As families count the cost of another military operation against militants in the Niger Delta, analysts say up to now government efforts to quell violence are hampered by corruption and fail to get at the deep-seated causes of unrest in the region.
Residents told IRIN hundreds of families are still displaced more than two weeks after the crackdown.
According to the military's Joint Task Force (JTF), the 1 December attack by its troops on the village of Ayakoromor, 50km south of Warri, was a planned operation, targeting suspected criminals. But the Red Cross says thousands of people fled, many taking refuge in swamps, then heading to nearby villages.
Displaced families spokesperson Joseph Osibo said at least 10 people were killed in the JTF attack. The military has acknowledged some civilian deaths. “Eight soldiers and six civilians were killed,” said Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Onyeabo Ihejirika. He said the civilians were caught in the crossfire.
|Chronic unrest in the Delta|
|Thousands still homeless in Delta|
|Relief workers slowly access conflict-hit Delta creeks|
|Forced to flee|
Civil society and human rights activists say as long as the Nigerian authorities do not achieve a long-term solution to unrest and criminality in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, local communities will continue to suffer the fallout. They say a 2009 government amnesty programme, while a potentially positive step, will not resolve the longstanding causes of the Niger Delta conflict.
The vast wetlands region sits atop more than 30 billion barrels of top-grade oil and substantial gas deposits, but it is one of the most impoverished regions in Nigeria, according to the UN Development Programme.
“Unless the government addresses the political and financial corruption – at both the state and federal level – that has robbed the people of their right to health, education and the development of their region, the anger that drives militancy and criminality will continue,” Eric Guttschuss, Human Rights Watch’s Nigeria researcher, told IRIN.
A local human rights activist said corruption is rife in the amnesty programme, with planned government assistance falling short, despite available funds.
Under the government scheme, from August to October 2009 militants could turn over their arms in return for training, employment assistance and a government pardon.
“The crisis will continue until the government [eradicates] the corruption in the amnesty programme,” Sir Casely Omon-Ihabor, chair of Human Rights Defenders Organization of Nigeria, told IRIN, calling the programme “a monument of fraud”.
Displaced families' spokesman Osibo said their main concern is medical care. “We don’t want disease outbreaks among the displaced.”
The Nigerian Red Cross has provided first aid, set up clinics and provided medicines at Ogbe’Ijaw Hospital mainly for women and children who have sought refuge there, according to a 14 December statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The medical assistance from Red Cross is welcome but it’s not enough, displaced mother of five Joy Lucky said. “The federal government must come to our aid as soon as possible or prepare to fill 5,000 caskets.”