Getting It Right: Searching for the Elusive Solution in the Niger Delta

By James Davis
Cornell International Affairs Review
2010, Vol. 4 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

A fourth initiative, directly related to the above emphasis on environmental protection, is the need to hold oil corporations operating in the Delta accountable for their actions and policies. In the past, conversations about the proper role of oil corporations in the regions have been regarded as “polemical” with the corporations maintaining that “corporate social responsibility cannot replace effective governance.”26 Yet corporate policies and procedures are vitally important in the region, since it is the corporation that is doing the drilling. Corporate responsibility should be comprehensively practiced to ensure that past failures are not repeated. Due to the importance of the region for corporate revenues, the first step should be to recognize the importance of development initiatives to regional stability.27

Without first addressing militarism, there can be little hope that proposed economic and political initiatives would be able to take root and develop into solutions.

Oil corporations wmust recognize that they are, by their very presence, an integral part of the Delta community. By investing a portion of corporate revenue back into the region, corporations would be able to reduce the impetus for violent action from those who feel cheated. Development initiatives supported by oil corporations should be substantive and avoid frequent mistake of degenerating into “some sort of PR exercise” that serves the corporate public image at the expense of the region.28 There must also be a commitment by the oil corporations to effectively control the use of force. Allegations of excessive bloodshed in the Delta by private security firms in corporate employ, as well as by government forces, serve to further inflame emotions and contribute to the desire to take violent action for revenge and retribution. Finally, there must be a commitment by the oil corporations to maintain a high level of environmental responsibility. This includes ensuring that oil facilities are properly maintained and that prompt action to address overall ecological clean-up is taken when problems do occur.

A fifth initiative for the region must be the promotion of an effectively organized civil society. A cohesive civil society movement – whether professional associations, nongovernmental organizations, grassroots movements or communal groups – must be maintained to help ordinary residents gain a voice in the regional development process. A statement succinctly summarizing the characteristics of civil society in the Delta, and in Africa generally, deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

“In Africa, civil society activities have been characterized by popular mobilization, social protests, opposition, advocacy and criticisms in favor of reform, change, accountability, control of state excesses and abuses, and have contributed immensely to regime and policy changes, democratization, increased liberalization and observance of civil rights.”29

In many ways civil society is already a positive force for change in the region, owing to the region’s transformation into a “broad, participatory, highly mobilized and coordinated platform” on which groups can act.30 Indeed, community development associations, communal and ethnic groups, youth organizations, environmental groups and civil rights groups have “blossomed” in the last decade.31 These groups represent the cornucopia of “regional, ethnic and… localized responses” to the “fear of domination and marginalization” they face on a daily basis.32 Civil society groups must also be matched with global partners and supporters, given adequate resources and be allowed to continue their work on behalf of Delta residents.

A sixth initiative should be the inclusion of a variety of global actors in the Delta regeneration project. The international community – whether governments, individuals, civil society groups or international and regional organizations – can play an important role in providing funds for development, supporting local communities and maintaining a degree of pressure on the Nigerian government and oil corporations to keep promises and maintain transparency. This international support is especially critical in the wake of the 2009 amnesty program, in which external third-party support mediation, negotiations and peace implementation were viewed as necessary to effectively maintain the program’s integrity. The international community has a clear stake in the comprehensive resolution of the Niger Delta conflict, and any short-term costs of support would surely be outweighed by the long-term benefits.

The final initiative, and one of the most critical, is the creation of an effective and accountable governance regime that encompasses the local, state and national levels. The lack of good governance in the region is a principal conflict accelerator, and resolving this problem would offer enormous benefits on multiple levels. Indeed, many of the initiatives outlined in this paper and in official Nigerian documents are impossible to be implemented effectively without first fundamentally addressing the governance issue.

In Nigeria, as in many other African states, the government still struggles with the legacies of its colonial past. There continues to be “no convergence in thoughts, objectives, and actions between the rulers… and the ruled.”33 This fact, combined with the socioeconomic and political marginalization of the region, creates a situation in which many residents perceive an acute degree of isolation from the political process. This is a critical issue that must be addressed for two reasons. Firstly, the disconnection between government at all levels and Delta residents creates a situation ripe for violent action, as residents will increasingly turn to violence and militancy rather than legitimate grievance channels. Secondly, residents will be more likely to view government programs and initiatives with suspicion, decreasing the likelihood that they will view themselves as stakeholders in the area’s development.

Steps must be taken to address the lack of a “genuine” political process in the region,34 the general disenchantment of residents with government at all levels, the problems of corruption and lack of transparency and government’s seeming inability or unwillingness to provide basic goods and services to the region. Yet, like the other initiatives, these programs must be successively built on to continually address the issue of governance. Without doing so, the government risks an intense and emotional re-escalation of violent conflict.

Conclusion

Three lessons can be taken away that should influence future decisions concerning solutions to the Niger Delta conflict. First, there is a need for comprehensive conflict prevention measures that include programs, policies, and initiatives focused on addressing the multi-faceted nature of the area’s problems. There is no single solution from one actor, but rather a collection of solutions from many actors. Second, it is not enough to simply build roads and open schools. Rather, conflict prevention should be approached holistically while putting the focus on “human-centered values and norms of peace, social justice, and freedom.”35 By focusing on a wide variety of socio-economic, political, governance, security, and environmental issues, the disparate root causes of unrest can be addressed and resolved. Finally, there must a creative approach to conflict prevention in the region. If one recognizes that the region is a complex and quickly changing environment, interested parties can understand the value of creative and compromising approaches for conflict prevention in the Niger Delta.


Endnotes

  1. Welch, Claude E, “The Ogoni and Self-Determination: Increasing Violence in Nigeria.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 33.4 (1995): 635-49. 636.
  2. The report goes on to explain the environmental degradation from regular oil spills, unregulated waste disposal, gas flaring, construction of roads and pipelines, dredging activities, and inadequate clean-up programs. Acid rain and health problems are also problematic. See: “Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta.” Amnesty International, 30 June 2009. p. 14. .
  3. Whittington, James. Nigeria’s Oil Wealth Shuns the Needy. BBC News, 28 Dec. 2001. Web. 5 Oct. 2009 .
  4. Opportunities in this context are multi-dimensional, encompassing education, work, and subsistence.
  5. The research of Günther Baechler on environmentally caused conflicts is invaluable in this situation.
  6. Ikelegbe, Augustine, “Civil Society, Oil, and Conflict in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria: Ramifications of Civil Society for a Regional Resource Struggle.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 39.3 (2001): 437-69. 438. Ikelegbe notes that this was certainly not the case in the 1970s and 1980s when distinct communities “disparately and un-co-ordinately articulated grievances to the [oil companies]” with little cohesion or purposeful focus.
  7. Ikelegbe, Augustine, “Civil Society, Oil, and Conflict in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria: Ramifications of Civil Society for a Regional Resource Struggle.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 39.3 (2001): 437-69. 440.
  8. Anyanwu, K C, “The Basis of Political Instability in Nigeria.” Journal of Black Studies 13.1 (1982): 101-17. 105. This ethnic fragmentation goes far in explaining Nigeria’s inability to create a stable, nationally oriented polity. Anyanwu goes on to explain that the identification of citizens with ethnicity, rather than nation, makes the country’s politics “a highly emotional and violent affair.”
  9. Welch, Claude E, “The Ogoni and Self-Determination: Increasing Violence in Nigeria.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 33.4 (1995): 635-49. 649.
  10. The Commission put forward one of the most negative views of the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian state in 2002. Nigeria was found to have failed to respect, protect, promote, and fulfill rights enshrined to all Africans under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. There rights were: the right to enjoy Charter-guaranteed rights and freedoms without discrimination, the right to life, the right to property, the right to health, the right to housing, the right to food, the right of peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources, and the right to a “general satisfactory environment favorable… to development.” See: Decision Regarding Communication 155/96 (Social and Economic Rights Action Center/Center for Economic and Social Rights v. Nigeria), Case No. ACHPR/COMM/A044/1. .
  11. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Nigeria 121st out of 180 countries, with a score of 2.7 out of 10, while its citizens hold a confidence range of only 2.3 to 3.0 out of 10 in the government. See: Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2008. Transparency International, 2008..
  12. Campbell, Kelly, “Bringing Peace to the Niger Delta.” Bringing Peace to the Niger Delta. United States Institute of Peace, June 2008. .
  13. Smock, David R, “Crisis in the Niger Delta.” Crisis in the Niger Delta. United States Institute of Peace, Sep. 2009. .
  14. “The Ogomudia Report: Report of the Special Security Committee on Oil Producing Areas.” 1. http://www.adakaboro.org/resources/resources/articles/76-theogomudiarep.
  15. Ibid, 17.
  16. Gore, Charles, and David Pratten. “The Politics of Plunder: The Rhetorics of Order and Disorder in Southern Nigeria.” African Affairs 102 (2003): 211- 40. 212.
  17. While at times “ambiguous” and “incoherent,” President Yar’Adua’s efforts in the Delta included the creation of the Niger Delta Technical Committee in 2008, the establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in 2008, and a scheme to organize militants into a private company charged with guarding oil facilities. See: “Nigeria: Seizing the Moment in the Niger Delta.” International Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°60, 30 April 2009.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Connors, Will. “Bombings in Nigeria Imperil Amnesty.” The Wall Street Journal, 16 March 2010. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870 3909804575123170757234164.html.
  20. Here, the “sides” are the government and the communal groups.
  21. “Nigeria: Seizing the Moment in the Niger Delta.” International Crisis Group Africa Briefing N°60, 30 April 2009.
  22. Amnesty International. “Amnesty International Report 2009 – Nigeria.” Amnesty International, 28 May 2009. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/ docid/4a1fadcf2.html.
  23. Idemudia, Uwafiokun, and Uwern E. Ite. “Demystifing the Niger Delta Conflict: Towards an Integrated Explanation.” Review of African Political Economy 33.109 (2006): 391-406.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Gore, Charles, and David Pratten. “The Politics of Plunder: The Rhetorics of Order and Disorder in Southern Nigeria.” African Affairs 102 (2003): 211- 40. 240.
  26. “The Swamps of Insurgency: Nigeria’s Delta Unrest.” Crisis Group Africa Report 115, 3 Aug. 2006, 12. http://www.adakaboro.org/ndmiscreports.
  27. For an overview of the development initiatives and programs of Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Agip, Topcon and PIMCO during the 1990s, see: Maj. Gen. Popoola’s Report of the Committee on the Development Options for the Niger-Delta http://www.adakaboro.org/popoolarep1999.; For a critique of corporate development projects, see: Frynas, Jedrzej George. “Corporate and State Responses to Anti-Oil Protests in the Niger Delta.” African Affairs 100 (2001): 27-54.
  28. Frynas, Jedrzej George. “Corporate and State Responses to Anti-Oil Protests in the Niger Delta.” African Affairs 100 (2001): 27-54. 47.
  29. Ikelegbe, Augustine. “Civil Society, Oil and Conflict in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria: Ramifications of Civil Society for a Regional Resource Struggle.” Journal of Modern African Studies 39.3 (2001): 437-69. 439-40.
  30. Ibid, 462.
  31. For an excellent overview of civil society groups in the Niger Delta region, including specific groups, objectives, actions taken, leadership, ethnic/ state base and period of activism, see: Ikelegbe, Augustine. “Civil Society, Oil and Conflict in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria: Ramifications of Civil Society for a Regional Resource Struggle.” Journal of Modern African Studies 39.3 (2001): 437-69.
  32. Gore, Charles, and David Pratten. “The Politics of Plunder: The Rhetorics of Order and Disorder in Southern Nigeria.” African Affairs 102 (2003): 211- 40. 220.
  33. Awe, Bolanle. “Conflict and Divergence: Government and Society in Nigeria.” African Studies Review 12.3 (1999): 1-20.
  34. Smock, David R, “Crisis in the Niger Delta.” Crisis in the Niger Delta. United States Institute of Peace, Sep. 2009. http://www.usip.org/resources/ crisis-in-the-niger-delta.
  35. Awe, Bolanle. “Conflict and Divergence: Government and Society in Nigeria.” African Studies Review 12.3 (1999): 1-20.

Photos courtesy of:

  • Bobo’s Along the River. Niger..JPG.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 13 Nov. 2010. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Bobo’s_along_the_river_the_Niger.jpg
  • Nigerien MNJ Fighter Technical Gun.JPG.” Wikimedia Commons. Web. 13 Nov. 2010.

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