Niger Delta

IMTD has been helping to facilitate and support the Niger Delta Peace Forum (NDPF) by proposing to train 100 NDPF members conflict resolution, group facilitation and leadership skills.

IMTD is helping to facilitate and support the Niger Delta Peace Forum (NDPF).This initiative has just recently been launched and is very promising. The NDPF was initiated in November 2006 and offers a new opportunity for economic and social justice for the local people. It was founded by the Chief of Defense Staff, General Azazi, who comes from the Niger Delta and youth leaders of Niger Delta militant groups and is being supported by Century Energy Services, Ltd., a Niger Delta firm. IMTD is working closely with local partners in order to support and facilitate the NDPF. So far the NDPF has held two meetings, the second of which was facilitated by IMTD associate, Dr. Noa Zanolli. The members of the NDPF intend to meet on a regular basis. Membership is growing and about 81 youth leaders from various militant and non-militant groups attended the second meeting. At the meeting all those present made considerable commitments and the militant youth have already proven that they are taking these seriously. Three weeks after the second training IMTD was informed by two of the participants that they were instrumental in obtaining the release of 25 Pilipino oil workers who had been kidnapped in Port Harcourt. They have also formed three different committees to work on a continuous basis on issues such as education and capacity building, community watch, and violence reduction. The NDPF opened its office in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in May 2007 and hopes to become a long-term and sustainable institution for hosting a nonviolent struggle for social and economic justice. For more information see www.nigerdeltapeaceforum.org (under construction).

IMTD has proposed to train 100 members of the Niger Delta Peace Forum (NDPF) in conflict resolution, group facilitation and leadership skills in four separate week-long sessions – 25 people at a time. The training would enhance the capabilities of the youth leaders immensely and would enable them to constructively engage in a non-violent peace process. In order to ensure sustainability, a fifth training session is proposed in which 5 people from each of the previous trainings would be reconvened for a week-long train-the-trainers session. The proposed training would respond to one of the major demands voiced loudly during the NDPF meetings, namely the demand for training and capacity building. The Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) was asked by NDPF leaders to facilitate such trainings.

The proposed program of training would assist the militant youth leaders in building conflict resolution skills, which will facilitate future peaceful interactions with all involved parties. IMTD has conducted numerous conflict resolution skills trainings around the world and has a high level of expertise in approaching conflict transformation with a systems approach to peacebuilding.

A formal project proposal for the training has been put together by Dr. Noa Zanolli. The proposal was very well received by the local partners, including the Chief of Defense Staff. IMTD is actively pursuing funding for the project. The proposal has been submitted to Ken Etete of Century Energy Services, Inc.

IMTD is also initiating contacts for the support of the NDPF. Recently, Ambassador John McDonald pressed the president of the U.S. Africa Development Foundation to collaborate with the Forum as its implementing partner in the region.

IMTD has also established a Niger Delta Peace Forum Working Group. The group is comprised of Nigerians hailing from the Niger Delta region as well as other interested Nigerians residing in the Washington, D.C. area. The purpose of this Working Group is to meet for discussion and also to identify resources to support peace initiatives by the NDPF. IMTD hosted our first meeting of the Working Group on Tuesday March 25, 2008. During this very productive meeting, Working Group members grappled with obstacles to peace in the region and also brainstormed ways in which the Working Group can contribute to the overall peacebuilding process.

Niger Delta Youth are Claiming Their Rights

By Kathrin Gottwald
The people of the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria have been fighting for social justice since the 1990s. International oil companies began expanding in the Niger Delta in the 1950s. Ever since oil exploitation started, oil spills, explosions, erosion of equipment, gas flaring, and other detrimental practices have lead to widespread pollution of the environment. Oil pipes and other installations run indiscriminately through the different villages in the Niger Delta, completely ignoring the local people’s land rights. Water, land, and air pollution has destroyed people’s farmlands and fishing grounds and has had negative effects on people’s health. Unemployment in the Niger Delta is widespread now as people can no longer practice their traditional ways of making a living, which used to be farming and fishing. While Nigeria is getting rich by exporting the oil from the Niger Delta, the people in the Niger Delta are living in poverty. Any oil revenue money allocated to those in need usually never reaches them due to rampant government corruption.

Faced with destitution and unbearable challenges, the people of the Niger Delta have decided to become active in their struggle for social justice. They are claiming their most basic human rights as well as a greater share of the country’s oil wealth. Parts of the struggle have remained nonviolent, while other groups have resorted to violence. It is not uncommon for the Nigerian government to violently smash down and oppress any protests or uprisings that might occur. It is now a multi-level conflict as there are frictions between Niger Delta communities, the government, and the oil companies. In addition, there are sometimes even rivalries on an inter-communal level. The conflict has become deeply rooted and is very intertwined.

First, the elders in the different communities tried to improve the situation, but their attempts have failed. Some of the local village chiefs were corrupt and would accept money from the oil companies in return for dropping any charges. There were, however, some positive attempts, such as nonviolent protests, demonstrations and lobbying at the international level. Despite the courageous but unsuccessful actions of the women and men in the Niger Delta, the youth have started to loose confidence in the effectiveness of these actions. Social structures are starting to change as the youth are no longer inclined to obey traditional structures of authority. The youth in the Niger Delta have decided to seek attention through violent action.

Unemployment, especially among the youth is high. This gives them another incentive to join the struggle for social justice. There are now countless local NGOs that advocate for environmental rights and social justice. Since the 1990s, numerous armed youth groups, or ‘freedom fighters’ as they like to call themselves, have evolved. In order to gain attention, these groups have employed some more drastic means of action, such as kidnapping foreign oil workers, destroying equipment, and oil bunkering. The groups have also frequently resorted to threatening the government as well as the oil companies. For some of the youth in these militant groups, this has become a way of life. The systems will need to change considerably in order to restore peace and achieve social justice. The youth consider engaging in militant activities as a way of gaining attention for their cause. In the short-term this appears to be working relatively well, as we can now read about kidnappings in the Niger Delta in the news on a regular basis. However, the militants do not seem to have triggered any long-term support for their cause.

In order to achieve long-term sustainable peace in the Niger Delta, the militant youth need to be constructively engaged in the peace process. They have a lot of energy, conviction, and passion and can achieve a lot if they act unanimously and in a coordinated, nonviolent effort to achieve their goals. The youth have the power to change systems and they represent the future. They are claiming a more sustainable future for themselves and therefore have every incentive to take action. However, an effort should be made to try to engage the militant youth in nonviolent forms of achieving their goals.

The NDPF seeks to transform the system by engaging militant youth in a nonviolent struggle and constructive action towards peace. The idea originated in the Niger Delta and is locally funded. It is a remarkable example of youth engagement in the peace process. This track-two approach on the nongovernmental level is a very good starting point that holds a lot of potential for conflict transformation and peacebuilding. In the long-term, however, more actors will have to be involved. Ideally this involvement would cover the entire range of tracks within the multi-track diplomacy model promoted by IMTD. This approach includes the following nine tracks: government, nongovernmental actors, business, private citizen, research and capacity building, activism, religion, funding, and communication. The oil companies (track 3) will have to start acting more responsibly and the government (track 1) needs to fight corruption and give the problem in the Niger Delta highest priority. The youth are courageous and their involvement holds the highest potential, but they can not do it alone. In line with the multi-track diplomacy approach, all actors need to engage in dialogue in order to achieve sustainable peace, development and conflict transformation in the Niger Delta.