Thursday, 27 January 2011

Conflicting views on the causes of the rise of militancy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria: an analytic consideration

In most current academic scholarship, the views on what has exacerbated militancy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria broadly falls under four categories: Economic, Political, Environmental and Social. The political and social arguments look at historical ethnic rivalries and how that affects the current political landscape and political motivations for and against militancy. The combination of economic and environmental focuses on the politics of oil and ‘Dutch disease’ syndrome, revolt against the environment impact, its Human rights implications and the protest against economic deprivation. An initial search on existing literature seems to suggest there is more analysis on the latter than the former. It’s important to see why this is and disprove (or confirm) the extent to which these factors play a role.

The research required to cover all 4 aspects is extensive, so most work tends to focus on the impact of oil politics on security and particularly how it has impacted militancy and looking to see how strong (or weak) the link is with oil. In contrast with a lot of literature, it will be intriguing if we find strong arguments that suggest oil is a red herring and stronger arguments in historical ethnic rivalries or social factors.

There are various International Security and International Relations themes could be highlighted by examining the relevancy in this region as compared to others: for example Oil (and Energy) Security, The Resource Curse, the securitization of environmental degradation and link to rising militancy. A parallel can be drawn with the issue of piracy in Somali. There are also several legal themes within International Law and Human Rights that can be explored with respect to cases between oil giants and companies e.g. Shell and the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta and trials of activists like Ken Saro Wiwa. Another theme, not explored extensively, but relevant in building the picture is the extent to which the failure of diplomacy is a factor in rising militancy and some analysis of various negotiations that have taken place between government and these communities.

Questions that need answers

1. Is the resource curse concept and its environmental and economic impact, often described as causal to the rise in militancy, overplayed in existing academic scholarship on the subject?

2. Who exactly are the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (M.E.N.D.) and what are their aims? Other emerging groups? Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), the Bakassai Boys, the Coalition for Militant Action (COMA), the Niger Delta Vigilante Force (NDVF) etc.

3. How has ethnicity and past rivalries played a part in the escalation of militancy and is Oil just another stage where long standing feuds are being played out?

4. How different is militancy in the Niger Delta from that in other parts of Africa as a region and other continents for example piracy in Somalia and Militancy/Political Islam in the Arab world?

5. Is crime disguised as militancy and political activism?

What’s the best way to research this?

In addition to reading books and articles on the subject, the analysis of the proceedings of conferences that have been conducted on the subject on the last 10 years as it has grown into a mainstream issue in International Affairs.

It also helps to research newspaper articles, magazines, news on the subject in order to build your own clear timeline of events and actors in the rise of militancy.

Visit Nigeria for 2 weeks in the summer (hopefully it wont be too hot!) with the intention of interviewing academics and government officials that may have been involved in the ongoing attempt to resolve the Niger Delta crisis. The office of the governors of Rivers state, Bayelsa and Niger Delta states are all possibilities. In addition to this closely following the 2011 presidential elections and politics may also be relevant (seeing the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, and presidential candidate of the dominant party PDP, is a native of Niger Delta). Various commentators maintain this plays a significant role. The previous president Olusegun Obasanjo dedicated a lot of time negotiating with militants in the Niger Delta and interviewing various acquaintances in that administration of the proceedings of those negotiations will certainly shed a lot of light.

Archived news footage and documentaries on Niger Delta reporting is extensive and these will be reviewed.

The key challenge in this subject will be to bring out a clear academic scholarship analysis with clear IR or Security Studies concepts. Comparison of militancy in Nigeria with say other forms of militancy in other regions where there is more analysis e.g. Islamic militancy and fundamentalism may help. However, such an approach may divert from the focus and must be approached with care so the paper doesn’t end up being too general.

This is what I’ll be spending most of the rest of the year looking at, so keep your eyes peeled for more.

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