Jeffrey James: “We would kidnap white people to make the government listen to us”

Frustrated by a lack of development and environmental degradation caused by oil extraction in the Niger Delta, Jeffrey James joined a militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, (MEND) and fought with them for seven years.

In 2009 he accepted the amnesty offered by the Nigerian government and has since undergone training in non-violence. He is now learning to do welding in a government-funded skills training programme for ex-militants, and receives an extra stipend from the federal government during training on top of the US$410 a month paid to all those in the amnesty programme.

“I joined the militancy in 2002 because I come from an oil producing area, but we have no development, no school, no water, no nothing. They dredged our river [Opuekeba Creek in Delta State] and the sweet water is gone. The water we are drinking is salty, so people are dying and all the trees have died.

“The government used the money meant to develop the area for their families and themselves. “The best thing we could do was to join the militancy so the government would look at us.

“We destroyed oil pipes, and we would hijack and kidnap white people to make the government come and listen to us. When the government would come to talk to us we would release them.

“There was money involved because we were feeding them [hostages], so we must be paid when we gave them back. They paid a lot of money, but I don’t remember [how much.] We would keep them hostage for maybe ten days. No-one was injured, nobody died. Everybody got free.

“We took amnesty because the federal government came and talked to us and listened to what we want. We need development, [but] there’s no development - they never did anything. They said they would develop the villages; I don’t know whether they will do it or not.

“I don’t really know [if I would fight again]; it’s only God who knows. I know that God will still fight for us.

“Everybody [I fought with] accepted amnesty. Many people have finished training. Some are still sitting at home and have no work; some are struggling to get a job.

“I can see a different life now, and I’m thinking about school. I feel bad because we destroyed our home [damaging the oil infrastructure added to pollution]. [But] the federal government treated us like animals, and an angry man does anything to survive.”