There are several types of conflicts, including ethnic and religious conflicts, ideological and civilizational, conflicts over colonial-era boundaries, and resource-based conflicts. In recent times, however, resource wars have began to gain greater attention. Many social scientists, including Michael T. Klare, have averred that a sizeable number of future conflicts will be over the availability and accessibility of fresh water which is thought to be in very limited supply.
In addition to other factors, recent conflicts in Nigeria have occurred as a result of the unjust distribution of profits from the sale of oil, and over the distribution of political goods and services. The Itsekiri-Urhobo-Ijaw messy entanglement is exactly over this. Nonetheless, as inevitable as conflicts are, they worsen if there is a crisis of governance and weak or failing institutions. Insofar as Nigerian is concerned, nowhere is the failure of institutions and failure of leadership more apparent than in the Niger Delta.
The point has been made, again and again, that the ongoing conflict should have been resolved some four decades ago; but unfortunately, various governments allowed it to simmer and boil over. Perfidy, apathy and denial, events have shown, can be costly.
History has shown that conflicts are bloody, disruptive, and costly to all sides. In fact, one need not look beyond Africa to understand the lessons of history insofar as conflicts are concerned. Sierra Leone, Uganda, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and the Congo and many other spots within the continent are ample reminders of the idiocy and the horrible cost of conflicts. For those who need reaffirmation of the futility of violent conflicts, perhaps, a critical read of Robert D. Kaplan’s 1993 treatise, the Balkans Ghost, may be helpful: we know that it “was a time-capsule world: a dim stage upon which people raged, spilled blood, experienced visions and ecstasies; where people committed atrocities.”
Fifty years and counting, three types of atrocities are being committed in the Niger Delta. The first is the ecological devastation of the oil-producing communities, the economic and political exclusion of the people, and the complete underdevelopment of these communities. The second is the refusal of government to halt the devastations, build and rebuild these communities, and in their refusal to distribute profits from oil according to internationally acceptable standards. And finally, we see man’s inhumanity to man in the constant attacks and invasions and in the militarization of the region.
Conflicts, whether intrastate or interstate, are very easy to start, but very difficult to contain once the violence begins. Even more difficult is the Peacebulding aspect: how to prevent reoccurrence, how to formulate and institute confidence-building measure, how to promote sustainable peace and harmony, and the rebuilding of lives and the society. The aforesaid, in most cases, are more taxing and more expensive than the conflict itself.
When it is all said and done — more so in the Niger Delta — the government has to do what, in the first instance, it failed to do: do what is right in the eyes of the oil-producing communities. Otherwise, the conflict will continue and intensify.
But of course, no one who is actively connected with the Yar’Adua administration seems interested in long-lasting peace. No one who is connected to Aso Rock or with any of the State Houses in the Niger Delta, seem interested in solving this crisis. From all accounts, no one seems to understand — either from a theoretical or practical point of view — a thing about economic, political and social transformation of the system and the process that gave birth to this and various other crises. What we have are people who profit from the crisis and from the amnesty program.
Millions of dollars have been spent on the amnesty program; still, there will be no durable peace. Thousands of guns and ammunitions may have been submitted to the government; still, there will be no sustainable agreement. Dozens and dozens of genuine and not so genuine fighters may have made the pilgrimage to Abuja and elsewhere, still, there will be a resurgence of violence. This is so because the Yar’Adua’s government does not have plans regarding post-conflict reconstruction. There are no post-conflict reconstruction plans because the government simply does not know what to do.
According to intelligence estimates, more than $100 million have been spent in the last 8 weeks to pacify groups of people and special interests. But in spite of this, and in spite of the media blitz — with no peacebuilding measures in place — as we say in Nigeria, katakata go bust again.
One wonders why people are not telling President Yar’Adua the truth about this amnesty. Amnesty is good, but what are the post-amnesty plans? Could it be that Yar’Adua is a willing participant in this amnesty charade? May be it is all a setup: the government designs a poor amnesty program expecting it to fail, which then becomes the pretext to invade the oil-producing communities. But why? This doesn’t make sense, but as we all know, most things in Nigeria ever make good sense.
In all of these, here is an irony that may be lost on President Yar’Adua and his posse: hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women who had hitherto not left the creeks and the slums they grew up in, had the opportunity to see London and America for the first time in their lives. Most have never known or seen opulence. Some have never seen high-rise buildings, fabulous mansions and palaces, well-managed roads and manicured lawns. They have never seen the good life — a life that mostly exists in their imagination and from stories passed to them from friends and family in faraway places.
The amnesty carnival (in Abuja) gave militants and other justice-seeking groups the opportunity to go places and to see what the Federal Republic of Nigeria has done with their money while they (the oppressed) live a life of deprivation, in slums and in ghettoes. The oppressed will see that while they have been bathing, defecating and drinking from rivers, their oppressors have gold-plated bathrooms. Now, let’s see if the same men and women will be at ease with the disgusting disparity and the injustice they can now connect in their minds. Let’s see if the threats and the blackmail will keep their searing soul in place, in chain.
No amount of money and no amount of blackmail and threats will make the agitation go away. Without properly addressing the root cause, and without committing the needed resources and the political will, no amount of military invasion will break the will of those fighting for justice and freedom. Give it a week, or give it a month — but certainly, less than 100 days from now, the agitation will resume. The next wave of violence, one suspect, will be stomach churning. Less than a week after the much touted amnesty, there is already an atmosphere of fear, suspicion and anger. What manner of peace is this? We shall see. We shall be witness to history.
Whether Nigerians know it or not, we are experiencing the first stages of what social scientists call state collapse. Today, not a single private/public institution is functioning as it should. Some are decaying, others are collapsing. The most apparent of these failing is the utter absence of government in our lives. Almost fifty years after independence, governments, at all three levels, are unable to provide the most basic of all human needs: no potable water, no electricity, no quality education, no quality healthcare system, and no viable transportation system. We can’t even feed ourselves without imports. Where have the billions from the sale of oil gone? Where have the billions from the sale of other resources gone?
On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush told Americans and the world: “Mission Accomplished.” He thou
ght he had won, that the war was over. But events proved him otherwise. Six years after that premature declaration, the battle is still on. In Abuja, the oligarchy and their band of brothers/sisters are very happy at the conclusion of the amnesty program. They are celebrating, popping bottles of champagne, high-fiving one another. Soon, rather than later, they will come to the same realization: “the game has just begun.” It can only be Mission Accomplished after justice is done.
And what is justice? We can only know after diligent consultation and negotiation with all parties involved. The end game must be peacebuilding and genuine reconstruction plans.