Note on… the Niger Delta Crisis: A threat to Regional Security

November 18, 2010

By Jide Olufemi Loye

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is undisputedly one of the richest countries in terms of minerals and oil in Africa.

In fact, oil exports presently stand at about one million barrels daily (mostly to the US), and are central to the survival of the State. By law, the Nigerian State owns all mineral deposits in Nigeria, including crude oil, while the federal government controls and distributes the generated revenues.

The Federal Government has been generating over 90% of its foreign exchange revenues from oil exploration, exploitation, and marketing by foreign oil companies. Yet, the contention has been that the government does not use a substantial part of the revenue so generated to provide the needed infrastructure in the Niger Delta area of the country.

In view of this neglect, the Niger Delta people have taken up arms against the country to seek redress. Internal armed conflicts, in turn, pose serious security problems for many countries (especially those who share borders with Nigeria) thus threatening regional security.

The conflict in the Niger Delta has posed a fundamental domestic challenge to Nigerian security for more than a decade. Oil production continues to diminish as a result of militant attacks, and is currently 20 to 25 percent below capacity. Meanwhile, the militias in the Niger Delta continue to engage in criminal activities such as kidnapping and oil bunkering to maximize profits for themselves and their political patrons. Oil bunkering and general instability in the region compound energy problems abroad, reducing supply. The conflict in the Niger Delta has its roots in the increasing protests of the region’s communities against their political, economic and environmental disenfranchisement. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), launched in 1990, was the first group to gain international attention for their grievances against the Nigerian government and regional oil companies.

In addition, demands from subsequent militant groups have included the creation of additional states for Ijaws, calls for total autonomy, contracts and oil concessions for faction leaders. The spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the most vocal and best organised of the militant organisations to emerge in 2006, says his group’s goal is to achieve resource control concessions or cause total unrest and insecurity in the region. So far that has been the case.

The conflict in the Niger Delta escalated in 2002 and 2003, particularly during and after the election process in 2003. Attacks on pipelines and kidnappings of foreign oil workers since December 2005, have forced oil production to decrease to about 800,000 barrels per day, threatening Nigerian government plans to nearly double production to four million barrels a day by 2010.

There are four overarching and interconnected problems that contribute to continued regional instability: lack of good governance; lack of social and economic development; corruption and increased militarization.

Lack of Good Governance

The Nigerian state lacks political legitimacy at all levels of government because of chronically flawed elections, the most blatant of which were the rigged elections of 2007.

The lack of legitimacy is more pronounced in the Niger Delta. The region has never had credible elections since the military returned to the barracks in 1999. In both the 2003 and 2007 elections, voters’ turnout in the Niger Delta was extremely low. Voters were intimidated by militias and local criminals who were on the payroll of politicians and party officials and in most of the areas, elections were not held.

The federal government has also failed to provide goods and services to the people of the Niger Delta, who experience terrible poverty despite living in the region that produces the vast majority of Nigeria’s wealth. Moreover, neither the government nor the oil companies have adequately addressed environmental problems such as gas flaring and oil spills.

Finally, the Nigerian government has not provided adequate security to communities in the Niger Delta. Even when security forces have been deployed to the Niger Delta, they have also committed atrocities against civilians, and some officers have been engaged in corruption and the illegal oil trade.

Lack of Social and Economic Development

The federal government has been slow in addressing development issues or revenue allocation in the Niger Delta. The region continues to lack adequate social services, i.e. good educational facilities, good transportation system and good health care system.

Although in 2006 two-thirds of the militia members and leaders surveyed by Academic Associates Peace Works said they would take advantage of training or jobs if they were available, the dearth of such opportunities contributes to the decision of youths to join militias for economic gain. Profiteering from oil bunkering and the kidnapping of oil workers presents a lucrative and increasingly popular alternative, especially since the youth lack any sense of ownership of, participation in or benefit from the oil industry. This virtual exclusion of local individuals or companies from employment opportunities in the oil and gas sectors has led to anger, alienation, and aggression. It has also contributed to the steady supply of youth who are willing to join gangs and militias.


Nigeria has been classified as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation -for decades a source of corruption and national shame- has been very badly run for years. Widespread corruption and lack of transparency in detailing how oil money is allocated and spent at the state level further erode the people’s trust in the government.

Nigeria enacted new laws as part of its overall reform programme to tackle corruption. In June 2000, the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act were enacted, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) were established with full powers to investigate and prosecute reported cases of corruption. The enactment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Act in December 2002 and the subsequent establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came with full powers to enforce the law.

Despite all these regulations, the corruption situation in Nigeria has not changed for the better. In a country where corruption infects almost everything, is reform feasible? It is suggested that for the reform to be feasible, the established independent EFCC has to be independent and be allowed to exercise its full powers to prosecute corrupt officials.

Militarization of the Niger Delta

Militia groups in the region have increased, often sponsored by state government and party officials who use the militias for their own political and economic purposes.

Groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which was organized in 2006, function as a loose network of gangs rather than a coherent organization. They lack a common political agenda or political wings that could participate in a negotiation process. While some groups possess legitimate goals, some engage in criminal activities that lead to the continuation of the conflict—by doing the bidding of the politicians and others who pay them, the militia members perpetuate the governance system that contributes to the region’s problems.

The militias have become increasingly violent, both towards one another and civilians. People are kidnapped randomly. The militias go for foreign oil workers and other people who are not associated with the oil industry but perceived to be rich. Politicians in the Niger Delta who fund the militias retain the lion’s share of illegally sourced wealth and are able to sustain their activities with minimal losses, raising enough revenue to pay off their patronage networks and militias.

The onus to resolve the conflict in the Niger Delta must be on the Nigerian government, the new administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who became the president due to the death of President Yar Adua has said that it will do everything in its power to make Niger Delta a peaceful region. President Goodluck Jonathan is from the Niger Delta area and the militants have promised to lay down their arms in support of the president. The conflict in the Niger Delta continues to challenge both the Nigerian government and the international community. To date, the international community has deferred to the Nigerian government’s insistence that it will handle the matter internally. However, the international community also has a stake in helping to resolve this conflict: the problems in the Niger Delta also destabilize global markets, especially as the price of oil continues to rise. Bringing peace and stability to the region will require President Goodluck Jonathan administration to fulfil its own promises of launching credible peace and development processes, supported by the cooperation of the international community.

Jide Olufemi Loye – LLB LLM (England), BL (NIGERIA) – is an international lawyer and legal consultant on laws of war. He qualified to practice law in Nigeria and works on Human rights and international armed conflict issues.


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