In Niger Delta, One Rebel Leader Faces a Choice: Computer Engineering or Fighting

As leaders of Nigerian militias promise to restart their war against the government in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, one young commander weighs life as a rebel vs. life as a computer engineer.

Fellows Fall 2011

By David Francis

October 31, 2011

Also published in the Christian Science Monitor

Photo: George Esiri/Reuters/File

Blessing Dumo, a 30-year-old commander in the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, belies the stereotype of a Niger Delta militant.

Mr. Dumo looks, talks, and acts like any university student trying to find his way in the world. He speaks with enthusiasm about his computer science studies. He also expresses frustration at being unable to find a job, especially as he prepares to marry a woman named Virginia.

Dumo, who joined the militancy when he was 21, also talks about the joy of firing Kalashnikovs at Italian oil workers, the utility of kidnapping as a moneymaking venture, and his desire to wipe Muslim militant group Boko Haram off the map. He says he would like to leave the militant life behind after college but won't be able to if he has no job prospects.

Dumo's dilemma captures many of the problems present in modern-day Nigeria. Civil society here is broken. Government officials are corrupt and unresponsive. Because of safety concerns, aid groups cannot operate in the areas in which they are needed most. Nonviolent movements are ignored. Economic growth, for many, is nonexistent.

The only thing that draws a response is violence. And only when the violence reaches a level that disrupts the Nigerian economy and the political classes are Delta residents' concerns addressed.

Yet, the Nigerian government has been unable or unwilling to follow through.

This cycle now spreads across the entirety of Nigeria. Boko Haram militants in Nigeria's mostly Muslim north have the same complaints as the boys in the Delta creeks. Those Islamists know the government only paid attention to the Delta when oil production was disrupted.

Men like Dumo, who worked their way from the creeks to university, are rare. Having to remain a militant would be devastating to him, he says, but he might have no other choice.

When asked about using violence for political gain, Dumo admits, "Of course it's wrong, very wrong.... But my government will not respond. Here we fight for our rights. We wake up in the morning wanting to go to work and there's no work. Our pockets are dry. What do you expect the youth to do?"

David Francis reported from Nigeria on an International Reporting Project (IRP) fellowship.