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By TAPUKA Gerald1
Ph.D Fellow in Peace Journalism, Department of Peace & Development Studies Protestant University of Central Africa, Cameroun

William Hermann ARREY, Ph.D
Senior Lecturer and Chair, Department of  Peace and Development Studies, FSSIR,Protestant University of Central Africa, Senior Fellow in Peace and Security (Nkafu Policy Institute), Cameroun

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1This Policy Brief is a product of a 3-month Ph.D. fellowship programme in the Department of Peace and Development Studies of the Protestant University of Central Africa (PUCA) in Yaoundé, which I undertook under the supervision of Dr. William Hermann Arrey , funded within the Framework of the ARUA-UKRI Capacity Building Project for Post-conflict Societies.
2The First Republic reigned between 1963 and 1966 when a civilian leader, Dr Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe was President and collapsed following military takeover. The Second Republic was between 1979 and 1983 led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The Third Republic was very brief; between August 26, 1993 and November 11, 1993 under the leadership of President Ernest Shonekan before being forced to resign by military leader, General Sani Abacha. The Fourth Republic was born in 1999 with elections which propelled a civilian leader, Olusegun Obasanjo to the Presidency and new constitution for Nigeria. Since then, Nigeria has remained a constitutional democracy.

Introduction and contextual background.

In 1999, a new political era opened in Nigeria with the inauguration of the Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. This marked the beginning of the Fourth Republic. Though a retired military General, Obasanjo’s Presidency was rooted in a civilian platform following Presidential elections organised by the military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Prior to this, Nigerians had witnessed only one political transition through the ballot box. This occurred in 1979, when General Olusegun Obasanjo relinquished power to a civilian President, Shehu Shagari. Since 1999, Nigerians have unabatedly enjoyed the luxury of political transitions without military intervention or the barrel of the gun.

In the past two decades, political transitions in Africa have been a rare phenomenon given the multiplicity of protracted presidencies and constitutional changes to foster the reign of long serving political leaders. For example, in Cameroon, President Paul Biya has ruled unabatedly for forty one (41) years. The multiplicity of elections has rather certified Biya’s protracted presidency. Likewise, though the country has been independent for more than six decades, there has not been a single ballot-based political transition. As such, incumbents have always won every election with a crushing majority. Moreover, within the six countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon) of the Central African Monetary Community (CEMAC), political transitions have been inevitably limited to the dead syndrome and not ballot box. It has paved the way for family succession as in Chad and Gabon and the subsequent unconstitutional change of governments and military coup , respectively in  these countries.

While ballot box transitions are still a challenge in most African countries, Nigeria’s transition have morphed to the level where an incumbent is defeated in an election by an opposition candidate. Going by this, in 2015 incumbent Goodluck Jonathan was defeated by opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. Since the advent of multiparty elections in most African countries in the early 1990s, such political transitions have been sustainable in few African countries including Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and The Gambia.

This puts Nigeria in a more comfortable political situation than most African countries. Coupled with its estimated population of 213.4 million persons in 2021 (World Bank, 2023), Nigeria has the second largest crude oil reserves (37 billion barrels) in Africa, after Libya (US Energy Information Administration, 2020). Nigeria ultimately projects itself as a pinnacle of success and an African political giant which should evidently be translated into an Eldorado of peace and development especially in the Niger Delta area.

Notwithstanding, the record breaking political successes on paper has not been translated into meaningful stability on the ground. In the last two decades, Nigeria has become one of the most unsafe countries in Africa and Niger Delta in particular even though not officially engaged in any civil war or military takeover as in precedent decades. Daily happenings reveal that the situation is becoming dire and civilians are caught in the web of violence and kidnappings. In 2018 alone, there were 416 violent incidents resulting in over one thousand deaths. In 2018, 351 of such incidences were recorded resulting in 546 deaths (Campbell, 2019). This shows a steady increase in violence in the Niger Delta.

Within this period, there was also a significant rise in militant activities mainly against oil companies and Nigeria’s capacity to produced crude oil. Less than a decade after the Federal Amnesty in 2009 which saw a lull in militant activities including the main militant group MEND, another militant group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) emerged in 2016. Equipped as MEND with similar tactics and motives, the group succeeded in reducing Nigeria’s oil producing capacity from 2.2 million barrels of oil per day to 1.4 million. The militarisation of the area by Presidents especially Muhammadu Buhari who promised to use his military strategy to put out any uprising in Nigeria instead amplified the violence.

Between 1999 and 2022, four Presidents have ruled Nigeria. However, none of these leaders have succeeded in alienating the Niger Delta from a past, rooted in insecurity and acute development challenges. Despite promises of alleviating poverty and curbing the rise of insecurity by successive Presidents, the area has still maintained a negative blueprint. Ethnicity is still rife and politics is decided on ethnic lines and the wealth produced by the area is unable to raise the standard of living of the people. Bamidele and Erameh (2023) argue that despite a flurry of measures, the Niger Delta remains stuck in environmental degradation because the policies of the government and companies is focused on gains at the expense of resource-related environmental utility.

A better understanding of the Nigerian situation is sourced from the leadership and culture of violence (I), Nigeria’s leadership and violent resolution of conflicts (II), and the failure to convert Niger Delta’s wealth to national blessings (III).

I-Nigeria’s Leadership and the culture of violence

The culture of violence has been cemented in Nigeria since independence in 1960. In 1966, the First Republic collapsed following a military takeover which overthrew the government of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (Olumide and Ekanade, 2011). Within a year, there was a military coup and counter coup leading to two military takeovers within six months. This led to the Nigerian civil war otherwise known as the Nigerian/Biafra war (1967-1970) principally fought by Igbo (Biafra) militants who had declared secession from the rest of the country, and the Federal Government Forces attempting to establish central government’s hegemony over seceded areas. The war ended in January 1970 when Biafra forces surrendered to the government of General.  One of the main reasons for the war was the control over oil and gas resources in the South-South and South-East of the country. Igbo militants wanted more control of the wealth in the Niger Delta which is why they declared secession from Nigeria (Onuaha, 2016).

The events leading to the Nigerian civil war and brutality of the war established a precedence of violence in Nigeria which reigned for many years. Between 1966 and 1999, there were ten (10) Presidents in Nigeria including two civilian leaders; Shehu Shagari (October 1, 1979 – December 31, 1983), and Chief Ernest Shonekan (August 26, 1993 – November 17, 1993). The civilian Presidents ruled for a combined period of forty one (41) months. They were ousted by military power which established its reign through violence. This precedence laid a foundation of violence within the Nigerian leadership as well as populace for much of the thirty three (33) years.

Moreover, Olusegun Obasanjo who became the first President of the Fourth Republic was a retired army general who had taken part in a series of military successions in the past. Therefore, combining a leadership extricated from the culture of violence in an atmosphere of violence only fostered the leadership violent trend in the country. This also laid the foundation for a violent resolution of conflict by the Nigerian leadership.

Leadership and violent resolution of Niger Delta conflict

The situation of Niger Delta goes back to the early days of oil exploration in Nigeria. Oil was discovered in industrial quantity in 1956 in Oloibiri, a place in present day Bayelsa state (Jegede and Olu-Olu, 2015). Few years after independence, a certain Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro and 159 mainly Ijaw Youths staged an uprising to demand for more oil wealth for their people. The uprising was violently suppressed. In the 1990s, Ken Saro Wiwa led the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to demand for more rights for the Ogoni people in particular and by extension Niger Delta. The movement was violently suppressed and Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by hanging in 1995 by the military regime of General Sani Abacha despite global and national appeal to release them (Akinwale, 2010). Because of this, Nigeria was suspended from the Common Wealth of Nations.

At the advent of the Presidency of Obasanjo, the oil-rich Niger Delta population was advocating for more rights for the local population in the management of oil resources. The Kaiama Declaration of 1998 brought together thousands of Ijaw Youths under the banner of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). In 1999, they staged a series of nonviolent protests demanding more rights for the people of the Niger Delta. The Obasanjo regime responded by sending the military with warships. Entire villages were razed down and hundreds killed while thousands displaced. One of these incidences became known as the Odi massacre of November 1999 (Ogege, 2011). This accounted for the reason why mainly Ijaw youths in the Niger Delta embraced arms against the government and petroleum companies. To demonstrate their willingness for arms, the second President of IYC, Mujahid Dokubo Asari established in 2003, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) (Ifedi and Ndumbe, 2011). The group was a pioneer in militant activities in the Niger Delta and one of the most organised. NDPVF became the foundation for the establishment of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in late 2005, which became an umbrella movement for militant activities in the entire Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

In the latter days of Obasanjo’s Presidency, the government promoted a policy of violence which instead fostered militancy. MEND established itself and militancy as a regular affair in Nigeria’s South. Within the first six weeks of 2006, MEND orchestrated 19 attacks on foreign oil installations costing nearly 2.2 billion dollars. These attacks reduced Nigeria’s oil production capacity by 30 percent (Joab-Peterside et al., 2011). As Obasanjo left the Presidency in 2007, the nine Niger Delta oil producing states were in total chaos orchestrated by a multiplicity of militant groups.

In 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua succeeded Olusegun Obasanjo as President. The new President pursued the path of arms as a conflict management mechanism in the Niger Delta. The period between 2006 and 2009 was the peak of militancy in Nigeria’s Niger Delta as force only radicalised more youths to either create or join established militant groups. Moreover, the 2009 Amnesty programme by the President became a political tool aimed at withdrawing the guns from the public without solving the underlying causes of the conflict. It was a cash-for-arms policy. Though it provided a respite of peace, it was unsustainable (Nwozor, 2010) because disgruntled militants returned to the creeks for more violence. Besides militancy, the Biafra question which was suppressed has re-emerged with a new leader, Nnamdi Kanu seeking to establish a Biafra Republic reminiscence of the 1967-70 episode.

The failure to convert Niger Delta’s wealth to national blessings

The Niger Delta consists of nine oil producing states in the South East and South South of Nigeria’s geopolitical delimitation. They include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers. Oil produced by these states account for about 90 percent of Nigeria’s gross earnings, 80 percent of budgetary revenue and 95 percent foreign exchange earnings (Bodo and Batombari, 2020). This has made Nigeria heavily dependent on oil and gas resources which are principally sourced from the Niger Delta.

Moreover, Nigeria is one of the major oil and gas producers in the world, rooted in the Niger Delta. It holds the largest natural gas reserves in the entire continent, and it is ranked sixth in the world among exporters of liquefied natural gas in 2021. At the beginning of 2023, it was estimated that Nigeria held about 37.1 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves (US Energy Information Administration, 2023). Despite these positive statistics, oil wealth in Nigeria benefits only a few elites in the Niger Delta and politicians at the national level. On the basis of this, militant groups, mostly made of natives of Niger Delta have engaged government and oil companies for a share of the oil wealth. Moreover, the activities of these groups and oil companies have rendered the environment of Niger Delta unusable. According to the World Bank, the Niger Delta is one of the five most polluted areas of the world (Edih et al. 2022). This makes the Niger Delta an example of resource curse, where the poor management of natural resources has instead become a source of insecurity and underdevelopment of the people.

While the poor leadership has been unable to transform Niger Delta’s wealth, comparatively, the Nordic country of Norway demonstrates an example where crude oil resources have escaped the resource curse syndrome and instead used to transform the country. Between 1950 and 70, Norway had one of the lowest GDPs per capita compared to other OECD countries. However, successive leaderships in the country have maintained a policy which involves a natural resource management integrating resource-based industries with the rest of the economy, the development of institutions to handle shocks to the economy, the separation of rents based on natural resource, and the returns from a large financial fund has helped to finance public expenditures (Cappelen and Mjoset, 2009). These policies have enabled an equitable wealth distribution scheme such that even foreigners benefit from the wealth of Norway.

Despite the abundance of resources, successive leadership in Norway has maintained a near-zero corruption tolerance policy especially in the management of crude oil resources. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s corruption feeds from the oil wealth in the Niger Delta which has prevented any equitable wealth distribution. According to Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index, 2022, Norway was ranked the fourth least corrupt countries in the world scoring 84/100, while Nigeria was one of the most corrupt countries in the world ranking 150 out of 180, scoring 24/100 (TI, 2022). This demonstrates the incapacity of successive leadership since 1999 to transform Niger Delta’s resources from a curse to a blessing. The massive corruption promoted by leadership ensures that political cronies are rewarded and the wealth remains in the hands of a few, while the majority of  Nigerians living in the Niger Delta Region  languish in extreme poverty.

Moreover, the Land Use Act of 1978 and the Petroleum Act of 1969 give full ownership and control of landed and petroleum resources to the central government in Abuja even though Nigeria operates a federal system. As such, state governments and natives are deprived of a major source of wealth for development and subsistence. The law was established by successive military regimes to have full control over resources. This law has been construed as a source of marginalisation for the people of Niger Delta (Ngerebo-A, 2013). However, successive civilian governments have maintained it.

Furthermore, the 2009 Amnesty only rewarded militants with cash and no development on the ground. For example, two notorious militant Commanders; Victor Ebikabowei and Ateke Tom received each 3.5 million Dollars yearly contract to guard pipelines they once attacked (Joab-Peterside et al.2015). Another militant leader, Ekpumopolo Tompolo received 22.5 million Dollars yearly for a similar contract (ibid) While Dokubo Asari was rewarded 9 million Dollars yearly for his estimated 4,000 fighters to provide security to oil installations (ibid, p.404). This instead pushed more youths to take up arms with the hope of generating similar deals.

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

The analysis in this policy brief has attempted to establish the fact that since 1999 Nigeria has been unable to raise a leadership to transform the country and especially the Niger Delta Region into an Eldorado like Norway (with similar level of natural resource endowment). Beneath the successful political mutation of leaders, the case of Niger Delta remains a contrast to the political gains at the top. However, for a transformational and visionary leadership in Nigeria necessary for the sustainable development and peace of the Niger Delta region, the following policy directions could be considered.

  1. A leadership that seeks the establishment of a broad-base nation that transcends ethnicity and political patronage;
  2. The governance mechanism should seek for alternate the means of solving political and economic challenges rather than the use of violence. Any attempt to use violence would instead radicalise the people who are already familiar with violence. As such, the governance mechanism must foster the establishment of the culture of peace over the culture of violence;
  3. Issues about Niger Delta, Biafra republic and the general insecurity should be tackled from the root causes and not the consequences;
  4. The Land Use Act of 1978 and the Petroleum Act of 1969 should also be revised so as to accord a better position to the locals and state governments in the management of petroleum resources in the country;
  5. Government should engage the civil society for a better approach to Nigeria’s economic and political challenges with a focus on the Niger Delta region;
  6. The influential Nigerian media should also invest in the protracted Niger Delta issue and citizen question in order to  foster a path beyond the structural anachronisms of the past.


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-Bodo, T. and Batombari, G., 2020. The Pollution and Destruction of the Niger Delta Ecosystem in Nigeria: Who is to be blamed? European Scientific Journal, Vol. 16(5), Doi:10.19044/esj.2020.v16n5p161

-Campbell, J., 2019. Significant Rise of Insecurity in the Niger Delta Through 2019. Council on Foreign Relations, February 26, downloaded from,episodes%20resulting%20in%20546%20deaths., accessed on June 9, 2023

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