Tag Archives: Niger Delta Amnesty Program

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #4 Social Contract Failure in Nigeria

This is the final case study of four, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, that demonstrates one of many explanations for conflict. Social theory in a nutshell: We follow laws and pay taxes and do what the government says in exchange for protections, services, and good leadership by the government. When the government doesn’t follow through on its end of the deal, citizens don’t follow through on theirs. See more below on how this impacts the Niger Delta oil conflict.

Social Contract Failure Hypothesis (Stewart, 2002): This explanation for conflict derives from the view that social stability is based on a hypothetical social contract between the people and the government. People accept state authority so long as the state delivers services and provides reasonable economic conditions (e.g. employment and incomes). With economic stagnation or decline, and worsening state services, the social contract breaks down and violence results. Hence, high and rising levels of poverty and a decline in state services would be expected to cause conflict. In many African countries, social contract failure takes the form of neo-patrimonalism, which means power comes from a single leader. Corruption, often organized along kinship ties to control networks and resources, destabilizes the state and causes conflict.

The incidence of conflict is higher among countries with low per capita incomes, life expectancy, and economic growth. However, many statistical studies of the association between vertical income distribution and conflict produce differing results. It has been suggested that funding programs from the International Monetary Fund—usually associated with cuts in government services—cause conflicts, but neither statistical nor case study evidence supports this, perhaps because countries on the verge of conflict do not generally qualify for such programs.

My Relatively Quick Summary of the Ongoing Niger Delta Oil Conflict: When oil was discovered shortly before Nigerian independence in 1960, it was heralded as key to the new nation’s economic future. Nigerians living in the fertile fishing and agricultural southern region of the Niger Delta, the epicenter of oil operations and home to ¼ of the country’s population, waited decades for the newfound oil wealth to trickle down and improve their quality of life. Instead, they became slowly aggrieved by oil companies’ widespread environmental degradation in the form of oil spills on farmlands and fishing waters and gas flares that pollute the air. Oil companies also failed to fulfill the contractual promise of employment that had initially been introduced to get local support for oil extraction and the federal government (FG) did little to secure those local jobs. There was little to no improvement in community infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, or electricity for the average Niger Deltan, despite the government’s campaigns advertising oil as the key to a more prosperous future. The federal government entered into a joint venture with foreign oil companies such as Chevron and Shell, so oil profits went largely into the national coffer and very little revenue trickled down to benefit oil-producing southern states. This continued poverty is seen as an example of the resource curse or the paradox of plenty, in which natural resources do not lead to economic development for democratically-weak states. Niger Deltans, largely of the Ijaw and Ogoni tribes, continued to be politically marginalized while power over oil decisions and profits remained in the hands of the non-oil holding majority ethnic groups such as the Yoruba and the Igbos. So, although the issues being debated have to do with poverty and fair revenue sharing by the government, the conflict is also informed by long-standing ethnic questions of self-determination.

By the early 1990s, many Niger Deltans had concluded that the government and oil companies would not fulfill their promises of employment, infrastructure, or better living conditions. In response, a prominent Ogoni writer and intellectual named Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1992, and his peaceful movement came to be the face of the indigenous resistance against oil operations. They issued the Ogoni Bill of Rights, staged non-violent marches, and began to liaison with international non-profits to garner global attention to their environmental and human rights cause. In 1993, however, General Sani Abacha came to power in a violent military coup and promptly targeted the Ogonis for their oil reform efforts. The Niger Delta became a militarized zone in which soldiers and private security forces committed torture, killing, rapes and pogroms as a means of stifling the movement. Under Abacha in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was falsely accused of inciting the murder of four chiefs and sentenced to death in a specially convened court widely criticized by human rights observers. He was secretly executed with eight others, known as the Ogoni Nine, in November of that year. The peaceful oil reform movement still exists today among various groups functioning under the umbrella of MOSOP, but it does not have the vigor it enjoyed under Saro-Wiwa.

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Ken Saro-Wiwa.

After 2000, the Niger Delta saw an alarming rise in domestic terrorism against the government and oil companies in the name of oil justice. The U.S. Department of State has identified the region as a “breeding ground” for ethnic militants engaged in kidnapping and ransom for profit, with victims initially being foreign oil workers but today including wealthy Nigerians outside the oil industry. Militants also engage in widespread oil bunkering, or stealing of oil, to sell it on the black market, arms dealing, and destruction of oil infrastructure through explosions. The most notorious among these militant groups are the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV). Although it is often the average farmer or fisherman most endangered by militant activities, the groups claim to be ideologically committed to targeting the key companies operating there: Shell, Agip and Eni. These companies enjoy the staunch support of the military and federal security forces such as the Joint Task Force.

Companies see the militancy as a threat to their business operations while the state, with one of the highest rates of measurable corruption in the world, sees it as a threat to the national economy since 80% of national revenue comes from oil. Indeed, militants have succeeded in diminishing nation oil revenues by 25%, causing a shut in of 600,000 barrels per day. Insurgency is one of several factors that impact Nigeria’s below-capacity oil production. Nigerian oil production is of great concern to Western countries such as the U.S., which gets 5% of its total oil from the country. Since September 11th, Nigeria’s high-quality “sweet crude” has served as a great strategic alternative to more expensive oil from the Middle East.

 

Within the last decade, the government’s peace talks with militant groups have failed. MEND had a voluntary ceasefire with the government in 2006. MEND resumed attacks the following year though when its most prominent leader, Henry Okah, was arrested in Angola. The security situation became so volatile that it threatened a collapse of the oil industry, so President Yar-Ardua offered an amnesty program in 2009. In exchange for turning in their guns as part of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), fighters received university education, vocational training, and stipends. However, there are allegations of corruption and fraud within the Amnesty Office that oversees the program, charges that too few fighters were included, and a view that the very problems of environmental damage and unemployment that undergird militancy remain unsolved. These same issues currently plague the Niger Delta to perpetuate this on-going, low-level conflict.

BBC reports that bodies of Nigerian police found after an ambush in the Niger Delta

April 10, 2013

A view of the Niger Delta (file image)

Nigeria’s Deadly Delta

“Nigeria’s security forces have recovered the bodies of 11 of the 12 policemen killed after an ambush in the oil-rich Niger Delta on Friday, police have said.

Some of the bodies had been mutilated and burnt beyond recognition, AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying.

Last week, a militant group said it would it resume attacks after its leader, Henry Okah, was jailed for a bombing campaign in 2010.

However, many people are poor, fueling resentment towards the national government and oil companies.

At the weekend, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had ambushed a police boat in the creeks and waterways of Bayelsa state, killing the policemen.

Police spokesman Alex Akhigbe said 11 bodies had been recovered, while one was still unaccounted for.

The bodies were transported by boat to the regional capital, Yenagoa, while relatives waited at a morgue, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports.

At the weekend, police denied the attack was linked to the jailing of Okah.

They said it involved a dispute among militants over amnesty payments given by the government.

Police boats were escorting an ex-militant to a funeral when one of the boats broke down and became a “soft target” for gunmen, a police spokesman said.

MEND had been fighting to gain a greater share of the oil wealth from its part of southern Nigeria, but had been inactive since a 2009 amnesty was put in place.

Okah, its leader, was sentenced to 24 years in prison last month for masterminding bomb attacks in the capital of Abuja in 2010.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer.”*

*Note: By accounts with which I am familiar, Angola may now be Africa’s largest oil producer.

The Council on Foreign Relations tracks security in Nigeria

Council on Foreign Relations

Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.

One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”

Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now.  It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well.  The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.

The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”

This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:

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Job Creation is Not Enough to Stop Militancy

Fighters in a boat

Fighters in a boat (Photo credit: IRSN)

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.