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Managing anger in the Niger delta

November 28, 2008

Much of the news that comes out of the Niger Delta, the vast network of creeks home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, is generated either by militant leaders claiming spectacular attacks on oil industry installations or by the military, keen to publicise its victories flushing out crude oil thieves from camps nestled deep in the mangroves.


Rarely heard are the voices of the “boys” who have taken up arms and make up the rank and file of the militant gangs. Oil theft on an industrial scale or kidnappings for ransom make some of their bosses rich. Peace negotiations see others rewarded with the veneer of political legitimacy and a comfortable new government-funded lifestyle. But the grunts tend to share little of the spoils.


So an initiative to take them out of the militant camps and send them abroad to be immersed in the teachings of non-violent activists from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela raised – after the initial scepticism – a strong dose of curiosity. After the attempt to “reorientate their psyches”, the candidates would be schooled in skills meant to make them employable once they returned back home.


Would they be convinced that they could renounce violence and still fight for their rights? Did they really believe that theirs was a political struggle or were they simply interested in emulating some of their leaders and growing rich from stolen crude, ransom money and government pay-offs?


There are precedents in West Africa. Former child soldiers in Liberia and Sierra Leone who spent their formative years living by the gun have been reschooled and retrained, some integrated into the national army, others starting lives with newly-learned skills as carpenters or welders.


Negotiators trying to build peace in divided countries such as Ivory Coast or Democratic Republic of Congo have brought former rebels into the fold by making them stakeholders in the future of their countries, with varying degrees of success.


Could the same philosophy of constructive engagement work with the armed youths of the Niger Delta?


Some of the young men waiting in Lagos airport to begin the overseas part of their “reorientation training” reminded me of former child soldiers I had met in Liberia and Sierra Leone, or young Tuareg rebels in northern Mali and Niger. They had similar aspirations as young adults anywhere — to earn a decent living, be able to look after themselves and win respect from their peers.


“Anybody in violence wants out of violence, it’s just a question of finding a way,” one of them, Patrick, commented.


So could the programme work? If, with new skills, these former militants can return home and earn a living, could they persuade others in the community to lay down their weapons? Or is it an expensive waste of money, rewarding former criminals with the sort of opportunities that many in Nigeria can only dream of?


The UN,AU,Nigerian Government,Niger Delta People need to address this issue..


The “militants” in Gaza, the West Bank, Africa, SE Asia, etc., etc., would all be well advised to study the Passive Resistance Movement; Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, et al. In particular the Palestinians need to study the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi who liberated India from Britian at the height of its Imperial ambition, without firing a shot. It is difficult to reconcile, but sometimes the oppressed have to take the first step towards making peace. However, the unfortunate reality of the situation is that there exist a good deal of real nasty characters in the Niger Delta. Social re-orientation might not cut the cake with a large part of that group. Also, the “militants” currently operating in Sub-Saharan Africa, i.e. Somalia, Darfur, and the Niger Delta, are all interconnected. For instance, where do the Somali pirates get all that desiel fuel? It isn’t being delivered via the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean, that’s for sure.

Posted by Brendan | Report as abusive

Sounds strange, but i have a feeling this might work. Part of the problems with youth restivness is that part of the world is

No enlightnment
Litte or no eduation
Insufficient human capacity
Little exposure to civility or rule of Law
Endemic corruption in the state.

While youths major Nigerian cities like Lagos have shown tremendouse character in music and arts and football, youths in Niger Delta are less equipped and developed to take up job opportunities in oil companies or become less dependent on oil wealth.

Exposing this guys to the civilised world with the right training will help them become better people and perhaps reformers in the Niger Delta.

I love the Delta area.

Sopy from the Atlantis

Posted by Sopirinye Jaja | Report as abusive

i am from outside Africa but it is sad to now what happening or happend in Nigeria.


Life has a way of making things right, you could sound intelligent here but really you haven’t got the answer,


who is fooling whom? i agree 1000% with Reginald. first and foremost, we all know that he who pays the piper, dictates the tune. these so-called ‘militants’ are nothing but glorified, armed/equipped and/or militarily outfitted area boys employed by the ‘big boys’ to carry out instructions. they( these big boys) are the ones that dictate the tune and, by the way, most of them have oversea( and under-sea) training already.

if their hirelings are taken away, the country has an abundant ready-made and government-trained supply of “area boys” that abound, especially, in the police force. so, who is fooling whom?

Posted by yemi babaloke | Report as abusive

There are two dialectical philosophies on the issue. Author Frantz Fannon (Wretched of the Earth) made clear that Africa and Africans are not likely to see better days until they use the very means (violence) that was used to push them to the very bottom of the human hierarchy. And the indomitable Chairman Mao once said that “power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Only when the exploiters are checkmated by the exploited can there be peaceful resolution of the long-running rapid descent of our homeland in economic deprivation and cultural collapse.

Posted by Omo Abode | Report as abusive

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