The Potential for Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta
9 Feb 2009
After more than 50 years of oil production and a current production capacity of 3 million barrels per day more than 80 percent of Nigeria’s population live on just $1 per day in the midst of a spreading conflict precipitated by the lust for power and wealth among the relatively few elite.
In Nigeria power and wealth are inextricably intertwined with oil. The theft of crude oil nets political godfathers tens of millions of dollars each day. Conflict in the Niger Delta acts as an effective screen for large scale oil theft, drugs operations and importation of illegal arms. In 2008 oil companies operating in the Niger Delta spent $3.7 billion dollars on security.
Discontent with the international oil companies, oil spillage and the associated environmental damage that prevents local farmers growing crops, the blatant corruption in siphoning oil generated government funds off with the result that little if any funding reaches the communities that host the oil development, extrajudicial execution of suspects and electoral malpractice have contributed to the rise in militancy among the youth in the Niger Delta. Militant groups in the Niger Delta have kidnapped over 250 expatriate oil workers in the last 3 years and cut oil production by 1 million barrels per day.
This sad and distressing story is set out in detail in The Potential for Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta, the latest report from Coventry Cathedral on an escalating situation where democracy is struggling for breath.
The main militia group in the Niger Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has called upon the international community to assist in facilitating a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Niger Delta.
In December 2007 MEND requested Coventry Cathedral, known particularly for its reconciliation work in Iraq, the Holy Land, and Nigeria; take an active interest in fostering a non violent resolution to the situation in the Niger Delta.
In July 2008 MEND renewed the invitation to Coventry Cathedral to facilitate a peace in the Niger Delta. In the period between December 2007 and July 2008 MEND had issued public calls to President George Bush, UN peace ambassador George Cluny, former US President Jimmy Carter to facilitate peace discussions. Private overtures were made to the Council of Elders to facilitate peace discussions. All efforts to reach out to international facilitators were ignored. The conflict continued with a growing death toll on both sides plus innocent villagers. In view of the continuing loss of life Coventry Cathedral took the decision to positively respond to MEND’s request.
The report on The Potential for Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta, is not meant to replace the need for an international independent facilitator. Coventry Cathedral decided to undertake the background work that an international facilitator would require in assessing the situation before engaging parties in the peace process. Thereby the resultant report will be immediately useful to the international facilitator and should significantly collapse the lead time required prior to on ground discussions with the parties to the conflict.
In responding to this request Coventry Cathedral supported the active involvement of Canon Dr Davis in undertaking a review of the potential for peace and reconciliation in the Niger Delta. Canon Davis, a former director of the Cathedral’s International Reconciliation Centre, has lived in the Niger Delta and played a pivotal role in the 2004 Niger Delta Peace Accord. He has served as Advisor to former President Obasanjo and as Presidential Envoy for President Yar’Adua.
In the course of dialogue for the report MEND has agreed to disarm and follow the UN weapons destruction process defined by the United Nations Department for Disarmament Affairs. However, the political godfathers that have a powerful influence on Nigeria’s politics are likely to frustrate efforts for a comprehensive peace as this would strip away the screen of conflict they use so effectively to continue oil theft that nets them tens of millions of dollars each day.
Efforts to end the conflict in the Niger Delta are unlikely to see a sustained peace without the public intervention of President Yar’Adua and international support for a neutral international mediator.
President Yar’Adua has taken an aggressive stand against corruption. South Africa and Kenya in which so much hope has been invested are both straining against the leviathan of corruption. Nigeria is fundamental to stability in West Africa and an example of religious coexistence between the Muslim and Christian populations.
The report on The Potential for Peace and Reconciliation in the Niger Delta provides a comprehensive view of the ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta since 1965 and for the first time in a report of this nature looks at the genesis of the cult groups, gangs and vigilante group involved in the conflict. It exposes the way politicians have used such groups to attack political rivals and ensure election results. The report also provides a detailed picture of the militia groups and their growth into formidable forces that have challenged the Nigerian military forces and seriously curtailed oil production.
The report lays out the elements to be included in the peace and reconciliation process that may be initiated if the stakeholders agree to embark on the peace process and encourages the Federal Government of Nigeria to open discussions with militia groups with a view towards a sustained peace. Such a peace will only be sustained if it is peace with justice and reconciliation. Too often peace in the Niger Delta has been purchased but such a peace inevitably turns out to be a temporary cease fire.
The peace process in the Niger Delta does not require foreign troops. It requires the intervention of President Yar’Adua, a public commitment from all parties to a comprehensive peace process and reconciliation, international support for a credible neutral international facilitator, encouragement and oversight from other nations, experience in building democratic institutions and fighting corruption.
Coventry Cathedral believes key militia leaders are genuine about a peaceful outcome and do want an international group to assist in an honest and transparent solution with reconciliation.
09 February 2009
Further questions should be directed to:
Canon Dr Stephen Davis
 Coventry Cathedral is one of the world's oldest religious-based centres for reconciliation. It was established following the destruction of Coventry Cathedral in 1940, after which the Provost made a commitment not to revenge, but to reconciliation with Britain's enemies. Since then the Cathedral’s work for peace has expanded into some of the world's worst areas of conflict. Further information about the Cathedral’s international ministry can found on the Cathedral’s web site at http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk