Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Delta militants: Locals see the benefits of an end to hostilities

Financial Times
22 November 2011

By Christopher Thompson

Deep in the swampy forests of the Niger delta a revolution is in full swing. The traditional home of Nigeria’s oil production is no stranger to insurgency: until recently, it was the locus of a protracted conflict between the federal government and locals demanding a greater share of the revenues from oil pumped from their ancestral lands. But the present struggle is being waged with scuba tanks, not Kalashnikovs.

Don Dixon, 28, was “a former secretary” in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), the biggest militant group in Delta State. He used to manage the logistics for a camp of 250 fighters on an island deep in the region’s labyrinthine creek system.

Since April, Mr Dixon’s life has taken a different track. After being flown to South Africa to study petroleum engineering, he started work as a full-time diver for Century Group, a Nigerian oil services company founded by Ken Etete, also a Delta man.

“We have taken an unusual route,” says Mr Etete, whose company employs 40 former fighters on contracts around the delta, including one based at Shell’s headquarters in Port Harcourt, previously a favourite militant target. “I saw these fantastic individuals with a lot of potential and they are driven by a need for a better quality of life.”

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