2004 - Joint Task Force
Military authorities in Bayelsa State in the Niger delta region declared a state of emergency in late December 1998 in response to violence by members of the Ijaw ethnic group who sought greater local autonomy. In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi, Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang.
Fighting continued between two ethnic groups -- Itsekiris and Ijaw residents of the Niger Delta. Tensions between the Itsekiris and the Ijaw communities remained high in 2003, with intermittent reports of violence. Tribal clashes in March 2003 forced the withdrawal of major oil companies from the area. Ethnic clashes in the region led to dozens of deaths, and forced multi-national oil giants to curtail operations in the area. Oil companies were forced to shut down 40 percent of the country's output as the Ijaws and Itsekiris traded gunfire. Ethnic fighting resurfaced in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta in mid-August 2003. This was the most serious fighting in the area since March. But in October 2003 James Ibori, the Governor of Delta State, brought the warring Ijaw and Itsekiri communities together to agree a fragile peace. Fighting between the two groups killed more than 200 people during 2003 and forced the government to send in troop reinforcements to restore order.
The level of violence that Delta youth can muster seemed unlikely to seriously impede oil production. This implied that Delta conflicts will not exert a marked negative effect on the national economy. Moreover, Delta problems do not threaten consolidation of democratic civilian governance in Nigeria nor do they trigger ethnic riots elsewhere in the country.
On 01 June 2004 leaders of rival ethnic militia groups agreed to peace terms in the Nigerian oil town of Warri. The peace agreement struck between the Ijaw and Itsekiri militia groups crowned efforts by Delta State governor James Ibori to end fighting between the two tribes over claims to land and oil-related benefits. More than 200 people had died in ethnic clashes in Delta State over the previous year. But the peace deal failed to address key demands of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities Group for improved political representation and better access to the region's oil resources. Government officials urged foreign oil companies to resume operations in the troubled Niger Delta region that had been disrupted by a year of fighting. ChevronTexaco, which had shut down 140,000 barrels per day of production, showed no immediate enthusiasm to reactivate its closed facilities.
What is now known as the Nigerian Oil Crisis began on 25 September 2004 when the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) threatened to attack oil facilities and infrastructure in the Delta region. Royal Dutch Shell responded the next day by evacuating 235 personnel from its oil fields. The NDPVF threatened to declare an all-out war against Obasajo’s government on 1 October and told all oil companies and their foreign workers to leave the Delta. Obasanjo entered into negotiations with the group and a ceasefire and disbarment plan were declared on 29 September.
By 5 October, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of the NDPVF, withdrew from disarmament obligations. The rest of October was punctuated by a series of oil worker strikes and fluctuations in the global price of oil. On 28 October, the NDPVF began to turn its weapons over to the government.
In November, strikes continued and by the 15th, the government agreed to lower domestic oil prices. The unions suspended their strikes the next day. Unfortunately, fighting began anew when members of the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) attacked the Okrika region. The NDPVF responded by dropping at out disarmament plans. On 30 November, the Nigerian government revealed that over one million barrels of crude were lost each week during November.
On 15 June 2005, six Shell workers (two Germans and two Nigerians) were kidnapped. A group calling itself the Iduwini National Movement for Peace and Development claimed responsibility. Three days later, all six workers were released but their kidnappers stated that Shell was still under threat as it had yet to follow through on promises of development in the region.
The situation between the government and the NDPVF worsened when Asari was arrested for treason on 20 September 2005. The next day 300 NDPVF turned out for a protest armed with machetes and promising revenge. On 22 September, over 100 militants stormed an oil pumping station. Threats of more seizures led to another station being closed but government forces were able to reopen both stations by 26 September.
Asari was formally charged with treason on 6 October. If convicted he could face the death penalty. In what was probably a response to the charges, militants blew up a pipeline and killed eight people in December. As a result of this attack Shell was forced to delay crude shipments out of Nigeria.
In January 2006, a new militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta (MEND), entered the fray. MEND is closely linked to the NDPVF and is demanding, among other things, the release of Asari and $1.5 billion in compensation from Shell for the pollution they claim it caused. MEND’s first significant act was an attack on Italy’s Eni SpA petroleum company. The deaths of nine Eni officials forced the company to evacuate its staff and contractors from the area. Along with further kidnappings and another withdrawal of Shell workers, it was estimated that the instability had resulted in a 10% drop in Nigerian oil production.
By April, continued attacks had brought Nigerian oil production capability down to 75%. On 5 April, Obasanjo established a special committee to address the crisis by improving education, employment, and infrastructure. By the end of the month, Obasanjo offered the region thousands of new jobs and a highway. MEND’s response came in the form of a car-bombing the next day. Killings and kidnappings of foreign oil workers and the government’s retaliatory attacks continued through December.
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