Amnesty won’t stop Nigeria’s violence
By Eurasia Group analyst Jonas Horner Nigeria — an OPEC member, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, and a major oil supplier for the United States — has enough high quality crude in the ground to pump more than 3 million barrels per day. It’s now producing about half that, because virtually all of that ...
By Eurasia Group analyst Jonas Horner
Nigeria — an OPEC member, the world’s fifth largest oil producer, and a major oil supplier for the United States — has enough high quality crude in the ground to pump more than 3 million barrels per day. It’s now producing about half that, because virtually all of that oil is located in or around the Niger Delta, a densely populated, marshy region along Nigeria’s southern coastline. For many years, this area has been plagued by militant groups demanding that locals receive a larger share of oil revenue and criminal organizations that steal oil directly from local pipelines.
This is a growing problem for Nigeria’s federal government, which finances 60 percent of its budget with the proceeds from oil exports. The conflict in the Delta costs the country’s treasury billions each year, and in recent months, it has been digging into its considerable cash reserves to buoy a sinking currency and to stabilize a struggling economy. In addition, violence in the Delta has spread to other Gulf of Guinea states, like Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Cameroon, and Sao Tome and Principe.
To quell unrest and boost production, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and current president Umaru Yar’Adua have adopted strategies ranging from direct negotiation with the militants to all-out military assaults on them. Nothing has worked. Now the government is offering a 60-day amnesty to militants willing to trade their weapons for promises of immunity from prosecution and access to vocational training.
Why is the government offering an amnesty now? An intense military offensive in May drove armed groups from the western Delta, but it also made refugees of large numbers of civilians. That ensures that local communities will continue to provide a steady stream of young men ready to wield increasingly sophisticated weapons imported from dealers in the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Ghana, and South Africa against Nigerian soldiers and foreign oil workers. Having scored a military victory, state officials claim, now is the time to offer members an incentive not to carry on the fight.
The government has budgeted for some 20,000 youths to participate in the vocational training program, and many will line up to take advantage of the benefits on offer. But the amnesty isn’t going to work, because the government doesn’t enjoy much credibility in the Niger Delta region, having failed for more than a decade to address the area’s extreme poverty, and because the militants have good reason to accept the terms and to regroup to fight another day.
This is not the first time the government has offered amnesty. In 2004, the federal and local governments paid militants $2,800 for each surrendered weapon, regardless of quality or condition. At the time, a relatively new AK-47 cost about $350. Selling your old weapon for enough cash to buy eight new ones makes good economic (and military) sense.
The pricing equation was no accident. Several local governors wanted to buy a little near-term peace and quiet in the run-up to the 2007 elections. Once the votes were cast, some of these governors then cut deals with the most influential and cash-rich of the militant groups to use them for political purposes of their own.
The government’s troubles became more serious with formation of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a far more cohesive, well-armed, media-savvy and influential umbrella movement under which former militia members gathered following the government’s quiet withdrawal from its amnesty duties. Unlike previous armed groups that acted nominally as ethnic militias, MEND multiplied its firepower by welcoming all ethnic groups into its fold.
That’s where we are today. And that’s why headlines suggesting that militants are accepting government offers of amnesty shouldn’t encourage us to believe that Nigeria’s central security challenge is any closer to resolution.
Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. He is also the host of the television show GZERO World With Ian Bremmer. Twitter: @ianbremmer
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