Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Niger Delta Revolts: Kick it Like Professor Utuama

Posted in African Politics, Nigeria by ruben eberlein on May 12, 2009

Countless conferences, seminars and workshops have been devoted in Nigeria over the last three decades in order to find a lasting resolution for the unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta in the south of the West African country. Now an astonishing straightforward solution has been offered by the Delta State Deputy Governor: Football will do it, he says.

Prof. Amos Agbe Utuama is cited today in the Nigerian paper This Day, noting that ‘football is capable of putting an end to militancy in the Niger Delta as a result of the love of the people for the game’. The ten-man FIFA security team on visit in Delta state was probably happy to hear that it can contribute in such a tremendous manner to the remedy of one of the most pressing issues in Nigeria.

Violence by politically inspired gangs and criminal syndicates in the oil-producing region of Nigeria escalated in 2006 and shows no sign of diminishing. Oil exports have fallen to 1.6 million barrels per day in March 2009 (from 2.6 million in 2006). Militias not only attack company infrastructure and engage in hostage-taking of expatriates, but often are a menace for the general population as well. Adding to this, the presence and conduct of the national Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Delta is experienced by many inhabitants more as endangering than securing their daily life.

The government of President Umaru Yar’Adua protracts the implementation of the recommendations of a Technical Committee established in September 2008, criticises the International Crisis Group in a recently published report. Some JTF actors are accused to partake in illegitimate oil bunkering activities. For this reason and others, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there is strong institutional and informal resistance to any fundamental change in the Delta.

Last year in May, Nigeria’s acting President raised the idea of offering amnesty to the militias and encouraging them to register as security companies in the services of Shell, Agip, Total, Chevron and the like. On one side, this would only be consistent as many of the militant groups began as informal security providers for the oil multinationals. On the other side, it indicates a certain desperation of the national government about how to deal with the social, political and economic disaster in the Niger Delta.

Some months ago, I argued in an article entitled ‘Criminal Energy’ (Konkret 8/08) that the persistence of the multi-faced violence in the Niger Delta has much to do with the intimate connection of state officials on the regional and national level to the militant young men on the ground. As long as those seriously interested in peace and development for all citizens are not prepared or able to confront this matter, the fighting and killing will continue.

Look out for my follow-up text that will appear on that weblog shortly.

4 Responses

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  1. Chris Hart said, on May 12, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    If there is one person in a position to forward a real solution to the mayhem in the Niger Delta, it is definitely the Honorable Amos Agbe Utuama, at least when taking in consideration this text:

    Let’s thank our leaders for their magnanimous advice.

  2. Dr. Ken Uzor said, on May 14, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks Ruben for drawing our attention to Prof. Utuama’s remarks. It does appear from the Deputy Governor’s comments that either he is ignorant of the root and triggering factors of the restiveness in the Niger Delta region or he chose to make the FIFA officials that visited Delta State feel good. Either way one is saddened by the fact that our policy makers do not seem to have real solutions to the ever growing problem of restiveness in the Delta region. Ruben you were right when you opined that there is a connection between some State actors and some of the youths that cause mayhem in the region.

    Prior to occupying public office some of the politicians engage the ‘services’ of these violently disposed young men to actualise their quest to occupy one electoral office or the other through any means but credible elections. Upon getting into office they have to severe their ties with the boys at least till the next election. But by then these young men still hold tight to their guns and other small arms which they used in getting the politician into power. Having lost their employment with their politician boss, survival through whatever means becomes the name of the game. Kidnapping, oil bunkering etc then assume other income generating activities for the boys.

    Having said this and reflecting further on Prof. Utuama’s comments, it is easy to forget how the Niger Delta problem evolved to what we know today. Poverty of the inhabitants of the communities bearing crue oil and gas, and unacceptable negligence by successive governments at all levels, and the deceitful posturing of some major oil companies all combined to firmly plant the monstrous seed that produced the harvest the Nigerian nation is reaping today.Like I argued elsewhere all the unfortunate developments in the region could have been avoided if we have had sincere and committed leaders at all echelons of the Nigerian governance structure. Even the Companies whose primary aim in the region is to make as much money as possible from the oil deposits in the region would have perfomed better if we have visionary leadership. But having said that we must acknowledge that the combined efforts of the oil Companies’ community development efforts (though forced by the circumstances of the Niger Delta situation to engage in corporate social resposiblities)far outweigh what the governments which have constitutional roles to develop the region have done. Most the money for development leave the shores of the country (Recall the Abacha loot and I’m not sure if the looting has abated). The people are daily dying from preventble diseases, hunger and insecurity. Infrastructural development that may lead to stable electricity supply, good roads/ bridges, and clean water supply, becomes excuses and reasons for treasury looting. No infrastructural development investment by governmants yet treasury continue to be depleted.The restive youths of the Niger Delta region are all aware of this situation. Their country earns big money from oil and gas and they dont benefit from the proceeds by way of availability of affordable food, constant power supply, good roads, employment. How do you convince them to trust and obey their leaders. During football matches we tend forget our myraid of problems, but upon the blast of the last whistle we wake up to our realities. Prof Utuama was referring to the momentory period of collective dementia, when we watch football matches. He only forgot to mention that life continues after football matches.

    One factor we always forget is that oil is a non renewable resource. One day the gas and oil will stop flowing.If we have visionary leaders by now we should actively begin to emulate the United Arab Emirate (UAE) and other countries that are investing in non oil sectors in readiness for when the oil well will stop flowing. Ruben so sorry for writing so lenghty but one often gets passionate or even emotional when we reflect over our problems, but some questions that often flash through my mind are these – Will Nigeria contonue to be one nation after the oil wells cease to produce? What will sustain the Nigeria project by then? What will happen to the develpment issues of the Niger Delta region?

  3. Uzo Nduka said, on May 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm


    The Niger Delta today is manifesting the various symptoms of the depeely ingrained conflict between the oil producing ethnicities / communities / states / LGAS etc. and the social groupings that represent or claim to represent them.

    I recommend those of us who are academics and are brighter than myself should make it a point to study and hopefully explain to the rest of us why the dynamics of this conflict has not led to more destruction, killings, hunger, disease, etc. All those symptoms that we see, feel and experience that make us so passionate and emotional. is it because the people are resilient? Or what? Someone that knows should please tell me.

    The conflict i refer to is entrenched in the Nigerian constitution and laws i.e. landuse act, petroleum laws, revenue allocation formula, etc. These are the places where these matters can be uprooted, pardon me to use the common allegory of “root causes of conflict”.

    The militancy, kidnappings, government actions, etc. all these are manifestations. I dare to say that even the “level” of corruption we have in the society is a consequence and not a root cause.

    Am afraid because right now, even the academics, social scientists, political leaders, almost all of us are focusing our energies and investing our resources to discussing and addressing symptoms.

    I fear. Militancy is like cancer. So i fear greatly.

  4. godswill ikechukwu uhegu said, on June 5, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    thanks very much for your mail up date toword the of niger delta proplems here in nigeria, i also want to thank mr uzo nduka for hes commitent toword this issue.
    well the government of nigeria should please look in this issue.its really affecting the mr nduka said it is like a cancer it will take time to stop this people form such act.
    from iyke

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