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1.1     Background to Study

With an expanding population of over 120 million, and an estimated oil reserve totaling to about 41.5 billion recoverable barrels, Nigeria arguably remains one of Africa’s richest economies. Nigeria ranks as the sixth largest producer of oil and petroleum products in the entire globe, which has also seen it as propelling the economic structure of the nation with oil exploration accounting for over 90 per cent of the country’s exports while there are other minerals available in the country’s rich soil which includes also Barite, Coal, Columbite, Fluorite, Gold, Iron, Kyanite, Uranium, Natural Gaze, Phosphate, Tin.

Despite these enormous deposits of natural and human resources the country is still regarded as a poor nation when evaluated in the GDP rate. This is evident also considering the high level of unemployment, the huge gap that exists between the rich and those living below the poverty level, the high rate of political instability that was witnessed shortly after independence in 1960 culminated to several coups and counter coups that plunged the nation into military dictatorship governments which spanned for over two decades.

This is captured in the analysis of David Bevan, Paul Collier and Jan Willem Gunning as they wrote that during the first six years of Nigeria’s independence between 1960 and 1966 the North and South which was carefully allied with each other towards benefiting from the rich oil that had started coming out from the Niger Delta region, subsequently it brought about two military coups that too place in 1966 while at the same time the threat of secession by the eastern region that saw the nation witness a long drawn civil war that lasted between war that lasted between 1967- 1970 with a casualty of about two million lives.

The outcome of these several military regimes were high level of centralization of government at the federal level, while the other tiers suffered, the high level of corruption by the self proclaimed military leaders who co -opted with civilians in embezzlement of public funds without accountability, press censorship and clamp down on opposition groups and gross neglect of the minority and oil producing communities. This was the situation until finally pressures from within and outside the country led to the new democratic wave in 1999.

Off course it is arguable the nation will have to battle with the long neglect of democratic governance and values which had eluded her for years. And prominent amongst this mirage of developmental problems is the Niger Delta region crisis. The region has witnessed increasing newly formed oil minorities social movements, which have progressed from voice protests to armed struggle to present their demands.

This research project will examine the ethnic militia movements in the Niger Delta region and the origin of the crisis, it also examines the tools and resources for this collective action in the Niger Delta region as used by the militia organizations, current force of action and the current media debate.

The character and role of the state is important to this work which have often been criticized as contributing to the phenomena of the militia movements, their responses to the emergence and activities of several militia groups. Finally the project seeks to proffer recommendations which are designed not only to managing these conflicts but also to finding a lasting solution to these violent protests.

1.2     Statement of Problem

Nigeria in Brief Prior to the 1999 democratic change Nigeria’s route to harnessing it’s great potentials in human and natural resources stems from her seeming large population and petroleum wealth which ironically have been stalled by political and economic instability. This has seen the country witness various coups, military dictatorships for over two decades, economic mismanagement of huge oil resources, corruption and leadership styles that have remained questionable. This has also resulted in elites initiating politics that have sustained them in power while at the other end excluded vast majority of Nigerians which includes those in the minority areas of the Niger Delta region. This is aptly captured in Robert I. Roteberg words as he laments Economic performance since the 1960’s has been abysmal, especially given the country’s abundant human and natural resources and its export earnings from petroleum since 1970 of about $400 billion” “It is quite saddening to note that these billions have ironically brought increasing poverty, widening inequality, vast unemployment, a loss of agricultural self- sufficiency, little growth in manufacturing capacity, waste and malfeasance and misfeasance which seem to have aggravated the pains of many Nigerians especially those in minority regions.

Shortly after independence the nation blossomed in the growth of agricultural production and exports during the era of groundnut pyramids in the northern parts of Nigeria, the rich production of palm oil, export of cocoa, peanuts and the prominent role agriculture played in food production and exportation in the nation’s economic development. And within these periods government through public investment attracted foreign investors from the international market.

It is quite disheartening that all these have given way to over concentration on oil exploration and production since oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in the Rivers State of the Niger Delta region. Till date the exploration and exportation of oil remain the nation’s primary source of revenue earnings and this much concentration has also resulted in the neglect of other sectors of the economy more especially as it affects agriculture and industrial sectors. The Nigerian elites and political gladiators have greatly contributed to the problem of weak state institution because they have seemingly played politics of survival and encouraged rent seeking rather than investing in the collective welfare of the entire citizenry. This is as Rotberg recalls “the availability of petrol - riches only exacerbates this tendency, and elevates the scale of corruption”

The federal government have on their own not helped matters as argued above it has allowed over the years the deplorable state of affairs to continue with neglect and the lack of political will to steer the nation to the path of progress and development, this has caused disaffection amongst regions which can notably be seen in the recent activities that have engulfed the Niger Delta region shortly after the 1999 democratic elections. The peoples of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria are often described as the oil producing minorities which has historically suffered from the pains of discrimination or domination by the other larger ethnic groups.

It has often been argued in favor of these minority areas that the crude oil exploration have caused a lot of environmental hazards and degradation to both land and aquatic life. While the region produces 90 percent of the nation’s wealth there is little to show for this in terms of development and basic infrastructural needs of the region’s population. At root of the crisis lie the underdevelopment state and the uneven structure of Nigerian federalism regarding important issues of derivation, minority rights and environmental degradation.

In this regard the region has since 1999 witnessed increased militant crisis with the political actors in these confrontations been built around militant youth groups of these ethnic minority groups, the Nigerian state and oil multi nationals who are the main actors of exploration. The frequent struggle and attacks with the federal might have also escalated to blowing up of oil pipelines, kidnapping and taking hostage of both foreign and local oil works of various companies in the creeks. There have also been frequent bombings of targeted areas which has characterized the operations of the militant groups in recent times with some of these groups claiming responsibilities after each attack or bombings.

1.3     Research Objectives

The following specific objectives guided this research;

1.     To assess the increase in proliferation of these youth ethnic militia groups, especially in this era of democratic government in Mend, Warri

2.     To investigate how the character and response of the state affected the situation in the Niger-Delta with regards security and the threats

3.     To discuss the current debate in the media regarding the conflicts, considering the argument that sustained media coverage of a conflict usually compels government to initiate genuine steps tailored towards a lasting solution

1.4     Research Questions

The questions this project seeks to find will be narrowed to very important issues which are primarily related to the militia movements and conflicts in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, specifically in Mend of Warri. While addressing key concepts such as marginalization, neglect, discrimination, oppression which have all largely contributed to the escalation and prolongation of the crisis, the research project seeks to know

1.     Why the increase in proliferation of these youth ethnic militia groups, especially in this era of democratic government in Mend, Warri?

2.     How has the character and response of the state affected the situation in the Niger-Delta with regards security and the threats?

3.     What is the current debate in the media regarding the conflicts, considering the argument that sustained media coverage of a conflict usually compels government to initiate genuine steps tailored towards a lasting solution?

1.5     Research Hypothesis

Through qualitative analysis of these social movement groups, their demands and operations it will suggest the following hypothesis:

(a)     The proliferation of the militia movements since 1999 democratic elections and their demands has grown from voice to armed struggle protests posing security threats. The nature of neglect, deprivation and discrimination that has remained unsolved in the Niger- Delta region explains the emergence of militia movements from voice protests to armed struggle.

(b)     The failure of government policies in providing good governance and its response to these groups have continued to escalate and sustain the crisis.

1.6     Significance of Study

The research project is important considering the impact social movement agitations have on the Nigerian polity. It is justifiable to say that the socio economic environment of the Nigeria state is highly concentrated on the exploration of the rich mineral resources that are abundantly deposited in the creeks of the Niger Delta region. Most often is has been argued that politicians go to elections in order to control these resources in such a way that it becomes most beneficial to them rather than delivering the dividends of democracy. Since the norm has been that elites in the Nigerian state have sustained themselves in power in order to continuously be in the position of managing this wealth to their satisfaction, the state of violence in the region cannot be wished away with a mere wave of hand.

The region as it has often been argued provides over 90% of the country’s income through oil exportation and considering the volatile nature of the oil market globally it becomes even more important to embark on this project. When oil pipelines and installations are blown up in the creeks the immediate consequence is the suspension of exploration by oil companies which also have often times reflected in the global rise of oil prices in the international market. The insecurity the crisis has caused to the lives of oil workers in the region both to local and foreign expatriates becomes even more important for this research bearing in mind that these militant groups have resorted to forceful abduction and kidnapping of these workers while demanding heavy ransom as exchange for their release.

Furthermore the division the situation has caused politically in the Nigerian state is worth mentioning. This includes rights agitation, minority exclusion, and environmental degradation, economic and political exclusion and as such it becomes imperative to evaluate these circumstances in the face of the growing violence and constant tension that regularly occurs in the region by the day. The fact of the matter remains that, the conflict is not often seen as a problem been faced by oil workers but one that threatens the corporate existence of the Nigerian state. The need to take these militia movements seriously becomes important considering the fact that their proliferation and activities have led to loss of lives, destruction of oil installations and a threat to national integration and confidence in the Nigerian state.

1.7     Operational Definition of Terms

Ethnic: relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

Ethnic Militia: To Falana (2003: 185) Ethnic militia in the Nigerian context is viewed as a militant organization set up to protect the interest of a particular nationality within the Nigerian federation.

Security Threat: in this context, refers to anything that has the potential to cause serious harm to the safety of lives and property. A threat is something that may or may not happen, but has the potential to cause serious damage.

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