Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua needs to act decisively to keep violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta from escalating and spreading.
Nigeria: Ending Unrest in the Niger Delta, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines steps needed to address the conflict’s root causes and stop the region from slipping back into chaos. The May inauguration of new federal and state governments and the truce declared shortly after by armed groups created an opportunity, but attacks on oil installations by militants and kidnappings by criminals are again on the rise.
“Hostage-taking has turned into a lucrative, criminally-driven enterprise”, says Nnamdi Obasi, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst. “This practice is threatening to spread beyond the core Niger Delta to other parts of the country”.
Yar’Adua’s early statements and actions had raised hopes in the Delta. Following his election, he initiated consultations with ethnic and militant organisations and endorsed the regional development plan launched by his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo, in March. However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has lost patience with the government’s failure to address the Delta’s core demands and has resumed attacks on oil installations and hostage-taking. The security situation, already aggravated by clashes between politically-sponsored criminal gangs in Rivers State in August, could be worsened by deepening splits within the Delta’s major militant groups.
Repeated postponements of the Niger Delta summit, initially called for June, and a lack of clarity over its participants, methods and goals, are eroding confidence. Faith in the government is also being shaken by its ambiguity about how much of the Delta money it seeks in the 2008 budget is for economic development, not merely the security services.
Yar’Adua must go beyond drawn-out consultations with militants and ethnic leaders and quickly translate his promises into credible policies addressing violence and the region’s legitimate demands. The federal legislature needs to urgently commence the process of providing constitutional solutions for the political, economic and environmental grievances which have been at the root of ethnic and communal agitation for decades. The Rivers State government, whose territory has seen the worst and most recent violence, must act with restraint in its proposed demolition of Port Harcourt’s waterfront shanties to avoid aggravating strained relations between ethnic groups.
“The months since the April elections have seen increasingly incendiary threats from MEND and continued volatility in the creeks”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “The Yar’Adua government must urgently come to grips with the core issues that have defined the agitation and conflicts in the region for two decades”.