You must enable JavaScript to view this site.
This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Review our legal notice and privacy policy for more details.
Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > West Africa > Nigeria > Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta

Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta

Africa Report N°135 5 Dec 2007


The Niger Delta is again at risk of sliding into chaos. The 29 May 2007 inauguration of new federal and state governments offered an opportunity to resolve longstanding conflicts afflicting the oil-rich, deeply impoverished region. Six months later, the opportunity is unravelling amid new violence and criminality. Decisive action is necessary to stop militant violence and criminal hostage-taking, initiate quick-impact development projects that can build public confidence in President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration and tackle constitutional and legal issues that have fuelled unrest in the region.

Yar’Adua’s early statements and actions raised hopes in the Delta. The selection of Goodluck Jonathan, an ethnic Ijaw and then governor of Bayelsa State, as his running mate responded to the region’s demand for representation in the presidency. Yar’Adua identified the Delta as one of seven priority areas in his inaugural address and followed up by initiating consultations with ethnic and militant organisations and endorsing the regional development master plan launched by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, in March 2007. But none of this has yet led to a comprehensive and credible strategy for ending the violence. Repeated postponements of the Niger Delta summit, initially called for June, and lack of clarity over its participants, methods and goals are eroding confidence and threatening a relapse into even more intensive conflict.

Following the 3 September arrest in Angola of one of its leaders, Henry Okah, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) resumed attacks on oil installations and hostage-taking. On 18 October, it threatened to extend its bombing campaign beyond the Delta if the federal government agreed to the military’s request to raid militants’ camps.

Hostage-taking, employed by militants since early 2006 to draw international attention to the Delta crisis, has turned into a lucrative, criminally driven enterprise, with local politicians and their relatives frequent victims, instead of just the oil industry expatriates who were the original targets. The practice has also begun to spread beyond the core Niger Delta, to Ondo State on the western fringe of the region and other parts of the country.

Clashes in Rivers State between politically sponsored criminal gangs in August and deepening splits within the Delta’s major militant groups have worsened the security situation. Divisions within militant ranks have reduced prospects for forging a united front to negotiate with the government.

If Yar’Adua is not to lose his opportunity to resolve the Delta crisis, he must urgently go beyond drawn-out consultations with militants and ethnic leaders and translate his promises into credible policies which address the violence and legitimate demands. The federal legislature needs to provide constitutional solutions for the political, economic and environmental grievances that have been at the roots of ethnic and communal agitation for decades. The Rivers State government, whose territory has seen the worst and most recent violence, must act with restraint to avoid aggravating the already volatile relations between ethnic groups in the state.


To the Federal Government and President Yar’Adua:

1.  Appoint an independent presidential envoy of high moral authority from civil society and outside the region to lead an inclusive consultation on process, agenda and participation for the Niger Delta summit and report back within three months; the envoy should:

a) include armed militants and non-armed civil society representatives, including women’s groups, from all Niger Delta states and ethnic groups in the consultation;

b) revisit the recommendations of the 2005 Ogomudia report; and

c) review and propose changes to make the peace and reconciliation committees more inclusive and efficient tools for conflict prevention, management and resolution.

2.  Stop all attempts to divide and co-opt armed militants by offering contracts and appointments to leaders and instead encourage them to create and articulate a common and realistic political agenda.

3.  Proceed immediately with security and infrastructure development assessments as preliminary steps to holding the Niger Delta summit.

4.  Institute a judicial inquiry into the Port Harcourt violence and prosecute all political actors identified as having contributed to armed conflicts and political assassinations in the Niger Delta since 1999.

5.  Appoint a special federal prosecutor to investigate local and state government officials involved in hostage-taking.

6.  Clarify the terms and applicability of its amnesty so as to distinguish between politically inspired militants and criminally motivated gangsters, and accompany it with adequate punishment for the most serious crimes and appropriate compensation and rehabilitation measures for the most affected victims.

7.  Strengthen security arrangements in the region by:

a) increasing the manpower and equipment of the Nigeria Police Force for constabulary duties on land, and of the navy for patrolling creeks and waterways;

b) requiring improved collaboration between the police and local security, including private and community-based security organisations; and

c) increasing the means available to the military police, military justice and internal police services to arrest and prosecute any officer of any rank involved in oil bunkering or other organised criminal activities in complicity with Niger Delta armed groups.

8.  Identify clearly money allocated in the 2008 budget for Niger Delta development and release all outstanding funds due to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) since 2001.

9.  Implement on a fast-track basis those elements of the Niger Delta Development Master Plan with potential for generating jobs quickly.

10.  Provide funding to the Rivers State government, if it proceeds with the demolition and development of the Port Harcourt waterfronts, to ensure that the project is implemented within a framework of comprehensive urban development that minimises the suffering of those that would be displaced and prevents the stimulation of new ethnic conflicts.

To the National Assembly:

11.  Amend the NDDC Act of 2000 to ensure that all relevant oil-sector corporations in the region contribute to funding the commission.

12.  Begin the process of amending the 1999 Constitution, particularly to improve provisions for returning more oil revenues to the region from which they are derived, in accordance with recommendations of the 2005-2006 National Political Reform Conference.

To the Rivers State Government:

13.  Ensure that the demolition and relocation of waterfront communities is preceded by comprehensive preliminary work, implemented within a framework of urban development and carried out in a humane and orderly manner, with minimum humanitarian consequences and due respect for the cultural rights of the ethnic communities long resident in those settlements.

To the European Union (EU), the U.S. and other International Partners of Nigeria:

14.  Engage with the Yar’Adua Presidency and the National Assembly to encourage a speedy resolution of the Niger Delta crisis, with emphasis on the root causes of the conflict as much as its security consequences, and give assistance as necessary, including by:

a) promoting increased investment and infrastructure development in the Delta;

b) providing greater capacity building aid and enhanced project funding to credible civil society and community-based organisations engaged in civic education, youth programs for attitudinal change, communal healing and restoration of community governance;

c) encouraging the multinational oil companies operating in the region to adhere to best environmental practices, evolve more conflict-sensitive community relations strategies and demonstrate greater transparency in their community development programs; and

d) aiding the Nigeria police and security services, bilaterally and within the framework of the Gulf of Guinea Energy Security Strategy (GGESS), to curb oil theft, money laundering and small arms trafficking in the Delta. 

Dakar/Brussels, 5 December 2007

This page in: