Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 15:02 UK

Nigerian activists reject UK plan

File photo of Niger Delta militant
The solution to the Niger Delta crisis is development not arms, activists say

Human rights activists in Nigeria's Delta have condemned an offer from the UK government to provide military training to secure oil supplies.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered military training to Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua to help fight militants and oil smugglers.

But activists said more military action would result in more militant groups springing up to oppose it.

Mr Yar'Adua says there is a cartel dealing in "blood oil" from Nigeria.

He says this trade is behind much of the violence in the oil-producing Niger Delta.

Attacks on oil installations has been partly responsible for cutting Nigeria's production by about 25%.

35bn barrels in proven reserves
Daily capacity around 2m barrels of crude
Eighth largest exporter in the world
Estimates say another 100,000 barrels are stolen - worth $5bn at current prices
Source: Reuters

The Delta's most publically visible group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) also condemned the UK's offer.

"Without justice, security and peace will be elusive. Mend will ensure that," spokesman Jomo Gbomo told the BBC.

"Mend is aware that its actions have forced the system to focus on the region and will continue our armed agitation side by side with talks until we achieve our objective."

Patrick Naagbanton, of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), said Mr Brown did not understand the problems of the Niger Delta.

"He's acting on the spur of the moment. He needs to have a better understanding of the situation,"

"It will just lead to a mushrooming of hardened armed groups."

Mr Brown also reaffirmed the UK's commitment to help Nigeria improve the accountability and transparency of government.


But Anyakwee Nsirimovu, of the Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) based in Port Harcourt said this offer was a "public relations exercise".

"It's a systemic failure. Government does not want to improve the capacity. They are deliberately running a one-party state with no alternatives.

"Until people can take a role in confirming or rejecting the people in power, it's just a PR exercise."

President Yar'Adua came to power last year in elections that were widely condemned by observers for not being free or fair.

The Delta region saw the worst of the rigging, with armed gangs stealing ballot boxes and intimidating voters.

'Positive statement'

But Dimieari Von Kemedi of the Bayelsa State government said focussing on the military aspect did not do justice to Mr Brown's offer.

"Overall, it's a positive statement that gives weight to dialogue and sustainable development," he said.

"There's nothing new in getting military help from Britain. Every country has a right to improve their military."

However, military training would not solve the problem of oil theft, he said.

"If the UK wants to help with that, Scotland Yard [police] - not the Ministry of Defence - would be the right people to do it."

Illegal oil

The oil smuggling industry is extremely profitable and involves highly placed corrupt politicians, military officers, government officials and oil company employees, human rights activists and oil analysts say.

Oil is stolen by breaking into pipelines and filling barges which then rendezvous with tankers on the high seas.

Consumers will benefit from bringing down the oil price. Anything that drives the price of oil down to help the British housewife
Patrick Dele Cole
Former minister

The illegal oil is then mixed with other legitimate cargoes and sold for an enormous profit by unscrupulous traders - who pay for the oil partly with weapons, analysts say.

Many armed groups in the Delta provide "security" for the smuggling rings, also known as "bunkerers".

The violence and lack of law and order in the region, caused by the sponsorship of armed youths by politicians, allows powerful people connected to bunkering to operate unhindered, activists say.

'Marked' crude

Niger Delta businessman and politician Patrick Dele Cole, a special adviser of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, says that the trade could be cracked by chemically marking crude to trace its origin.

Spy technology provided by the US and the UK could also be used to identify thieves, he said.

"We need the technology from the UK and the US and others to help us track these vessels. I know the government is interested in getting hold of drones like the UK and US are using in Afghanistan."

US attempts to form an African command for its military based in Nigeria have been rejected by President Yar'Adua's government.

But the UK is the former colonial power, and home base of the parent company of Nigeria's biggest oil producer Royal Dutch Shell.

Mr Dele Cole said Mr Brown's offer was aimed at helping oil consumers.

"Consumers will benefit from bringing down the oil price. Anything that drives the price of oil down to help the British housewife."

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