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Nigerian Oil Activist Campaign for Legal Option over Armed Struggle

By Gilbert da Costa
19 September 2009

A leading Nigerian lawyer and Niger Delta activist has appealed to militants to lay down their arm and pursue a legal option. The militants have waged violent attacks on Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry in a quest for a fairer share of the country's oil wealth.

The past three years have seen an upsurge in militant activities in the region with frequent attacks on oil companies and a wave of kidnappings of their employees.

Niger Delta activist Japkor Oghenejakpor says the time has come for a change of tactics in the Niger Delta struggle. The oil giant Shell agreed in June to pay $15.5 million in settlement of a legal action for human rights violations in Ogoni, a small community in eastern Niger Delta.

"They [militants] should drop their guns and live a better life. We have a better way of fighting the struggle of the Niger Delta, through the use of legal process," said Oghenejakpor. "You can see what happened to the Ogoni people."

"The Ogonis went to the [world] court and Shell was forced to settle and pay them some money. That is a way of getting to the matter. And I think if Nigerian courts are not ready to assist the Niger Delta people, we should take action in the world courts to seek for redress," he added.

The Niger Delta conflict has simmered for over a decade. Government crackdowns and offers of peace talks have had little effect on the rebellion. The grievances are rooted in poverty, environmental degradation and corruption.

President Umaru Yar'Adua in June offered a 60-day amnesty to gunmen in the delta who have been responsible for pipeline bombings, attacks on oil and gas installations and the kidnapping of industry workers.

The region's most sophisticated and best armed group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has so far rejected the amnesty offer.

Security forces in May launched their biggest offensive in years against militants in Delta state, bombarding militant camps from the air and sea. Security analysts say the government is set to launch a full-scale offensive in the Niger Delta when the 60-day amnesty program ends on October 4.

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