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Community protests and military government retaliatory actions have increased over the last decade in the oil producing regions of Nigeria's Niger Delta region of Nigeria. These communities have seen little benefit from the revenue derived from the export of around two million barrels of oil a day, and yet they have suffered the adverse consequences of oil production, including environmental degradation and the deployment of abusive army and police units.1 These protests first came to international attention during the Ogoni crisis of 1993 to 1995, which resulted in scores of deaths in Ogoniland and culminated in the execution on November 10, 1995, of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the spokesperson of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and eight other Ogoni activists, following an unfair trial before a special tribunal that blatantly disregarded international standards of due process.2 Following the death in June 1998 of military head of state Gen. Sani Abacha, under whose government MOSOP's protests had been suppressed, the new head of state Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar released many political prisoners, relaxed repressive measures (including in Ogoniland), and instituted a fresh transition program for the restoration of civilian government. The apparently improved respect for freedom of expression and association encouraged activists in the oil producing regions to make a case to incoming civilian politicians for their demands to be met. Most vocal among those activists have been those from the Ijaw, Nigeria's fourth largest ethnic group, numbering at least eight million, which occupies much of the land where oil is produced, in both riverine and dry land areas largely in Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States.

On December 11, 1998, youths meeting at Kaiama, Bayelsa State, formed an Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and adopted a declaration which attributed "the political crisis in Nigeria" to "the struggle for the control of oil mineralresources," while asserting that "the degradation of the environment of Ijawland by transnational oil companies and the Nigerian State arise mainly because Ijaw people have been robbed of their natural rights to ownership and control of their land and resources." The Kaiama declaration also included a number of resolutions, of which the most important were statements that all land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory "belong to Ijaw communities"; and that the IYC ceased to recognize all decrees "enacted without our participation and consent." In line with these statements, the youths also called for the military to withdraw from the region, and warned oil companies that they would be regarded as an "enemy" if they relied on military protection.

We demand the immediate withdrawal from Ijawland of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian State. Any oil company that employs the services of the armed forces of the Nigerian State to "protect" its operations will be viewed as an enemy of the Ijaw people. Family members of military personnel stationed in Ijawland should appeal to their people to leave the Ijaw area alone.3

The declaration also warned that "steps to implement these resolutions" would begin on December 30 1998, by youths in "all the communities in all Ijaw clans in the Niger Delta." The oil companies were told to withdraw from the region by that date, under the implied threat of being caught up in unspecified actions of the IYC.

We, therefore, demand that all oil companies stop all exploration and exploitation activities in the Ijaw area. We are tired of gas flaring, oil spillages, blowouts and being labeled saboteurs and terrorists. It is a case of preparing the noose for our hanging. We reject this labeling. Hence, we advise all oil companies staff and contractors to withdraw from Ijaw territories by the 30th December 1998 pending the resolution of the issue of resource ownership and control in the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta.4

On December 28, the Ijaw Youth Council announced the launch of "Operation Climate Change," to run from January 1 to 10, involving "activities aimed at extinguishing gas flares."5 On December 30, youths supporting the Kaiama Declaration held demonstrations in a number of communities across Ijawland, which were peaceful in most places. In Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, a heavy-handed security force response led to confrontations over the next few days between youths and soldiers in Yenagoa and nearby communities that resulted in the deaths of dozens of youths and two or three soldiers, as described below.

The Kaiama Declaration echoes previous documents along similar lines adopted by other groups in the oil producing regions.6 Although some reservations were expressed about the ultimatum given to the oil companies, the substantive content of the Kaiama Declaration has not been rejected by any senior member of the Ijaw community, including the traditionally more conservative leaders of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), a representative body formed in 1991 and elected from among the various constituent communities speaking dialects of the Ijaw language. At the "Niger Delta Ethnic Nationalities Conference" held in Port Harcourt February from 4 to 6, 1999, Chief F.J. Williams, national secretary of the INC, publicly endorsed the Kaiama Declaration, which he interpreted to mean that "if you want to fight an enemy, you must bring it to its knees: first all the multinational oil companies must stop producing, and after we talk, then they can continue to produce."7 In a public statement issued in late January, Chief Williams and Chief Joshua Fumudoh, president of the INC, blamed the violence that followed the declaration on official unwillingness to dialogue with the Ijaw people, stating that the Kaiama Declaration "merely repeated severaldemands made over and over again by the people," and that "the only panacea for continued peaceful co-existence in this country is for each ethnic nationality to have meaningful control over its own environment and resources and to use them for self-development in accordance with each nationality's aspirations."8

1 See, Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities (New York, February 1999), for a discussion of the costs of oil production for the communities of the delta.

2 For details of the Ogoni crisis and trial of Ken Saro-Wiwa, see Human Rights Watch/Africa, "The Ogoni Crisis: A Case Study of Military Repression in South East Nigeria," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, July 1995; Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Permanent Transition: Current Violations of Human Rights in Nigeria," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, September 1996.

3 Article 3, Kaiama Declaration.

4 Article 4, Kaiama Declaration.

5 Ogele, Bulletin of the Ijaw Youth Council, December 30, 1998.

6 In August 1990, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) adopted an Ogoni Bill of Rights; in October 1992, the Movement for the Survival of the Izon (Ijaw) Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEND), adopted an Izon People's Charter; in November 1992, the Movement for Reparation to Ogbia (MORETO) adopted a Charter of Demands of the Ogbia People. Both the Izon and the Ogbia are sub-groups of the Ijaw. These various declarations are discussed in Human Rights Watch, The Price of Oil, pp.124-131.

7 Human Rights Watch notes taken at the conference, February 4, 1999.

8 Joseph Ollor Obari, "Why Niger Delta crisis festers, by Ijaw leaders," Guardian (Lagos), January 28, 1999.

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