Consolidating or Corrupting the Peace? The Power Elite and Amnesty Policy in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria
Consolidating or Corrupting the Peace? The Power Elite and Amnesty Policy in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria
Ndubuisi Nwokolo 0 1
Iro Aghedo 0 1
0 Department of Political Science, University of Benin , Benin City , Nigeria
1 School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham , Birmingham , UK
After granting unconditional amnesty to militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta region in 2009, the Nigerian federal government launched a comprehensive peace-building program anchored on disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) in a bid to arrest violent attacks on oil infrastructures. Puzzlingly, nearly a decade of costly DDR programming has not engendered sustainable peace in the region. This study, which draws on both primary and secondary sources of data, examines the resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta by problematizing the informal relations between power elites and youths. Analysis of responses from indepth interviews with various stakeholders in the peace process reveals that politics in the region is embedded in and governed by the informal logic of patron-clientelism and corruption. As a result, the post-conflict peace-building mechanisms of amnesty and DDR programs designed to build peace through youth empowerment have been captured and corrupted by power elites. In their do-or-die struggles for power positions and oil revenues, the elites have criminalized some ex-militants by mobilizing them as thugs, kidnappers, and oil thieves, thus posing a huge threat to sustainable peace and democratic consolidation in the region. The study indicts political desperation, systemic corruption, poor policy execution, and weak public institutions for the impunity of the elites and criminalized youths. It recommends value re-orientation and strengthening of public institutions to mitigate corruption and social violence among leaders and followers alike.
Niger Delta · Conflict · Amnesty · Peace building · Elite · Youths
It is not enough to end the war; we must build the peace; it is not enough to reject
the dark past; we must build a bright future—President Clinton at Sarajevo, Bosnia,
and Herzogovina, July 30, 1999.
Though efforts aimed at securing peace in the troubled Niger Delta region of
Nigeria have been on for decades, it is only recently that such peace-building
strategies have started to receive the sustained attention and importance that they deserve.
Since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, the revenue allocations to
Niger Delta states have been increased, a Niger Delta Development Commission
(NDDC) established, a new Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA) created, and
an unconditional amnesty declared for Niger Delta militants. This is a response to
the region’s agitation for political inclusion, socioeconomic distributional equity,
environmental security, and sustainable peace and development which the
inhabitants of Nigeria’s oil-producing region have been denied for years. Despite the
ubiquity of violent conflicts across Nigeria such as the Boko Haram terrorism, ethnic
militancy, farmers-herders’ clashes, and a burgeoning industry of ransom and ritual
kidnapping, the Niger Delta conflict has remained one of the most protracted in the
Following the implementation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP)
in the Niger Delta since 2009, the hitherto ‘oil war’ between armed Niger Delta
militants and state security agents and among several communal youth gangs
themselves reduced considerably. The cessation of hostilities aided the homecoming of
internally displaced persons (IDPs), the return of oil companies to their abandoned
oil wells and sites, and an increment in oil production for both local consumption
and export. From average oil production of 700,000–800,000 barrels per day at the
peak of the conflict in 2006–2008, the current production estimate is between 2.4
and 2.6 million barrels per day
. However, these modest achievements
of the PAP have come under intense security threats in recent months on account
of the resurgence of violent youth hostilities in the Niger Delta. The last 2 years
have witnessed the re-emergence of militant groups such as the Niger Delta
Avengers (NDA), the Reformed Egbesu Boys of the Niger Delta (REBND), Adaka Boro
Avengers (ABA), Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force (JNDLF), Niger Delta
Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate
(MDGJM), among others
(Abutudu and Aghedo 2015)
The youth groups whose membership comprise some hitherto law-abiding youths
and ex-militants have bombed and destroyed a number of oil pipelines in the region,
posing a huge threat to human lives, livelihoods, and critical economic investments.
Since oil accounts for over 40% of Nigeria’s GDP, 95% of its export, and 83% of
(Idemudia 2017: 9)
, the resurgence of conflict therefore
threatens the amnesty program, the country’s economy, and even the prospect of
democratic consolidation. Thus, this article examines the efficacy of state-led peace
building in one of Africa’s resource rich and most volatile regions. It is aimed at shedding
light on two inter-related questions: Why have government efforts failed to produce
sustainable peace in the Niger Delta? What roles have the elites played in
undermining the PAP and the peace process in general? In the examination of the intricate
relations between youth groups and power elites, the article reveals how the private
agendas of these varied actors diminish the cost of violence and increase the lucre of
violence in supposedly peacetime.
The article argues that the amnesty deal is incapable of producing sustainable
peace and development in the region, because many of the power elites in the area
have become cogs in the wheel through their activities which are inimical to durable
peace building. Thus, the article shakes up the wholesale adoption and
implementation of international packages for peace, such as amnesty and disarmament,
demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) without a proper scrutiny of contextual
developments and politics on the ground. Yet, as the Nigeria’s PAP exemplifies, otherwise
international best practices in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction can be
co-opted and reinterpreted to promote the entrenched self-interests of the elites.
The article draws on both primary and secondary sources of data. Both authors
had earlier conducted a number of interviews with several stakeholders in the Niger
Delta including militants and political actors. Also, one of the authors hails from
the Niger Delta and teaches in a university located in the area, and thus has had
wide-ranging interactions with some of the conflict actors as well as witnessed
political developments in the area directly. However, the in-depth interviews used in this
study were conducted with conflict experts including ex-militants, security agents,
academics, civil society, and politicians. The interviews were conducted by one of
the authors in August 2015 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, December 2016, in Port
Harcourt, Rivers State, and February 2017 in Warri, Delta State. Structurally, the article
is organized into six sections. Immediately following this introduction is the
conceptual and theoretical section which exposes the main concepts used in the discourse
and explains the rentier theory deployed in the analysis. The third section maps the
tortuous trajectory of conflict-to-peace transition in the Niger Delta and discusses
the rationale, phases, as well as the challenges of the PAP. The fourth section
unravels the political strategies employed by the elites in their relations with the youth
cohorts to promote their selfish interests, thereby undermining the peace process.
The fifth section explains the implications and drivers of the elites–youths’
interactions, while the sixth and final section concludes with some recommendations.
2 Rentier Elite: Conceptual and Theoretical Discourses
The clarification of the concepts of ‘amnesty’ and ‘peace building’ is crucial to a
good grasp of this discourse. As used in this article, the term ‘amnesty’ refers to “a
guarantee of exemption from prosecution and pardon from punishment for certain
criminal, rebel and insurgent actions hitherto committed usually against the state”
Ikelegbe (2010: 3–4). The pardon is usually backed by law and granted within a
given time frame during which the recipients admit their crimes and submit their
weapons. For instance in Nigeria, Section 175(1–3) of the 1999 Constitution
empowers the President to “grant any person concerned with or convicted of any
offense created by an act of the National Assembly a pardon, either free or subject to
lawful conditions” (Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999).
In contrast to the narrow, superficial, and state-centric conception of peace
building as a means of avoiding outbreak, recurrence or prolongation of violent conflicts
: 119)], the term is used more broadly in this article not only
to denote the absence of physical violence such as war and terrorism, but also the
conditions that predispose them including poverty, repression, injustice, and other
(Ikelegbe 2010: 6)
. Conceived this way, peace building comprises both
hard approach (establishment of physical security) and soft approach (elimination
of conditions which undermine human wellbeing) as it can take a short, medium,
or long term to execute. On account of these varied dimensions,
20) argues that peace building “encompasses, generates and sustains the full array
of processes, approaches, and the stages needed to transform conflict toward more
sustainable, peaceful relationships”.
Also, since oil is the life wire of the Nigerian economy and the fact that the
resource occupies a critical conjecture in Niger Delta’s social existence, this article
was anchored on the rentier theory which is a twenty-first century variant of the
classical elite theory. The rentier elite theory has been developed and used in
explicating the debilitating crises bedeviling natural resource states and regions. A
number of scholars have come up with empirical evidences to show that states which
rely mainly on external rents derivable from natural endowments such as oil, gas,
diamonds, and timber are vulnerable to poor governmental accountability,
corruption, leadership power tussles, civil conflicts, and authoritarian rule
Auty 1993; Karl 1997; Collier and Hoefter 2005)
. In developing the theory,
Mahdavy (1970: 428) conceptualized a ‘rentier state’ as one that depends substantially
on rents emanating from external sources. By extension, those at the helm of
governmental affairs in such a state are ‘rentier elite’. In his elucidation of the theory,
argued that a rentier state depends on rents which are paid by
external actors and that such rents are accruable directly to states. In his
contribution, Ross (2001: 3) opined that such rents are usually generated by a few
minorities, while the majority is only involved in its distribution. Though initially applied
exclusively to the Arab Middle East States, the rentier thesis has now gained wide
usage in the study of mineral-producing states and areas in Asia, Latin America, and
Following this development,
argued that since most rentier states and
their elites depend mostly on a single natural resource, this leads to the emergence
of capital-intensive enclave industrial sector which relies on finite primary
commodity rather than agricultural cash crops. The ability of the resource, especially oil,
to generate unprecedented rents and the accrual of such huge ‘unearned’ rents in
the economy spurns a myriad of unwholesome effects for the people, government,
and the states at large. For instance, the enormous inflows of mineral rents into the
domestic economy leads to appreciation of the exchange rate which consequently
renders the agricultural and manufacturing sectors uncompetitive—a process known
as the ‘Dutch disease’
(Auty 1993: 3, 5)
Furthermore, the inflows of such rents into the state coffers obviate the need for
taxation, making the governments maintain a relative degree of autonomy from the
society. In most resource-rich developing countries such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia,
and Kuwait, the governments hardly tax their populations, thereby making it less
likely for the citizens to demand accountability from their representatives or
governments, thus precluding a major mechanism for checking corruption in governmental
. Yet, as Charles
has noted, the present efficient
public administration system in modern European states is largely traceable to the
tax regime engendered by the need to extract fiscal resources to finance the war and
state-making efforts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The absence of such
corruption check mechanisms in resource-rich states has predisposed rentier elites
to (ab)use the huge availability of ‘unearned rents’ on patronage, buying off
opposition, and financing conflicts to consolidate power as exemplified by the Niger Delta
Added to these, the struggle to capture political power in such a rentier context
becomes fierce, making machine political actors stop at nothing in the quest for
fiscal resources. As a result, elite political competition has assumed a frightening
dimension where the use of thugs, kidnapping, and assassination of opponents has
become instruments of the game, making politics “so intense, anarchic and violent”
(Ake 1996: 24)
. This has made the African political landscape replete with electoral
violence and democracy by force
. As rightly noted by
376), the “internal dynamics of spoils politics” is at the core of the African state
crisis and the inability of the elite to ensure peace in much of the troubled
continent. However, though many anti-state groups foreground a discourse of grievance
against the state and its rentier elite, many of them are easily co-opted, corrupted,
and hijacked by the elite whom they claim to be fighting, owing to the groups’
poverty, political patronage, and ideological deficits
No doubt, it is formidable building peace in such a rentier context where
“political elites rely on criminal networks to finance their wars, while criminal gangs
benefit from the lack of law and order, accountability, and transparency that sustains
their ‘business’ and keeps these elites in power”
: 165). Efforts aimed
at breaking the alliance between such elites and gangs with vested interests in
conflict often lead to renewed violence because of the threat of peace that would offset
their wartime gains.
: 7) uses the phrase ‘elite capture’ to describe
such situation when “elites control, shape, or manipulate decision making processes,
institutions, or structures in ways that serve their self-interests and priorities,
typically resulting in personal gain at the expense of non-elite and community interests
3 Tortuous Trajectory: Conflict and the Struggle for Peace in the Niger
The Niger Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world, with its mangrove forests
extending over 3750 square miles in its location around the tributaries of the River
Niger in Southeastern Nigeria. The region contains over 95% of Nigeria’s known oil
and gas reserves. Its populations of about 33 million are spread over the nine
oilproducing states of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo,
(Naanem 2007; Obi 2014)
. The Niger Delta has been embroiled in one
conflict or the other for several decades. Prior to Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the
region and some other ethnic minority groups expressed fear of likely domination by
larger ethnic groups after independence. The discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1956 and
the export of crude oil a few years later did not only launch the Niger Delta into the
capricious global energy political economy, but also brought the region under the
muzzling influence of transnational oil companies (TNCs) and local voracious elites
Thus, the Niger Delta conflict involves several actors and stakeholders. The
conflict trends and trajectory have been driven mainly by poor response to local
grievances. The inhabitants of the region accuse the national government of
marginalizing the Niger Delta in the sharing of revenues from the Federation Account.
Consequently, they agitate for a larger chunk of the rents since the oil is sourced
from their homelands. They blame the larger ethnic groups (Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and
Yoruba) who dominate political power for what they see as inadequate revenue
allocation to oil-producing states and the enactment of obnoxious laws to dispossess the
local people of their lands
(Sagay 2004; Suberu 2001; Frynas 1999)
. Also, the
agitators have accused the TNCs including the global oil giant, Shell Petroleum
Development Company, of environmental degradation and poor corporate responsibility
because of the negative externalities of oil exploration especially gas flaring and oil
. Besides the damage to human health, ecosystem, and local
livelihoods such as farming and fishing, the monetary value of the flared gas is
estimated at US$2 billion a year
. Also, out of the estimated 387,168.87
barrels of oil spilled between 1976 and 1996, only 118,387 barrels were recovered
. In addition, people agitate over the poor social services and terrible rates of
unemployment and poverty in the region, which are believed to be higher than the
Essentially, the inadequate state and corporate responses to these grievances have
fueled a wave of mass mobilization for resource control and later
self-determination, beginning in the 1990s
. Even though the protests were largely
peaceful, they attracted repressive reactions from the government including
arbitrary arrests, detentions, assaults, rapes, and even extra-judicial killings
. State highhandedness came to a head in 1995 when the renowned writer Ken
Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni environmentalists were hanged by the Sani
Abacha regime after a widely condemned trial by a military tribunal. This was followed
by the destruction of communities accused of harboring militants by state security
agents as was the case at Odi in 2000
. These led to the emergence of
insurgent groups with different motivations and a radicalization of the conflict from
the mid-2000s. In February 2006, Jomo Gbomo (spokesman for the umbrella
insurgent organization MEND) warned:
All pipelines, flow stations, and crude loading platforms will be targeted, for
destruction. We are not communists, just a bunch of extremely bitter men
(Shaxson 2007: 205)
Truly, in a show of growing sophistication, MEND detonated car bombs with
remote control in 2006 to warn the Chinese government against the oil deal with
Nigeria. The group deployed Ak-47 and other deadly weapons including
rocketpropelled grenades. This was followed by the targeted shooting of security agents,
bomb attacks on oil infrastructures, and kidnapping of expatriate oil staff for huge
ransoms. Insurgent assaults on oil installations and horrendous theft of crude oil cost
the government $6.8 billion losses in revenue between 1999 and 2004 and increased
dramatically to about $60 million per day (roughly, $4.4 billion per annum) in
damages and lost revenues in 2007
. Similarly, over $1billion ransom was
paid out to militants between 2004 and 2007 to secure the release of kidnapped oil
. At the peak of the insurgency in 2008, the Niger Delta
renewed conflict had resulted in almost 1000 deaths
(Onapajo and Moshood 2016)
As a result of the huge costs of insurgent violence on Nigeria’s rentier economy,
the government was forced to set up a number of interventionist agencies to develop
the impoverished Niger Delta region. Some of the agencies included the Oil
Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992, the NDDC
in 1999, and the MNDA in 2008. Several peace committees and commissions were
also empaneled to ascertain both the immediate and remote causes of the conflict
and recommend strategies for building peace. Unfortunately, most of the agencies
were inadequately funded by government, badly managed by its officials including
Niger Delta elites appointed to the boards, and the revenues allocated to the
agencies were embezzled and hence they failed to realize their mandates and mitigate
underdevelopment and conflicts
. Some Niger Delta governments,
especially Delta and Rivers states, established reconciliation commissions between
2004 and 2007 with the aim of disarming militant youths and providing them with
legitimate sources of income. But the reintegration phases of these programs failed
and the arms for cash peace deals aggravated the conflict as the monies given to
militants were used to buy new weapons
(Africa Development Report 2008/2009)
hence the need for more concrete peace-building strategies.
3.1 The Presidential Amnesty Program
Following the effect of dwindling oil production on the Nigeria’s rentier state
coupled with the failure of using a repressive strategy to quell the Niger Delta
rebellion, the Musa Yar’Adua administration on June 25, 2009 announced an amnesty
package for militants in the Niger Delta. However, the state pardon was not without
some historical developments. Three fundamental incidents resulted in the amnesty.
First, the South-South Legislative Retreat organized by the Vanguard Newspapers
in conjunction with the South-South governors in 2008 had suggested in its
communiqué that amnesty should be granted to the militants. Second, the Security and
Peace Committee chaired by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan had visited the
militant camps in the Niger Delta between 2007 and 2009 to encourage the militants
to shun hostilities and embrace peace. Third, the Niger Delta Technical Committee
headed by Mr. Ledum Mitee had also recommended the use of amnesty to mitigate
youth restiveness in the region
(Ikelegbe and Umukoro 2016)
In a show of sincerity of the amnesty, the government set up a Presidential
Amnesty Implementation Committee headed by retired Major General Godwin Abe
to oversee the program and approved a grant of ₦50 billion for its take off. The
Niger Delta militants were given between August 6 and October 4, 2009 to
surrender their weapons and accept the peace deal. For those in detention such as MEND
leader Henry Okah, the government entered into a ‘nolle prosequi’ (no case). Thus,
Okah who was standing trial for a 62-count charge was released. Probably because
of government’s highhandedness in the past, a few militant leaders who were on the
‘wanted list’ of the government remained skeptical and were reluctant in accepting
the amnesty. Such militant leaders included Ateke Tom of the Niger Delta Vigilante
Service (NDVS) and MEND commander Government Ekpemukpolo (popularly
known as Tompolo). It took the intervention of some local politicians before the
duo and thousands of their foot soldiers were convinced to accept the amnesty on
October 3, 2009. They had thought the amnesty was a government strategy to lure
them out of their camps in the creeks for eventual prosecution
(Aghedo 2013; Ushie
Thus, the Nigeria’s Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP) which was based on a
DDR mantra was, however, unique in several respects. Unlike what was obtained
in some other African countries such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, and Sudan
where the DDR emerged as a contract between warring factions or as a condition for
conflict resolution upon the attainment of victory by one side to a conflict
2009; Sanz 2009)
, the Niger Delta case was different. The PAP was neither the
outcome of outright war situation nor a bargain between warring factions. Also, unlike
the other African experiences, the amnesty extended to Niger Delta militants did
not involve the United Nations Organization, any of its specialized agencies, or any
other international group for that matter. Therefore, it was seen as a ‘home-grown’
solution to the perennial Niger Delta conflict. Yet, in line with recognized
international standards of DDR programming, the Nigerian experience was organized and
implemented in phases as discussed below.
As typical of most DDR programs, the disarmament phase involves the surrender
of arms, arms control and monitoring, and arms destruction. In the Niger Delta, the
surrender of arms by militants was done in three phases. The first phase was under
the administration of Yar’Adua in 2009 when 20,192 agitators accepted the amnesty
and handed in their weapons. The second phase took place in 2010 when Goodluck
Jonathan was acting president following the death of Yar’Adua who initiated the
PAP. Under the second phase, 6166 militants were granted amnesty. Most fighters
captured under this phase had complained of their exclusion from the initial phase.
However, 842 non-militant youths were selected from communities affected by
violence and included in the second phase
(Ikelegbe and Umukoro 2016)
. The third
phase occurred in 2012 after the election of Goodluck Jonathan as president. Under
this phase, 3642 militants were granted amnesty bringing the total number of the
beneficiaries of the state pardon to 30,000 (see Table 1 below).
Consequent upon this, all the arms were surrendered at the six designated depots
in Edo, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River states. A total of
First phase of amnesty
Second phase of amnesty
Third phase of amnesty
Demobilization and transformational training
Formal education and vocational training
Transformed ex-militants for reintegration
287,445 ammunitions, 2760 assorted arms, 18 gunboats, 763 dynamite sticks, 1090
dynamite caps, and 3155 magazines among other weapons were surrendered by the
. A breakdown of submitted weapons reveals that 82,406
came from Rivers State, 139,877 from Bayelsa State, 52,958 from Delta State, 9748
from Cross River State, 9725 from Ondo State, 959 from Akwa Ibom State, and
722 from Edo State
(Ikelegbe and Umukoro 2014)
. They were stored at the 82
Division of the Nigeria Army in Enugu in December 2009 and finally destroyed in May
2011. The government made it clear that there would be no cash for arms.
However, the sum of ₦1500 was paid to each ex-militant for feeding in a day. Also, a
monthly stipend of ₦20,000 was paid to the ex-fighters, bringing the total payments
to ₦65,000 in a month (Aghedo 2013).
Usually, demobilization exercises involve registration, transportation, cantonment,
as well as pre-discharge orientation and discharge of ex-militants. In line with this
tradition, the demobilization of ex-militants in the Niger Delta included the
identification, registration, and documentation of the ex-militants in different camps. The
rehabilitation exercises which started in 2010 were done in batches and included
biometric documentation, physical wellness checks, counseling, career
classification, and non-violence transformational training. The exercises took place at the
Obubra Camp in Cross River State. The demobilization phase was concluded in
Normally, the reintegration program entails both formal and vocational training as well
as business development and employment support of ex-militants. Both educational
and entrepreneurial support have been provided for ex-militants by the Nigerian
government. Vocational skills acquisitions and trainings have been provided in agriculture,
automobile, welding and fabrication, oil drilling and marine, boat building, carpentry,
plumbing, information and communications technology, entrepreneurship, and others.
As at August 2017, a total number of 22,000 ex-militants had been trained in vocational
and entrepreneurship development. Similarly, 5000 ex-militants had also acquired
formal education according to the Amnesty Coordinator Paul Boroh. The ex-militants
were educated in 28 foreign institutions in 15 countries and 36 local institutions in 10
states in Nigeria. This brings the total number of those trained in both vocational and
formal education to 27,000 out of the initial 30,000 ex-militants. Boroh said more of
the remaining 3000 will be graduated before December 17, 2017
August 28, 2017)
Thus, there is no doubt that the PAP has recorded some success stories. Despite the
current resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta, the amnesty policy has prevented a
full-blown ‘resource war’ since 2009. But for the PAP which has been used to rein in
militancy and allowed unhindered oil production, the current economic recession of
the country would have been worse. Despite the sharp fall in the price of oil in the last
2 years, Nigeria has managed to keep its oil production above two million barrels per
day through the instrumentality of the PAP which has been strategically used to secure
the social license to operate. Beyond the economic gains, the PAP has also engendered
other benefits. For instance, the amnesty program has resulted in the empowerment of
many youths through skills acquisition and formal education locally and abroad.
Certainly, most of the beneficiaries of the government gesture would not have been
able to afford such trainings on their own. Even more heartening is the fact that a few of
them have been provided with employment. For example, four ex-militants who were
enrolled at the Benson Idahosa University in Benin City graduated with First Class
and were employed by the university as lecturers
. What is more, even
some former militants were elected as lawmakers in the Rivers State legislative
assembly in 2015
. Notwithstanding these success stories, the implementation of
PAP has been fraught with challenges many of which stem from the undue influence
unleashed on the peace process and its beneficiaries by the political elites.
4 Youth in Elite Power Calculus: Peace Building and the Politics of Securitization
The activities of the Niger Delta political elites have corrupted rather than consolidated
the peace efforts in the area. Even though illegal, these diverse political manipulations
are functional as they are aimed at promoting the interests of the elites. The strategies
can be summarized under the following sub-headings for analytical convenience, even
though they are more mutually reinforcing than exclusive.
4.1 Violent Empowerment in the Democratic Process
Political competition in the post-military era has witnessed immense
transformation across Nigeria in recent years, especially in Niger Delta states where huge rents
accrue on account of the derivation principle used in allocating oil-related rents.
Considering their mastery of violence, ex-militants have been well sought after by
politicians during elections to steal ballot boxes, scare voters away, harass
opponents, and sometimes assassinate political rivals of those they support. Such
criminal interface between disgruntled elites and some ex-militants is mostly revealed
when they fall out usually after election. For example, former militant leader
Solomon Ndigbara (popularly known as Osama bin Laden), who has been declared
wanted by the security agents since 2016 for gun running and kidnapping in the
Ogoni area of Rivers State, recently granted a press conference and accused both
political, religious, and traditional elites for his ordeal and the resurgence of
violence in much of the Niger Delta:
Politicians have made me homeless. When I was here (Gokana), there was no
cultism. The chiefs, the churches are not helping matters. Because of politics,
politicians bought guns for the youths for election. After politics, they
(politicians) cannot take the guns away from the youths. That is why they (youths)
are using them for kidnapping. Some traditional rulers are members of cult
groups. You cannot stay in Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoniland, till
6 pm without being kidnapped
Sadly, the use of ex-militants to perpetrate electoral violence has posed a huge
threat to the Niger Delta peace process. For example, during the re-run election
in Bayelsa State in 2016, over 17 persons including two soldiers and four
policemen were shot dead by ex-militants and other youths employed by desperate
. The re-scheduled elections in seven out of the eight
local government areas of the state were marred by violence, especially in Brass,
Nembe, and Ekeremor towns and several parts of Southern Ijaw Local Government
Area. Ballot boxes and other election materials were snatched at gun points by thugs
employed by politicians, forcing voters to scuttle for safety
during the Edo State 2016 gubernatorial election, some ex-militants were arrested
with AK47 rifles while working for some local politicians
the widespread condemnation of such violence locally and internationally,
election results are announced and winners declared, making a mockery of democracy
in Nigeria. One respondent in Port Harcourt confirmed the culpability of the elites
when he opined:
The elites can go to any length in abusing the young people to achieve their
aims. They employ them as thugs, kidnappers, assassins, name it. In doing
this, they arm them with deadly weapons. But unfortunately, when they
quarrel, the youths who have been armed go away to make a living with the
weapons, making the quest for peace a difficult and unrealizable task.1
Such elite mobilization for violence sometimes extends beyond the sub-national
level, thus widening ethno-religious cleavages in the country. Such was the case
during the 2015 presidential election campaigns between the incumbent president,
1 Interview with a civil society advocate in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on December 11, 2016.
southern Christian and Ijaw-born Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic
Party (PDP) and former military head of state and northern Muslim Muhammadu
Buhari of the Action Congress of Nigeria (APC). The campaign for the PDP in the
south was characterized by hate speech. In the Niger Delta where Goodluck
Jonathan hails from, local elites organized and sponsored protesters (known locally as
‘borrowed crowd’) with placards bearing inscriptions that Nigeria would be plunged
into war if Jonathan did not win the election. Some ex-militant leaders
including Government Ekpemukpolo and Dokubo Asari issued war threats during some
of the rallies. The APC presidential flag bearer was called all sorts of names and
even labeled an ‘Islamic terrorist’. As a result, northern youths were also paid and
mobilized in a reprisal protests against the PDP flag bearer and Niger Delta
militants leading to violent clashes
. As noted by
Olaniyan and Asuelime
, divisive behaviors and utterances are often deployed by Nigerian rentier
elites to widen social cleavages and in the process promote their selfish interests.
One respondent explained the protesters’ motivations in both economic and ethnic
terms when he said:
Even though most of the protesters (remember some youths also joined the
bandwagon uninvited) were financially induced, but some of them also
participated because Goodluck Jonathan is our man. He is a son of the soil. Apart
from being an Ijaw person, Goodluck is also a Christian.2
Such widening of social cleavages and ‘son of the soil’ syndrome promote
politics of acrimony which often result in ethno-religious conflicts between supporters
and opponents of candidates. Besides, such patron–clientelist relations between rich
elites and poor followers involve the exchange of “‘goods’ in the form of projects,
gifts, offices and other pecuniary gains to client”
(Olumuyiwa and Akinpelu 2007:
. The clients reciprocate by giving their loyalty, largely objectified through
votes—a practice inimical to the ideals of democratization.
4.2 Corruption and Economic Sabotage of Oil Infrastructures
Besides arming youth groups for mayhem, some so-called political leaders have
connived with ex-militant leaders to embezzle peace-building funds, especially those
meant for the former ‘camp boys’ of the ex-militant leaders. In a recent
development, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested some
exmilitants and bank officials who colluded with them to divert the ₦3 billion meant
to pay 1500 beneficiaries of the amnesty program. The properties in which such
embezzled funds were invested were also confiscated by the anti-corruption agency
. Such corrupt enrichment and profiteering from the peace process
leads to public protests by those short changed, resulting in arson and threat to
public safety. As evidenced by the assassination of ex-MEND leader Soboma George
by his former protégés for tampering with their stipends, such corruption also fuels
conflicts and violent killings
. However, such embezzlement of
2 Interview with a youth leader in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on August 15, 2015.
amnesty funds is not without the connivance of the elites as shown by the alleged
diversion of ₦2.8 billion between March 2012 and 2013 by the former Coordinator
of the Amnesty Program Kingsley Kuku and a former Deputy Speaker of the House
Furthermore, elites have also deployed unemployed militant youths to perpetrate
large-scale oil theft known locally as ‘oil bunkering’. Even though this economic
sabotage was used as a means of financing militant campaigns in the pre-amnesty
era, it has witnessed a huge surge in recent years
. Certainly, the illegal
tapping of crude oil from pipelines or well heads does not only affect the rentier
economy negatively, but also degrades the environment through oil spillage as
“significant portions of stolen crude are spilled blighting large swathes of the
(Chukwu 2011: 56)
. However, even some ex-militants admit that the crime is
perpetrated by all manners of people including themselves, oil industry staff,
political elites, and security officials. According to one ex-militant leader:
Militants and ex-militants are often blamed for oil bunkering and the oil spill
that follows such activity. But a lot of people are involved. Sometimes, even
the ex-militants work for or work with politicians who provide the security
coverage and help secure release when things go wrong. Serving and some
former oil workers provide the technical know-how. Also, many security
agents such as naval, army, and police officials do not only collect bribes on
land and seas from those involved in bunkering but they also get involved in
the planning and execution of the act. Even many security officials pay big
money to influence their posting to areas where bunkering happens because of
the monies they get from it.3
In confirmation of the organized crime, many political and security figures have
been indicted in the last few years. There was a puzzling incident in 2010 in which
the Joint Task Force (JTF) confiscated two vessels owned by two retired generals for
alleged oil bunkering. It was later alleged by the managing director of Tim Afriuque
Services at a press briefing that the JTF commander had requested a ₦50 million
gratification before he could release the two vessels whose contents laboratory tests
had proved illegal. The JTF commander denied the allegation and handed over the
vessels to the EFCC office in Port Harcourt. After a short while, the EFCC released
the vessels saying that there was no proof of illegality against them
. It is alleged that elites who sponsor oil bunkering syndicates use the
money realized from the crude theft to finance their political activities and other
business interests (Oyefusi 2008).
4.3 Undermining the Rule of Law and National Cohesion
In the same vein, several calls for ex-president Goodluck Jonathan to be invited for
questioning over the corruption scandals which characterized his administration
and involved many of his aides have met with stiff opposition from Niger Delta
exmilitants. They accuse the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration as
3 Interview with an ex-militant leader in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, on August 28, 2015.
politically motivated, threatening to resume bomb attacks on oil infrastructures if
such ‘witch hunt’ was not stopped and the pipeline protection contracts awarded to
them under the Goodluck Jonathan administration not reinstated
Even the ongoing prosecution of some Niger Delta ex-militants by the Department
of State Services (DSS) is being resisted with protest by ex-militants aided by local
politicians who have condemned the DSS for allegedly detaining gang leader Mr.
Sely Kile Torugbedi without trial
(Sahara Reporters July 2, 2017)
. Though the
incumbent Buhari administration has used its anti-corruption policy more for
‘persecution’ rather than ‘prosecution’ because of its fixation on people in rival parties, the
opposition to the rule of law by Niger Delta elites and ex-militants is underpinned by
the moral economy of corruption. Indeed, most African rentier elites are
characterized by hybrid traits on account of poor accountability, since they have lee recourse
to taxation. They rely on state power for access to material wealth which is largely
misused and distributed to families and friends in a moral economy of reciprocity
. Even though this cultural give-and-take tradition is functional as it
enables the elites who are fragmented along regional, ethnic, and religious lines to
mobilize and manipulate primordial sentiments in promoting their selfish interests,
they fuel abysmal corruption and identity conflicts
Even more appalling is the fact that such opposition to the rule of law has been
extended beyond Nigeria. For instance, during the trial of James Ibori, former
governor (1999–2007) of Delta State at the Southwark Crown Court in London, a
number of ex-militants and Ibori’s loyalists from Nigeria flew to London to stage
protests and chant songs for his freedom
(The Nigerian Voice 2011)
. However, despite
this glorification of corruption, Ibori was convicted of nearly £50 million (about
$77 million) fraud and money laundering and was jailed for 13 years in 2012
News, April 17, 2012)
. Earlier, efforts to arrest Ibori were resisted by militant youths
who attacked the police team in Oghara, thus aiding the influential politician to
escape to Dubai. He was later arrested by Interpol in Dubai and extradited to the UK
where he pleaded guilty to charges leveled against him by the Metropolitan Police
(BBC News April 17, 2012; Okonjo-Iweala 2012)
Even Westerners attest to the hybrid character of Niger Delta militant youths.
ExAmerican ambassador to Nigeria perceptively noted that the umbrella militant
organization MEND was “highly decentralized with its political goals muddled by gang
warfare, ethnic strife, and criminal opportunism”
(Campbell 2013: 65)
. On account of such
mixed motives in conflict situations,
admonished that conflict should not
be explained at face value and understood as a contest between two or more opposing
groups (e.g., elites versus militants) because many so-called enemies derive incentives
from conflict situation and collude to promote their vested interests by promoting
conflict rather than building peace. No doubt, the criminalization of the peace process has
posed a huge challenge to the realization of the goals of PAP. Perhaps because of elites’
incentives in the conflict situation, they have been clamoring for continuation of the
peace deal which has been extended to 2018. But in what appears to be light at the end
of the dark tunnel, some ex-militants have recently become critical of the roles of the
Niger Delta elites in the peace process by calling on them to stop their nefarious
activities and allow peace to prevail. According to Reuben Wilson (former militant leader
and now president of Leadership, Peace and Cultural Development Initiative):
Though some politicians may want to derail the said efforts of Boroh and
cause unnecessary tension and distractions in the region, but we want to say
that working together in synergy with the federal government should rather be
considered by all
Similarly, some politicians have begun to admit that they messed up the chances
for Niger Delta youths to grow into responsible adults. The newly elected senator of
Rivers East Senatorial District, Chief Andrew Uchendu, blamed the political,
traditional, and religious elites for the underdevelopment of the youths and their
disposition to violence
(Vanguard September 1, 2017)
5 Peace of the Graveyard: Understanding the Logic of Violence in the Post‑amnesty Era
A number of explanations could be advanced for the peace of the graveyard4 in
contemporary Niger Delta region. First, this ‘no war, no peace’ situation engendered
by elites’ abuse of the amnesty program is a fallout out of political desperation.
Certainly, political actors in Nigeria conceive politics as investment that must yield
profitable dividends. This crude conception of politics makes the struggle for power
to assume a ruthless and zero sum dimension, leading to the deployment of violent
strategies to secure access to public position
. Thus, this violent struggle
is largely driven by primitive wealth accumulation on account of the enormous oil
rents accruing to state coffers from the Federation Account. Thus, the amount of
wealth accruing to an office determines the amount of violence deployed to occupy
the office by the elites. While this is a nation-wide phenomenon, political
desperation in the Niger Delta has been exceptional because of the huge rents allocated to
the oil-producing states based on the exclusive principle of derivation. As the table
below shows, the revenue accruing to Rivers State in the Niger Delta exceeds those
of some African states put together.
Rivers State revenue compared with that of four other African countries. Source: Francis et al. (2011: 44)
2009 budget (USS)TR
4 As used here, ‘graveyard peace’ refers to a situation of forced peace which is not sustainable.
These huge rents have turned political competition to a ‘do-or-die’ affair where
politicians resort to all instruments of violence to ‘win’ elections. This came out
strongly in the view expressed by one respondent when he said:
Politics is too lucrative in the Niger Delta region. The state governments
control the huge revenues from the federal government. Their revenue allocations
are the highest in the federation because they are oil producing. As a result of
these oil rents, the politicians use all means possible to acquire government
power. This is why the rate of violence is higher here than in other parts of
the country. These politicians employ energetic young men, particularly
former militants who know how to handle the gun. They pay and arm these young
people to destroy the property of their political opponents. Politicians
mastermind the beating, kidnap, or even assassination of their rivals. Election in
Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers states are always like war.5
Despite the political goal and collective ideology of justice of youth
organizations such as MEND, a number of ex-militants have always had a criminal bent and
maintained close ties with political godfathers in the region. This association has
enabled the politicians to arm the insurgents and deploy them against political
opponents. As Billy Dudley argued, that politics is “the principal avenue to wealth and
the possession of wealth the ‘pathway’ to membership of the political class”
(Dudley 1970: 53)
. This symmetry has resulted in a horizontal and hierarchical
stratification of society, “with politics becoming the chief means to the acquisition of wealth,
and membership of the political class became a highly sought after goal”
. The case of the Bakassi Boys is exemplary on this point. The Bakassi
Boys vigilante discharged an effective anti-crime mandate in the eastern Nigerian
cities of Aba and Onitsha until they were hijacked by local politicians. After
derailing the Bakassi Boys, politicians used them to harass their opponents and to
perpetrate different forms of human rights violations including extra-judicial murders
. Similarly, the corruption of a number of militia groups by local
political actors in northern Nigeria led to their derailment and eventual
metamorphosis of some of them into insurgent movements
Equally, the alliance with disgruntled politicians granted the insurgents access to
oil rents, especially through the amnesty deal. For example, between 2009 and 2011,
a whopping sum of ₦127 billion was allocated to PAP from the federal budget. The
lack of openness and transparency that characterized the disbursement and
expenditure of these rents led to their embezzlement by politicians and ex-militant leaders
. As one interviewee noted:
Peace will continue to elude the region until some of us politicians and
socalled former warlords (ex-militant leaders you called them) stop privatizing
the money allocated to build peace. How could the sum of ₦90 billion have
been used to feed former militants between 2009 and 2011 alone? If not to
ensure that the amnesty funds go to the wrong hands, why does the
govern5 Interview with a professor of sociology at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, December 12,
ment pay the monthly stipends meant for ex-fighters into the bank accounts of
their leaders rather than directly to the boys? This is the Niger Delta, the more
you look, the less you see.6
As noted earlier, some politicians and ex-militant leaders have corruptly enriched
themselves with monies meant for their protégés, leading to protests and the
assassinations. Relatedly, perhaps for their loyalty and services to the political elites, former
warlords in the region were politically ‘settled’ with lucrative pipeline protection
contracts during the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Revelations have emerged
that ex-militant leaders Dokubo Asari, Victor Ben Ebikabowei, Ateke Tom, and
Government Ekpemupolo were paid annually huge sums of $9 million, $3.8 million,
$3.8 million, and $22.9 million, respectively, to protect the oil pipelines they used to
vandalize in the pre-amnesty era
(Eke 2014; Oriola et al. 2013)
. The revocation of
such shady contracts and ongoing prosecution of some Goodluck Jonathan’s aides
over the US$2.1 billion arms scam since 2015 has continued to elicit threats against
Interestingly, while the amnesty funds and the huge rents dispensed as
patronage favored some youth groups particularly those of Ijaw extraction, they excluded
others including many women and children who lost their breadwinners. The ethnic
lopsidedness of the peace process was expressed by one respondent who said:
The Ijaw political elites have used the amnesty program to mainly benefit their
people. Prominent Ijaw and a few Urhobo politicians were given slots to
provide names as beneficiaries of the amnesty. Such gesture was hardly extended
to the Itsekiri and Isoko ethnic groups. Even in sending former militants
abroad for training and in awarding pipeline protection contracts, the Ijaw
people were favored because of the influence of their politicians under the
Goodluck Jonathan administration. This is why the Itsekiri and Isoko militants who
surrendered their weapons have been protesting their abandonment since. But
they have not been listened to.7
Certainly, such ethnic favoritism by both national and local elites has fueled the
power tussle between the Ijaw-born Tompolo and the Itsekiri youth leader Ayiri
Emami. However, while the charge of Itsekiri marginalization is true to some extent
as evidenced by the recent pacification of the ethnic group with 52 UK scholarship
slots, yet Ijaw indigenes’ dominance on the PAP may be because oil extraction
activities and negative externalities take place more in their littoral areas more than
anywhere else in the region.
To worsen the situation, the state has practically been building peace on
insecurity as many of the legitimate grievances in the region have been neglected. Thus,
Ndubuisi Nwokolo argued that, “strategies initiated as peace-building mechanisms
are actually settlement matrixes” (2017: 500) As a result, political elites and
ex-militants have capitalized on such grievances to promote their private agendas which
6 Interview with a former House of Representatives contestant in Warri, Delta State, February 11, 2017.
7 Interview with an Itsekiri youth leader in Warri, Delta State, February 13, 2017.
they rationalize as public interest. According to former militant leader Paul Eris (aka
The same deplorable roads they took to Abuja are what they are still plying to
return to Yenagoa (referring to Niger Delta politicians). Did you see the bad
roads when you were coming? (Yes, sir). Can you believe that this state has
produced a President (referring to Goodluck Jonathan) and three ministers?
The reason why we are opposed to Buhari disgracing these corrupt Niger
Deltans is not because we are happy with them, but just because we do not want to
wash our dirty linen in public.8
Obviously, the persistence of such pre-amnesty grievances such as lack of basic
infrastructures, high rate of environmental degradation, destruction of local
livelihoods, and widespread corruption has been further compounded by the crisis of
stigmatization and unemployment of militants granted amnesty. This predisposed
ex-fighters to elite violent mobilization. Again, the viewpoint of Paul Eris is
insightful on the subject:
This boy (pointing to one of his boys) was trained by the Amnesty Office as a
pilot. Yet, every effort to get him a job has failed because of the label of
exmilitant. If you board a plane and you get to know that the pilot is an
ex-militant, would you not jump down? This country is so useless that if you kill one
person, you are a murderer whereas if you kill a thousand, you are a hero. The
government only hears the sound of guns, not of voices as we are currently
doing in the post-amnesty regime. If we go to where we came from
(referring to the creeks) the government will begin to listen to us again and take our
The reintegration phase of the peace process has been the most challenging
on account of inadequate employment opportunities for thousands of youths who
have been trained as argued above. Thus, Nigeria is yet to learn from the
Ugandan experience where several ex-fighters were recruited into the security
agencies including the military, police and other Para-military services
Therefore, the continuation of many legitimate grievances in the post-amnesty
era as well as the excessive monetization of the amnesty deal for politicians and
ex-militant leaders makes many hitherto peaceful youths to perceive that violence
pays and that it is the surest way to be on government payroll. The mobilization
of ex-militants by politicians plus the new perception about the incentives of
violence are fueling the mushrooming of new militant groups, continued attacks on
oil infrastructures, and resultant disruptions in the region as shown in the figure
8 Interview with former militant leader Paul Eris in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, August 15, 2015. 9 Interview with former militant leader Paul Eris in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, August 15, 2015.
From the foregoing analysis is the fact that the peace process and its policy
execution machinery have been captured by the elites, who now use the same
in ways that serve their self-interests, typically resulting in personal gain at the
expense of non-elite and community priorities. Thus, one of the most salient
explanations for elites’ growing privatization of peace building and promotion of
youth insecurity is the weakness of public institutions such as those charged with
the responsibility of executing PAP. Also, elites’ culture of impunity and rising
criminalization of themselves and the youths are a manifestation of the weakness
of the police and criminal justice system which have been vitiated by corruption
and manipulation by influential individuals (the so-called godfathers). Even the
political parties and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which
are supposed to ensure strict compliance of groups and individuals with the rules
governing electoral competition have largely become dysfunctional. Hence,
elections are no longer free, fair, credible, and acceptable. Therefore the Weberian
notion of the state as a formal, institutionalized, neutral, and independent umpire
that is unencumbered by the influences and interference of the private sphere
does not portray the reality in much of Africa, especially Nigeria.
Following the resurgence of violent activities in the Niger Delta region where the
PAP has been implemented since 2009, this study problematized and scrutinized the
relationships between the elites and youths in the peace process. Despite the
salience of DDR programming in both local and international processes of peace
building and post-conflict reconstruction, the Niger Delta experience has been more of
a cog in the wheel of progress because of the prebendal culture of elite corruption
and youth violent manipulation. The study revealed that in a bid to capture the
enormous revenues accruing to the oil-producing Niger Delta states from the
Federation Account, the rentier elites have criminalized a number of amnestied and some
hitherto law-abiding youths by involving them in the violent struggles for
political power and other self-regarding agendas. Thus, the deployment of ex-militants
as cannon fodders in elites’ turf battles has corrupted rather than consolidated the
much needed peace in the oil-rich, but volatile Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The foregoing discourse has revealed some pertinent issues regarding peace
building and political power in Africa’s natural resource-endowed contexts such as
the Niger Delta. As admonished by
: 19), “Those who wish to facilitate
peace will be well advised to understand the nature of war”. Therefore, to forestall
elite manipulation of young persons for violence, there is need for institutions to be
strengthened. Structures for governmental power formation, such as political parties,
and institutions charged with the responsibility of conducting free, fair, and credible
elections such as the INEC should be strengthened to ensure effective performance.
Rather than politicians, less partisan groups such as civil society organizations and
international civil society organizations can help in the re-training of staff and
monitoring of their activities.10 Also, the criminal justice system needs to be overhauled
to ensure that perpetrators of infractions are brought to book no matter their social
status or political influence. Finally, the Nigerian economy needs to be diversified
to obviate the debilitating effects of dependence on oil rents. This will not only
reorient political leaders and followers alike toward the imperative of taxation and
its inherent accountability logic, but it will also make them eschew violence in the
struggle for political power.
10 While corruption is widespread across Nigeria, however, civil society organizations are less corrupt
and better organized perhaps because activities and funds are monitored by their donors.
Ndubuisi Nwokolo is a post-doctoral fellow (non-residential) at the School of Government and Society,
University of Birmingham, UK. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham in the political
economy of oil conflicts, as well as an advanced M.A in conflict and sustainable peace studies from the
University of Leuven. His research and policy interests center on issues of natural resources conflict and
governance, security, peace building, and sustainable development in fragile and developing states,
Iro Aghedo is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Benin, Benin City,
Nigeria. He was educated at the universities of Ibadan and Benin in Nigeria, and the College of
NorthWest London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in the UK. He has
published widely in the area of comparative security and strategic studies in Africa including in such
journals as Third World Quarterly, Review of African Political Economy, Journal of Black Studies,
Journal of Asian and African Studies, African Security, and Australasian Review of African Studies, among
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