Archive for the ‘Nigeria’ category

Delta Blues

November 22, 2006

A troubling report, via a contact, from the conflict-riven Niger Delta region of Nigeria. According to Patrik Naagbanton and Stevyn Obodoekwe – the coordinator and head of the human rights program respectively of the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) – 27 year-old student Tombari Martins Berebon was shot by police at a Port Harcourt checkpoint on September 1st after the police attempted to extort a bribe from his party. His kidney “shattered” by the bullet, Berebon only survived thanks to timely medical attention.

In the words of Naagbanton and Obodoekwe, Berebon now “pants between life and death,” his assailants having “disappeared into thin air” after the incident. Berebon’s impoverished parents went to the police to implore them to cover his medical expenses. Instead, the police once again attempted to shake them down for a bribe. Summoning a wrathful eloquence in its letter to the police that perhaps can only properly be expressed in the vernacular, CEHRD demands “justice for this defenseless sufferer of your overventuresomeness.” After receiving CEHRD’s letter police officials are apparently hurrying to arrange some compensation. Berebon is undergoing treatment and will require major surgery.

Berebon’s case is no freak occurrence. The oil-rich Niger Delta is home to a volatile dynamic of corruption, vi0lence, tribal rivalry and state repression. Thanks to the region’s oil deposits, Nigeria is the eighth largest exporter of petroleum in the world and the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. But the oil wealth has been monopolized by a corrupt government and self-protecting elite (stop me if you’ve heard this one before), alienating the people instead of benefiting them and creating broad resentment. This dynamic is most acute in the densely populated Niger Delta region itself, where local tribal groups claim to have been dispossessed by the government and multinational oil companies and have taken up arms against both the government and each other. Kidnappings of foreign oil workers have become common. Government forces are notoriously corrupt and brutal, and ongoing conflict has resulted in civilian massacres, beatings and rape.

I’ll be trying to expand coverage of the troubles in the Niger Delta in the future. I believe it’s a conflict that merits closer attention, and a little more outrage, than the latest O.J. Simpson atrocity.