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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
03LAGOS2193
2003-10-24 09:59:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Consulate Lagos
Cable title:  

NIGERIA: WARRI UPDATE 10/24/03 - ITSEKIRI WANT TO

Tags:   EPET  PGOV  PINR  PINS  PHUM  ASEC  NI 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 LAGOS 002193 

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/23/2013
TAGS: EPET PGOV PINR PINS PHUM ASEC NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: WARRI UPDATE 10/24/03 - ITSEKIRI WANT TO
GO HOME

REF: A. ABUJA 1761

B. LAGOS 1940


Classified By: JGREGOIRE FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) AND (D)




1. (C) Summary. After more than a month of peace, clashes
between ethnic groups in the Niger Delta appear on the rise,
although less deadly than generally reported in the media.
We have received reports of attacks and counter-attacks at
multiple locations since Sunday, October 19. Chevron security
personnel believe the Itsekiri are preparing to return en
masse to their lands, by force if necessary, and the company
is making new contingency plans in the event of a repeat of
the widespread violence and displacement of villagers
experienced in March 2003. End Summary.




--------------------------


CHEVRON READYING FOR ITSEKIRI RETURN HOME


--------------------------






2. (C) Fresh fighting was reported in multiple locations of
the Niger Delta during the week of October 20. On October 23,
Dave Beddow, a security consultant from Control Risks Group
working on-site at Chevron's Escravos terminal and tank farm,
told Econoff that Chevron's security team is receiving an
increasing number of reports of violent clashes along the
waterways of the Delta, but is frustrated by a lack of
corroboration and confirmation of deaths and injuries. The
security consultant said his team has intelligence that the
Itsekiri are planning to return to their villages along the
Escravos and Benin Rivers, and are attempting to align
themselves with the Ilaje, an ethnic group occupying a narrow
strip of coastal land North of the Escravos River toward the
Delta/Ondo state line. The Ilaje have not played a major
role in the ethnic conflicts of 2003. (Note: The Ilaje were
reportedly attacked by Ijaw in the late 90s in a land grab.
They are said to have quietly armed themselves thereafter,
successfully repelling later attacks. Subsequently, they
mostly have been left out of the ethnic conflicts.) Beddow
also said he has information that the Itsekiri are reaching
out to the militant Yoruba youth group the Oodua People's
Congress (OPC), based mainly in Lagos. The OPC are widely
known as thugs and enforcers, hired by other groups and even
politicians to provide protection and to pressure and
intimidate political and financial enemies. (Note: Some
Lagosians appreciate the "protection" the OPC provides some
communities by enforcing curfews and checking identification
of people wishing to enter neighborhoods under their
wardship.) A similar allegation of Itsekiri collusion with
the OPC surfaced in September; the Itsekiri share a historic
bloodline to the Yoruba people (ref B).




3. (C) In a conversation with Poloff on October 23, Daniel
Reyenieju, of the Itsekiri National Youth Congress, did not
confirm the specifics of this report, but did express

frustration at the inability of the federal government to
restore law and order in the riverine areas of the Delta. He
showed equal frustration with the perceived ineptitude of the
state government to address Itsekiri concerns in the region
and accused Governor Ibori, an Urhobo with an Itsekiri
mother, as siding with the Ijaw. Reyenieju also made an
appeal for NGOs and donors such as the USG to provide aid to
the Itsekiri internally displaced persons (IDP) currently
living mainly in Sapele. He told Poloff, "No one discusses
resettlement or going back home," and added, "We will go home
peacefully, but if anyone accosts us, we will protect
ourselves." When asked if the Itsekiri are forming alliances
with the Ilaje or OPC, he commented that the Ilaje are
Yoruba, and have their own interest in protecting themselves
against Ijaw incursions. He dodged the question of OPC
involvement in the region by saying, "If Yoruba were involved
in the Delta, the Ijaw would be nowhere. But if the Yoruba
decide to get involved, they will do it on their own."




4. (C) Chevron's security consultant David Beddow told
Econoff that, in light of the information that the Itsekiri
are planning a return to their homes, as well as the
increasing frequency of violence in recent weeks (ref A),
Chevron's security team is standing-up a mini-IMT (Incident
Management Team), to formulate contingency plans for likely
scenarios. According to Beddow, based on the events of March
2003 and current intelligence, the IMT will devise response
plans for three scenarios: 1) the Escravos terminal is
subject to indirect fire as warring ethnic factions attack
each other in the waterways and villages surrounding
Escravos, 2) large numbers of villagers displaced by such
fighting pour into the Escravos facility seeking refuge, and
3) one or more of the ethnic factions engages the Government
Security Forces (GSF) assigned to protect the Escravos
facility, trying to draw them into battle on the militants'
home turf, namely, the waterways of the Delta. The security
consultant said the IMT would have new contingency plans for
Escravos ready by Friday, October 24.


--------------------------


FIERCE BOAT CHASE NEAR WARRI


--------------------------






5. (C) Tony Obuaya, Warri security manager for Shell, told
Econoff that on Tuesday, October 23, two groups of young men
in boats chased each other to a point near the Shell
waterfront of Warri. A group of five Ijaw took shelter at
the Shell facilities, four of whom were injured, two
seriously, according to Obuaya. Obuaya said Shell personnel
provided immediate medical treatment to all the injured
before they left to seek longer-term care. He noted that in
interviews with the four who could speak, each gave different
accounts of what had occurred, so much so that he cannot
speculate as to the origins of the fight. But, he is
suspicious that they were involved in something illegal and
were trying, ineffectively, to create cover stories.




6. (C) Chevron's security consultant Beddow had previously
told Econoff that government forces had "bumped into" a group
attempting to steal a barge. The security forces gave chase,
Beddow said, shooting along the way. Beddow said the
would-be thieves then found their way to the Shell facility.
Shell's Obuaya denied that account, stating that there was no
barge involved, and contrary to one report given by an Ijaw
leader to Poloff, Shell facilities themselves were not
attacked.




--------------------------


IJAW AND ITSEKIRI CLASH


--------------------------






7. (C) Chevron's Beddow also told Econoff that in a separate
incident, some Itsekiri attacked an Ijaw boating party,
resulting in one death and perhaps one Ijaw taken captive.
Beddow said a Nigerian Navy commander confirmed this report.
Similarly, Joel Bisina, a moderate Ijaw and head of the
multi-ethnic Niger Delta Professionals for Development, told
Poloff that on Tuesday, October 21, a group of Ijaw on a boat
headed to Warri was attacked by "criminal elements" involved
in piracy. According to Bisina, the attackers, whom he
presumes were Itsekiri but also admitted he had no proof,
took the boat and its passengers captive. He said other Ijaw
later attempted to free the boat and its passengers, but that
the armed Ijaw began shooting at the unarmed pirates,
resulting in several Ijaw getting shot by friendly fire.




--------------------------


IJAW AND URHOBO CLASH


--------------------------






8. (C) In his conversation with Poloff, Bisina also confirmed
press reports of a violent confrontation between Ijaw and the
Urhobo elements. According to Bisina, on Sunday, October 19,
a group of Urhobo villagers clashed with Ijaw on the waters
between the villages of Okwagbe and Ayakuroama, which sit
directly across from each other on opposite banks of a river.
Bisina noted that a few weeks ago, some Urhobos were robbed
along the waterways, and the fighting of the 19th may have
been retaliation for that event as well as the result of a
gradual build-up of resentment the Urhobo feel toward the
Ijaw, who the Urhobo accuse of blocking the waterways and
stealing from Urhobo boat travelers. Bisina estimated that
15 persons from both villages may have been killed on the
19th. He noted that press reports far exaggerated the event
and the casualties, opining that such yellow journalism only
serves to raise the tension levels in the Delta. (Note:
Interestingly, both oil company security officials who spoke
to Econoff denied any knowledge of this clash, even though
they claim to have sources throughout the communities and
offer details of other unconfirmed incidents.)




9. (C) Comment. Numerous conversations from different
sources with Poloff reveal that feelings of despair and
frustration are great within the Itsekiri community.
Itsekiris continue to express disillusionment with federal
and state government and believe that only they alone can
protect themselves. Their desire to return to their villages
along the Benin and Escravos rivers is great, and they have
stated their strong intentions to do so regardless of the
violence that may result. Their previous reliance on the rule
of law may be reaching an endpoint, as they now identify
armed defense as their only option. A move to return to
their villages may escalate small-arms conflict in the
region. This instability continues to pose a considerable
challenge to oil production in the region, as Shell has only
recently begun pumping oil from the swamps again, and Chevron
insists it simply will not, until the government establishes
and maintains peace in the region. End Comment.
GREGOIRE