Conflicts are inevitable in human societies as long as there is existence. Their causes and effects are numerous and varies, their resolutions are more challenging than one could ever imagine. It should be comprehended that conflict is usually a product of human needs and fear in society. In other words conflict is propelled by unfulfilled needs of the people, be it in terms of autonomy, sense of justice, identity. Special/basic needs, rights of individuals and so on . Most of these needs are of collective character and are often provoked by official neglect, persecution, denial of human rights and insensitivity of some leaders. Conflicts manifest themselves as political, social, economic, religious, territorial conflicts, or conflicts over resources or national interests. Even though they develop in a local framework, they are often connected at regional, national and international levels. Conflicts are usually complex in structure and history, they impact public interests and goods, including non-represented interests (e.g. future generations).
Therefore, this paper aimed at exposing the rational behind the conflicts in Niger Delta and, also proffer the way forward in resolving the conflicts in the region.
II) BRIEF HISTORY OF NIGER DELTA.
Niger Delta covers area of about 70,000 square kilometer and accounts for 7.5% of total land mass in Nigeria, which extend from Apoi to Bakassi, from Mashin creek to the Bight of Benin, it covers a coastline of 560km, about two-third of the entire coastline of Nigeria.
Niger delta comprises of nine out of the 36 states making up the Federal Republic of Nigeria. These are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa cross-River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers states. The estimated population of the region is about 20million, consisting of over forty different ethnic groups, speaking 250 different languages and consist of about 300 communities. The predominant occupation of the people are farming and fishing.
Since the advent of oil exploration over four decades ago, the region has become the bread-winner of the nation, which is main source of foreign exchange earnings for the nation as a whole. Since 1975 till date the region’s oil resources accounts for 90% of the nation’s export earnings. Still, the region remains the sick man of the nation, the least developed constituency of the country in physical and socio-economic terms.
III) CAUSES OF CONFLICT IN NIGER DELTA
Historically, conflict in Niger Delta region can be traced down to federal system of government that is being practiced since independent, which from the very beginning was at variance with the expectation of many minorities in the nation. It has been argued that the federal constitution that was drafted suffered from two fundamental and destabilizing setbacks. The first was the classification of the country into unequal regions. The second is the political and demographic domination of the northern, western and eastern regions, being the majority ethnic groups and the marginalization of the minority ethnic groups.
The Niger Delta people is the largest group amongst the minority groups spread over the south- south geopolitical zone.
However, it is generally comprehended that the recurring crisis in the Niger Delta region is the product of the deep-seated sense of neglect and marginalization by the government and oil companies in supporting critical human development, infrastructure, provision of basic social amenities. That the Niger Delta region which harbours the oil that has made Nigeria and oil companies rich is grossly under-developed relatively to the rest of the country. Indeed, it is a paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. According to Geseksechaff for Techeiche zussame-Narbeit, GTZ, that 70% of the people in Niger Delta region live below poverty line and that rate was far worse than African standard. Also, that there are high rate of unemployment among the youth with over 2million youth being unemployed, while 40% of the people are illiterate. Furthermore, according to World Bank report(1995), GNP per capita in Niger Delta region is below the national average of US$280 despite the population growth rate. Similarly, health indicators are low and they lag far behind the country average. As it was observed pollution and continuous flaring of gas from oil prospecting and production have created health hazards and render fishing and other farming activities almost impossible. There are high fatality rate from water-borne diseases, malnutrition and poor sanitation. The quantity and quality of housing infrastructure are less than expected in most of the region. Only about 20% to 24% of the rural communities and less than 60% of urban communities in the region have access to safe drinking water. Transportation is often difficult and expensive.
The exploration and exploitation of oil companies in Niger Delta and its attendant abuse on the environment has been more conspicuous. It has been argued that the oil producing areas suffer from grave damages as a result of the activities of the oil companies. Thus, serious damage has been done to the aquatic and marine life of the communities.
The corporate responsibility and the operating standards of the oil companies and other businesses in the region are below the international acceptable standards. A situation where oil companies and other businesses carried out oil exploration and exploitation for over four decades without a standard environmental impact assessment. This would be absolutely unacceptable in advanced nations. Niger Delta region is the only oil zone in the world where the people is subjected to cope with oil spillage. It has been argued that the federal, state and local governments are the catalyst that are providing protection to the oil companies’ lack of social responsibility.
A practical case of aforementioned is that of the Ogoni community in Niger Delta of Rivers state whose case is being spearheaded by the movement for the survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP) and the then late human right activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. They pointed, like other communities in the Niger Delta region that their land have been devastated and degraded, their atmosphere has been polluted, water contaminated, trees being poisoned and that their flora and fauna have virtually disappeared, these as a result of the activities of oil companies in the area. To intensify this ugly issue, there are no infrastructural amenities in the locality such as electricity, portable water and access roads. Thus, on August 26, 1990 the Ogoni people issued a bill of right which was sent to the federal government of Nigeria, demanding political freedom that will guarantee political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people, right to the control and use of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development, adequate and direct representation as a right in all Nigerian national institutions and the right to protect Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradations.
However, their demand was turned down, thus, MOSOP was mandated by Ogoni people on August 26, 1991 to make representation to united nations commission on human and people rights and European community, alleging that the Nigerian government has denied them their demand. MOSOP was also mandated to alert the organizations that federal republic of Nigeria has refused to pay them oil royalties and mining rents amounting to an estimated $20billion for petroleum mined from Ogoni land over three decades ago. On January 4, 1993, they followed this up. This eventually led to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa on the 10th of November, 1995.
The Ogonis are not alone for the pursuit of change of status quo. The Ogbia communities of Rivers state had complained of lack of amenities in their area, reflecting unfulfilled promises, the Odi direct action of 1998-1999.Others include ,the Ikot Abasi communities which had earlier demonstrated publicly in 1987 where 38 houses were destroyed due to instruments of the state (police intervention), also they had demanded for compensation of N38million from federal government for oil exploration and exploitation activities that have devastated the area. The Itshekiris, Ijaws and Urhobos riots and killing arising from oil issues. The Kaiama Declaration of 1998, which geared towards the control of the lives of the Ijaws and Niger Delta in general. The governors of the region such as, Rivers, Delta, Abia, Imo and Akwa-Ibom had met and presented a case for increased allocation, to at least 10% for the development of Niger Delta region but they only got 3% as against what they demanded on june,1992. However, they are still agitating for resource control of the Niger Delta region.
IV) NIGER DELTA CONFLICT UNDERMINES NIGERIA’S OIL CAPACITY.
Niger Delta case is a topical issue that must be critically examined. The conflict in Niger Delta (ND) is due to the level of marginalization and degradation done to the region. However, it has led to the shut-down of many oil walls and production facilities
Though the government would hardly admit it, that the continuing conflicts in ND characterized by inter-ethnic clashes, seizure and vandalization of oil facilities as well as kidnap of oil workers and all forms of crime, is mounting a heavy pressure on the nation’s oil output and its short-term plans for the industry which is the bedrock of the nation. The classic and observable case is that of Warri conflict in Niger Delta of Delta State. For the period, the oil companies had counted their losses due to shut-down and also the government had counted its losses in forgone revenue. As the conflict cropped-up, Chevron Texaco was losing 140,000 barrels of crude oil per day (pd) in production shut-down, Jay Pryor, its managing director, told the business support ground of the commonwealth Heads of states meeting in Lagos, last year October. Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) on its own was losing 300,000 barrels pd, while Elf Petroleum was losing 7,500 barrels pd to production shut-down. This lost in production shut-down amounted to 13,425,000 barrels per month and 120,825,000 over the nine months period of conflict. Calculated at the rate of $19 per barrel upon which the federal government predicted the average price of crude oil for last year, the nation lost about $2.3billion. Taking into account the up rise in oil price as a result of the US invasion of Iraq, Nigeria lost substantially more. Furthermore, it is also argued that in 1993, the operations and activities of SPDC were disturbed by about a hundred communal conflict, leading to the lost of over 12million barrels of crude oil worth about N369billion. In the case of Ogoni conflict issue Shell has been losing 8,000 barrels of crude oil pd since the Ogoni conflict of January 1993. In all, the company arrogates that over 60% of spills and leakage affecting its installations is caused by acts of sabotage by aggrieved communities of Niger Delta. . Beside rendering the on-shore oil field dormant, the conflict in ND has also endangered further investment in the region, with the oil companies losing interest in the high risk operations. Their focus has now moved to the deep off-shore fields that are safer. Unfortunately for the government, the financial arrangement for the deep off-shore is less fovourable under the production sharing contract than the joint venture arrangement, on-shore fields.
VI) THE WAY FORWARD:
The resolution of conflict is a distractive activity that deserved special attention. As a result of increasing devastation of the environment of Niger Delta region, it is imperative that efforts to resolving a violent conflict in Niger Delta should be based on the aspiration and needs of the people. Genuine conflict resolution effort in Niger Delta can be achieved by popular participation, equitable distribution of resources, environmental sustainability and free flow of information.
Popular participation/public cooperation is perhaps the most important condition for the success of conflict resolution. It is the petrol of economic development, involves decentralization of planning and a dynamic force that makes almost all things possible. Furthermore, popular participation makes the people more willing to bear hardships and tolerate mistakes.
However, to achieve permanent conflict resolution development there is need to seek for popular participation of the people (Niger Delta) and the only way to do that is to make the Niger Delta people part and parcel of the planning process and should be involved in the formulation and implementation of the plan that affects them. They should be consulted about their needs and aspirations. Discussion should be held with the people to enlighten them with available resources and how their needs should be met. Thus, there would be a fovourable atmosphere for effective operation of the oil companies in the region, since the people now see themselves as part and parcel of the system and will do everything humanly possible to protect the system. Consequently, eliminating many of the evil of bureaucracy such as corruption, alienation, dehumanization etc.
Equitable distribution of resources is among the focal points of conflict in Niger Delta. However, in order to resolve the conflict in Niger Delta permanently, the issue of equitable distribution of resources must b given considerable attention. The government and the oil companies should plough back their excess revenue and profits (as a matter of policy that must be complied by the stakeholders involved and with legal provision to implement) into the human resources development, infrastructural amenities and establish industries(agro-based/cottage) which will help in providing gainful employment for grassroot people of ND. And also, government should come up with a clear-cut employment policy that encourages adoption of labour-intensive techniques to an extent, so as to absorb more labour. Furthermore, government should encourage small scale enterprises by providing micro credit scheme, technical training and raw materials for craft skill acquisition, since this can provide gainful employment for the people. Thereby, making them to be violent free and protect the system.
Notwithstanding the contribution of the oil sector to the Nigerian economy, for there to be a permanent conflict resolution in Niger Delta, oil and gas activities in the region must be regulated to make them more environmentally friendly. Thus, the following policies and strategies should be adopted and implemented.
• Strict environmental standards for air, land and water pollution be enforced. The environmental protection agency should be strengthened for this task.
• Market based instruments like pollution taxes and effluent charges should be utilized. Revenue obtained from pollution taxes should be plough back into developmental projects or used to compensate inhabitants of the Niger Delta who have suffered as a result of environmental damage.
• An attempt should be made to mainstream environmental concerns in national economic policies. This will promote visibility and sustainability of environmental policies.
Information on how funds are being disbursed, the amount, projects meant for and those entrusted with the funds. Furthermore, where the projects are to be sited and date of implementation and completion should be made known to the people, in order to ensure accountability and transparency. This process comes after the people have been consulted about their needs and aspirations. Thus, collation and dissemination of information as regards to the region, should be given considerable attention in order to achieve a permanent conflict resolution in the Niger Delta region.
Equitable distribution of resources and balanced development are essential for a rapid development of the economy because the progress of the entire economy depends on the development of all regions in keeping with their factor endowments. As has been observed the progress of the entire economy will be reflected in the paste of growth realized by various regions that made up the country and in turn, rapid development of resources in the different regions would contribute towards accelerating the rate of development for the nation as a whole.
Also, as it has been argued, for there to be a meaningful development action, a comprehension of the institutional conditions in which the action will take place should be a priority. All the stakeholders should forget about the past and lay a solid foundation for the future generation by embracing options (such as negotiation, consultation, mediation and conciliation) for positive peace which revolve around addressing the issue of poverty, environmental devastation, political, economic and social injustice, low level literacy and unemployment rather than resorting to violence as a means of championing their case..
In addition, Nigerians should, as a collectivity, realize that disintegration is not a solution to the National Question. In fact, the agony of July, 1966, where Nigerians were drawn into civil conflict that threatened to exterminate the entire Nigerians from the surface of the earth. The war that followed this conflict claimed the lives of over 3million people including innocent women and children. Both crude and sophisticated weapons of war were used to destroy lives and properties. Also Lesotho and particularly Somalia (monolingual societies/single ethnic groups), as well as Rwanda and Burundi testify that breaking up a multi-ethnic state into mono-ethnic, mini-ethnic states is not a guarantee of legitimacy, development, equity, and stability. Equity in resource distribution, balanced development, accountability, effective government, democratic legitimacy, etc, are linked to the focal problem of national integration. If these can be addressed collectively, real national integration can develop in Nigeria, thus, leading to the resolution of the national question.
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