America's Monkey Business in Nigeria

Opinion by Owei Lakemfa, Vanguard (Lagos), 29 August 2000

Lagos—The Americans can be quite subtle. They took a look at our country and the restlessness in the Niger Delta. Their conclusion is that our coup-prone armed forces need be further strengthened.

First, in the guise of professionalising our military and assisting it in peace keeping, the Americans are ready to provide financial and logistical support. In the specific case of the Niger Delta which has produced the so-called troublesome people like Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Egbesu Movement, the Americans have decided to promote a military rather than a democratic solution. So they have offered our Navy eight fast attack patrol vessels ostensibly to check “smuggling” in the Niger Delta.

But we all know that the main points of smuggling in our country are not in the Niger Delta but on the land borders especially in the northern and western parts of the country. So the fast attack vessels which were specifically made for the United States Coast Guards are meant to strengthen the Navy's capacity to bring the undisguised rebellion in the oil producing Niger Delta to an end.

Even under the murderous military regime, American interests remained how to make the Niger Delta stable for oily business by trans- national oil companies especially those with American links. It is no secret that Shell had over the years provided the government especially when led by the military, logistics to put the Niger Delta protests under control and guarantee it a free atmosphere to exploit the oil resources.

On at least two occasions, the American Chevron Oil Company had participated in brutal and bloody military actions against oil producing communities. I had personally confronted Chevron authorities on the company's participation in military attacks against Ijaw communities near Warri and Ilaje communities in Ondo State. Before Ken Saro-Wiwa was shut up, he openly accused Shell of providing arms with which the Nigerian military repressed the people of the Niger Delta.

But while it would have been embarrassing for the Americans to be caught providing military hardware to Nigeria under military jackboots, it seems okay for them to now do so under a civilian government. With the decision to provide logistical support to the armed forces in the protesting Niger Delta, the Americans have merely moved from indirect, to direct involvement in the Niger Delta crisis. However, there are wider implications; when the Americans decided to strengthen the Nigerian Military which has a history of repression, what they are doing is to weaken the civil populace. Also, strengthening the armed forces, which today is under the complete control of a unitary government conversely means weakening the fight for a federal system in our country.

Within our current politics, the Americans strengthening of our armed forces, tantamount to the strengthening of the executive arm which already has too many powers concentrated in it. It would have been healthier for Nigerian democracy if the U.S were engaged in strengthening the legislative and judicial arms rather than the executive which has since the first military coup in 1966 monopolized power. So providing logistic support for the Nigerian armed forces does not advance democracy; rather it threatens the civil society which is still too weak to confront any renewed military offensive against civil or democratic governance.

We all know that the civil society organizations especially their pro-democracy and human rights components played a major role in rolling back military adventurism, fighting dictatorship and putting the country on the path to an electoral system. The question is, why is the U.S not strengthening them? Why does it prefer to help further build the bulging muscles of the discredited military in Nigeria? All these is not to deny that the U.S. and its funding agencies assisted some of the pro-democracy groups in the fight against military dictatorship.

But since then, it has grossly reduced these funds which the Nigerian civil society needs for capacity building. Even the little funds it still providing are going mainly through American organizations that have now set up shop in the country.

So whose interest is the U.S. serving in its post-military politics in Nigeria? Certainly not the larger interest of the civil population. In the specific case of the oil producing minorities of the Niger Delta, the U.S. by better arming the military, is raising the stakes. Rather than play a mediatory role, the Americans are taking sides against the oppressed.

The Niger Delta people are engaged in a struggle for survival, the oil resources is a wasting asset and if the current trend continues by the time oil dries up, they would remain at the state of nature with a devastated environment and a psychologically disabled mind. The Americans have oil-producing communities; they never seized the oil wealth of those communities and never sent murderous soldiers to wipe out oil producing towns as the General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime did in Kiama and the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration in Odi.

So why won't the American government want done to the Nigerian people as it does to its own people?