Read below to get the facts as we know them. Then please take as much action as you can. We'll be adding updates as we get them, so check back for the latest.
Watch Democracy Now, May 21st report on the situation, featuring Sweet Crude director Sandy Cioffi and clips from the film.
Below is a statement Sweet Crude issued Tuesday, May 19th. Casualty figures are still uncertain, with reports ranging from 500 to 2000. Several villages, including Oporoza, have been burned to some extent by the JTF. Access is still cut off by the JTF, so thousands of refugees are trapped in the bush with no food, water or medical aid. This will push the casualties higher still. We are talking about civilians here, including the elderly, women and most heartbreakingly, children.
UPDATE June 15: This tragic situation continues. More villages have been attacked. Refugees are still without aid. And military tanks have been reported in the Niger Delta city of Warri.
The production company of the documentary film Sweet Crude, about the Niger Delta of Nigeria, calls on the U.S. government and international community to act immediately to stop the current attacks by the Nigerian military on Niger Delta civilians, and to demand safe passage for humanitarian relief workers into the region.
On Wednesday, May 13, the Joint Task Force (JTF) began aerial and ground attacks on militant camps in the Niger Delta. On Friday, these attacks widened to include at least nine Gbaramatu Kingdom Ijaw communities, including Oporoza, the village where much of Sweet Crude was filmed. Based on our most recent information, these attacks on civilians continue.
According to first-hand accounts by village residents, the JTF used gunboats and helicopters to fire on villages, with women and children among the estimated 500 casualties. Some were killed while fishing in canoes. Residents fled in terror into the bush. The villages are now deserted and as many as 30,000 civilians are displaced without adequate food or water supply.
There is no way to accurately report on the number of casualties, as aid agencies have not been able to get into the region. This leaves the injured without medical attention, as there are no hospitals in the area. It is reported that the JTF has closed the waterways, barring outside access and preventing villagers from traveling and fishing.
There is a tragic history of Niger Delta civilian communities being targeted by the Nigerian military. In 1999, Odi, a community of 5,000 was wiped out completely – all residents were killed and the village was razed. In 2005, Odioma suffered a similar fate, as did the village of Agge in 2008.
The current attacks, said to be sanctioned by President Yar'Adua, fly in the face of recent talks between the Nigerian Federal government and Niger Delta activists, including militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Specifically targeted by aerial bombardment was the home of Tompolo, widely seen as a political leader of the militant movement.
"While making this documentary film over the last three years, I asked continually, 'What if the world paid attention before it was too late?'," says Sweet Crude director Sandy Cioffi. "Today, I don't know for how many in the communities where we filmed, it's already too late. What I do know is the Niger Delta has reached a new level of humanitarian crisis and moved closer to the brink of war. The world must step in before more innocent lives are lost, to avert another African tragedy."
"Yar'adua has made a public pronouncement of amnesty for militants in the Niger Delta, only to order military invasion of innocent civilians," says Joel Bisina, Niger Delta conflict management and community development expert. "This kind of deception has been perpetrated many times in recent decades. Now the army has issued a warning to stay away from the waterways. People will be dying daily, not only from bullets, but also from hunger because the creeks have been cut off from food supplies. If the Nigerian government and its military are not called to order immediately, the world will be faced with a humanitarian crisis of immense proportion."
Sweet Crude calls on the U.S. government and international community to take action to stop the current bombardment and hold the Nigerian government accountable for its authorization. We call for an immediate cease fire. We call for safe access into the area of humanitarian organizations and journalists to assure the safety of the refugees, medical treatment for the injured, and an accurate assessment of the conditions and casualties. And we call for an inquiry into the attacks. The truth of what transpired must be investigated and the way paved for legitimate, third-party-monitored talks before the situation devolves into full-scale war.
Here are some reports and press releases from Niger Deltans
Chased from home, driven away from refugee camp Vanguard, May 24
Lamentations From Gbaramatu Bombings Earth Rights International / Friends of the Earth report, May 23
It all started on wednesday 13th may 2009 when five gunboats of the Joint military Task Force (JTF) came to camp five and started shooting, so our fighters resisted and they went back and came on friday with 15 fast gunboats, two navy wars and four helicopters gunships and begin to carry out a maximum military operations on camp five, kurutie, kunukunuma, Okerenkoko and Oporoza communities.
Before this incident, the Gbaramatu kingdom was preparing for a cultural festival called Amaseikumor festival to celebrate the newly installed traditional rular, HRM Godwin K. Bebenimibo DSP(Rtd) Ogeh-Gbaraun 111, Aketekpe, Agadagba of Gbaramatu kingdom. And so as celebrants were gathered in the palace, the four helicopter gunships air raid Oporoza and killed over 65 persons including women, children and the aged. All residents in the entire Gbaramatu kingdom have fleed for safety. All the communities are deserted. The military has burnt down camp five and kurutie community and has been looting the deserted communities. The fleeing women and children are even denied humanitarian assistance by the military thereby compounding the problem.
President Yar'Adua refused to call the military to order which is an indication that he has ordered an ethnic cleansen because of our God given resources. As I am writing, the bombardment continous.
The IYC has watched with disdain and chagrin the recent bombardment of Ijaw communities by members of the JTF of the federal republic of Nigeria in the pretence of cleansing our communities off militants. As at the time this communiqué has been issued; the following communities, namely AZAMA, KUNUKUNUAMA, KURUTIE, OKERENKOKO, OPOROZA, BENIKURUKURU, OKOARANKO, KOKODIA-GBE, KOLOKUMA and the entire GBARAMATU communities has been sacked. This has led to an untold suffering by the inhabitants of the aforementioned towns and villages. A case of double jeopardy, with the blatant slaying of over a 500 law abiding citizens mostly women and children, and...people rendered homeless without food or water.
To buttress the insincerity of the Federal Government and the calculated genocide by the Yar'adua administration. There has been heavy military presence in the following major Ijaw towns, namely KAIAMA, ODI, OPOKUMA,YENAGOA, BOMADI, PATANI, OKRIKA, DEGEMA, BONNY, BUGUMA, BELE to mention but a few.
It should be restated here that IYC under my leadership believes in dialogue as a means of peaceful mediation in conflict resolution and vehemently opposes the use of force in achieving peace. This genocide by the Yar'adua administration can only escalate the fragile peace been enjoyed in the region and thus, should be stopped. I am also using this as a means to call on the international communities, well meaning Nigerians to prevail on the federal government to stop this genocide, conduct a thorough investigation on those responsible for the show down and bring them to justice, not minding whose horse is gored.
The recent onslaught has brought to bear the insincerity of President Yar'adua's administration on the question of amnesty. Is it not a national shame that President Yar’adua has refused to meet with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan on this or any other issue in the past 72 hours?
Similarly, the IYC calls for total restrain from both side of the conflicts. We have already appealed to our kith and kin in Ijaw communities to remain calm and law abiding while we find a peaceful resolution to this avoidable aggression on our communities. We still will maintain our position on Nonviolence direction action as a mean to resolving the crisis.
What was your experience like in the area?
It was around 12.00 noon on May 15, 2009. I was at the library at Oporoza, I happened to be one of the corpers posted there. I heard the sound of helicopter but because helicopters do come there sometimes, I was not too surprised until I started hearing Gbaum! Gbaum!! Gbaum!!!. I thought it was pipelines that were blowing up and so I opened the door and immediately I saw the whole community running helter-skelter.
I saw two jet fighters; they came down almost landing on the ground, though people say the jet fighters were many but I could only see two. They were shooting and aiming at one white house (guest house) opposite the palace and the palace. On that day, it happened to be the day the king of the kingdom was celebrating the collection of his staff of office to be the king of the Gbaramatu kingdom, so, people were many that day, from both the community and outside the community.
As the shooting was going, people ran into the bush as they were now aiming their machine guns at the king’s palace and the white guest house.
As the events were unfolding, some people were still running into the king's palace to see refuge and so this time the jet fighters just rose a little and started aerial bombardment of both the palace and the white house. After bombarding both places, they faced the library where I was...I was expecting death but got out from there miraculously.
In September, 2008 the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing titled "Resource Curse or Blessing? Africa's Management of its Extractive Industries." Learn more about the proceedings and read witness transcripts here. After the hearing, Senator Russ Feingold issued a statement on "The resource curse in Nigeria's Niger Delta." Read it here. This is the right moment for the U.S. government to follow up on those hearings.
If you want to help, please send the below message or wording of your choosing to John Kerry, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Or call the Committee Majority office at 202.224.4651 or Senator Kerry at 202.224.2742.
If you know people of influence, please tell them what's going on. The villagers have no one who would be listened to standing up for them. Thousands are huddled in the bush, injured and scared, many now with no homes to go back to.
Sample text to Senator John Kerry:
I am shocked and saddened to learn of the attacks on civilians in the Niger Delta by the Nigerian military. It is reported that as many as 2,000 people were killed and as many as 30,000 are now displaced refugees.
I urge you and your fellow U.S. lawmakers to speak out immediately to stop the current bombardment and hold the Nigerian government accountable for its authorization. I ask that you call for:
This region is on the brink. Please act before the situation devolves into full-scale war.
Delta govt to rebuild communities destroyed by JTF Vanguard article, August 2
USIP program officer report from Warri, July 14
Nigerian parliament urges wider oil delta offensive news story Reuters, May 22
The Humanitarian Crisis in the Niger Delta Vanguard editorial, May 21
Killing "Rebels" in the Niger Delta Huffington Post, May 21
The Human Cost of a Crisis news story This Day, May 20
ICC letter press release May 20
War in the Creeks news story Vanguard, May 18
International Crisis Group report April 30