When Nigeria is mentioned, one of the first things that comes to mind is the notorious oil sector. Once the Nigerian oil sector is mentioned, the oil-producing- and until recently, restive Niger-Delta region comes to mind. Once the Niger-Delta region is mentioned, the Nigerian federal government’s Amnesty Programme initiated in 2009 to quench the fire of restiveness and militancy in the region comes to mind. To this effect, a report assessing this amnesty programme was recently published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). It also assesses possible future conflict triggers and trends for the Niger-Delta. The report “finds that there is limited consensus on the prospect and scope of future violence in Nigeria, particularly with regard to the upcoming 2015 presidential elections.” Read the full report on the USIP website (PDF).
Here is a summary of the main points:
- The Niger Delta has now enjoyed four years of relative calm. However, there is a significant chance the region could see renewed violent conflict in the next one to two years.
- Dividends from a 2009 amnesty for local militants are real and substantial. They include dramatically improved oil production and revenues, fewer deaths and kidnappings, more relaxed travel restrictions, better elections, and job placement for some ex-fighters.
- Critics of the amnesty claim the program fails to treat the root causes of conflict, is corrupt and unsustainable, and promotes warlordism and the spread of organized crime, among other things.These criticisms are not without basis, but they often lack context and balance.
- Major conflict drivers in the delta are still in place, and no long-term peace plan exists. The coming period likely will bring strong flash points and triggers, particularly around the 2015 presidential and gubernatorial elections.
- Wavering leadership on security, the closedown of the amnesty program in 2015, decreased support for President Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy, and close electoral results could all lead to violence in the delta.
- It is possible nonetheless that the election season will pass without a major, prolonged return to violence in the Niger Delta. Nigeria’s fractured opposition parties may fail to produce a consensus candidate, and the delta is likely to vote overwhelmingly for President Jonathan.
- The role played by distributions of oil wealth is a particular wild card. It is also still very much unclear how far conflict around the 2015 elections will reflect deeper sociopolitical divisions in Nigeria, or how deep such divisions run.
- This report finds only limited consensus on how any future violence will look. A majority of sources agreed only on a few likely trends—for instance, an increase in kidnappings and the spread of armed attacks outside the Niger Delta.
Its a very interesting and enlightening report. Four additional points to note include:
- The report states a caveat: “There has been no rigorous assessment of the amnesty program’s successes and failures to date, and this report passes no final judgment.”
- It states that “the amnesty program’s most ambitious goal—job placement for participants—has had demonstrable, if somewhat limited, success. Thus far, the Amnesty Office says it has placed roughly 40 percent of its thirty thousand charges into education and skills training programs. More than five thousand ex-fighters traveled abroad to the United States, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, South Africa, and Ghana, among other places, and more are being processed for deployment… The program does seem to be outperforming older, more moribund government job-training programs…. Amnesty Office officials said in late 2012 that perhaps one hundred to two hundred ex-combatants have found long-term work in maritime services, fabrication, and related fields.” (p.3).
- Though the report states that “…no long-term peace plan exists…”, a five-year Niger-Delta Action Plan (PDF) has been unveiled by the Nigerian government, via the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs. The plan is to run from 2013 to 2017.
- It concludes with this fascinating warning: “The road ahead is far too busy for doomsday forecasts, and Nigeria tends to embarrass those who predict its imminent unraveling.” (p.13).