Scramble for oil in Nigeria causes ethnic and political violence

Dec 17, 2003 01:00 AM

A scramble for oil in Nigeria's south sparked the ethnic fighting that killed several hundred people and crippled petroleum exports from Africa's leading crude producer this year, an international human rights group said. Gun battles among rival militants and Nigerian security forces have killed an estimated 200 people since January in the southern, oil-rich Niger Delta, where fighting escalated in April and May as ethnic groups traded accusations of influence-peddling in elections that saw President Olusegun Obasanjo's re-election.
"Although the violence has both ethnic and political dimensions, it is essentially a fight over the oil money -- both government revenue and the profits of stolen crude," said New York-based Human Rights Watch.

As unrest spread, oil firms pulled staff from the region, briefly shutting down 40 % of Nigeria's daily export of 2 mm barrels. Many of the region's people remain in crushing poverty, despite the lucrative oil drilling in Nigeria -- the fifth largest exporter of petroleum to the United States. International monitoring groups routinely rank Nigeria's government as among the world's most corrupt.
The Nigerian government estimates 10 % of the oil drilled is illegally tapped from pipelines by criminal gangs who sell the fuel abroad, earning hundreds of millions in profits yearly. Human Rights Watch said some of the ill-gotten profits pay for weapons used in the delta violence.

Some politicians sponsor the oil-theft gangs and use ethnic militias to ensure re-election and defend illegal operations, the report says.
"Efforts to halt the violence and end the civilian suffering that has accompanied it must therefore include steps both to improve government accountability and to end the theft of oil," the 29-page report said.
Measures recommended by Human Rights Watch include a new election in the area where much of the fighting occurred, Delta State, alleging that widespread fraud and violence likely skewed poll results there. The group also endorsed a system of "certifying" legal crude oil in Nigeria, heightening chances of identifying ill-gotten crude in the international market.

More than 10,000 people are estimated to have died in Nigeria in an upsurge of ethnic and sectarian violence following the end of more than 15 years of brutal military rule in 1999.

Source: NEWS24
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