Challenges to Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration: The Case of the Niger Delta
Author: Solomon Inuwa
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 06/12/2009
Since the attainment of political independence in 1960, Nigeria has been experiencing a series of violent conflicts. For instance, shortly after independence the country went through a violent civil war. While ethno-religious conflicts have become a recurrent theme in her history, the Niger Delta conflict has remained the most potent national security threat to Nigeria. In his article “Conflict Analysis” Best (n.d. p.61), states the following:
In the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, for instance, there is conflict between the local ethnic communities inhabiting the area, and the Federal Government of Nigeria over the ownership of proceeds from the sale of oil. The communities argue that the oil found in the land belongs to them, and they should own the proceeds and pay tax and royalties to the government. This is tagged “resource control”.
The rise of the conflict can be traced back to Nigeria’s pre- independence period (Agbo, 2008,). Nevertheless, the conflict has escalated, resulting in the current insurgency being carried out by several armed militant groups. The most organized and active among these militant groups is the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that came into existence in 2006 (Hanson, 2007). The coming of MEND into the Niger Delta conflict scenario marked the beginning of a new historical phase in the conflict (The Nordic African Institute, 2009). Primary parties to the conflict can be identified as the federal government of Nigeria, the oil-producing communities represented by the various militant groups, and multinational oil companies.
Similarly, a series of attempts were made by previous Nigerian political leaders to solve the conflict without any significant success. Nonetheless, the current Nigerian president that came to power in 2007 is determined to address the root causes of the conflict. On coming to power he started a peace process by setting up the Niger Delta Technical Committee (Jonathan, 2008). The committee was to review all past reports written concerning the resolution of the conflict and come up with well thought-out recommendations and a development blueprint to address the developmental challenges confronting the region- the root causes of the conflict.
The developmental challenges facing the region include environmental degradation/insecurity, poverty, youth unemployment and infrastructural decay (Azaiki, 2003). Summarily, it is my contention that the root of the Niger Delta Conflict lies in systemic corruption and failure of governance which have manifested the relative deprivation. One of the major recommendations of the technical committee was the implementation of a DDR programme in the region.
Analysis of Challenges for Conducting a Successful DDR Programme in the Niger Delta Region
As part of the efforts to end the violence in the region, the Nigerian government accepted the technical committee’s recommendation for a DDR programme. This was made known by the Nigerian president while addressing executive members of his party in Abuja; he reportedly said the Federal government will grant amnesty to all the militants willing to drop their arms and ammunition, for rehabilitation and reintegration into the society (Afrique en Ligne, 2009). However, it is my contention that even though it is crucial and desirable for a DDR programme to be carried out in the Niger Delta region, it is important to stress that certain core elements need to be addressed for the DDR to be successful. These are preconditions that, if not adequately met, would mar the DDR programme.
Political Commitment on the part of all Stakeholders
Colleta, Konstner and Wiederhofer (1996) posit that DDR involves the active participation and involvement of a broad spectrum of individuals. This cuts straight across parties to the conflict, which includes the state, the community and ex combatants and insurgents etc. The success of DDR depends entirely on the level of political commitment and sincerity of all these stakeholders. All of them should be irrevocably committed to its success. In the context of the Niger Delta, the DDR may not succeed unless all the parties are sincerely committed to the success of the peace agreement which requires the militants to surrender their weapons in return for amnesty, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. The Nigerian government most show commitment by funding the DDR and also by implementing the agreed development programmes for the region. On their part, the Niger Delta communities and militants most show commitment by shunning violence and resorting to dialogue in the event of setbacks in the government’s implementation of the Niger Delta development programmes. In another vein, the Niger Delta political elites who are accused of arming some of these militants for their own selfish political ambition during elections, only to later abandon them, must desist from this activity. (International Crisis Group, 2007).
Well-defined and Comprehensive Peace Agreement
Disarmament and demilitarization always comes after warring parties have agreed to negotiated settlement (Jeong, 2005). This implies that DDR is always preceded by a comprehensive, detailed and clear peace agreement after a series of negotiations. The content of the peace agreement would always provide details about the organizing and practical implementation of the DDR by providing the institutional framework. This is reminiscent of the theory of social contract, where the insurgents that surrender their weapons are clear of what they stand to gain by rejecting violent approach to realising their goals. In the context of the Niger Delta, the government should be demonstrating enough commitment by engaging the militant in a series of negotiations that will culminate in the final signing of a peace agreement. Failure to do that, may result in the militant viewing the government as unserious and insincere. Therefore, the recent pronouncement by the Nigerian president before his party executives that government will soon start a DDR programme by granting amnesty to the Niger Delta militants that are willing to surrender their arms is indicative of a faulty approach. DDR cannot just be announced on the pages of newspapers, neither should it be politicized. It should be a product of a well-defined and comprehensive peace agreement after a tedious series of negotiations. The government’s approach to the DDR is portrayed as unserious thereby making the government’s intention appear suspicious before the militants. With this scenario in play, it is absolutely impossible for the government to get the required cooperation of the militants.
The Need for a Reputable International Mediator
In response to the offer of state rehabilitation and reintegration by the president of Nigeria, the Niger militants’ reaction is: “MEND and the Niger Delta people will only subscribe to a holistic peace process where the United Nations and reputable international mediators will be active participants” (Afrique en Lingne, 2009). The group contends that the offer is unrealistic coming from a government that is known for insincerity. Currently, the militants and the federal government are engaged in media mudslinging. In the same vein, Mitchell (2008, chap.7) posits that direct parties’ negotiations in protracted and violent social conflicts is extremely complex and difficult. Furthermore, such direct negotiation becomes shaky and fragile in the context of asymmetric conflict which the Niger Delta conflict exemplifies. Paul (1994) posits that asymmetric conflict is conflict involving two states with unequal military and economic resources. However in the light of present global reality and to broaden the definition, one could say that not only state actors but also non-state actors like insurgent organizations and terrorist groups can also be included. Direct negotiations in such a conflict scenario is always difficult as the stronger party will always want to dictate the process and outcome of the agreement to be reached. Given this complexity and the apparent position already taken by MEND, it is difficult to have a successful DDR without the Nigerian government bringing a reputable international mediator to pilot the peace negotiations that will culminate in a comprehensive peace agreement, and will define the scope of the DDR to be conducted in the region. In a similar vein, the International Crisis Group (2009) suggested that the Yar’ Adua administration should respond to the Technical Committee’s report by accepting an external mediator either the UN, the Reconciliation Centre Coventry Cathedral or eminent group of persons to negotiate on its behalf with the militants. It is my contention that anything less than the above may mar the DDR programme in the Niger Delta.
Demilitarization of the Security Situation in the Niger Delta Region
Nigeria’s government response to the Niger Delta conflict in the past was one of reductionism by reducing it to a mere security problem. Consequently, since the conflict escalated to an insurgency, a Joint Military Task Force was set up to restore law and order in the region. This task force has been in constant clashes with the militants resulting in loss of precious lives on both sides. In order for the militant to have confidence in the government and the DDR programme, the peace agreement has to address the issue of demilitarization of the security situation in the Niger Delta region. The government would have to downsize the strength of its military deployment in the region. However, contrary to this expectation of the Niger Delta militants, the Nigerian president while announcing to his party executives the planned DDR programme, equally added:
Also, we are funding a repositioned Joint Task Force to enforce law and order in the area. And we have worked out the new rules of engagement for the joint task force, giving it a period of six months. Next week, the National Security Council will meet to deliberate and finalise these new rules of engagement (Afrique en Ligne, 2009).
The above remark by the Nigerian president alongside an offer of amnesty and DDR was viewed by the militants as amounting to self contradiction, deception and also an indication that the military was preparing to launch an onslaught against them. In response, the militant issued a statement:
As the government prepares its military for war against the peace loving people of the Niger Delta, we wish to warn that the freedom fighters are ready. Our differences have been put aside to face the common enemy… (Afrique en Ligne, 2009).
What could be deduced from the president’s statement and the response by the militants is that, unless the peace accord to be reached addresses the issue of downsizing the current military deployment in the region, the Niger Delta militants will not sincerely agree to disarm; even if they do agree, not all weapons may be surrendered. There is fear and suspicion on the part of the militants that the government is trying to lure them to disarm, only to be rounded off for prosecution. For the DDR to be successful, this perceived fear, whether real or imagined, has to be addressed. One way of dousing fear is through demilitarization from the security situation in the Delta.
Scope of the DDR Programme
The Niger Delta Conflict is a very complex one (Adetoun, 2005, chap.) There are two dimensions of the conflict: the first being the conflict between the various ethnic groups and communities struggling over control of land. The more land you have, the more oil wells a community stands to gain; and the more oil wells a community has the more it can be rewarded by multinational oil companies. The various communities in the Niger Delta have been at war with one another over the years (Adetoun, 2005). Consequently, all communities over the years have acquired weapons. The second dimension of the conflict is the one between the Niger Delta communities now represented by militants or insurgent groups, the federal government and multinational oil companies operating in the region. Today, this is the most reported dimension of the conflict given the involvement of the international community and the fact that their business interest is being threatened by it. The questions to pose here are, ‘What would the scope of the DDR be? Is it going to only focus on weapons possessed by militant and insurgent groups leaving those in the possession of communities? The attention of government seems to focus on collecting weapons from insurgent groups. If the scope of the DDR is not comprehensive enough to include weapons possessed by communities, the success of the DDR will be short-lived as sooner or later communities’ weapons may get into the hands of these insurgents. Alternatively, new insurgent groups may emerge to take the place of those disarmed. Hence, the scope of the DDR should be comprehensive to address this important arms cache in the region. Going by my experience in various internal security operations, I can confidently affirm that most of such weapons are kept in palaces of traditional rulers, shrines and some times communities’ graveyards.
Determining the Appropriate Reinsertion and Reintegration Package
Blair, Eyre, Salome and Wasserstorn (2008, chap. 8) have identified several features of a political economy of conflict. However, one of the characteristics which states that economic transaction takes place mainly in the illicit informal market is relevant to the discussion here. They argue that war profiteering is a major factor in sustaining conflict. The bulk of economic transaction takes place within the domain of the informal economy. Blaire et al (2008, chap.8) also argues that the informal economy has two dimensions. The first is the grey economy which consists of transactions that ordinarily should be legal in nature but are conducted in an illegal way, as in the case of illegal exploitation of raw material resources. The second dimension is the illegal black market. Examples of these are illegal drugs trafficking and arms smuggling. These transactions are outrightly criminal in nature. In relation to the Niger Delta conflict, since the conflict assumed an insurgency dimension, it has given rise to a conflict economy which revolves around illegal bunkering of petroleum and hostage taking and ransom kidnapping which the militants have been profiting on. The conflict therefore gives them unfettered access to cash.
Arguing out of experience, militants from time to time sneak out from the creeks to the city to enjoy themselves in five star hotels. During this period it is common for MEND to announce that they are declaring three months cease fire. In order for the Niger Delta militants to truly participate in the DDR, it is important that the appropriate reinsertion and reintegration package is designed in order to serve as a strong inducement. Given the easy access to cash they are used to and the fact that most of them are said to be university graduates, it is apparent that they may not respond positively to any reinsertion package that is not cash-based. Furthermore, not just cash based but also the amount to be given matters a lot if their commitment to the DDR is to be secured. Therefore, long term reintegration most includes provision of gainful and well remunerated employment. Preferably those that are qualified should be absorbed into the oil sector. Niger Delta militants would not agree to a farming resettlement programme. Therefore the government must undertake a study to determine the educational qualifications and post demobilization career interests of the militants and make adequate arrangements for their post demobilization reinsertion and reintegration.
Porous International Maritime Boundary
Disarmament is bound to be futile in the absence of an arms embargo managed by tight border control by relevant security agencies (Jeong, 2005). Illegal arms transfer increased between Ethiopia and Eritrea to Somalia, particularly after the defeat of the Ethiopian Marxist leader in 1991 due to loose border controls (Jeong, 2005). Given the failure to protect the border, Somali warlords were able to have unfettered access to weapons (Menkhaus 2004 cited in Jeong 2005). In the context of the Niger Delta, it is important to note that the region is Nigeria’s southern gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. Through the Atlantic Ocean, heavy, small and light weapons are easily smuggled into the country. Closely connected to this is the illegal oil bunkering business that is going on, whereby international criminals working in concert with Nigerians and expatriates oil workers steal crude oil in their barges. These international criminals are also found to be behind the supply of weapons to the militants, who in turn provide them with security while they perpetrate their criminality on the offshore oil fields. For the DDR to yield a positive result, the challenge of ensuring proper patrolling of this Nigeria’s porous international maritime boundary has to be addressed. Also, the criminal networks engaging in illegal oil bunkering must be brought under control. Presently, only the Nigerian Navy has the capacity to patrol the area. The Nigerian Navy therefore need to be provided with the necessary logistics to accomplish that. The Nigerian marine police can also be equipped to patrol the creeks of the Niger Delta through which a lot of weapons are being smuggled into Nigeria from African countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
The Need for Pre-DDR Planning
In a paper prepared for the Monterey Institute of International Studies California titled “Disarming for Peace in Aceh: Lessons Learned”, Laurence and Shie (2003) pointed out the necessity for pre-disarmament planning and that the lack of it contributed to the first failed attempt at DDR in Aceh. They argued that before the commencement of DDR certain critical issues ought to be set right particularly at the pre-disarmament planning phase. For instance, there is the need to determine who is to be disarmed, setting up of collection sites, timetable, disposal of collected weapons and post demobilization needs of the ex-combatants. Without this information at hand, it is difficult to set up any benchmark for the disarmament phase and without any benchmark for the disarmament phase it is difficult to determine its success or failure. In the case of the Niger Delta DDR, the government must not rush or stampede into DDR without concrete planning as earlier highlighted. Investigation most be carried out to ascertain the quantity and locations of arms and the number of various militant groups in the region. Presently there is a plethora of militant groups in the Niger Delta; there are also criminal gangs masquerading as Niger Delta militants while there are genuine militants fighting for the course of the region. All these are basic intelligence information requirements that need to be acquired before the commencement of any disarmament programme which is the first phase of the DDR programme. The success of disarmament can only be measured against the record of available arms before disarmament was carried out.
In this paper I examined the prospect of conducting a successful DDR programme in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta conflict revolves around issues of environmental degradation/insecurity, poverty, youth unemployment and infrastructural decay. These conditions gave rise to agitation which gradually escalated into the current state of insurgency. However, the fundamental roots of the conflict are in relative deprivation, systemic corruption and bad governance.
The present Nigerian government under the leadership of Yar’Adua is determined to address the root causes of the conflict which is exemplified by the peace process he began on coming to power in 2007, by setting up the Niger Delta Technical Committee. One of the key recommendations of the committee was the need to grant amnesty to the militants by disarming, rehabilitating and reintegrating them into society which the government accepted.
However, it is my contention that, desirable as it is to conduct a DDR programme in the region, there are certain critical preconditions that have to be met for it to be successful. Analysing these preconditions was the main focus of this paper and contribution to the proposed DDR in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
 DDR is used in this paper as defined by the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations (UNDPKO), as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants in a Peacekeeping Environment: Principles and Guidelines (New York: United Nations, (2000) http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/lessons/DD&R.pdf(26 November 2003), 15
 Yar’Adua is the name of Nigeria’s current president.
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Bio: Solomon Inuwa is an MA candidate at the University for Peace.