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Category Archives: Violence
This month’s Presidential election in Nigeria, in which Mammadu Buhari defeated sitting President Good Jonathan, showed the best of what Nigeria can achieve. After his PDP party had been in office 16 years, Jonathan publicly conceded defeat to Buhari, offering to Nigerian a rare peaceful transition of Presidential power. Much of the world had been anticipating post-election violence in reaction to Buhari’s victory amid allegations of election fraud.
Not to detract from Nigeria’s accomplishment, but there were certainly conditions in place conducive to a non-violent concession of power. First, Nigerians tend to vote along ethnic lines, and Jonathan is an Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, and so there is not a critical mass of Ijaw voters to defend his rule. Second, Jonathan came to office in the first place because President Yar’Adua died in office, so some felt Jonathan lacked legitimacy as President to begin with (although he won his 2010 election, which included defeating Buhari). Third, Jonathan’s Presidency had upset the agreed upon alternating Presidencies between Christians and Muslims since he filled in for a Muslim President. Some northerners felt it was a Muslim’s turn to be in office. Buhari was already in office for 20 months in the 1980s as a military ruler, so his victory is certainly not a story of a new candidate coming out of nowhere and unseating an elected President peacefully, which would be a fair grander tale. Lastly, Buhari’s victory was clear, as he gained the votes of 21 states over Jonathan’s 15, demonstrating a clear and difficult-to-contest victory. Let’s hope the well wishes last until Buhari takes office on May 29.
April 10, 2013
“Nigeria’s security forces have recovered the bodies of 11 of the 12 policemen killed after an ambush in the oil-rich Niger Delta on Friday, police have said.
Some of the bodies had been mutilated and burnt beyond recognition, AFP news agency quoted witnesses as saying.
Last week, a militant group said it would it resume attacks after its leader, Henry Okah, was jailed for a bombing campaign in 2010.
However, many people are poor, fueling resentment towards the national government and oil companies.
At the weekend, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it had ambushed a police boat in the creeks and waterways of Bayelsa state, killing the policemen.
Police spokesman Alex Akhigbe said 11 bodies had been recovered, while one was still unaccounted for.
The bodies were transported by boat to the regional capital, Yenagoa, while relatives waited at a morgue, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reports.
At the weekend, police denied the attack was linked to the jailing of Okah.
They said it involved a dispute among militants over amnesty payments given by the government.
Police boats were escorting an ex-militant to a funeral when one of the boats broke down and became a “soft target” for gunmen, a police spokesman said.
MEND had been fighting to gain a greater share of the oil wealth from its part of southern Nigeria, but had been inactive since a 2009 amnesty was put in place.
Okah, its leader, was sentenced to 24 years in prison last month for masterminding bomb attacks in the capital of Abuja in 2010.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer.”*
*Note: By accounts with which I am familiar, Angola may now be Africa’s largest oil producer.
The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:
1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?
Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence. In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.
2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?
To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.
3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?
From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement. Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.
4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?
No. From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.
5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?
When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.
Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.
One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”
Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now. It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well. The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.
The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”
This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:
The BBC has reported that at least 100 people have been charged with treason in south-eastern Nigeria after a march supporting independence for Biafra, their lawyer says. Igbo members of the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) declared independence from Yoruba- and Haused-dominated Nigeria, raised the Biafran flag and then marched through the region’s main town of Enugu over the weekend, the Igbo stronghold during the Biafran War. Most of those arrested were young men, many sons of former Biafran fighters, but some were veterans of the war themselves. They were all remanded in custody.
More than one million people died during the 1967-70 Biafran conflict – mostly from hunger and disease. Political scientists debate whether the term “war” accurately describes the conflict. To be a “war” a certain percentage of deaths must occur on each side, and nearly the all the deaths occurred among Igbos and nearly all were due to the national government and its allies cutting off food and medical supplies to Igbo communities.
The BZM first gathered on Sunday to mark the birthday of former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who died in November 2011 and was buried in Enugu in March. His burial revived some cries for independence. The BBC (from Lagos, and not Enugu mind you) says that 45 years after the Biafran flag was first raised – an action which sparked Nigeria’s civil war – a small number of separatists still keep their dream alive, despite the threat of being charged with treason.
Biafran War 1967-1970
- 1960: Nigeria gains independence from the UK
- 1967: South-eastern portion of Nigeria secedes as Republic of Biafra on 30 May
- Biafra dominated by Igbo ethnic group
- Home to much of Nigeria’s oil
- Nigerian army blockades Biafra and more than a million people die through famine, disease and fighting
- 1970: Biafran government surrenders
Some recently released books and films have increased attention to Biafra. The war has been put back in the spotlight as the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the greatest male writer in Nigeria with Wole Soyinka, has just released his memoirs of the conflict. Igbo-American Chimanada Adichie’s amazing novel Half a Yellow Sun is being made into an American film, as this traumatic period of Nigeria’s history is set to reach a wider audience. The title refers to the flag created for the shortly independent republics of Biafra. The film stars Thandy Newton and was filmed primarily in Calabar, with my friends working as extras on set. Far less impressive, the Jeta Amata’s movie Black November is soon to be released starring Mickey Rouke, Viviva A. Fox, and Kim Basinger, which is an effort to take Nollywood mainstream to Hollywood. Based on the ridiculous trailer I almost hope no one goes to see the unrealistic portrayal of the oil conflict. Oil was a key impetus to the start of the Biafran War and control over reserves undergirded much of the struggle over Nigerian territory in the late 1960s, but I doubt the average viewer will think enough about the movie to be able to link natural resources to conflict.
- Mass arrests over Biafra protest (bbc.co.uk)
- Remembering Biafra (nytimes.com)
- ESSAY By Chinua Achebe : The Genocidal Biafran War Still Haunts Nigeria (igbokwenuradio.wordpress.com)
As mentioned in my previous two posts, last week’s start of the International Criminal Court‘s case against the former President of Cote d’Ivoire was historic. He is the most high-profile defendant to date, and the first head of state to face charges. Many Ivorians and members of the Ivorian diaspora are following the case closely, and emotionally. According to those I spoke with on Tuesday, so many people hoped to attend Gbagbo’s pre-trial that there was a sign-up list online in order to fill the 75 seats in the public viewing gallery fairly. In the 30 minutes before the start of proceedings, police escorted in groups of half a dozen people or so, and many hopeful attendees began to complain that police were using a different list than that online. The ICC’s front desk employees had told me earlier that morning that it was first come first serve, and that whoever lined up soonest would enter.
However, there was no semblance of any orderly line, and people began to argue with others waiting to enter, and then some hostility began to be directed at the police. One tearful woman approached an escorted group as they passed through the ICC’s street entrances, yelling at them that they were criminals and murders. Others began pushing their way to the front of the line, claiming a friend was saving them a place. As police tried to gently usher people away from the buildings entrance, demonstrators who had been at the pro-Gbagbo rally across the street became agitated and screamed at the police officers.
Across the street from the Court, near the rally, perhaps a hundred riot police emerged from armored vehicles, although no riot ended up taking place. From my vantage point, the Dutch police were impressive in their professionalism. They remained exceedingly calm and respectful, even when Gbagbo supporters were not. I did not observe any excessive violence on the part of the police, and comparably speaking, I can’t imagine police in any other country showing such restraint. I noted that perhaps 1/3 of the riot officers were female, a much higher percentage than I think would be present in the U.S. in such a situation.
Right around the time when Gbagbo’s hearing was supposed to start, I looked across the street to see a young Ivorian man getting physical with another man, and then saw him take a full swing at a police officer when the officer tried to break up the fight. As soon as he tried to punch that officer, any hope of getting in to the hearing was over for all of us. The doors to the Court were immediately locked, police brought out German Shepherds, and then they began to close off the sidewalk.
Here are two clips I took of the “line” to enter the Court. The first shows the arrest of the man with the yellow bag above, and the second clip is of Gbagbo supporters getting frustrated when they were not permitted entrance. See:
- Laurent Gbagbo fit to stand trial (bbc.co.uk)
- Former Ivorian leader Gbagbo fights ICC for freedom (vanguardngr.com)