The list of factors spurring violent conflict in Nigeria is non-exhaustive. Popular among conversations are three causal variables – psychoticism, extremism, and illiteracy; all typically identified when analysing insecurity. The cases of Farmer-Herdsmen clashes in the Middle Belt, Boko Haram, and the Niger Delta militants are often fitted into these categories. Unfortunately, this limits the concept of insecurity to socio-political pretexts.
To some extent, illiteracy is a valid argument as it is intertwined with the fourth variable Nigerians refer to as “economy.” The stifling economic climate is seen as a cause of high unemployment; which not only negatively impacts real wages but also increases poverty levels. As incomes decline and access to education falls, the pool of the uneducated and idle widens even further. This increases the influx into the informal economy as anything to “hold body” becomes a viable option. In more desperate cases, involvement in criminal activities may offer better prospects and incentivise idle hands to turn violent. Especially as youth unemployment and underemployment steadily increase, what more does one have to lose, right?
Excluding choice, illiteracy as a derivative of economic stagnation and propeller of violence is a convincing explanation for insecurity. But considering that Nigeria “technically” only entered a recession in 2016, the “economy” variable appears weaker. This is further illustrated by the fact that despite GDP growth of 7.8%, insurgency in Nigeria peaked in 2010. Economic growth, or the absence of it, is not necessarily the problem.
Pitting Bad Governance Against Insecurity
The insecurity equation is certainly not as linear as is assumed. However, it is similar to that of many developing countries which have been plagued with the curse of natural resources and bad governance. Since its discovery, oil has remained a peace liability and starting pistol for civil and regional conflicts. What should ordinarily be a commonwealth and source of opportunity has only served as an avenue for rent-seeking politicians to line their pockets and accelerate inequality. This is evidenced by the fact that despite accrued revenues (from royalties and taxes) worth at least $1.6 trillion, the country has a depleted Sovereign Wealth Fund, poor infrastructure, and low levels of inequality-adjusted social development.
Hitting closer to home, 56 percent of the population in the South-South region linger in abject poverty. Neither giving a man a fish nor teaching a man how to fish, International Oil Companies (IOCs) have underinvested in the human and physical infrastructure of the region. The only dividend yielded by locals has been oil spills and gas flares, which have led to the degradation of land and extinction of ecological systems. Given that majority of the Niger Delta population is agricultural and aquacultural, the hydrocarbon pollution has perpetuated externalities in the form of lost livelihoods and high rates of morbidity and mortality. This, of course, is not to point fingers at the IOCs. After all, an IOC can only get away with as much as is allowed by the governing body.
The hard truth lies in the system of indigenous imperialism – for which, the short-sightedness and greed of politicians paved the way for lax regulations, unfavourable Production Sharing Agreements, and extraction strategies that exclude the majority of Nigerians. Rather than creating legitimate and sustainable forms of employment, the government has been more successful in preying on the increased vulnerability of unemployed youth and ethnic tensions to secure political loyalty. Notably, in periods of high growth such as the commodities boom of the 1970s and 2000s, the type of opportunities created failed to enhance the capabilities of society and generate sustainable development. The substitution of societal welfare for vested interests has since fostered a sense of neglect – a variable too often omitted from the insecurity equation of the Niger Delta.
Get Rich or Die Trying
Resurgent insecurity in the Niger Delta can partly be seen as a child of corruption. Though of differing degrees, the prevailing incentives can be likened to the decade-long Sierra Leone Civil War. A rebellion against underlying hues of marginalisation, repression, and mismanagement of natural resources. As implied in the name, Niger Delta Avengers, some acts are executed in retribution of the social costs borne by indigenes, owing to the neglect of the government. Viewed as an invitation to their world of regression and uneven development, the vandalism of pipelines and the resulting cut in crude oil production represents a declaration of forced ‘equality’; an assertion that if the Niger Delta indigenes have neither peace nor a fair share of the national cake, the State must also carry the underdevelopment cross.
Preying on the feeling of desperation and dearth of opportunity, violent groups have no trouble recruiting young men for their "righteous cause". Notwithstanding the slim odds of actually attaining wealth, power, or status, the opportunity cost of criminal activity is lower in the face of deteriorating living standards. Thus, rather than not trying at all, the mentality of the youth becomes get rich or die trying.
Sustainably Solving for Y
There is no justification for insecurity. Judging by the exponential increase in terror-related deaths and rising number of internally displaced people, insecurity remains a major impediment to Nigeria's development. However, it is the product of a poverty of humanity, and by default, absolute poverty. Pertinent to the Niger Delta, insecurity is an amplification of the cry of neglect initially mobilised by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. To the credit of past administrations, there have been attempts to solve the Niger Delta complex, including the 2001 Ogomudia Report, the 2004 Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, and the 2009 Amnesty Program. However, these initiatives mainly served as revenue streams for “big men”, strengthening the mistrust between the State and indigenes.
In order to substantially and sustainably alleviate the Niger Delta crisis, the government must remember that the race is not to the swift. Tackling insecurity by investing in military training and machinery at best temporarily suppresses conflict. The Niger Delta crisis should be understood and effectively addressed as a cumulative conflict, a deprivation of the basic needs and a by-product of corruption. Indeed, the cleanup development plan launched by the Buhari administration is a step in the right direction. To guarantee its effectiveness, it is the responsibility of the government and the people to ensure loopholes that perpetuate corrupt practices are eradicated and accountability mechanisms are implemented and regularly evaluated. This will help ensure that the cleanup plan, as part of the program to rehabilitate the Niger Delta, does not become another badge of dishonour adorning the historical sleeve of poor governance in Nigeria.