FEATURE ARTICLE

Cecil IbegbuMonday, February 26, 2007
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Cibegbu@yahoo.com
USA

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INSTABILITY AND TERRORISM IN NIGERIA


or one to analyse the current situation with regard to terrorist activity in Nigeria, one has to first consider the social, economic and political factors which have given rise to issues such as the Delta conflicts. Some of these factors are peculiar to Nigeria itself, and others can be seen as exemplifying unrest and a lack of stability in post-colonial Africa as a whole.


For example, a brief overview of the relationship between government and civil society is relevant here, since dysfunction in this sphere is particularly significant to the present situation in Nigeria. Generally, the 'civil society' is regarded as being able to influence and control the state, or as holding the state and the market economy accountable, and can therefore be seen as an essential element of democracy.

In fact the term civil society ought to incorporate a sphere of interaction which comprises social movements, public communications, the family, and those associations which are not derived from the state itself. There is also the difference between the concept of the civil society with social movements and their influence on democracy, and with empowerment and the defence of human rights, and that it is inaccurate to assert that civil society is a homogeneous entity since it is characterised by plurality, polarization, contradictions, and conflict of interests and therefore cannot always be construed as having a progressive impact on democracy.

An empowered civil society is an essential element in promoting and safeguarding good governance in Africa in the sense that the function of the state can be seen as providing the foundations for the development of a responsive civil society, which involves societal institutions such as women's groups, labour organisations, churches, policy groups and other NGOs. Again, this strongly emphasises that the civil society is a complex sphere of influence which interacts with both the state and the market economy, and is composed of numerous different social and political elements rather than being seen as a homogenous whole.

Although there is certainly a high level of diversity within the sphere of civil society, when one considers the impact of civil society on African economics, it can only be perceived as a political arena and one in which issues are contested and resolved by opposing forces. This would imply that although there are various contributory forces within the civil sphere, these are not seen as forming a bridge between the populace and the state through the actions of different NGOs, but rather as an integral part of the political process.

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In some African nations, it could be asserted that organisations within the civil sphere have become a ball game between rebels and governments in some cases governments will use different groups in civil society to fight rebel groups, rather than using them as a means of peacefully resolving conflicts.

Many of the current social, political and economic issues in African countries can be seen as deriving from the colonial and post-colonial period, particularly in the way that economic growth and trends have been directed and defined through colonial political frameworks, for example, since independence, for most African nations the problems which occur with regard to the relationship of state and civil society have for the most part been centred on the role played by the rural majority. This group has been governed according to colonial political ideologies, and this structure has tended to be maintained after independence. Consequently, local groups which might otherwise be considered as autonomous elements within the civil sphere have been organised through the establishment of either state or party organisations, and therefore represent a continuation of colonial values and structures. In the case of Nigeria we also have to consider the extent to which external political influences, especially in terms of the US, have assisted in perpetrating a colonial ideology which might otherwise have given way to greater democratisation within the civil sphere.

We have, then, a situation where the interests of civil society tend to conflict with those of government; civil society is itself fragmented and lacking in cohesion; and national economic and political structures are rooted in colonial ideologies. Whilst this scenario can be seen in other African countries besides Nigeria, it is particularly relevant to the latter, partly because of the diversity which exists within Nigeria itself. Political boundaries do not necessarily correspond with socio-cultural ones: there are more than three hundred different tribal groups in Nigeria, all of which belong to the political definition, "Nigerian", but are distinct from one another in terms of cultural practices. Added to this are economic disparities between the various groups, as well as potential for conflict on religious grounds, especially between the long-established Muslim population and the rapidly-growing Christian sector. A high degree of diversity within the civil sphere does not necessarily imply the existence of a democratic perspective in society as a whole.

Having established the context in which civil unrest in Nigeria is set, we can now look more closely at the specific issue of the growth of terrorist activity, especially in relation to the Nigerian oil industry. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that terrorism per se is always difficult to define, since the extent to which terrorist activities can be seen as morally or politically justifiable will depend on the ideological perspective of the observer. Terrorism does not arise in a vacuum, and there is always some form of repression - genuine or perceived - which precedes the terrorist activity and allows the terrorist group to validate its actions. Bayman (2006), also defined terrorism as, "ineluctable political in aims and motives; violent - or, equally important, threatens violence; designed to have far reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target; conducted by organizations and perpetuated by a sub national group or no state entity" by adding a sixth element, "that the attacks target non combatants"

Poverty, state corruption and divides along ethnic and religions lines in Nigeria have provided fertile grounds for terrorist groups and that the socioeconomic inequalities in civil society, coupled with inadequate government provision to address these, has created a vacuum for militants to exploit. Corruption and neglect within the country's oil industry, which has exacerbated the level of instability and contributed to the increase in terrorist activity aimed at the industry itself and the fact that the conflicts over oil have been ongoing for some time, it is worth noting that the Shell Company, declared a state of force majeure as long ago as 2000.

The oil industry has ushered in a miserable, undisciplined, decrepit, and corrupt form of "Petro-Capitalism" and that excessive venality and profiteering among the political class has meant that, for ordinary Nigerians, there has been no rise in living standards despite the country's increased wealth. The International Crisis Group (2006) notes that the Nigerian government has taken the stance that terrorist activity is "simple criminality to be dealt with by more police and more troops" (ICG, 2006) but it is evident that such measures will be ineffective unless the root causes of militancy are properly addressed.

Groups such as MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) have rejected what the ICG calls the government's 'Marshall Plan' for the region, and demand that the oil wealth of the Delta be placed under local control. The ICG also emphasises the role played by fragmentation in the civil sphere in the rise in militancy: they state that alienation experienced by the many different ethnic and cultural groups in the country has led to a "rise in ethnic identity politics, ethnic militias and, in twelve northern states, disputes over the application of Islamic law" (ICG, 2006). Ethnic loyalties are seen as taking priority over national; MASSOB, for example, demands secession from Nigeria altogether, whereas other organizations such as the OPC, are effectively independent security outfits. The ICG claims that such organizations are "responsible for human rights abuses that have left hundreds dead" (ICG, 2006) and adds that the government regards the growth of such movements as "no more than a law and order problem" (ICG, 2006).

Nigeria also in recent times is a major focus of extreme Islamist attention when one looks at a number of potential links between Nigerian Muslim groups, and al-Qaeda as published on Wednesday, December 20, 2006, http://odili.net/news/source/2006/dec/20/301.html or the article published by Punch news on, Wednesday 17 Jan 2007 http://www.punchontheweb.com/Articl.aspx?theartic=Art20070117423292

This is particularly relevant when one considers the involvement of the US in the Nigerian oil industry, and the implications this has for the 'war on terrorism'. The Council of American Ambassadors (2006) notes that although Obasanjo is a "born-again Christian" (CAA, 2006) and has "been a supporter of the War on Terrorism, denounced the Taliban and al-Qaeda and supported anti-terrorism efforts in the region" (CAA, 2006), he has not enlisted the country in the 'coalition of the willing'; the Council attributes this to a pervasive belief in Africa that "Iraq is outside the parameters of the anti-terrorism battlefield" (CAA, 2006). However, there have been several meetings between the American and Nigerian presidents, and it is evident that the issue of American investment in Nigerian oil is a central factor in the rise in militancy.

Nigeria has maintained a steady supply of oil to the US during the oil crises of the 1970s, despite the fact that the country was a member of OPEC. Since then, it has become evident that not only is Nigerian oil superior in various respects to that of the Arab countries, a greater reliance on Nigerian imports would allow the US to wean itself away from Arab suppliers, thereby putting a very different face on the political dynamics in the Middle East. For Nigeria to assume the role that energy strategists plan for it, it is crucial that Nigeria government tackle the growing unrest in the Niger Delta and if one looks more closely at the role of energy strategists in this context, we can see clearly the survival of colonial political frameworks.

In conclusion, the majority of Nigerians in the Delta region are no better off, in economic terms, than they were in the 1960s, despite the fact that Nigeria is now a major economic force in the oil market. In addition, it is evident that the lion's share of Nigerian wealth is in the hands of a small percentage of the population which reinforces the continued existence of a colonial pattern of governance, supported by American interests. It is notable that MEND not only directs much of its attention towards the foreign oil installations, but has also demanded the release of political prisoners who oppose Obasanjo's bid for a third term; the CAA states that the current administration has been accused of "selective prosecution" of politicians opposed to Obasanjo's re-election. If post-independence governments continue to follow the colonial model, this does not allow for autonomy of NGOs and the masses interest within the civil sphere and exercises control over the majority through economic dominance.

In Nigeria there is a need for diverse groups to become more proactive in order to transcend colonial ideologies, and one could argue that the increased militancy of the Delta organisations are doing so: if, however, the various groups within the civil sphere are effectively wasting economic resources on promoting and prolonging internal conflicts rather than seeking resolution, this is counter-productive in both the civil sphere and for the State, since such resources are benefiting neither group. In addition, one cannot ignore the possibility that at least some of the militant groups are operating in a wider political context than that of Nigeria alone, and that their anti-American stance is derived from an Islamicist ideological perspective, and the sooner the Nigerian leadership understands the need for a social solution to the Niger Delta area, a more focused solution to the Islamic infiltration in the North with the Al-Qaeda Jihadist concept, and the overall assumption that corruption by the privileged few in many ways fuels the emergence of terrorism in Nigeria, the better for the Nigerian Nation as a whole, in terms of peace, prosperity and democratic gains that can be sustainable.

Mr. Cecil Ibegbu is based in United Sates and has a background in International Diplomacy, International Conflict Resolution and Anti Terrorism. He can be reached at: Cibegbu@yahoo.com