October 8, 2004 Friday
Radical Asari's credentials as a champion of the Ijaw people are challenged, but government flies him to Abuja, where peace pact restores some calm to oil-rich Niger Delta region
UNREST in the Niger Delta, which culminated in the threat of "all-out war" on the Nigerian state and oil companies by the Ijaw militia group, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF), has eased with the signing last week of a cease fire agreement between the government and the NDPVF.
The threats caused economic waves around the world, with international crude oil futures punching through the psychological US$50 a barrel mark on concerns over possible disruption to oil supplies, reports the news website, Afrol.com.
The NDPVF is led by 40-year old former Ijaw Youth Council leader Melford Dokubo Goodhead Jr, who took the name of Mujahid Abubakar Dokubo-Asari on converting to Islam in 1988. He was then studying law at the University of Calabar, writes the Lagos newspaper, The News.
At university, his passion for radicalism soon overwhelmed his love of academics and he abandoned his legal studies to pursue a "radical agenda".
The paper says Asari strikes one as a man in a hurry to change the world, and it was not unusual for him to argue that the problems of the Niger Delta could only be solved through an armed struggle.
"For him, dialogue is too slow, and therefore not an option."
The website, Corpwatch.org, says Asari's NDPVF claims to be fighting for the interests of ethnic Ijaw people -- about the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, and present in five of the nine southern oil-rich states.
Asari says his people have suffered neglect and deprivation despite the fact that the Delta region is the source of Nigeria's oil wealth.
Revenue from the Delta goes mostly to the federal government or foreign companies, while oil spills have ruined the livelihood of many villagers, Afrol.com reported Asari as saying.
Further, the Ijaw people have little say on oil industry issues.
Therefore, said Asari, it was important to reach an "agreement on self-determination and resource control for the Delta population, to avoid an all-out war on the Nigerian state.
But an Ijaw leader and member of the Ijaw Youth Council, Patterson Ogun, told AFP: "It is true that Asari used to be our president, but we have since held elections and appointed new officers.
"The Ijaws don't believe in his approach of violence because it will heighten tensions.
"It is only Asari who can explain why he is doing what he is doing. We are not part of it."
Afrol.com, citing various sources, reports that threats by the NDPVF were the climax to its fight with rival Ijaw militia group Niger Delta Vigilante over the control the oil black market.
The two groups were described by River State authorities as "armed bandits that have looted oil installations in the Delta in the last months, selling stolen oil on the black market".
Writing in the Nigerian newspaper, Guardian, Abraham Ogbodo says that Asari has been described as a "bunkering kingpin -- a leader who is battling to regain control of lost privileges".
But his threats were taken so seriously that he was flown from Port Harcourt in the Delta to the capital, Abuja -- at the expense of government -- to to negotiate a peace agreement with President Olusegun Obasanjo himself, reports Afrol.com.
PM News, Lagos, reports that the government and the two rival factions reached an agreement to stop hostilities "against themselves and the economic and social interests of the Nigerian state".
They also agreed to disband all militia groups, to ensure total disarmament and work towards having an unfettered access to promote the legitimate aspirations of their people "within the democratic norms of fundamental rights and obligations".
The newspaper says that during the consultations, some diverse and complex issues, including resource control and self-determination by the Ijaws, were identified as catalysts to the crisis.
In return, the government suspended the activities of the joint military task force set up to deal with the situation, reports ThisDay, Lagos.
The Vanguard, Lagos, reports that Senator Saidu Dansadua hailed Obasanjo for using dialogue to resolve the crisis, but encouraged him not to lose sight of the fact that "the peculiar terrain of the zone is contributing to the problem" and to "pay more attention to how derivation funds (oil revenues) are used".
But human rights activist Ayo Obe said: "I do not know much about the agreement signed with the government, but what is obvious is that those who adopt peaceful protest against the government are chased from the streets, but those who take up arms against the Nigerian state are given executive flights to Abuja for talks".
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