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Nigeria Delta Youths - 2002-03-19

Youths in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are becoming restive again, turning their anger against oil companies operating there. Recently, young people in Bayelsa State have attacked two facilities belonging to multinational oil companies. State government officials say they are doing everything possible to keep the youths busy and prevent further clashes. Nigerian authorities are trying to find ways to deal with a resurgence of violence by young people in the Niger Delta region. In late January, youths from Liama Community in Bayelsa State attacked the base of the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation in Brass. When naval officers in the nearby Brass terminal intervened, three youths were killed and many were wounded. The youths say the company failed to honor a promise to employ them in the company. But the company says it did employ several youths from the community. It also says there are plans to hire more. In February, IJaw youths in Bayelsa State vandalized a pipeline belonging to Shell in Obrigbene Community. They say they took the action because some of them were refused employment as members of the surveillance team to protect the pipelines by shell. The Bayelsa State government says it is worried by renewed cases of youth restiveness. Lionel Jonathan Omo is the state commissioner for environment. He says the restiveness in the Niger Delta is a by-product of the imbalance in the Nigerian Federal Structure. "Nigeria is a federation, meaning that there are federating units that make up the federal government. And as it happens in other civilized federations, the normal process would have been for the federating units to have complete control over their resources". But, mr. Omo adds, "Nigeria stands out unique in this federal arrangement because the center is made all consuming, all powerful, so the resources accrue to the center and the center disburses these resources without any given criteria."

Mr. Omo says the youths are agitated because they are unemployed and at the same time they see resources from their areas being used to develop other parts of the country. He says the restiveness can be stopped by finding them jobs. "The basic way of sorting it out is that there has to be put in place a system that can engage the raw energies of these youths - a system of self-empowerment of them should be put in place. They should be given scholarships to go to schools because the schooling process will curb the animalism that is inherent in an uneducated population. But primarily, the states should be given some level of autonomy over the control of their resources because the state is in a better position to know problems in their region." But some say the youths are not restive. Oronto Douglas is the deputy director of Environmental Rights Action, an NGO based in the Niger Delta area. He says the young people are only resisting what he calls "so many years of neglect and oppression." "And we need to interpret the restiveness correctly", he adds. "Here are a people for more than 50 years now have been denied the right to survival. Here are a people whose land, environment have been ravaged and they are saying, articulating their vision, their views very clearly in Kiama declaration. The Aklaka declaration, the Ogoni bill of rights and so on." Mr. Douglas says instead of addressing these issues, the government is using force. He says Niger Delta youths want a stable environment, peace and justice, equity in the society and a true Nigerian federation. But Thompson Okorotie, the political adviser to the governor of Bayelsa State, says the state government has set up some ventures that have provided jobs for youths. "We established a center for youth development, we established school to land, we established skills acquisition center. All of these have been able to mop up most of them out of the place, but that is what I mean by constructive engagement you have to employ them. The oil companies are not helping much in this regard. May be it is not their fault because they say their industry is technology based and cannot employ many people." Analysts say youth restiveness in the Niger Delta region will be reduced if state governments and oil companies provide jobs for young people. They also say if youths receive scholarships to go to school, they will think less of hostage taking, pipeline vandalism and other destructive activity.