At the heart of the violent conflict in the Niger Delta region is the struggle over a non-renewable resource—crude oil—Nigeria’s chief revenue earner, mainly extracted by multinational oil corporations in the oil-producing region since the late 1950s. Unfortunately, the exploitation of oil has resulted in the disruption of local communities’ traditional livelihoods and the pollution of the local ecosystem. The Land Use Act of 1978 further dispossessed the people of their lands while extending ownership of land to the state. The contestation over resource control in the Niger Delta was partly fueled by horizontal inequalities with far-reaching implications for economic, social, political, and cultural development. These, in turn, spur more frustration, anger and consequently, violent conflict.1Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi, “The Challenges of Reintegration in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Case of Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region,” SSRC African Peacebuilding Network (APN) Working Paper Series, no. 18 (2018): 7-10; Frances Stewart, “Horizontal Inequalities as a Cause of Conflict: A Review of CRISE Findings” (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2011).

After several failed attempts to address the grievances in the region, the Niger Delta Technical Committee (NDTC), constituted by the Nigerian government in September 2008, put in place several measures, including the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for militants and a nationally-owned Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) component of the peacebuilding process. National ownership of peacebuilding initiatives has received global consensus, reflecting the conventional wisdom that any peace process that is not embraced by those who have to live with it is likely to fail.2United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding in the immediate aftermath of conflict, 11 June 2009, A/63/881-S/2009/304, available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a4c6c3b2.html. However, based on faulty planning, poor implementation, and corrupt practices among the various agencies created to implement it, the DDR process can at best be described as a partial success. The process was in part driven by a political elite that was keen to co-opt local militia commanders, many of whom were disarmed and given lucrative security contracts by the government and oil companies. This was done to pay off individuals that could spoil the peace and disrupt the continuous extraction and flow of oil.

Although the co-optation of a few ex-militia commanders was expected to promote peace and security in the affected oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta, the lack of commitment and corruption that pervaded the PAP at all levels translated into a reinvention of inequality in the troubled region. A “you chop I chop” syndrome undermined the integrity of the program to the extent that its benefits were expropriated by a faction of the ruling elite to perpetuate the state’s hold on the oil industry, to the exclusion of people at the grassroots who were the real victims of oil pollution and conflict.3“You chop, I chop” translates to “You east, I eat,” which in local parlance refers to the symbiotic patronage system of sharing the spoils from corruption in Nigeria. The root causes of the conflict, which are tied to environmental injustices including land and water pollution and their impacts on health, employment, and marginalization of the people were left unaddressed, further alienating communities and fueling a political economy of violence. Regrettably, most grassroots civil society organizations were completely sidelined by the PAP.4Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi, “The Challenges of Reintegration in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Case of Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region,” SSRC African Peacebuilding Network (APN) Working Paper Series, no. 18 (2018); Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi, “Women’s Protests in the Niger Delta Region,” in Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petroviolence, eds. Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad (London: Zed Books, 2011).

Implications for Peace and Security         

The inability of the PAP to address the roots of the oil-related insurgency in the Niger Delta explains the re-emergence of armed groups in the region in early 2016. With the failure of the reintegration program, some ex-militants have adopted alternative strategies for survival.  These include illegal oil bunkering, locally refining crude oil, sea piracy, kidnapping, and other criminal activities. These continue to pose serious challenges to security in the region.

Conclusion

Judging from the many challenges bedeviling the current peacebuilding efforts in the region, environmental justice and governance should be prioritized to address the roots of conflict in the region. More studies should be conducted to identify sources of communal resilience and success stories of local initiatives that effectively combine inclusive and participatory forms of governance with environmentally sensitive grassroots development. Community-based civil society groups and social movements should be empowered and involved at multiple levels in the design and implementation of interventions aimed at creating a conducive environment for preventing and amicably resolving conflicts before they escalate. In seeking to achieve this, gender should be adequately mainstreamed to avoid women and girls’ exclusion from participation and potential benefits. It is not enough that these issues are addressed but there should be proper evaluation and monitoring of implemented projects. International organizations and non-governmental organizations need to pay greater attention to strengthening local grassroots peacebuilding initiatives, rather than seeking to impose solutions from outside. Such a complementary role will go a long way in sustaining a people-centered approach to peacebuilding in the Niger Delta.

 

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