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Prior to the advent of commercial oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958, the region was essentially a pristine environment which supported substantial subsistence resources for the mostly sedentary population. The region accounted for a large percentage of Nigeria’s commercial fisheries industry (Afinotan, 2009). For centuries therefore, the people of the Niger Delta were content to engage in farming, fishing and such other endeavours like pottery, mat-making and hunting, unaware that underneath their soil was one of nature’s most prized mineral resources.
Crude oil was discovered in the Niger Delta over fifty years ago, with the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1956 by Shell Petroleum Development Company (Aaron and George, 2010). Since, oil has become the main stay of the Nigerian Economy, contributing over 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings of the government, it is surprising that the trajectory of constitutional development, socio-economic development and class formation have been massively influenced and dictated by the politics of oil (Owugah, 1999). While the Nigerian State may see the availability of the crude resources as a ‘Blessing’ and a source of pre-eminence in the global market place, the communities where this crude resource is endowed with, see it as a ‘Curse’.
This is because the massive exploitation of crude oil creates serious developmental, social and environmental problems which the Nigerian state and the collaborative oil giants have neglected for a long time (Omotola, 2006). Lamenting about this state of affairs, Owugah (1999:106) observes that “The oil which brought so much wealth to the nation and those in power, brought much poverty, disease, death, loss of livelihood, to the people of the oil bearing areas”.
With the emergence of a pan-Niger Delta militia group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in 2006, the struggle for local control of Nigeria’s oil assumed a more violent dimension. Apart from MEND that appears to have clearly articulated grievances namely Environmental Insecurity and Socio-Economic Marginalization of the Niger Delta people, sundry groups emerged in the Niger Delta as well. Some of these groups, it would appear, were driven not by liberation ideology but crime and criminality. Independently the activities of these groups created a difficult security challenge in Nigeria’s oil belt (Aaron, 2010).
Oil installations were attacked and oil workers particularly expatriate staffs, at any rate, initially, were taken hostage for ransom. All these were happening, in spite of the heavy presence of the Joint Task Force (JTF), comprising of the Navy, Army and Air force, who were sometimes over ran by the superior fire power of the militants (Aaron, 2010). The implications of this parlous security were grave. Oil production figures plummeted to all time low, as many TNCs announced production shut-ins. Specifically, average production figure for 2009 was around 1.6million barrels per day(bpd), down from 2.7milllion bpd(NNPC,2009). The country lost an estimated $92 billion in oil export earnings to production shut-in and crude oil theft associated with the activities of militants (Davis, 2009). The cumulative effect of this was a drastic fall in the country’s oil exports. Consequently, public finance was subjected to one of the worst crises since independence.
In what appears an admission of the futility of violent response, late President Umaru Yar’Adua, on 25th June, 2009, announced an amnesty for militants who were willing to surrender their arms. The amnesty programme was in phases: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Aaron (2010). Disarmament of militants entailed the physical removal of the means of combat from ex belligerents (weapons, ammunition). Demobilization is the formal and controlled discharge of active combatants from armed groups, followed by processing of individual combatants in temporary centres with provision of support packages. Reintegration entails the process of reintegrating former combatants/militants into civil society ensuring against the possibility of a resurgence of armed conflict (Nwachukwu and Pepple, 2011).
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