November 2004 - 1015
Produced and Reported by Martin Adler
(man walking through devastated town)
A small town in Africa, devastated by war.
First it was rival militias that fought here.
Then the army came with helicopter gunships.
ASTON: DAERE M DOKUBU (00:18)
Former councillor, Tombia
I don't know, when they throw the bomb, it catches fire. One building, it goes round to so many buildings. Because nobody to stop the fire. Because everybody is running for his dear life.
This is not Sierra Leone, Sudan or Cote d'Ivoire.
This is Nigeria - the African superpower whose own troops keep the peace throughout the region.
The town of Tombia in the Niger Delta was smashed in the OIL war that flared up here this year - No one knows exactly how many people were killed.
And while there's peace here now, it's fragile. Among the people of the Delta there is simmering resentment.
ASTON: Daere M Dokubo
Former councillor, Degema Local Council. Tombia]
What we know is that we are a wealthy state by the grace of God. We are blessed with wealth. By the luck of things, everywhere in the world, if you have such a thing - a wealth - the country you belong are supposed to recognise and give those people a special preference - and that preference we have not been having.
(Crowds running around, women screeching, singing, leaflets, chaos as Asari arrives on top of Hummer )
Al-hadji Asari Dokubo is turning resentment into revolt
Three months ago he was just a powerful gang leader
Now in towns across the Delta he's getting a saviour's welcome.
Up to 10% of Nigeria's crude production is stolen at the pipeline by men like these.
To many of the people here it's a kind of rough economic justice.
(Man on car bonnet, shouting, to be subtitled)
"We have oil in this place, we are not eating it, we are not seeing it, you can see everywhere - thatched house. We are living in thatched houses and we have oil. What is the need of the oil. We have no better home. No good water, no light, no electricity, no better life, don't have food. We have everything. We are blessed. We have oil - but no freedom. We need Asari."
(more crowds, chaos)
When Asari declared war on the oil companies two months ago - the government quickly signed a ceasefire. Now he's trying to reach beyond his ethnic powerbase and unite the peoples of the Delta around a single message.
ASTON: AL HADJI DOKUBU ASARI (addressing crowds at rally)
Chairman, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force
Today we have come with a message that we will never be oppressed again. We say it will never happen again. We will never be oppressed again. The oil belongs to our people it will never happen again. We will no longer stand idle by. Ekwerri mekau! (Ekwerri people I salute you!) Ekwerri mekau. Ekwerri Mekau. I am not hearing you! Sovereign national conference or nothing. Because we will win. There is nobody who will stop us. God is on our side.
(Women in Ogoni village church, singing)
(03:45) In most of the Delta, for most of the time, it's been more about religion than rebellion - as in Kpor, a village in the Ogoni area...(women in church singing)
(land polluted by oil spill)
One thing everybody's praying for is an end to this: an oil spill has ruined the land and destroyed every single water channel in the village
Because it was caused by theft - what they call bunkering here - the landowner can't get compensation from Shell, which owns the pipe...
Landowner, Bomu oilfield]
All my wealth is polluted.
I am a poor man now.
Even such a simple thing as a shirt to put on I do not have any more...
Shell's policy is not to compensate where pollution is the result of sabotage - a policy it says dictated by Nigerian law.
(scenes from bar, women dancing, militiaman in sunglasses, oil flare across water)
Oil has polluted more than just the land.
Traditional society itself is fast eroding in the Delta.
For the youth it's a choice between subsistence farming or the seedy glamour of a place like this: Russia Island, where - within sight of the oil flares - the militiamen go for rest and recreation
(Set up Ebi)
Ebi's only been here four days. Her parents think she's gone to Lagos to escape the poverty. But even here you can't escape the issue that dominates the Delta.
ASTON :Ebi Ugbenbor (05:25)
Sex Worker, Russia Island
We need serious help from government. Because in our place there are so many places where we don't have water. We bath in the waterside and we shit in the waterside we drink that very water too. And we have no lights. Mostly in Bayesa state there are so many places like this. We suffer like this. We Ijaw beg for help from the federal government to help us out. The companies. I know in River State, in Bayesa State we have so many oil wells, we so many oil, we are the one who are producing oil, they didn't help us they didn't do any benefit for us. So let them help us.
(ARCHIVE: still pictures of Asaris Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Asari with AK 47)
The Delta is awash with guns.
But it was not always like this.
In the transition to democracy, politicians used armed gangs that now support Asari to rig elections at local level.
Under the terms of the current ceasefire the militias have been selling back their Kalashnikovs to the government. Recently (Nov 15th) over eight hundred rifles were destroyed. But it will take more to get the guns out of the Delta
ASTON Oronto Douglas (06:36)
Friends of the Earth Nigeria
The rise of Asari is a veritable opportunity for others similarly inclined if I pick up arms I get a presidential jet to take me to Abuija If I pick up arms I will be respected. The atmosphere the government has provide is for people to pickup the Kalashnikov.
There is the threat that if something is not done Nigeria will be dismembered, but I like to think there is something reslient about the Nigerian people, something cohesive about the Nigerian people. I want to believe that this cohesiveness this resilience will prevail.
(Asari arrives by motorboat in Tombia)
Asari claims inspiration from Che Guevara and from Isaac Boro - the man on the T-shirt - who led an abortive uprising in the delta in the 60s. But when he arrives in Tombia - to visit his commanders - the sprit of 68 is not much in evidence
(Argument between Asari and his militiamen)
Asari is being accused of taking money from Abuja - and his militia leaders are asking where is theirs....
(Asari screaming at militiaman in checked shirt)
07:46 Are you accusing me of eating money? Is that what you are saying?
ASTON: JONAH GODKNOWS (08:11)
Militiaman, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Tombia
When arrive - what arguing - we fought this fight now we go to peace we want to embrace peace: We told him we were idle and. We are idle and a hungry man is an angry man and if we remain idle like this it will lead us to bad things Should discuss with government - send us relief materials, we can establish small scale business, otherwise the peace will not go fine.
(Asari in vision amid crowd)
ASTON: Al-Haji Asari Dokubo
Chariman, Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force
I will say I was rich man before I started this war... I had several million in Port Harcourt I had eighteen plots of land. Something which everybody here knows. sold everything - I had six cars six cars, big cars I sold everything to prosecute this fight and as god is alive - the god I believe in - I have not taken a dime from anybody.
Soku is where the future of the Delta economy will be decided. There is not just oil here but liquid natural gas and Shell is making vast investments. Its supposed to be a test-bed for the village-level solutions the oil companies and the government have come up with to ease the conflict. For this periwinkle farmer, change can't come too soon
ASTON: GLORIA OMUBU (09:29)
( Ijaw )
The oil is making the periwinkles disappear from the mangrove.
I don't have any other source of income except the periwinkles, which I harvest.
There is no other source of food for us.
Lack of food is killing us.