Although not about Nigerian politics, a travel story I wrote was published in Somewhere, Sometime. My chapter is about navigating the complex social terrain of “Area Boys,” or unemployed young men who try to make money in unconventional ways in Lagos. I came across a group on a day off from field research, and it was one of the greatest learning experiences I have had in Nigeria.
An NGO researcher just conducted an interview with me regarding the state of service delivery, i.e. social and government services, in the Niger Delta. Below are a few of the transcribed questions and answers.
1. How would you describe the current state of service delivery for most communities in the Niger Delta?
Service delivery is non-existent in most areas, and sporadic or haphazard in the remaining ones. I think that part of the reason communities so often look to oil companies to offer social services and build basic infrastructure is that the state has been so wholly unable to do any of these things since independence. It is as if communities have given up on their own government ever acting as a government should, which requires providing basic services to its population. As is common in countries with rampant corruption, projects often begin but then are abandoned because funds disappeared or there was a change in management of that project. In the Niger Delta there are half-finished bridges, classrooms without roofs, and empty hospitals that don’t even have electricity. Additionally, a lack of human capital and maintenance of services mean that as soon as any project is finished, it will only be a matter of time until it is useless because no one can perform maintenance. It seems that almost as soon as a road is finished, poor construction materials mean that it needs to be fixed again but there is mechanism in which to have that road repaired. This lack of maintenance is an issue that only capacity-building can address.
2. Whose responsibility do you believe it is to improve service delivery in the region, e.g. government agencies like MNDA or the NDDC, or oil companies operating in the region?
It is responsibility of government agencies to improve social services. The basis of democracy is that citizens pay taxes to their government, vote for their leaders, and then those leaders use those taxes in a responsible manner to provide necessary collective goods that improve everyone’s lives. Because the Nigerian government can rely on oil profits rather than taxes, and corruption makes elections less meaningful, there is no accountability of state actors towards the citizenry. Part of this government duty is to monitor the behavior of private economic actors like oil companies. Although I believe staunchly in corporate responsibility, it is impossible for a corporation to fully monitor itself; by definition monitoring must come from an outside party, like a government agency.
3. What impact do you think the current state of service delivery has on peace and conflict in the Niger Delta region?
Lack of service delivery has increased rates of poverty and negatively impacted quality of life, which gives people “nothing to lose” when it comes to engaging in violence. It also creates a dynamic in which too many people are competing for scant social services and resources, leading to increased tensions. Poverty and lack of services drives rural dwellers into cities like Port Harcourt and Yenagoa, where they may come into conflict with residents already living there, be forced into crime out of necessity, and and don’t have kinship or community networks that would otherwise mitigate their propensity for violence.
4. Do you think that improved service delivery would increase security in the region?
Yes. Mostly obviously, it would remove violence caused by need, in other words, conflicts over obtaining basic goods. Additionally, it would remove the incentive for rural Nigerians to move to new areas in search of such services, thus minimizing the conflict that occurs among internally displaces populations and between new urban dwellers and older ones.
 “Service delivery” means the quality and availability of essential services, such as health care, primary education, and basic infrastructure such as reliable access to water, electricity, and road networks.
Perhaps in response to the recent WSJ article, a blog reader recently emailed to ask my opinion on the assertion that job creation stops militancy. There are two trains of thought, one is that oil companies should make the jobs as payment to Nigerians for use of land and the other is that the jobs should come from local and non-oil sources in order to contribute to a diversified and stable economy. I will start with the first. In my opinion, it is not correct when people say that job creation in the oil-related sector stops violence. Job creation lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but even once they are employed with foreign firms Nigerians are underpaid and have the lowest positions and rarely move up. Then they become disgruntled employees (as opposed to just disgruntled unemployed men). The reason that they are underpaid and have the worst positions is because they often don’t have the formal education, job skills, or work culture to function well at foreign oil companies. I would amend this idea to say that the creation of well-paid local jobs would stop the violence, but those jobs will never ever be well-paid when Chinese, Indian, and Russians workers are imported to Nigeria to work for the same amount, and be seen as better employees than local Nigerians.
As to job creation in non-oil sectors, yes, that would lower violence but that is really a larger issue of overall economic development in Nigeria. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the Niger Delta insurgency, since violence is inversely proportional to economic development generally. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta (surely hovering around 50%) will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta.