John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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What Next for Nigeria’s Oil Patch?

by John Campbell
May 10, 2013

Children stand in front of a stilt house used as a local fuel station near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa November 27, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


With Mali’s implosion, Islamic extremism in the Sahel, and the “Boko Haram” insurgency in Nigeria’s north drawing international attention, the Niger Delta has dropped off the radar of many West Africa watchers. Yet, only five years ago an insurrection there resulted in a major reduction in Nigeria’s oil production and impacted on state revenue. In 2009, then-president Umaru Yar’Adua introduced an “amnesty” that has been continued by President Goodluck Jonathan and ended (or at least reined-in) that cycle of violence. The United States Institute for Peace has just published an assessment of the amnesty by Aaron Sayne. The report is based on a wide range of interviews, but he cautions that it not a rigorous assessment of the amnesty’s success because the necessary data is absent. Nevertheless, the tone of his report is positive.

Sayne sees the amnesty as having resulted in a significant cut in armed attacks on oil installations and a fall in expatriate kidnappings. Oil production has increased substantially. He suggests that the retraining of many former militants and their subsequent job placement has had “demonstrable, if somewhat limited success.”

Sayne characterizes some of the conventional criticism of the amnesty as misplaced. He acknowledges that the amnesty does not establish a political process to address Delta issues, but, he argues, that function is beyond the scope of an amnesty. He does not accept that amnesty payoffs to militant leaders has transformed them into warlords, and maintains that the Nigerian state retains a greater degree of control over the Delta than has been the case for territories of other states afflicted with warlordism, such as Liberia, Somalia, or Afghanistan.

Readers will find especially useful his discussion of various scenarios for renewal of violence in the run up to the elections of 2015. They will take heart from his conclusion that a violent upsurge, while possible, is by no means inevitable. His conclusion: “despite many worrying signals, a return to major violent conflict (in the Delta) does not look inevitable at this point. The road ahead is far too busy for doomsday forecasts, and Nigeria tends to embarrass those who predict its imminent unraveling.”

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