Recent bombing of oil pipelines in the Niger-Delta raises the spectre of escalation of conflicts in that region. While we cannot say the reasons, it appears to be calculated acts of sabotage rather than mere vandalism. In cases of vandalism the motive routinely is the stealing of crude oil or refined petroleum products. Where pipelines are bombed in the manner the current incidents have been reported, the signal is that these are political actions. However, no one has claimed responsibility. That is against the grain.
It should be noted that political actions do not have to be partisan in nature as they can be carried out by persons or groups that are simply disenchanted with the existing political system. They could also be orchestrated by persons or groups whose vested interests are threatened. If these are agreed as possibilities, we should be able to come to the conclusion that the recent bombings may not necessarily be the hand work of militants. Fishing for culprits would require extra-wide nets.
Militancy in the Niger-Delta arose as a result of accrued disenchantment with both the government and the transnational corporations over minimal expectations from local population. Oil being so alluring cannot be denied. It always offers communities dreams and hopes of social services, employment, infrastructural improvement and dramatic societal transformation. What is offered in reality has routinely been environmental degradation, disruption of social structures, corruption, disease and death.
Sadly, communities in countries where crude oil is discovered are still being offered the same promises that the resource scarcely delivers. And as sure as fire burns, the hopes and promises are bound to be dashed. And then the conflicts start.
Oil theft, bush refineries and related businesses operate at an industrial scale in the Niger-Delta. Unfortunately, when poorly maintained facilities are added to the mix, the result is extremely toxic and the consequences well documented. Responses have often reinforced the crises, rather than mitigate them.
What has been the response to the recent bombing of pipelines including those in Gbaramatu area of Delta State? Predictably the response has been heavy militarisation of the area. The question is, to what extent can militarisation protect the over 7,000 kilometres of pipelines in the region? We hope the reign of gunboats will not lead to a replay of the levelling of communities that was virtually routine a few years ago.
Looking back, the 2009 attacks at Odi cut down 2,483 persons, while another heavy handed attack occurred at Odioma in 2005. In May 2009, the military response to militancy saw the massive destruction of Gbaramatu community. In December 2010, there was a replay of the same scenario at Ayakoromo, where at least 20 persons were killed.
All these avoidable attacks on communities were said to be legitimate ways of smoking out militants from their hideouts. It is not clear how many militants were captured through those punishing assaults on communities.
Bassey is a public affairs analyst