any British military involvement in Nigerian affairs. Asked by the Independent if he feared Nigeria becoming the next Iraq or Afghanistan, spokesman Jomo Gbomo replied: “It will not get to that point except if there is foreign interference.” (‘Brown blunders in pledge to secure Nigeria oil’, 11 July 2008)
The British armed forces are already stretched to the limit with their rapacious wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention continuing deployments in northern Ireland, the Balkans and elsewhere. Discontent is growing among the rank-and-file and among the working-class communities from which the army traditionally recruits.
If Brown carries through on his threat, he will simply be driving another nail in the coffin of British imperialism.
Victory to the Nigerian people!