A Rebel or a Thief? One Man's Niger Delta Claim

Oronto Douglas is an environmental lawyer. Credit: Jim Wallace, NPR.

Oronto Douglas is an environmental lawyer and state official who would like to see more oil money remain in the Niger Delta. He took part in negotiations with the government this summer that attempted to change the formula for sharing oil revenue. Jim Wallace, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wallace, NPR
Alhaji Dokubo-Asari, a Nigerian political celebrity. Credit: Jim Wallace, NPR.

Alhaji Dokubo-Asari has become a Nigerian political celebrity with his call to create a new country in the Niger Delta, taking the oil money with it. He sits next to the flag he hopes will one day fly over an independent delta nation. Jim Wallace, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Wallace, NPR

Nigeria produces so much oil that just the possibility of trouble there affects world markets.

Prices first approached $60 a barrel after this summer's threat to the U.S. consulate. Oil first hit $50 last fall after another news item from Nigeria.

Nigeria by the Numbers

All numbers are 2004 estimates.

Oil Production: 2.5 Million Barrels Per Day

Oil Sent To America: 1.1 Million Barrels Per Day

Oil Production Disrupted: 134,000 Barrels Per Day

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

That was when a rebel group ordered all oil companies out of the country. Alhaji Dokubo-Asari has become a Nigerian political celebrity, even though he denies being part of Nigeria.

He wants to separate from hundreds of other ethnic groups to form a new country, one with a lot of oil. Asari's far from making that happen. But he's come to personify the fear that Africa's most populous nation could someday break apart.

Asari belongs to an ethnic group called Ijaws. He calls the oil-producing region "Ijawland."

He's a convert to Islam who likes to say that he admires Osama bin Laden. But government officials contend the real fuel of Asari's movement is fuel.

Nigeria's presidential spokesman, Femi Fani-Koyode, says Asari is "bunkering" — tapping oil pipelines.

But with his threats of violence and call for independence, Asari has become part of a larger debate over the future of the oil region.

Oronto Douglas is an environmental lawyer and state official. Unlike Asari, he doesn't call for independence. But he says anything could happen if the people stay poor.

This summer, Douglas was a delegate to a national meeting about the country's future. The delegates from the Niger River Delta walked out because they wanted a bigger share of the oil money.

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