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Niger Delta: Fuelling the Crisis

Fuelling the Niger Delta Crisis

Dakar/Brussels: Militant groups in the Niger Delta are proliferating, and the country’s security situation will degenerate further unless President Obasanjo and his administration urgently address the region’s grievances.

Fuelling the Niger Delta Crisis,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group and the third in a series of reports on Nigeria, examines the often hazy overlap between the militant Niger Delta cause and criminal and political motives, and identifies the steps required to defuse the conflict. Less than a year before Nigeria’s national elections, a number of militant groups have begun allying themselves to local politicians with electoral aspirations. Piracy, kidnappings and attacks against government and oil industry targets have increased and threaten to escalate and cripple the oil industry.

“The militant groups have legitimate grievances, such as poverty, environmental destruction and government corruption, but they are using them to justify increasingly damaging attacks against government and oil industry targets”, says Nnamdi Obasi, Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Nigeria. “Incentives for these attacks must be removed if there is to be any hope of mitigating the violence”.

The militant groups, most of which appear at least loosely linked with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), know they can accomplish their goals without winning major battles. It does not require a sophisticated insurgency to significantly disrupt Nigeria’s oil production. In this regard, the militants have a powerful weapon in their arsenal: the growing anger among the region’s twenty million inhabitants who feel the government takes much more than it gives. Popular anger against the government has allowed these groups to operate openly in many communities.

Sweeping economic and political reforms with visible benefits to the local population are critical. The Nigerian federal government should focus first on granting a degree of resource control to local communities, and engage in negotiations with a broad-based delegation of Niger Deltans. State governments should implement economic reforms that generate income for health, education and transportation projects. The international community should support a comprehensive, independent environmental impact assessment of the Delta. Energy companies should focus on increasing transparency, accountability, local participation and ownership.

“Policymakers – whether they be in Nigeria or countries that rely on Nigeria’s oil – need to understand that reform is the only way to promote stability in the Delta”, says John Norris, Crisis Group's Africa Program Executive.

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