Appeasement efforts have fared a bit better. In 2009, the Nigerian government announced an amnesty program, which paid MEND militants millions of dollars and released Henry Okah from jail; in return, MEND declared a ceasefire. Although the ceasefire didn’t stick immediately, many members put their guns down and for the most part, the group ceased active operations.
Okah was tried in South Africa in 2013, found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism and sentenced to 24 years in prison. His conviction spurred a minor flurry of new attacks by MEND, but they didn’t last long.
Fast forward to last year. In February 2016, a new group, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), emerged on the scene. Think of the NDA as MEND 2.0, only smaller, reportedly just a few hundred men. The NDA has the same goals as MEND, namely running the oil companies out of the Niger Delta and giving the folks who live there as much control over oil operations as possible. The group is as well-armed as MEND, too, having at its disposal weapons and materiel ranging from machine guns to speedboats to rocket-launchers. And, like MEND, the NDA has been successful at hitting high-value, strategic targets – Shell’s Forcados oil pipeline, Chevron’s Okan platform and ExxonMobil’s Qua Iboe terminal (Nigeria’s largest). Not surprisingly, the attacks have had the same crippling effect on Nigeria’s oil production as those by MEND – a drop of 800,000 barrels per day in 2016, from 2.2 million barrels per day to 1.4 million, the lowest production level in 25 years.
After a collective pat of the back for a job well-done, NDA announced “plenty of surprises” and an “all-out” war against the Nigerian government and oil interests for 2017.
It is not clear what the group will do or how the government will respond. The only thing that is clear is that ending the conflict will not be easy.
The oil companies are not going to leave. A military solution to the conflict, reportedly favored by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, is not likely. The Nigerian government has never successfully defeated a militant Niger Delta group via military action, and the Nigerian army would never be able to protect all the infrastructure, facilities, etc. The Nigerian military already is stretched thin because of the campaign against Boko Haram.
Buying off the militants with money and amnesty is a possibility, but the Nigerian economy isn’t in the best shape and history suggests money and amnesty alone may not be enough to convince the militants to stop their attacks. However, a prudent mix of military force and money/amnesty – something along the lines of the carrot and stick approach used to combat MEND – could have some success.
Still, a truly satisfactory, long-lasting settlement to the conflict would probably need to include more environmental clean-up and compensation for damages, along with some percentage of oil earnings going to the people in the Niger Delta.
This is a tall order, but not impossible. It will take time, diligence and discipline on the part of the government, and buy-in by the oil companies. Should peace eventually come to the Niger Delta, the Nigerian economy will benefit from higher oil earnings and more exploration. New discoveries are likely, and more than a million barrels a day of currently shut-in or yet to be produced oil could hit the world oil market. This would mean more downward pressure on crude oil prices – good for consumers because of lower prices at the pump, but not so good for the job market in the oil patch.
Terry Hallmark is Visiting Clinical Instructor in the Honors College. He teaches the Human Situation sequence, along with courses in ancient, medieval and early modern political philosophy, American political thought, American foreign policy and energy studies. His current research is focused on the political rhetoric and writings of Will Rogers.