Several hundred soldiers and sailors are permanently deployed to Delta State, operating out of the David Ejoor Barracks, Effurun, and Warri Naval Base. One of their primary duties is to protect oil installations, regarded by the Nigerian government as a national security priority. Following the clash on March 12 that sparked the worst violence in 2003, the government deployed hundreds of additional soldiers, sailors and mobile police to Warri town and into the creeks surrounding Warri. In August, the federal government established a new joint security task force in Delta State—including army, navy, air force and mobile police—known as “Operation Restore Hope.” By mid-September, when the overall control of the operation was taken over by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Alexander Ogomudia from Brig.-Gen. Elias Zamani, military detachments had begun to be deployed to oil facilities in the riverine areas.
Nigerian government security forces of various types are deployed to protect the facilities of all the oil companies operating in Nigeria, and this security is stepped up at times of violence such as that in Delta State during 2003. The oil companies contribute to their upkeep while they are deployed at oil facilities, but they remain under the command control of the Nigerian government. In the case of SPDC, for example, around 400 unarmed “supernumerary” police, whose wages the oil companies also pay, are deployed in the company’s Western Division (into which Delta State falls), as well as around 265 armed doghandlers and mobile police. Under normal operations, some one hundred army or naval personnel are deployed to SPDC oil facilities designated by the government as of national security importance (such as the major crude export terminals); but as of October 2003 around 350 Operation Restore Hope task force personnel were deployed at or near SPDC’s main facilities in the swamp area.80
The commanding officer (CO) of the 7th Battalion, based in Effurun, Lt.-Col. Gar Dogo, would not tell Human Rights Watch how many soldiers were deployed in Delta State, though press reports indicate the total may be in the region of 2,000, supported by 900 mobile police.81 The naval CO, Capt. Olufemi Ogunjinmi, stated to Human Rights Watch that there were 800 sailors based at Warri Naval Base and throughout the creeks. Some of these were deployed at oil facilities for “static security,” others were on patrol. The navy has reportedly recently acquired two helicopters for surveillance of the creeks.82
Though the cost to the Nigerian government of this security deployment is large, the additional expenditure itself benefits individuals in government in general and the security forces in particular. In September 2003, a Delta State official indicated that the additional cost to Delta State of the security force deployment in response to the crisis was of the order of x200 million (U.S.$1.43 million) a month.83 State governors are the chief security officers for their states, and the manner in which this money is spent is therefore largely within Governor Ibori’s discretion. The individual soldiers, policemen and sailors deployed also benefit from their combat duties: they are paid substantially increased wages when they are on active duty.84 For the illegal oil bunkerers to operate, they must also pay off those who are supposed to be stopping them to turn a blind eye; more senior officers in the army, navy, and mobile police thus also benefit from the theft of oil.
While the deployment of additional security forces, including army and naval troops, has in some cases contributed to the restoration of order, they have too often failed to offer any real protection to civilians threatened either by organized armed ethnic-political militia, or by “sea pirates,” those engaged in armed robbery for purely criminal gain. Residents of both the Itsekiri community Koko, and the Urhobo Okumagba estate in Warri, reported to Human Rights Watch how soldiers either ran away at the first sign or trouble or were mysteriously withdrawn from the area immediately before an attack by opposing ethnic militants. In both cases, they asserted that the attacking group—whether Ijaw or Itsekiri—had paid the soldiers to leave and allow free rein to the aggressors. Ijaw leaders, meanwhile, accuse the security forces of bias, of giving tacit or even active support to the Itsekiri militia. Itsekiri, Urhobo and Ijaw all see the failure of the state government security forces to protect them as criminal and accuse them of bias. For example, a Koko resident told Human Rights Watch:
As during past deployments, the security forces themselves have also carried out serious abuses. In 1999, the Nigerian army completely destroyed the town of Odi, Bayelsa State, killing hundreds of people, after a dozen policemen were killed by youths in the town. In 2001, soldiers killed more than two hundred unarmed civilians in several towns and villages in Benue State, in central-eastern Nigeria.86 No soldier has been arrested, prosecuted, or disciplined, to Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, in respect of these massacres. Soldiers and mobile police deployed anywhere in Nigeria, especially in emergency situations, routinely extort money from passing motorists, commercial vehicles, and motorbike taxi drivers (okadas); and often beat those who cannot or will not pay or force them to do frog jumps or other humiliating activities. These practices are carried out openly, without attempting to conceal them from passing journalists or human rights researchers. Sometimes, those who do not pay are simply shot dead. The same is true in the creeks of the mangrove forest areas.
There have also been other much more serious abuses in Delta State. Human Rights Watch interviewed eyewitnesses who described how soldiers under the command of a major burnt down the Idama Hotel Warri, belonging to Urhobo and PDP leader Chief Okumagba on Sunday February 2, 2003, in the disturbances surrounding the PDP primaries.87 The soldiers flogged staff working in the hotel and detained a staff member for five days. The attack took place despite the fact that twenty mobile police had been billeted in the hotel for several years and were present at the time. Although the attack was reported to the police, no action had been taken. In August 2003, three mobile policemen were arrested by the army on charges of selling arms to and fighting on the side of one of the ethnic militia, but cleared after an internal police investigation.88 These are serious allegations that deserve urgent investigation by the appropriate authorities, including not only internal army or navy inquiries but also by the civilian police, and by a public judicial inquiry into the crisis in Warri. Unlike previous inquiries, the report of such an independent investigation should be made public, and its recommendations acted upon.
During 2003, the U.S. government has delivered to the Nigerian navy three (the total will be five) former coastguard “buoy tenders,” 180-foot flat-bottomed boats of World War II vintage, unarmed at the time they were handed over. The donation of these boats has been in the pipeline since 2001, and, according to the U.S. Embassy, was not connected to the crisis in Delta State. Two of the boats have been moved to Warri naval base, and have had some weapons mounted on them, but they have not apparently been deployed in the riverine areas. The U.S. Embassy told Human Rights Watch that there was no basis whatsoever for reports in the Nigerian press that U.S. marines would be deployed to oil facilities in the Niger Delta.
80 SPDC letter to Human Rights Watch, October 17, 2003. ChevronTexaco would not respond on the record to Human Rights Watch on this point (CNL letter to Human Rights Watch, November 4, 2003) and EPNL did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s queries before this report went to print.
81 Abraham Ogbodo, “Delta Govt Spents x200 m Monthly to Keep Soldiers in Warri,” Guardian, September 14, 2003.
82 Muyiwa Odu, “Illegal bunkering: navy arrests 2 ships, 15 expatriates,” Daily Champion (Lagos), September 2, 2003.
83 Abraham Ogbodo, “Delta Govt Spents x200 m Monthly to Keep Soldiers in Warri,” Guardian, September 14, 2003.
84 Figures cited to Human Rights Watch were that the supplement is up to x30,000 (U.S.$215) extra each month, but we could not verify this amount with the authorities.
85 Human Rights Watch interview, September 8, 2003.
86 See Human Rights Watch reports: “The Destruction of Odi and Rape in Choba,” December 1999 and “Military Revenge in Benue: A Population Under Attack,” April 2002. On Odi, see A Blanket of Silence: Images of the Odi Genocide (Port Harcourt: Environmental Rights Action, 2002). For violations in the delta, see also, The Price of Oil; “Crackdown In The Niger Delta,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, May 1999; “Update on Human Rights Violations in the Niger Delta,” background briefing, December 2000; and “The Niger Delta: No Democratic Dividend,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, October 2002. All available at www.hrw.org/africa/nigeria.php.
87 Human Rights Watch interviews, September 12, 2003.
88 Sunny Ogefere, “Police clear officers over alleged arms deals in Warri crisis,” Guardian, August 27, 2003; Austin Ogwuda, “Police Commissioner clears men of complicity in Warri crisis,” Vanguard, August 27, 2003.