Gordon Brown has caused controversy by saying that the British government will help Nigeria in West Africa to “tackle lawlessness” in the oil producing Niger Delta region.
Brown was due to meet Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua in London this week.
Oil production in the delta has been reduced by about a third as a series of armed rebel groups have diverted supplies, attacked installations and kidnapped officials.
Craig Murray, a former British diplomat in Nigeria, said, “The rebellion in the Niger Delta is not a mindless outbreak of anarchic violence that must be met with still more violence.
“It is caused by the grinding poverty and economic ruination of one of the most economically productive regions on earth, with the profits channelled to billionaires in Nigeria and to big oil.”
Oil extraction has meant poverty, hunger, disease and exploitation for those living in the delta. Villagers also face the effects of unrestrained environmental degradation.
Oil accounts for around 80 percent of Nigerian government income, and the government is wedded to the multinational oil industry.
Brown’s statement at the end of the G8 last week has already led to the end of a ceasefire with the rebel group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend).
It is hardly surprising that groups like Mend take up arms against the damage that the oil companies are doing, though in terms of challenging their power, strikes by oil workers are more effective.
A three-day strike by oil workers in September 2006 hurt the companies, though ironically it was over lack of protection for workers from attacks by armed groups.
Only last week the National Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers struck against the doubling of diesel prices.
The strike was called off this week, apparently to give the government time to respond to demands.
Local communities have resisted the incursion of the oil companies.
Brown’s statement should be seen in the light of imperial competition for African resources, specifically between the West and China.
Nigeria appealed directly for Chinese military aid in 2006, citing that the US was slow to support them in this area.
The person sent in by the United Nations to negotiate peace in the delta was forced to resign this week.
Opposition groups complained that Ibrahim Gambari was not neutral as he was known as a supporter of the oil multinationals.
Activists were particularly angry that he had referred to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the activist who was executed by the Nigerian government in 1995 for his opposition to the expansion of oil production, as a “common criminal”.
Teachers at Nigeria's state schools were still on all out strike for improved pay and conditions as Socialist Worker went to press.
Teachers' union members have begun to picket the country's private schools to try and get teachers in this sector to join the action – they tend to be on even worse conditions than those in the state sector.
The Nigeria Labour Congress is threatening to bring more workers out on strike in support of the teachers.