“General” Ramsey Mukoro opens a wad of cash and orders a double Hennessy before issuing his warning: the rebellion he was part of is threatening to return to the oil-rich Niger River delta.
Sipping the cognac from a gold-leaf glass at a mid-morning interview in a hotel bar in the southern Nigerian city of Yenagoa, Mukoro, the 33-year-old former militant commander, listed grievances that may return the delta to the violent days before a peace deal in 2009: unemployment, pollution and prosecution of top leaders of the insurgency.
“There’s no development around,” he said on the balcony of the gaudy Aridolf hotel, overlooking hollow buildings and shacks made of wood and corrugated iron opposite a busy highway lined with mounds of garbage. “Another agitation is coming.”
Before the last bout of unrest ended with a government amnesty and agreement to pay the gunmen, the rebels kidnapped oil workers and attacked installations run by companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Chevron Corp. and Eni SpA, cutting output in Africa’s biggest oil producer by about a quarter.
With his security forces engaged in fighting Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency in the north, President Muhammadu Buhari can’t afford renewed rebellion in the Delta.
Oil accounts for two-thirds of government revenue, and almost all of Nigeria’s exports. Africa’s biggest economy is already reeling from the 69 percent drop in prices for Brent crude, the equivalent of Nigeria’s Bonny Light, since June 2014.
Three pipelines were bombed last month.
The militants are frustrated by Buhari’s decision to cut multi-million dollar contracts given to former commanders to guard the pipelines they once attacked.
The government plans to slash financing to the amnesty program by half this year to about $100 million and scrap it all together next year. Under the agreement, about 30,000 fighters have been receiving training and a 65,000 naira ($327) monthly allowance.
They’re frustrated too by the decision of the state anti-corruption agency to charge one of the most powerful former commanders, Government Ekpemupolo, on Jan. 14 with money laundering and colluding with the country’s maritime body to divert 34 billion naira of government funds. Ekpemupolo, widely known as Tompolo, didn’t appear for questioning and has denied the accusations in statements in local newspapers.
“The prosecution against Tompolo, our leader, is unfair and we will not take it,” Mukoro said. “The federal government should be mindful of what they are doing.”
The weekend after an arrest warrant was issued for Tompolo, the Bonny-Okrika and Escravos-Warri pipelines were bombed, shutting down supply to two of Nigeria’s state-owned refineries. Tompolo’s spokesman denied he was involved and said the violence was orchestrated to frame him.
Paul Boroh, Buhari’s special adviser on the Niger delta, said militants who accepted the amnesty have “disassociated” themselves from the attacks and were helping to track down the perpetrators. A 57-year-old retired brigadier general who’s also heading the amnesty program, Boroh said he’s confident the former fighters “won’t go back to the creeks.”
Many commanders may have no interest in resuming violence because they have “enjoyed largess, they’re now used to luxury, they have a lot of business,” Olumide Oyebamiji, senior project officer at the Stakeholder Democracy Network, which mediates in local conflicts, said in Port Harcourt, the southern oil industry hub.
One of the biggest criticisms of the amnesty program is that commanders allegedly siphoned off their followers’ share of the cash. The program has also failed to tackle pollution and a lack of development in a region where Nigeria’s statistics agency says more than 50 percent of the population live on $1 a day, said Anyakwee Nsirimovu, who helped draft the original amnesty program.
“Those few leaders are living well. They have become billionaires overnight and the young ones are still loitering the streets,” said Nsirimovu, head of the Port Harcourt-based Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. “These leaders pocketed the money and gave them peanuts. Those who really carried AK-47s in the Niger delta are still here.”
(Source: Bloomberg News)