NIGERIA: Fresh violence threatens fragile truce in Niger delta

WARRI, 23 October (IRIN) – Fresh ethnic clashes around the Nigerian oil

town of Warri have claimed several lives over the past week, threatening

a fragile ceasefire secured between rival tribal militias in the

troubled Niger Delta, residents said on Thursday.

More than a dozen people have been killed since Saturday in violent

clashes between armed groups from the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo tribes,

the main ethnic groups inhabiting the Warri area, they said.

Ijaw militant leader Bello Oboko said a boatload of Ijaws, mostly women

and children were attacked on Tuesday by armed men while travelling

between the riverside towns of Ogulagha and Burutu. He blamed the attack

– in which he said four people died – on rival Itsekiri militants.

“It was an unprovoked attack, targeting innocent women and children,” he

told IRIN.

But Daniel Iremiji, who leads the Itsekiri Youths Council, denied it was

a premeditated attack. He blamed Ijaws instead for sparking the latest

clashes.

“The Itsekiris merely counter-attacked after our people had been

attacked by Ijaws at a village called Orugbo,” he told IRIN. Iremiji

said more than 18 people were killed in that incident, while another 20

were still missing after escaping into the bush.

A further indication of the escalating scale of violence was a reported

clash between Ijaw and Urhobo villages on Saturday, in which several

people were reported to have died.

Ijaws and Urhobos have in the past been allies against the Itsekiri, who

are perceived by both groups to be getting more than their fair share of

benefits accruing from oil operations in the western Niger Delta.

But the alliance appears threatened by the clashes between the Urhobo

village of Okwagbe and the Ijaw village of Ayakoromo in Burutu local

council area over a land dispute.

Concern over the latest developments prompted a security meeting on

Tuesday presided over by Delta State Governor James Ibori. It was

attended by Major-General Elias Zamani, the head of a special military

task force created by President Olusegun Obasanjo after violence in the

delta earlier this year claimed more than 200 lives.

“It was decided at the meeting to deploy more troops in all the

flashpoints to prevent the violence from further escalating,” an aide to

the Delta State governor said afterwards.

At the heart of the violence are claims and counter-claims to the

ownership of oil-rich land in a region whose inhabitants are mostly

poor.

The individuals and communities who control the land mop up the many

benefits that can be extracted from the oil companies whose wells have

been drilled there.

The Ijaws and Urhobos accuse Obasanjo’s government of favouring the

Itsekiris.