Conflict Resolution

Strategies for Maintaining Peace in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

Victor Izuogu asked:


The Niger Delta, an area of dense mangrove rainforest in the southern tip of Nigeria, comprises nine of Nigeria’s thirty-six states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers. The region’s oil accounts for approximately 90 percent of the value of Nigeria’s exports, but the Niger Delta remains one of Nigeria’s least developed regions.

Although there had been conflicts in the oil regions of Nigeria between the host communities and oil extracting companies since the discovery of oil in Nigeria, recent conflicts began to surge appreciably in the late 1990s. Consequently, in 2000, the government of the former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to help end the violence and spur socio-economic development. Yet, during and after the run-up to the 2003 presidential election, violence between rival militia groups and against the oil corporations increased considerably.

Facilitated by poverty intensified by conditions stated at, political disenfranchisement, and the easy availability of firearms, armed groups fought each other over the control of illegally acquired oil and engaged in violent acts against oil companies, such as kidnapping key officials of the oil companies(especially expatriates).


Efforts of successive administrations to correct these anomalies translated to minor successes. The Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC, was to ensure development got to the oil producing States. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), given the promises that preceded its birth has not made the type of impact people in the region expected. The same politics and greed that have always placed the interests of a tiny few above the people, hijacked NDDC from inception.

AFTER decades of obvious official neglect, it is heart-warming that a Niger Delta Regional Development master plan to be supervised by Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has been drawn up. The development plan with a duration of 15 years is to gulp $50 billion (about N6.4 trillion).

The master-plan, as stated in, is a comprehensive analysis of the life development imperatives, challenges and opportunities in the Niger Delta which puts into perspective the economic growth; human and community needs, institutional development, physical infrastructure and natural environment of the region.


Nothing should be allowed to stall the successful implementation of the master plan. The funding has been spelt out in the 2000 NDDC Act as follows – Ecological Fund 50 per cent; Federal Government 15 per cent; oil and gas industry three per cent; and 29 per cent from other sources.

Proper development of the Niger Delta region would create more global economic opportunities in the area, stable oil and gas prices, which means more income for the government, in addition to the most needed peace.

All parties involved in the implementation of the master plan should do their best to provide the resources to remove the blight that the Niger Delta has become. Government has to provide leadership in this direction. In view of this, the partnership between one of Nigeria’s foremost banks, the United Bank for Africa Plc and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in order to ensure the success of the Master Plan should be commended.

The success of this task does not only rest on providing the necessary infrastructure for the socio-economic development of the people of the Niger-Delta, but the people themselves must be involved from the policy formulation stage. We must not assume that we know what the people need. That was the mistake made by past administrations at various levels of government and the organizers of the master plan must not allow their intervention and participation in this plan to go the same way.

The main focus of this work therefore will be to critically consider and discuss some key success management factors that may make or mar the success of the Master-Plan.


Before funds are deployed in respect of the Master Plan, the organizers should consider the following critical factors:

(a) The Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy

The organizers, in working to ensure the success of the Master Plan should lay emphasis on linking peace and development—the same strategy adopted by the oil and gas companies in the region and one that complements the work of the NDDC. Concerted efforts should be made to determine how the skills of the armed groups can be harnessed for positive purposes.

In this regard, a peace and security strategy to be formed by the organisers to aid the master plan, should target the corporate, media, governmental, international, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address oil corporations’ responsibility toward the Niger Delta. It should also focus on mechanisms to reduce oil theft; media practices in reporting violence; reconciliation between groups; illegal arms importation; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of militia groups; human capital development and employment/urban youth policies; early warning systems; money laundering; and good governance.

(b) Violence and Conflict Resolution Efforts in the Niger Delta

Previous governments largely ignored the Niger Delta, partly because its geography made it relatively inaccessible. The long period of military rule in Nigeria contributed to bad governance and corruption; and the burden for the provision of government services fell to oil and gas companies, which were ill equipped to supply water and electricity and maintain road networks.

The magnitude of this neglect has been an important factor behind the violence in the Niger Delta, which is carried out by social groups or street gangs, referred to by many as “cults.” These groups—made up of youths from the Niger Delta —originated with the intention of offering physical protection and providing its members with an opportunity to meet people with similar ethnic or social identities. In time these groups (now known as Militants of the Niger Delta) acquired arms and also began to compete with each other over oil bunkering.

The most recent violence in the Niger Delta grew out of the political campaigns in 2003. As they competed for office, politicians in Rivers State—a focal point of violence in 2003—manipulated the Niger Delta Vigilantes, led by Ateke Tom, and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, led by Alhaji Asari Dokubo. Exacerbating rivalries, political candidates used these groups to advance their aspirations —often rewarding gang members to commit acts of political violence and intimidation against their opponents.

The conclusion of the 2003 electoral period did not end the violence. The Niger Delta Vigilantes and the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force continued to fight each other throughout 2004. The hostilities peaked when over 300 commanders of the Ijaw ethnic group announced that if the government did not change conditions in the Niger Delta, they would take action against both the government and the oil installations. In September 2004, the former president Obasanjo invited Ateke Tom and Alhaji Asari Dokubo to the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja. And on October 1, 2004, a peace agreement was signed between the two groups.

Following the peace agreement, various concerned groups worked with the Rivers State Government to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate members of the armed groups. More than 3,000 weapons were handed in and publicly destroyed. In December 2004, the former combatants requested a reconciliation church service to acknowledge the violence they
had inflicted. In January 2005, a camp was organized for the former combatants to help r
eorient and reintegrate them into society. A program beginning in February 2005 provided over 2,000 youths with technical skills and training. However, the program did not provide jobs for these youths after their training. Moreover, due to the lack of an overall strategy, a coordinating agency, and a community-based program, the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program was never completed. Thus the gains reaped in September and October 2004 gradually evaporated.

Now, after the 2007 elections, many fear a resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta and worry that politicians may once again mobilize youths for political ends. The threat of violence is exacerbated by international arms dealers who continue to find Nigeria a lucrative market and by neighboring African states that recruit Nigerians as mercenaries, creating a reservoir of people with the means and the motive to maintain a violent atmosphere.

(c) Human Capital Development and Employment/Urban Youth Policies: Concerned that demobilization and disarmament may increase the amount of cult group and illegal activity, as former insurgents will not have options for employment, job creation strategies must be comprehensive. As such, human capital development and employment strategies pursued by the Peace and Security Working Group will include developing a profile of cults, such as incentives behind their formation, leadership, membership, and territory. Additionally, the Peace and Security Working Group should consider suggestions at , and work with oil and gas companies in the Niger Delta to develop leadership skills and the NDDC to create jobs.

As a priority, emphasis should be placed on finding economic opportunities for the youth of the Niger Delta. Below are some of the employment opportunities that can be extended to the people of Niger Delta:

• The government can look at the possibility of establishing a public works program; developing sectors outside of oil and gas, which are traditionally not labor-intensive industries; and special employment set-asides for the Niger Delta’s residents.

• The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) can be made to assume the responsibility to monitor that 25 percent of management positions and 67 percent of staff positions in the oil and gas companies go to those from the Niger Delta.

• Cleaning up the Niger Delta communities might also serve as a way to engage the youth and address the environmental damage by the oil industry.

(d) Corporate Responsibility: Oil and gas corporations remain the target of grievances by local groups in the Niger Delta. A committee on corporate practices should be formed by the organizers of the Master Plan (although it may be chaired by the senior staff of NNPC) to examine the causes of conflict and corruption, how to increase corporate transparency, and how to more effectively enforce good policies.

Oil companies and the government should be encouraged to increase transparency by instituting the “publish what you pay” system where the government reports all revenues received by oil corporations. Alternatively, they can initiate and monitor a Permanent Fund system—where residents receive an annual dividend from oil’s proceeds—this can be adopted as a model for the Niger Delta to increase resource transparency.

(e) Reducing Oil Theft: Oil theft is one of the major causes of conflict between rival armed groups as illegally acquired oil is sold on black markets for high profits. Indeed, as the price of oil increases, the loss to the state increases as well. For example, when oil stood at $20 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost $3.7 billion per year; when oil prices rose to $30 per barrel, the Nigerian government lost more that $6 billion annually. There should be a working group to coordinate efforts with local, state, and federal authorities to understand the factors that facilitate oil theft. Focusing on the external markets, it will launch an international campaign against oil theft. However, the most effective strategy to stop the thievery should be to create alternative sources of income.

The situation is degenerating very fast as the militants have discovered a cheap way of making money through hostage taking. The militants started by kidnapping expatriates who were released after the payment of heave ransoms (although this has been denied by top government officials and the Nigerian press). The situation has reached the stage where the militants now kidnap children of wealthy Nigerians. The hostages were also released after the payment of ransoms.

(f) Media Relations: News reports play a large role in sensationalizing and thus exacerbating conflicts. Subsequently, part of the peace and security strategy is working with the media on how they report conflicts in the Niger Delta and ensuring that the media fully understands the purposes of the working group.

(g) Reconciliation Processes: Initial reconciliation efforts will begin with the Ogoni conflict in Rivers State, which dates back to the mid 1990s. In time, this will serve as a model for settling grievances of other groups in the Niger Delta—demonstrating an alternative to violence as a means to settle disputes.

(h) Arms Importation: The easy acquisition of small arms and light weapons in the Niger Delta undermines disarmament and demobilization efforts. There should be a Peace and Security Working Group working with local, state, federal, and international agencies, the Peace and Security Working Group will undertake efforts to reduce illegal arms importation; facilitate the exchange of information between relevant agencies; and review the accountability standards of local and international weapons’ manufacturers. A particular focus will be to curb the illicit arms trade at the international level.

(i) Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration: Previous attempts at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration did not succeed due to the absence of a coordinating body and alternative employment possibilities. In this regard, the new government should plan a more comprehensive approach that will address the incentives of groups to hold arms; implement “best practices” from successful programs; institute a process for destroying weapons; invite international observers to monitor disarmament processes; and ensure coordination between disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration efforts. In addition, the reintegration programs will include meaningful employment opportunities.

(j) Early Warning: It is indeed necessary to design a system for early warning of conflict. Devising a comprehensive early warning system on impending violence will require the integration of local networks, investment in effective communication methods, building the capacity of governments and NGOs to respond to crises, and recruiting experts to design conflict analysis methods appropriate for the Niger Delta.

(k) Money Laundering: Money laundering activities undermine the search for peace and the creation of legal markets in the Niger Delta. Thus, in coordination with international financial institutions, NGOs, and government agencies, the government should devise means to prevent money laundering in Nigeria and means to return money that has been stolen (as occurred with funds taken by former head of state, late General Sani Abacha). Senior government officials must be transparent in the handling and disbursement of such stolen monies.

In summary, previous governments in Nigeria had unsuccessfully tried to solve the Niger Delta problem mainly because they overlooked or ignored the above issues which are fundamental to the success of any peace and development programs in the area.


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