Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta
Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 135 / Africa

Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta

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.

Executive Summary

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.

Dakar/Brussels, 5 December 2007

 

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