Post-Amnesty Reintegration and Peacebuilding Challenges in Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region: The Way Forward
In 2009, after several failed attempts to guarantee peace in the conflict-laden, oil-rich region that accounts for most of Nigeria’s oil production and national wealth, a ceasefire agreement was finally achieved in the country with handshakes between late president Musa Yar’Adua and some notable Niger Delta warlords in Abuja, the capital city. The agreement ended the violent resistance that had manifested in struggles between the region’s disgruntled youth on one hand, and the partnership of the federal government and the transnational corporations on the other, over control of, and access to oil supplies, profits, and revenues. The presidential handshake also formed the basis of a sixty-day amnesty process that culminated in a disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDRR) program created as part of a peacebuilding strategy. The disarmament component worked tangentially with the amnesty period (later extended to cover 26,385 militants) and was followed by a “post-amnesty” demobilization and rehabilitation process, leading up to the reintegration phase—a process that continues today.
Although the demobilization has been rather unsteady, Kingsley Kuku—the presidential adviser on the Niger Delta affairs and chairman of the amnesty program—has repeatedly proclaimed the program’s total success to local, national, and global audiences, by linking it to the reduction in levels of violence and the exposure of unprivileged Niger Delta youth to vocational or educational training in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United States to name a few. Perhaps most notably, however, was the recovery of oil production levels, which had fallen drastically as a result of the crisis in the region. The figures rose from 700,000 barrels per day between 2007 and mid-2009 to between 2.4 million and 2.6 million in late 2009.
The government’s offer of a post-amnesty deal was intended to rein in ex-militants and offer them incentives to stop their attacks on the oil and gas industry. This agreement sought to pay off armed youth who had demonstrated a capacity to disrupt production—with serious implications for oil company profits and government revenues—while restoring (and possibly increasing) pre-crisis levels of crude production, including benefits enjoyed by political elites and oil companies. It is important to note, however, that in spite of the good news of the marked reduction in violence and increased production, the post-amnesty period has also witnessed more reports of illegal oil bunkering, sea piracy, and other criminal activities. What is responsible for these drawbacks, and how can the situation be addressed before the region regresses into another round of conflict?
Reintegration appears to be the most critical phase of DDRR in the Niger Delta; yet, unlike Kingsley Kuku, one should not be too quick to assert its success in rendering the fragile peace in the region irreversible. In the first place, a two-week rehabilitation1 period is inadequate to demilitarize the mindset of ex-militants and make them fully embrace the values of nonviolence. Moreover, evidence suggests some militants who make it to the rehabilitation camp never actually participated in the struggle, but are instead “gatecrashers” connected to patron-client political networks seeking to benefit from the ample resources and opportunities offered by the amnesty program. Their presence has contributed to the anger and frustration of those who consider themselves to be the real, or “core” militants, but have been excluded from these benefits.
Another issue has been the useful engagement or absorption of the ex-militants after they complete their post-rehabilitation vocational or educational training. Whether they are trained abroad or in Nigeria, the amnesty program continues to face the challenge and major dilemma of fulfilling its promise to empower ex-militants in a way that allows them to live full and productive lives in peacetime. While some have been lucky enough to be employed by a few corporate organizations, only a few have been able to translate their meager earnings into sustainable livelihoods for themselves and families. Unfortunately, most ex-militants remain jobless, relying solely on monthly government stipends and aid from family members and friends.
While most of the core militants have not been rehabilitated, the majority of those who have been are still waiting to be called for the training phase of the reintegration program.2 Some militants regret accepting the amnesty and “dropping their weapons,” but so far most have refrained from resorting to violence because of the amnesty agreement signed individually with the federal government.
However, the agreement has not stopped others who feel aggrieved, angry, and frustrated from resorting to criminal activities; some have turned to sea piracy, kidnapping,3 robbery, and oil theft, including the shooting and killing of members of the Joint Task Force (JTF), the government’s security outfit. Though some people see these actions as politically motivated, others agree they are the direct outcome of the post-amnesty program’s shortcomings. Others are concerned that some of these ex-militants may influence a new generation of militants that could resort to violence in the pursuit of social and economic justice in the future.
Another important matter that has escaped the attention of most analysts is the issue of reconciliation within the Niger Delta—that is, the acceptance of ex-combatants by the very communities that were subjected to atrocities in the past. Without this acceptance, reintegration will be incomplete. Reconciliation processes have not taken place in most Niger Delta oil-producing communities. In some cases, ex-militants have not been perceived as threats. However, in those areas where such threats are strong, the communities prefer to “let sleeping dogs lie” and quietly grumble about the elevation of militia generals from “warlords” to “richlords,”4 as well as the subsidization of most of their foot soldiers with monthly government stipends, while publicly ignoring the human rights abuses these ex-militants had previously perpetrated. Locals in these communities are unhappy about the one-sided benefits of a post-amnesty program that has focused on “those with arms,” fearing the ex-militants are still capable of unleashing violence, while excluding the victims often caught in the crossfire of militia violence and state reprisals. Besides standing in the way of reconciliation (and thus integration), the seething but unvoiced anger of many in the communities also endangers present attempts at achieving sustainable peace in the region.
Reconciliation is, moreover, a prerequisite for reconstruction, and the expectations for socioeconomic development also have yet to be fulfilled. Niger Delta oil-producing companies continue to be characterized by pollution, dilapidated school buildings, and health centers. They lack piped water and modern amenities, and remain largely impoverished, with most inhabitants tied to subsistence sources of livelihoods—mainly farming and fishing—which remain susceptible to oil pollution and land expropriation. Politics within the region fails to facilitate the reconciliation necessary to addressing these problems because it is driven by struggles over power and resources by factions of the elite and warlords.
Evidence also indicates that the politics of oil, which acts as a honey-pot for those connected to dominant power elite groups, has permeated the amnesty agency. Individuals with connections to powerful officials and politicians at the state or federal levels reap benefits as consultants, contractors, and enforcers, while colluding with officials of the agency to divert to private use of funds originally meant for ex-militants. Whatever attempts are being made to develop the region, they are either not distributed fairly or are being undermined by corruption, resulting in communities with uncompleted projects.
Policies that are implemented for reintegration, if they are to be truly successful, must be linked to the security and human development of oil-based communities, which have suffered untold hardships and borne the major burdens of exploration, exploitation, and violence. Effectively and efficiently rehabilitating all ex-militants and fulfilling their specific needs without turning them into a privileged group within their communities remains a considerable challenge. Moreover, if genuine forgiveness and healing are to be achieved, proper mediation between ex-militants and their communities should take into consideration the rehabilitation of ordinary villagers, who have so far been largely excluded from the post-amnesty program. Holistic measures are similarly very important in guaranteeing the spread and completion of development projects in every part of the region.
Beyond these suggestions, the issue of arriving at a new, equitable social pact based on transformed power relations among the elites as well as among men, women, and youth needs to be addressed if full reconciliation is to be guaranteed. More studies examining the roots and dimensions of conflict in the region need to be commissioned and their results used in refining peacebuilding interventions. While the prospects of DDRR may be bright, gaps in the implementation process may pose serious challenges in the future. Embedded in the process of transforming conditions in the oil producing Niger Delta region is the need for a full commitment towards broadening the political and economic space for a more inclusive and participatory peacebuilding program.
Ajunwa, C. 2010, “Government Approves 6166 Ex-Militants for Amnesty,” This Day, 28 November.
Alechenu, J. (2011), “Nigeria Saved N6 Trillion through Amnesty in 2011-Kuku,” The Punch Tuesday, 26 June.
MITV, 2012, Interview with Kingsley Kuku on “60 Minutes with Angela,” Monday, 17 September.
Nwajiaku-Dahou, K. (2010), The Politics of Amnesty in the Niger Delta: Challenges Ahead. Paris and Brussels: The Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI).
Obi, C. and Siri Aas Rustad (2011), “Introduction: Petro-Violence in the Niger Delta: the Complex Politics of an Insurgency,” Cyril Obi and Siri Aas Rustad (eds), Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta: Managing the Complex Politics of Petro-Violence. New York: Zed Books
Oluwatoyin O. Oluwaniyi, 2011, “Post-Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta: Challenges and Prospects,” Conflict Trends, Issue 4.
Oluwatoyin Oluwaniyi, 2013, “Post-Conflict Peacebuilding and the Challenges of Reintegration in Nigeria’s Oil-Rich Niger Delta Region,” Research Report Submitted to African Peacebuilding Network (APN), SSRC, Booklyn, US.
- Rehabilitation focuses on reorientation of ex-militants’ minds to pre-militancy life through prayers, physical exercise, non-violence teaching, and career counseling. ↩
- Reintegration in this case, is aimed at providing individual ex-militants with relevant training in existing businesses and formal education. ↩
- President Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin was kidnapped in his house in Ogbia, Bayelsa State by gunmen on February 24, 2014. ↩
- Being a militant now ranks top among lucrative businesses. Some warlords have received huge government contracts to protect oil pipelines and waterways in the region. ↩