Curbing Violence in Nigeria (III): Revisiting the Niger Delta
Curbing Violence in Nigeria (III): Revisiting the Niger Delta
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Fighting among Boko Haram Splinters Rages On
Fighting among Boko Haram Splinters Rages On
Report 231 / Africa 3 minutes

Curbing Violence in Nigeria (III): Revisiting the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is rich in resources, but poverty, unemployment and pollution could reignite a rebellion that ended in 2009. Despite the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, Nigeria must fulfil its promises of support for the southern delta’s economic development, social justice, and environmental regeneration.

Executive Summary

Violence in the Niger Delta may soon increase unless the Nigerian government acts quickly and decisively to address long-simmering grievances. With the costly Presidential Amnesty Program for ex-insurgents due to end in a few months, there are increasingly bitter complaints in the region that chronic poverty and catastrophic oil pollution, which fuelled the earlier rebellion, remain largely unaddressed. Since Goodluck Jonathan, the first president from the Delta, lost re-election in March, some activists have resumed agitation for greater resource control and self-determination, and a number of ex-militant leaders are threatening to resume fighting (“return to the creeks”). While the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East is the paramount security challenge, President Muhammadu Buhari rightly identifies the Delta as a priority. He needs to act firmly but carefully to wind down the amnesty program gradually, revamp development and environmental programs, facilitate passage of the long-stalled Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and improve security and rule of law across the region.

The Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, a special body mandated in 2008 to advance solutions to the region’s multiple problems, proposed the amnesty program, whose implementation since 2009, coupled with concessions to former militant leaders, brought a semblance of peace and enabled oil production to regain pre-insurgency levels. However, the government has largely failed to carry out other recommendations that addressed the insurgency’s root causes, including inadequate infrastructure, environmental pollution, local demands for a bigger share of oil revenues, widespread poverty and youth unemployment.

Two agencies established to drive development, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA), have floundered. Two others mandated to restore the oil-polluted environment (particularly in Ogoni Land) and curb or manage hundreds of oil spills yearly, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) and the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), have been largely ineffective. The PIB, intended to improve oil and gas industry governance and possibly also create special funds for communities in petroleum-producing areas, has been stuck in the National Assembly (federal parliament) since 2009. In sum, seven years after the technical committee’s report, the conditions that sparked the insurgency could easily trigger a new phase of violent conflict.

The outcome of the presidential election has also heightened tensions. While most people in the region acknowledge that Jonathan lost, some former militant leaders and groups accept Buhari only conditionally. For instance, the Niger Delta People’s Salvation Front (NDPSF), the civil successor to the militant Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), claims Jonathan’s ouster was the product of a conspiracy by northerners and the Yoruba from the South West against the Delta peoples and the South East. Apparently influenced by that view, some groups are resuming old demands, hardly heard during the Jonathan presidency, for regional autonomy or “self-determination”.

Local tensions generated by the polls also pose risks, particularly in Rivers state, where Governor Nyesom Wike (of ex-President Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, PDP) and ex-Governor Rotimi Amaechi (of President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress, APC) are bitter foes. With many guns in unauthorised hands, politically motivated assassinations and kidnappings for ransom, already common, could increase.

Policy and institutional changes are necessary but, if not prepared and implemented inclusively and transparently, could themselves trigger conflict. Buhari has declared that the amnesty program, which costs over $500 million per year, is due to end in December. He has terminated petroleum pipeline protection contracts that Jonathan awarded to companies owned by ex-militant leaders and the Yoruba ethnic militia, O’odua People’s Congress (OPC), and may streamline the Delta’s inefficient development-intervention agencies. He may also withdraw the PIB from parliament for revision. Some of this is desirable, even inevitable, but a number of former militant leaders and other entrenched interests threaten resistance and a possible return to violence. A perception that the government’s actions are reversing the Delta’s gains could aggravate local grievances and precipitate armed violence.

At its peak in 2009, the insurgency in the Niger Delta was claiming an estimated 1,000 lives a year, had cut Nigeria’s oil output by over 50 per cent and was costing the government close to four billion naira (nearly $19 million) per day in counter-insurgency operations. A resurgence of violence and increased oil-related crime in the Delta could seriously undermine national security and economic stability, which is already weighed down by the Boko Haram insurgency and dwindling oil revenues.

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