Conflict Management in the Niger Delt
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Chapter one on Conflict Management in the Niger Delt
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The Niger Delta area is the most fragile region in Nigeria. The presence of oil and gas in the region makes it the goose that lays the golden egg, thus making the region the center of economic and political activities in the country. The Niger Delta was a foremost part of the area later to be called Nigeria and incorporated into the Atlantic world economy from the 16th century. Thus, the region developed a monetized economy and become ahead of contemporary developments in others part of the future Nigeria, leading to a substantial degree of prosperity and the development of a proud culture in the region. This rare feat constitutes the basis for the formation of own identity. However, the struggle for self determination and proper distribution of resources among groups within the region and Nigerians ethnic group started with the formation and consolidation of the Nigeria colonial state from the 1940’s.
This struggle became inevitable because Niger Delta is a dispersal of small ethnic groups which were force together with predatory and dominant majority ethnic groups. This minority question was never addressed before Nigeria got her independence in 1960 despite The Henry Commission of 1956 that attempted to solve the issue of minority. The point here is to present a fact that the Niger Delta crisis is rooted in the foundation and structure of the Nigeria state. Over the years the question has contributed greatly to the emergence of violence in Niger Delta region over oil and mineral resources. The insurgency in Niger Delta whether oil or crude oil benefit bother on the foundation and structure of Nigeria state. These works examine the Niger Delta people before 1960.
The research contends that before independence, the people of the region live in peace despite some record of conflict among the ethnic groups in Niger Delta region. The origin of crisis in Niger Delta region and also took a look at the attempt at addressing the crisis through military option to peaceful means. The Niger Delta crisis is clearly a question of agitation against the continued exploitation of the resource of the people in the region by the dominant groups in concert with the multinational oil companies. This has characterized the conflicts in the region since 1965.1 It is somehow misleading to think that the declaration of the state of Biafra by Gen. Odumegwu Ojukwu was the first succession moves in Nigeria. Historically, this is a distortion of historical fact because the declaration of a Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Adaka Boro in February 1966 indeed the genesis of secessionist struggle in Nigeria.
Boro, a graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka led the military action which lasted 12 days before it was quelled by the government troops. Instructively, the issue of oil politics and oppression was the major reason for the action. Hence, Boro in his address to these men before the declaration said this much: “Today is a great day, not only in your lives but also in the history of the Niger Delta. Perhaps it will be the greatest day for a very long time. This is not because we are going to bring heaven down, but because we are going to demonstrate to the world what and how we feel about oppression.
It is quite obvious to Boro and its band of revolutionists that the Niger Delta region was only important to the Nigeria nation as long as it continues to lay the golden egg. The multinational prospecting for oil in the region, in concert with the Federal Government were only interested in the oil and not the welfare of the area that produced the wealth that oils the economy of the nation. His experience as a union leader at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, empowered him for the zeal to liberate his people. He discovered to his chagrin that ethnic politics was the order of the day in both the students and national political terrain. He vied for a political post twice and lost both and not due to incompetence but simply because he is a minority. That singular fear of domination by major ethnic groups was to a large extent a driving force behind the fight for self determination.
On the 6th of March, 1966, the Nigeria troops had rounded the rag tag army led by Boro. They were arranged before a special military tribunal in Port Harcourt on the 22nd of March, 1966 and were condemned to death on the 21st of June 1966. Fortunately for them, Aguiyi Ironsi’s regime was toppled in a retaliatory coup that brought in Gowon to power on the 29th of July same year. They were lucky to have their death sentence converted to prison term. Finally, Gowon pardoned them on the 14th August, 1967. Thus, the first armed struggle and insurrection from the Niger Delta ended. Over fifty years of exposure to petroleum based industrial development in the Niger Delta, yet the region still ranks low with respect to several measures of socio-economic progress with infrastructural facilities when compared to other parts of the country. Over the years, poverty and unemployment have been on a visible upward trajectory in the region. Statistical records have shown that over 72% of households in the area are in the poverty bracket which has resulted in endless poverty.
This has become the source of agony, pain and disillusionment to the people of the region as against the proper position of the region prior to the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the myth surrounding oil politics in the region is that as the nation’s treasury base, one expects that the area should be well developed compared to others in the country. However, the reverse is the case. It is a clear picture that before the discovery of oil in the 1950s presented a myriad of beautiful colour representing a distinction of rain forest. A natural paradise of plants and animals, marine life and well situated for conservation as games reserves, tourism.
However, the region has been turned to a theatre of war, sometimes between the communities themselves, or with oil companies and the federal government. The truth is that the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and their registrations in the Federal capital, Akwa Ibom when they newly arrived has not helped matters. So, after registration they sought the assistance of the Federal government to help recruit the staffs for them for effective operation in the Niger Delta. Since the capital city was not located in the Niger Delta and those in control were from the three major tribes, the tendency for them was to recruit the kinsmen as against the original inhabitants of the region. Even where the inhabitants of the region were recruited at that time, they were in small number and were never placed in strategic positions in the oil industry. This again gave the major tribes the opportunities to dominate the minority Niger Delta tribes of Ijo, Edos, Ibibios, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Ndokwas, Isokos, Calabaris in the area of job recruitment.
The above situation is worsened and increases when one comes to know that the people of this region produce over 90% of the wealth of this nation and do not occupy strategic position even as political appointees. This explains the source of conflict in the region. An attempt to address the situation led the Obasanjo government to establish the Niger – Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to replace OMPADEC. Yet the situation has not change the tale of oil exploitation in the region. Awopegbe and Olusoji captured it all in his account that “the expectation therefore is that the opportunities for manufacturing in the area of construction, equipment for oil fields and installation and maintenance of social economic infrastructures like schools, health care centres and hospitals, road, electricity, transport services,, communication networks and other social amenities required by these companies will no doubt open the region for rapid development but the situation in the region is afar cry from the expectation.
THE QUESTION OF RESOURCE CONTEST
The question of resource contest has to do with territorial agitation in the region. Over the years there have been recurrent conflicts over land and water space and their resource. Inter-ethnic and intra-communal clashes have occurred with and across political administered boundaries of Nigerians new state particularly since 1990 and 774 local council areas since 1996. Statements by people claiming the original settlers or aborigines have been strengthened by historical facts. On that basis, other contesting claimers and users of land and water are warded off, usually, after serious quarrels, fight, destruction of lives and properties. In many cases, peace involving some agreed period. Farmers, pastoralist, fishermen and pond owners, forest owners and timber loggers have all clashed in the region over land disputes and exploration of land, water resources.
The issues of land resources as a factor in ethnic conflict has exacerbated since 1972 and especially as from the 1990 when oil companies in the region and other oil producing states intensified oil exploration activities. There has been fiercely contested claims base on genealogy and kingship symbols have been made over territories in respect of which compensations and royalty are demanded and paid. This factor has been an open invitation not only to conflict between communities and ethnic groups but also between them and oil companies and the government.
COMMUNAL CONFLICTS IN THE REGION
The region has been for many years the site of major confrontation between the people in the region, the government and its forces. These conflicts can be analyzed logically and thematically. Firstly, are those cases in which the Niger Delta as a whole by itself and or informed alliance with other ethno-political groups, take on the federal government for its law, policies on oil exploration, production and revenue distribution. The communities regard thee laws and policies as constituting an over bearing interference with their freedom to regulate their environment and dispose of their God given natural resources, the best way they deem fit.
The laws and policies are seen as the instruments of domination which must be rejected in all forms. Secondly, the areas in which individual communities and sub-ethnic group engage the federal government over the latter’s misuse and abuse of office in protecting its own and oil companies interest in the field. This level of government/community conflicts also assume political dimension. It generates host communities and oil company’s conflicts because the communities are unable to physically attack the government for the injustice they receive from it they therefore, turn to the oil companies. This transferred aggression is aggravated by the indifference of the oil companies, which may imply corroboration with government to marginalize the people and the people are concerned that is a coalition to dominate and deprive them from their right and resources.
The government and Niger Delta crisis is directly related to the ongoing debates since independence about the structure of Nigeria polity. Due to relative neglect pointing out the special needs of the areas because of the difficult terrain and fear of permanent domination by the majority ethnic groups, these people of Niger Delta had sought their own autonomous state status comparable to that of then existing three regions. They proposed Calabar, Ogoja and River State (Cor) and aligned politically with the major political party they thought could fulfill their dream. However, the Willink’s Commission set up by the British colonial administration to examine the problem and allay fears of minorities disappointed them. The commission rejected the idea of creating more states for fear, they would have new minority that would clamour for their own state as well. It recommended instead, that fundamental rights be entrenched in the constitution to safeguard the rights of the minorities. In addition, it recommended and under the ensuing constitution of 1960, the Federal government in that year to establish the Niger Delta Development Board based in Port Harcourt.
The Board has powers to undertake surveys and make recommendations to Federal and Eastern Regional Governments regarding how to direct the development of this “Special Area” into channels which would meet their peculiar problems. Twelve provinces each with a provincial assembly was also created between 1956 and 1969 in further move to allay the fear of minorities. These measures however, were not enough to stem the agitations which continued till the era of the civil war. Indeed, on February, 1966 shortly after the coup, Isaac Adaka Boro, Sam Oonaro and Dick led a group of about 150 youths known as the Niger Delta Republic for Ijaw People.7 Since then, the Federal government has been embroiled in conflict with the Niger Delta as a whole and some specific individual communities. The fear of minority domination by larger ethnic group; exacerbated by disagreement first over resources allocation and later over resource control and restructuring of the polity are root causes of the conflict.
The Ijaw view with great sadness the use of force by government as its only apparent response to the Ijaw youth Kaiama Declaration. According to Niger Deltas forum, it is so unfortunate for the government to think that best way of the crisis is the use of force in Yenogoa against loyal citizens, many of them, school children only seeking justice. The repressive action has been on since 1994 with the destruction of many facilities in Nigeria and in an exclusive submission by Chief Ogundeji, he noted that if all the 250 ethnic groups are to come up with their own militia groups, the nation will end up in smoke. He explained that the continued presence of such group posses danger to the country’s democracy. He advised the security forces, particularly the police to stop the manhunt for leaders and members of such militias to enable them present their agitation for appropriate action. Oil exploration and exploitation have also instigated and intensified bitter and bloody conflicts between emerging interests and within communities. Violent inter-community conflicts have also increased in frequency within the last few years. Affected communities strongly believe that most of these conflicts are caused by either the oil companies or both government.
The Ogoni saga aptly illustrates his point. It emphasizes the extent to which intra and inter community violent conflicts caused and fueled by oil companies can degenerate especially when the state violently intervened on behalf of the oil companies.10 The frequency and intensity of intra and inter communal conflict in the Niger Delta have led to as upsurge in the rise of militia groups since the 1990s all claiming to defend their socio-economic cum physical heritages, the right to adequate compensation, equitable sharing of generated oil wealth and the right to relative self determination. These conflicts have been counter productive yielding at best, only token positive response from the oil companies and at worst, government military interventions and massacre.
Using Cross River as an example of the Niger Delta crisis, Emmanuel Alayande had this to say about the state; “Cross River State is an atomistic society which is perpetually at war with itself”. True to the above view made by an eminent scholar and academician, the problem of the Niger Delta is highly rooted in militancy of its youths. This however, in all fairness and honesty, the real issue of the region goes beyond the politics of oil and marginalization.
It is a very complex problem which surprise one’s imagination considering the fact that among themselves they are also warring and attacking themselves. Different cult groups have sprung up in the wake of the agitation for the control of their resources. They maim and ill themselves on a daily basis, while making the entire region unsafe for everybody. The cardinal question is what has the fight for the control of their resources and right to self determination got to do with killing themselves via cult attacks and destruction. Proceedings at the Truth and Reconciliation Committee set up by the present governor of Rivers State, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, opened a sordid can of worm and an entirely new dimension to the whole crisis. According to an independent observer, who has been monitoring activities at the commission, he summed up his views that the problem bedeviling state will not be addressed in the century at this rate. It is quite disturbing that the main issue that has dominated the proceedings is the make up of various cults groups, their sponsors, hired killers, assassins, mudslinging and the problem of marginalization firmly has been relegated to the background. Conclusively, it is quite important to note that the Niger-Delta crisis is rooted in neocolonialism.
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