Author(s): Angela Ajodo-Adebanjoko
Type of publication: Academic article
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria comprises the nine states Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. About 31 million people live in the region which is renowned as one of the World’s ten most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems. The Niger Delta is rich with a diverse mosaic of ecological zones, five of which are the Mangrove Forest and Coastal Vegetation Zone, the Fresh Water Swamp Forest Zone, the Lowland Rain Forest Zone, the Derived Savannah Zone and the Montane Zone. The Niger Delta is also the location of massive oil deposits, which have been extracted for decades by the government of Nigeria and by Multinational Oil Companies (MNOCs).
Nigeria is West Africa’s biggest producer of petroleum and the sixth largest supplier of oil in the world, thanks to oil from the Niger Delta. Oil wealth has been instrumental to Nigeria’s emergence as a leading player in world and regional politics. Specifically, Nigeria has been playing a leading and dynamic role in African politics as a member of several regional organisations, such as the Africa Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and an active role in global politics under the United Nations. With the oil boom in the early 1970s, Nigeria began to assert her influence around the globe and to date whatever influence Nigeria has, is credited to the discovery and exploration of oil.
Conflicts and insecurity in the Niger Delta
The region [where the oil was found] is a tale of poverty, squalor and gross underdevelopment in the midst of plenty, due to environmental degradation which has affected the people’s agricultural means of livelihood. The effect of oil spills and gas flares has been death to aquatic lives and waste to farm lands. Nigeria is the second largest offending country, after Russia, in terms of the total volume of gas flared and the resulting emission of about 70 million tons of CO2 a year, higher than the emissions in Norway. In the case of oil spills, Nigeria has the highest number of oil spills in the world.
Conflicts in the Niger Delta have been occurring as far back as the pre-colonial period and the early 1960s when there were protests against the marginalisation of the region. In the early 1990s, there were also non-violent protests in Ogoniland to protest against the degradation of the environment by Oil companies. After these series of uprisings, a new wave of protests characterised by militancy began in 2003. Violence during this period grew out of the political campaigns in 2003.
As they competed for office, politicians in Rivers State manipulated the Niger Delta Vigilantes (NDV), led by Ateke Tom, and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), led by Alhaji Asari Dokubo, and used these groups to advance their aspirations, often rewarding gang members for acts of political violence and intimidation against their opponents. This eventually witnessed the emergence of other militant groups, such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and the Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) which unleashed mayhem on the region.
This introduced militancy into the region which was characterised by armed attacks, bombing of oil installations and hostage taking, particularly of foreign oil workers – thereby ushering in a Hobbesian Niger Delta. As a result, many people fled their communities and many foreign businesses were relocated to their home countries.
Oil wealth has been instrumental to Nigeria’s emergence as a leading player in world and regional politics
Studies by the World Bank and others have shown that countries whose wealth is largely dependent on the exportation of primary commodities (Nigeria, Sudan, Chechnya, Liberia, Indonesia and Angola for instance) are highly prone to civil violence, and that those with oil and natural gas are the most conflict prone. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum and its 8th largest exporter worldwide. Resource-related conflict in Nigeria revolves around oil with about 95% of violent conflict in Nigeria since 1997 being resource-related. Studies also found that the fight for resource control strengthens the segmentation around already existing ethnic or linguistic cleavages thereby escalating conflict.
This can be applied to the situation in the Niger Delta where oil exploration activities leading to environmental degradation such as shortage of farmlands, death of aquatic life, air and water pollution, oil poisoning causing respiratory ailments and destruction of mangrove forests, often without adequate compensation, have resulted in conflict. This was why the late environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, lamented that the people of the region faced extinction in what he described as an ecological war.
In Nigeria, the Federal Government is the one responsible for resource allocation and control, but conflict has arisen over the most appropriate revenue sharing formula with the Niger Delta people who demand that a special proportion be given to them due to their oil richness – just as it was done for the north when agricultural produce was the mainstay of the economy. This demand has however been refused by Nigerians in the rest of the country and by some of the leaders, which led to the creation of ethno-nationalism-identities.
We see this in the confrontation between foreign oil companies and local communities in the Niger Delta and between the Niger Delta people who view themselves as minorities being marginalised and oppressed and the ‘majorities’ in the other parts of the country that do not produce oil but reap the benefits of revenue allocation. Consequently, there have been violent agitations in the form of militancy and a call for secession by the Niger Delta buttressing the argument of Bannon and Collier that violent secessionist movements are statistically much more likely if a country has valuable natural resources, especially oil.
The region [where the oil was found] is a tale of poverty, squalor and gross underdevelopment in the midst of plenty, due to environmental degradation which has affected the people’s agricultural means of livelihood
Efforts by the Nigerian government to address conflicts in the Niger Delta
Various efforts, beginning even before independence, have been made by the Federal Government to end the conflicts in the region. In 1957, the government established the Willink Commission to look into the problems of the minorities, and this Commission acknowledged the utter neglect of the region and, among other proposals, recommended the creation of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB). This Board could not achieve its aims for many reasons, one of which was the fact that its headquarters were located in Lagos, far from the problem area.
With the creation of twelve states in 1967 and the establishment of the Niger Delta River Basin Authority (NDRBA), the NNDB became obsolete. In the second republic, a 1.5% Federation Account for the development of the Niger Delta region was set up for the oil producing areas, but because of the constraint of operating from its secretariat in Lagos it was not able to achieve its purpose.
In spite of recurrent failures, and in order to show its commitment to ending the crisis and ensuring the development of the area, the Federal Government established some other Commissions such as the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) which was in operation from 1992 to 1999. Like its predecessors, it failed to achieve its mandate owing to official profligacy, corruption, excessive political interference and lack of transparency.
After this, the Niger Delta Environmental Survey was set up in 1995, followed by the Niger Delta Development Commission, established in 2000 by President Olusegun Obasanjo with a vision ‘to offer a lasting solution to socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region’ and a mission ‘to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful. The government also put in place other mechanisms such as the Task Force on Pipeline Vandalisation operated by the Nigeria Police Force in collaboration with the NNPC (Niger Delta Development Commission). Similar task forces were also set up by the navy, army and State Security Service (SSS) in various states of the Niger Delta.
In Delta state, the government passed a law in August 2001 banning militant groups blamed for the disruption of oil activities in the state. The Special Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas was also set up by the Federal Government in November 2001 to address the prevailing situation in the oil producing areas. Other efforts include the convening of the first Niger Delta peace conference in Abuja in 2007, a Joint Task Force (JTF) in 2008, and a Technical Committee made up of stakeholders and the Niger Delta ministry in 2008.
In the early 1990s, there were also non-violent protests in Ogoniland to protest against the degradation of the environment by Oil companies
Amnesty and post-amnesty era
Following criticisms of the military option, especially when it became obvious that the use of force by the JTF was aggravating rather than resolving the conflict, an amnesty programme was set up by the Federal Government on 25 May 2009 under the leadership of a former president, Umar Musa Yar’Adua.
It involved granting of national and unconditional pardon to all armed militants in the Niger Delta region who in turn were to surrender their arms and ammunition, sign an undertaking not to return to the creeks and continue with the struggle and also sign the military re-unification forms. The amnesty programme included a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.
Despite this seeming success, amnesty was alleged to be riddled with cases of corruption which made it less effective than it should have been. As a result, five years after amnesty new militant groups emerged in the region, namely; the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), The Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), the Niger Delta Red Squad (NDRS), the AdakaBoro Avengers (ABA) and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate (NDGJM). In response, the Federal Government deployed 3 000 military personnel to the region with a plan to deploy 10 000 more by the year 2017, in addition to launching Operation Crocodile Smile, aimed at restoring peace to the region.
Critics are of the view that the new security measures will further worsen the security situation in the region and they therefore called for dialogue. In response to this call, the government proposed a $10 billion (N4 trillion) infrastructural rebirth investment programme for the region. Leaders and stakeholders from the region rejected this, however, on the grounds that they were not consulted before it was proposed. In addition, the Federal Government in November 2016, convened a peace dialogue in which President Buhari met with leaders from the region in Abuja to discuss the way forward.
At the meeting, leaders of the region led by Edwin Clark presented a 16-point agenda to the Federal Government and although the president welcomed the requests in addition to stating that the reports of amnesty would be implemented, peace remains elusive.
Recommending the collective non-violent approach to conflict management in the Niger Delta
The failure of the various strategies is probably due to the fact that they lacked sufficient elements of democracy, accountability, equity and active public participation of all stakeholders, which is why Abidde opined that ‘peace cannot be dictated; it has to be a natural born child of a just and humane environment’.
Despite this seeming success, amnesty was alleged to be riddled with cases of corruption which made it less effective than it should have been
In view of this situation, this article proposes Collective Non-violent Conflict Management (CNCM) as an alternative approach. CNCM is a multilateral arrangement involving all parties in the conflict management process working together with parties to the conflict to find solutions to their problems. Negotiation is facilitated by a mediator acceptable to both parties. The mediator is a neutral person and a national of another country. The approach is voluntary, informal, improvised and adapted to the ad hoc situation; and because of the peculiarity and distinctiveness of each region, it is most effective when it occurs within regions.
It is a democratic problem-solving approach that gives parties to a conflict equal opportunity to participate in finding common solutions to their problems. It involves communicating face-to-face with one another, dialoguing, and negotiating, thereby building trust. This is very important in the Niger Delta case as the issue of lack of trust on both sides has impeded the process of dialogue. It comprises peacebuilding and conflict transformation processes from their inception to their conclusion, including the implementation of formal peace settlements which has been lacking in the peace processes in the Niger Delta so far. Negotiations should preferably take place on neutral ground, for instance in a neighbouring country. In the case of the Niger Delta conflict, Ghana provides an appropriate location for negotiations.
Multilateral non-violent conflict resolution mechanisms have been successfully used in the Liberia peace process, the Philippines–Mindanao talks, the Afghanistan–Pakistan border dispute and the Horn of Africa Piracy.
The issue of lack of trust on both sides has impeded the process of dialogue
Challenges of the collective non-violent approach
It needs a supportive environment as parties to the dispute must agree to the process and cooperate with the team otherwise it would not succeed; because of the issue of sovereignty, a State may be reluctant to adopt an approach that may be seen as foreign interference in its domestic politics; it is expensive as it requires using a neutral location such as another country and paying members of the team of negotiators and the mediator; it requires members to have the right skills and resources for the success of the task at hand and as a result it needs long-term planning, training and mobilisation of resources which depend on availability of funds. It is ineffective where one or more key actors are not prepared to take the lead and mobilise partners for the task.
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