Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Is the Niger Delta Conflict in Nigeria Primordial, Materialistic or Instrumentalist?


There is some logic in focusing on assessing the primordial explanation for conflict in the Niger Delta. 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 are primarily primordial and look at historical ethnic rivalries in line with Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilisations. They look at how that affects the current political landscape and political motivations for and against militancy. The economic, in line with instrumentalist and materialistic viewpoints, focuses on the politics of oil, the greed element of the ‘Greed vs. Grievance’ debate as the cause of conflicts in New Wars and the ‘Dutch disease’ syndrome. The revolt against the Nigerian Government and Oil companies by the Ogoni people and MEND, its Human rights and legal implications and the protest against economic deprivation form the core of the environmental viewpoint and its further securitization. A simple literature review demonstrates the constructivist viewpoint that states a combination of all factors are causal. What needs further demonstration is that the primordial explanation in the case of the Niger Delta is sidelined by overplaying the materialistic instrumentalist perspective. By juxtaposing Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilisations with the Niger Delta account, it can be argued that Huntingdon’s account is more nuanced than is given credit by proposing stronger arguments in historical ethnic rivalries or social factors. By looking on the impact of oil politics on security and militancy, the question of how strong the link really is with oil is addressed and the relevancy of the ‘resource curse’. In contrast with a lot of literature, it becomes intriguing to find arguments that suggest oil plays a less poignant role than suggested. 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? 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? Is crime disguised as militancy and political activism? The proceedings of conferences conducted on the subject on the last 10 years show how this issue has grown into a mainstream issue in International Affairs. By building a clear timeline of events and actors in the rise of militancy gathered from interviews with academics and government officials involved in the ongoing attempt to resolve the Niger Delta crisis, a clearer picture of conflicting views appears.

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