Nigeria: Seizing the Moment in the Niger Delta
Africa Briefing N°60
30 Apr 2009
The report of the government-constituted Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, submitted to Nigeria’s President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on 1 December 2008, offers an opportunity to reduce violent conflict significantly and begin longer-term regional development in the oil-rich region. The government needs to respond urgently and positively, in particular by accepting a third-party mediator to facilitate discussions of amnesty and demobilisation of militants, in order to dispel growing misgivings in the Delta, save the region from further violence and organised criminality, and ensure Nigeria’s continued reliability as a leading source of energy for the world.
The urgency is underscored by the grim security situation in the region and the risk that instability may spread to the land or maritime territories of Nigeria’s neighbours across the Gulf of Guinea. Late 2008 saw some of the Delta’s bloodiest fighting between government forces and Delta militants, and there have already been a number of attacks in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea by groups probably linked to the militants. Piracy incidents throughout 2008, exacerbated by the lack of security in the region, made Nigerian waters second only to Somalia in terms of danger.
Since the Yar’Adua administration assumed office in May 2007, its initiatives for ending Delta violence have been ambiguous and at times incoherent. An early attempt to convene a Delta summit was aborted due to local opposition. A May 2008 proposal that militants incorporate as security companies so they could be hired to guard pipelines and other oil installations met with public scepticism and militants’ rejection and never got off the ground. Creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in September 2008 initially drew mixed reactions, but low funding in the 2009 budget, an uncertain division of responsibilities with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and unclear guiding principles have cost it credibility.
The Technical Committee has been the government’s most promising effort to develop a coherent, long-term strategy in the Delta. Launched on 8 September 2008 with broad and credible membership, the committee was mandated to collate, review and distil all previous reports, memorandums and submissions and “make suggestions for Government’s necessary and urgent action”. Vice President Goodluck Jonathan pledged that its recommendations “will not be treated with levity”. It was widely believed that the government would adopt those recommendations as its definitive roadmap for resolving the region’s crisis.
The resulting report recommended amnesty for militant leaders within a comprehensive demobilisation, disarmament and rehabilitation (DDR) program; an increased allocation of oil revenue to the Delta; urgent improvement of infrastructure and human welfare services; and new institutions for the region’s longer-term development. While it did not address all aspects of the crisis, its proposals were sufficiently comprehensive to serve as a catalyst. The Technical Committee also urged the government to issue a White Paper by 1 January 2009 outlining strategies for rapid implementation of its recommendations. Yar’Adua’s statement at the time that the government would implement those recommendations it found “acceptable” raised apprehensions in the Delta and across civil society that it would carry out only what was politically convenient.
On 7 January 2009, a number of the country’s leading civil society groups charged that Yar’Adua’s silence on the report showed he was only playing to the gallery on the Delta issue, and subsequent developments have done nothing to dispel those misgivings. The disclosure by a special adviser to the vice president two months after the report was submitted that yet another committee had been established to study the recommendations, coupled with the lack of any further response since then, are deepening doubts over the government’s sincerity. The longer these doubts grow, the more difficult it will become to engage all stakeholders in an effective peace process. The following steps are needed urgently.
The Yar’Adua administration should respond to the Technical Committee report, in particular by accepting an external third party, preferably the UN, the reconciliation centre Coventry Cathedral or a group of eminent persons or representatives of several countries to facilitate negotiations with militants on an amnesty for leaders whose actions have been politically rather than criminally motivated, including the imprisoned leader of the Movement for Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Henry Okah. Negotiations should also address a comprehensive DDR program.
The federal government should simultaneously raise allocation to the Delta of oil revenue produced there to 17 per cent, as already recommended by the National Political Reform Conference in 2006, followed by a phased increase to any percentage subsequently agreed in negotiations between Delta leaders, their counterparts elsewhere in the country and the federal government. It should simultaneously strengthen budget transparency and financial accountability at state level, so the money is used to benefit the region and to implement priority projects identified by the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan (NDRDMP). Relations between the Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC should be clarified, and the work of both should be directed to fast-track infrastructure rehabilitation and other programs to produce visible results by the end of 2009.
The National Assembly should strengthen arrangements for monitoring peace and development processes outlined in the Technical Committee report, including periodic public hearings by the relevant parliamentary committees in partnership with the Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition (NDCSC), and encourage stakeholder forums at regional, state and local levels, in which Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) should play an active part.
Delta leaders and militant commanders must reciprocate government initiatives by releasing all hostages, stopping hostage-taking and attacks on oil installations and cooperating on DDR. They should also improve chances for successful negotiations by consulting more closely with each other to achieve greater unity and coherence.
Nigeria’s international partners should encourage the government to respond to the Technical Committee’s report urgently and commit to a clear plan for ending violence and facilitating development in the Delta. Any further security assistance should be given within a broad framework of security sector reform, including enhanced accountability (including for alleged military abuses) and respect for citizens’ rights.
Abuja/Dakar/Brussels, 30 April 2009