With over 180 million people, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country. It is home to 250 linguistic groups, but English is also Nigeria’s chosen official language. Although most of the ethnic groups are very tiny, three ethnic groups constitute somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the population. The Hausa-Fulani ethnic groups count for 30 percent of the population, the Yorubas about 20 per cent and the Igbos about 18 percent. These three major ethnic groups are differentiated not only by region, but also by religion and life-style.
Be that as it may, it is of great concern that the diversity has brought about more issues of divergence than unity. There are varied reasons for these situations such as ethnic clases, religious intolerance and border disputes to mention a few. Hence, the incessant unrest and conflicts across the country. These violent conflicts are largely responsible for the backwardness of the country, poverty, unemployment etc.
Undoubtedly, the trend of conflicts in Nigeria today is a concern, not only to Nigerians themselves, but also to the International community at large. This concern lurks behind the fact that Nigeria is an economic power on the African continent and plays a pivotal role in influencing the dynamics of the global economy, especially the oil market.
This brings to limelight, the worsening orgy of conflict and militarisation in Nigeria’s oil producing region; the Niger-Delta. By the nation’s current administrative structure, nine states constitute the Niger Delta: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers, the people of these states come from diverse ethinic groups (about 40) and speak different languages and dialects (about 250). The traditional economic activities of the communities consists trading, farming and fishing. It is significant that the region constitutes a number of ethnic nationalities which are rich in natural resources mainly in oil and gas reserves. It holds some of the world’s richest Oil deposits.
However, the region has suffered extreme marginalization and neglect over the years despite its major contribution to the nation’s economy, leading to agitations for better living standards by the people. The agitations have transformed from peaceful talks and dialogue to violence, unrest and chaos resulting to huge losses to the region and affecting the development process of the nation at large.
Clearly, violence has been the bane of the region where conflicts have been occurring for over five decades. Beginning from the pre-colonial period, the region has witnessed a series of conflicts, which had their roots, initially in the protest against injustice, and in recent years in the quest for resource control. It was agitation by the Ijaw Rivers Peoples League that led to the creation by the British of Rivers Province in 1947. It was here and during this period that the Niger Delta Congress was founded by the young Harold Dappa-Biriye to fight for equality for the disadvantaged people of the Niger Delta. He later represented the Niger Delta people in the London Conference of the Minorities and the report of the Willinks Commission in 1958 described the Niger Delta as a “poor, backward and neglected region”.
Following oil exploration since becoming a soveriegn state in 1960, conflict in the Niger Delta has somewhat remain unabated. Notably, conflicts took a new dimension in the early 1990s due to tensions between the foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta’s minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogoni as well as the Ijaw in the late 1990s. Ethnic and political unrest has continued throughout the 1990s and persists despite the conversion to democracy.
Grassroots discontent in the Niger Delta has found expression not simply in protest marches but in such acts as oil pipeline vandalism, abduction of oil company employees, and reprisals against community subgroups considered by local activists to be sympathetic to the Nigerian government and transnational oil interests. Of late, armed confrontations with the national security forces have become prominent. All this has occurred amidst sustained environmental and civil rights activism spearheaded by local, national and international civil society groups, as well as the mass media. The conflict is then located both in the struggle of ethnic minority groups for local autonomy and the control of their natural resources (including oil), and the contradictions spawned by the transnational production of oil in the region.
The problem is that the region has been underdeveloped despite its contributions to the national economy. Nigerians living there are poorer than ever. The land and water have been greatly polluted, the people are hungry, violence, murder and hostage taking has become very rampant. There are no infrastructural facilities in most parts of the region as what are easily noticeable are dense, garbage-heaped slums stretching for miles. Villages and towns cling to river banks, little more than heaps of mud-walled huts and rusty shacks. Groups of hungry, half-naked children and sullen, idle adults wander dirt paths. There is no electricity, no clean water, no medicine, and no schools. Also, their means of livelihood, farming and fishing, have been destroyed by decades of Oil pollution. The crisis in the Niger Delta poses intractable problems to the survival of the country, just as the situation in the region is deteriorating. The resistant movements were formed in the region to address these environmental rights violations and enhance economic development. Today, there is increased violence, threats, kidnapping and demands by the militants against government officials, their families and the Oil companies. Competition for oil wealth has fueled violence between innumerable ethnic groups, causing the militarization of nearly the entire region by ethnic militia groups as well as Nigerian military and police forces (notably the Nigerian Mobile Police). This has drastically affected Oil production.
Significantly, between January and November 2016, the resurgence of militancy has cost the nation over 130 million barrels of oil (approximately $4 billion) even at the base price of $30 per barrel. During the period, some 58 incidents of sabotage on the facilities of the oil companies were also recorded. Furthermore, statistics from the Ministry of petroleum resources shows that Nigeria’s oil and gas industry lost over $7 billion to militancy from January to October 2016.
It is critical to reaffirm the fact that the Niger Delta conflict, in addition to other causes, emanate due to a condition or a state where people lack the basic necessities of civilized life, suchas education, health, food, shelter, employment and other means of livelihood, which constitute the continuum of Human Rights prescribed and documented under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR).
Arguably, the majority of the people from the Niger Delta oil-producing areas in the South, has yet to feel the impact of oil revenues because of corruption, discrimination and economic mismanagement. There are basic needs yet provided for the Niger-Delta people.
It is of moment to argue that plight of a politically and economically oppressed and dominated Nigerian could be the recourse to use of arm. Hence, more often than not, these frustrations may as well be owed to a group’s ethnic bloc as seen in the Niger-Delta region. The deprivation and frustration will, continuously, lead to agitation and conflicts. .
All efforts to resolve conflict in the region failed until 2009 when amnesty was declared by the Yar’adua/Jonathan administration and some form of uneasy peace prevailed. However, eight years down the line, there is renewed militancy in the region and effort is once again geared towards finding lasting peace.
It may interest the Nigerian authorities to learn that whenever and wherever violent extremism, armed conflict or militant struggle is allowed to flourish unabated and attain an alarming state as is currently the case in Nigeria, its aftermath is normally characterised by what Michael Boyle describes almost one decade ago as a wide range of threats to public order, ranging from high levels of ordinary street crime to targeted assassinations, reprisals and riots. Boyle underscores the threat that is potentially posed to human lives and property by revenge violence against individuals or groups singled out for marginalisation or victimisation based on definable characteristics, which may hurt the economy and ultimately alter the political landscape of a nation by reconfiguring the balance of power and unravelling the fragile peace that may have been put in place.
On that note, it cannot be reasonably assumed that the Nigerian government and people have done all they should to prevent the tensions and ‘civil disturbances’ which frequently erupt, or have become endemic, in the Niger Delta region which has witnessed an almost unbroken orgy of violence and militarisation.
As a result, this study is meant as a contribution towards the ongoing search for new means of managing the issues in the Niger Delta.