Nigeria - Niger Delta
The Niger Delta is an unstable area of Nigeria, and inter-ethnic clashes are common - often access to oil revenue is the trigger for the violence. Pipelines are regularly vandalized by impoverished residents, who risk their lives to siphon off fuel. Vandalism is estimated to result in thousands of barrels of crude oil wastage every day - a loss to the Nigerian economy of millions of dollars each year. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil-producing nation. However, mismanagement and successive military governments have left the country poverty-stricken.
Although many observers of the South South think primarily of youths invading oil company properties when they think of conflict there, in fact the roots of South South conflicts lie deeper in history and in the contemporary social circumstances of the area. Contemporary history of the Delta can be summarized as economic decline and broken promises. Historically, Delta communities prospered as "middlemen" controlling trade with the interior, particularly palm oil products and slaves. But with the development of the colonial state and independence, the region experienced a steady decline and stagnation, for no new sources of wealth developed there to replace these activities.
More recently, the failure of the early independent Nigerian government to follow through on a promise to treat the Delta as a special development area, the steady reduction in the share of oil royalties that states in the Delta have received, and, finally, the habitual disregard of state needs by non-indigenous military state governors, continued and worsened Delta problems. The FGRN's neglect of the Delta's development (roads, schools, electricity, and health services all ended well inland before reaching coastal communities), Nigeria's overall economic decline since the mid-1980s, and the tendency of educated Delta youths to leave the area, have confirmed its status as an economic backwater. The people who remained behind simply lacked prospects elsewhere.
The complexity of issues and number of stakeholders involved exacerbate South South problems. The Delta, in part because of its riverine/swamp topography, has historically been politically extremely fragmented, and subject to frequent and at times violent disputes over land and fishing rights, as well as over traditional leaders' political jurisdictions. These all lead to cycles of "revenge violence." As more powerful weapons became available in the Delta in the mid- and late-1990s, disputes became more violent. Youth gangs became more powerful who were willing and able to protect their villages and elders. As democratic competition returned in 1998-1999, some of these same youths took up a new line of activity, paid disruption of campaign events, and/or provided candidates protection from such unwanted attentions. Finally, traditional leaders have lost much credibility and respect as they have been corrupted by payments from the military government and the oil companies.
There is an inevitable and serious conflict of interest between Delta communities that bear the environmental damage of oil extraction and the rest of the nation for which oil money is essentially a free good. Delta populations, clearly a minority, regularly lose these struggles. Had they some authority over environmental issues, many current problems might be more manageable. Lacking this, and given the federal government's control over all subsurface resources as well as "ownership" of all land, all Delta issues inevitably become national issues. The national government has failed to resolve these. In its campaign to "buy off" Delta discontent on the cheap, earlier administrations frequently corrupted Delta community leaders. There is a deep distrust in the Delta concerning the federal government and a feeling among local populations that most other Nigerians care little for their problems, so long as the oil flows. Delta populations constantly campaign for a larger share of the federal cake, most of which originates in their homelands (discussed further in the Economics section below).
As a result of these factors, and because oil companies did and do make tempting targets, many aggrieved youths in the Delta resort to direct action to extract compensation for their perceived losses. They invade oil company properties, take employees hostage, and shut down facilities. Oil companies typically negotiate release of captured personnel and properties with relative ease by paying the youths modest ransoms. This oil company strategy creates a "moral hazard": the willingness of companies to pay ransoms stimulates imitators of this lucrative "business," leading to sustained disruptions, at times to competition among youths, and to a general sense of anarchy in the Delta.
Another conflict closely linked to federal control over Delta oil and the economy in general is the intense competition for political office. For politicians, and for their communities, control of federal office opens the high road to resources that can be diverted from public to private or community control. Competition is naturally intense for federal political offices and has historically turned violent in the second election in each of Nigeria's two previous republics. In summary, federal control over oil and much of the rest of the economy tends to "federalize" many economic problems, particularly in the Delta, and stimulates intense efforts to gain and hold office throughout Nigeria.
In this culture of cynicism about government, economic stagnation and hopelessness, historical political fragmentation, and low-grade violent conflict, pre-existing political fragmentation became institutional disintegration. Small groups of youths with weapons went unchallenged and found oil companies easy targets for hold-up and ransom. As the oil companies paid off the first gangs, others were inspired and soon followed suit. Throughout the 1990s, incidents of youth gangs extorting payments from oil companies and engaging in violence escalated, until they leveled off and began dropping in 1999.
Something is needed to encourage multiple and historically competing/conflicting communities to start working together, to bring more moderate and mature leaders back into the centers of decision making, to co-opt or marginalize violent youths, and to find constructive and promising avenues of activity for a currently "lost generation." If the promised 13% royalties on oil production are actually paid to the states and spent in the Delta, and if the new Nigeria Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) comes on line, they might offer enough funds to leverage meaningful local cooperation in the development and implementation of "area development plans."
Military authorities in Bayelsa State in the Niger delta region declared a state of emergency in late December 1998 in response to violence by members of the Ijaw ethnic group who sought greater local autonomy. In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi, Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang.
Fighting continues between two ethnic groups -- Itsekiris and Ijaw residents of the Niger Delta. Tensions between the Itsekiris and the Ijaw communities remained high in 2003, with intermittent reports of violence. Tribal clashes in March 2003 forced the withdrawal of major oil companies from the area. Ethnic clashes in the region led to dozens of deaths, and forced multi-national oil giants to curtail operations in the area. Oil companies were forced to shut down 40 percent of the country's output as the Ijaws and Itsekiris traded gunfire. Ethnic fighting resurfaced in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta in mid-August 2003. This was the most serious fighting in the area since March. But in October 2003 James Ibori, the Governor of Delta State, brought the warring Ijaw and Itsekiri communities together to agree a fragile peace. Fighting between the two groups killed more than 200 people during 2003 and forced the government to send in troop reinforcements to restore order.
The level of violence that Delta youth can muster seemed unlikely to seriously impede oil production. This implied that Delta conflicts will not exert a marked negative effect on the national economy. Moreover, Delta problems do not threaten consolidation of democratic civilian governance in Nigeria nor do they trigger ethnic riots elsewhere in the country.
On 01 Jun 2004 leaders of rival ethnic militia groups agreed to peace terms in the Nigerian oil town of Warri. The peace agreement struck between the Ijaw and Itsekiri militia groups crowned efforts by Delta State governor James Ibori to end fighting between the two tribes over claims to land and oil-related benefits. More than 200 people had died in ethnic clashes in Delta State over the previous year. But the peace deal failed to address key demands of the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities Group for improved political representation and better access to the region's oil resources. Government officials urged foreign oil companies to resume operations in the troubled Niger Delta region that had been disrupted by a year of fighting. ChevronTexaco, which had shut down 140,000 barrels per day of production, showed no immediate enthusiasm to reactivate its closed facilities.
What is now known as the Nigerian Oil Crisis began on 25 September 2004 when the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) threatened to attack oil facilities and infrastructure in the Delta region. Royal Dutch Shell responded the next day by evacuating 235 personnel from its oil fields. The NDPVF threatened to declare an all-out war against Obasajo’s government on 1 October and told all oil companies and their foreign workers to leave the Delta. Obasanjo entered into negotiations with the group and a ceasefire and disbarment plan were declared on 29 September.
By 5 October, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, the leader of the NDPVF, withdrew from disarmament obligations. The rest of October was punctuated by a series of oil worker strikes and fluctuations in the global price of oil. On 28 October, the NDPVF began to turn its weapons over to the government.
In November, strikes continued and by the 15 th, the government agreed to lower domestic oil prices. The unions suspended their strikes the next day. Unfortunately, fighting began anew when members of the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) attacked the Okrika region. The NDPVF responded by dropping at out disarmament plans. On 30 November, the Nigerian government revealed that over one million barrels of crude were lost each week during November.
On 15 June 2005, six Shell workers (two Germans and two Nigerians) were kidnapped. A group calling itself the Iduwini National Movement for Peace and Development claimed responsibility. Three days later, all six workers were released but their kidnappers stated that Shell was still under threat as it had yet to follow through on promises of development in the region.
The situation between the government and the NDPVF worsened when Asari was arrested for treason on 20 September 2005. The next day 300 NDPVF turned out for a protest armed with machetes and promising revenge. On 22 September, over 100 militants stormed an oil pumping station. Threats of more seizures led to another station being closed but government forces were able to reopen both stations by 26 September.
Asari was formally charged with treason on 6 October. If convicted he could face the death penalty. In what was probably a response to the charges, militants blew up a pipeline and killed eight people in December. As a result of this attack Shell was forced to delay crude shipments out of Nigeria.
In January 2006, a new militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta (MEND), entered the fray. MEND is closely linked to the NDPVF and is demanding, among other things, the release of Asari and $1.5 billion in compensation from Shell for the pollution they claim it caused. MEND’s first significant act was an attack on Italy’s Eni SpA petroleum company. The deaths of nine Eni officials forced the company to evacuate its staff and contractors from the area. Along with further kidnappings and another withdrawal of Shell workers, it was estimated that the instability had resulted in a 10% drop in Nigerian oil production.
By April, continued attacks had brought Nigerian oil production capability down to 75%. On 5 April, Obasanjo established a special committee to address the crisis by improving education, employment, and infrastructure. By the end of the month, Obasanjo offered the region thousands of new jobs and a highway. MEND’s response came in the form of a car-bombing the next day. Killings and kidnappings of foreign oil workers and the government’s retaliatory attacks continued through December.
Decades of neglect, persistent poverty, and environmental damage caused by the oil and gas industry has left Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta region vulnerable to renewed violence. The 2009 amnesty of Delta militants significantly reduced attacks on pipelines and other petroleum facilities, increasing oil production from 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) at the peak of militancy to 2.4 million bpd today. However, egregious onshore and maritime oil theft, substandard infrastructure, and the lack of an economic growth engine outside the petroleum sector remain persistent challenges. Though the region provides nearly 80 percent of the government’s oil revenues, the Niger Delta suffers from endemic poverty and dismal federal government services.
Corruption siphons off oil revenues, while the environmental devastation caused by decades of oil spills remains largely unaddressed. The limited scope and timeframe of the amnesty program (set to expire in 2015), a shortage of sufficient employment opportunities for thousands of amnesty beneficiaries and other underserved youth, and the federal government’s failure to address the region’s underlying grievances could result in a resumption of broader and more violent criminal activity without concerted government action.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has a mandate to implement social and economic development projects in the Delta region, but the NDDC proved largely ineffective. State and local governments offer few social services, and Niger Delta residents continue to seek direct payments and other assistance from oil companies, who cannot meet demand. Some oil companies have implemented their own socio-economic development programs to assist local communities, but the virtual absence of concerted government attention to the needs of these communities means many of them remain angry and resentful of oil production activities in their region. In 2009, the GON established the Ministry for the Niger Delta to oversee development projects in the region, but most observers assert that this entity had done little to improve the lives of Delta residents.
By October 2009, the GON had persuaded all major militant leaders to renounce violence and surrender arms in exchange for amnesty, government stipends, training opportunities, and pledges of greater development for the Delta. Nigerian officials followed up the amnesty program with a series of consultations with Delta stakeholders, including ex- militants. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) partners sent a letter to Minister of Defense and Amnesty Committee Chairperson Retired General Godwin Abbe in December 2009 offering to engage on the Niger Delta. Concerns existed that ex-militants may become impatient before the full implementation of rehabilitation programs occurs. Allegedly speaking for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), self-identified spokesperson "Jomo Gbomo" announced January 30 the end of MEND's October 25, 2009 cease-fire. To date, security has improved considerably in most areas of the Delta, but ex-militants have staged protests in Bayelsa, Rivers, and Delta States over lack of progress on rehabilitation and reintegration.
Most militant groups in the Niger Delta accepted then president Yar’Adua’s offer of amnesty in 2009, and the overall level of violence there declined. Although the amnesty led to a sharp decline in attacks by militants, kidnapping for ransom, armed robberies, gang wars, and fighting connected to the theft of crude oil, known as illegal oil bunkering, continued and contributed to the region’s general insecurity and lack of economic vitality.
There had been several ceasefires in recent years. They were typically nothing more than a tacit and temporary agreement by Nigerian security forces and "militants" to stop shooting at each other for a while, and get back to the business of stealing oil, kidnapping oil workers, and, during the election season, intimidating voters.
The new Nigerian Government (GON) Amnesty Subcommittee on Niger Delta Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DRR) purpose was to monitor the full implementation of the Disarmament Process and mop up all outstanding illegal weapons in the hands of recalcitrant militants and criminals; monitor the security situation in the region and assist Security Agencies to restore normalcy; undertake inter- and intra-community mediation to resolve amicably all lingering disputes and misunderstandings; assist in reconciling former militants with their local communities to ensure their complete integration as full and bonafide citizens of such communities; monitor and advise on the conduct of skills training and employment generation for the engagement of ex-militants and non-militants youth in the Niger Delta region; and carry out all the necessary endeavors to promote conflict resolution, reconciliation, and peace building in the region.
Complaining that the training did not relate to job opportunities, Niger Delta ex-militants remarked that "the militants don't want to be barbers and soap-makers." Discontent also arose over the slow pace in implementation and problems in making timely stipend payments. Observers feared ex-militants would slowly begin returning to the creeks and previous criminal activity.
Under the program, the government handed out multimillion-dollar contracts to the top leaders of the last round of militants, paying them to guard oil infrastructure. The rank and file were compensated with stipends and job training. "Essentially, the amnesty was a massive payoff system," said former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell. "The leaders of MEND, of the insurrection, were paid off essentially with government contracts. The rank and file were supposed to be paid off with vocational training. Of course, there aren't any jobs in the area," he told CNBC 20 May 2016. Midlevel commanders were left without opportunities that matched their expectations and sense of their own standing, said Akin Iwilade, a research student at Oxford University who studies why Nigerians join gangs. Buhari extended the program through 2017, but he reduced payouts, circumvented the former militant leaders who previously distributed them and stopped funding security contracts.
By the end of 2012, at least 26,368 former militants had benefitted in some way from the amnesty program. Many former militants received vocational training and stipends. At year’s end 5,280 former militants were undergoing vocational training, with 1,538 attending courses abroad. The amnesty program resulted in a sharp decline in militant violence in the region. Some observers expressed concern, however, the militants used amnesty payments to purchase more arms.
The government’s amnesty program reduced the level of conflict for much of 2012. Disagreements arose between former militants and the government concerning who qualified for the amnesty program, the amount of cash payments, the availability of vocational training, and continued possession of arms by former militants. On multiple occasions groups claiming to be former militants protested to the federal government over treatment of former militants. For example, on July 30, hundreds of former militants staged a mass protest in Benin City, Edo State, demanding payment of their allowance. On August 22, a group claiming to be former militants protested outside the Federal Secretariat in Abuja demanding to be included in a new phase of the amnesty program. There was widespread suspicion many of those demanding inclusion in the program were probably not militants.
Criminal gangs, called “cults" in some parts of the region, copied the methods of more sophisticated militants to amass wealth and power. In a recent trend, kidnappers targeted businessmen, doctors, teachers, religious leaders, foreign residents, and others. Gangs extended their reach beyond the Niger Delta states, where they originated as politically sponsored thugs to intimidate opponents and aid election rigging. In recent years power struggles between gangs resulted in extensive property damage and hundreds of deaths, including of civilian bystanders.
Without a broad and effective campaign to address the grinding poverty, environmental degradation, and political alienation of those living in the midst of the country's oil wealth, the situation is bound to deteriorate again in a short period of time.
A new generation of young men will take up a life of sabotage and kidnapping, confident that they can force the government to grant them amnesty. Meanwhile, the current generation of politicians and "reformed" militants will continue to accumulate wealth by other unscrupulous means in order to ensure victory in the next sham elections.