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This report, sponsored by the Centers of Innovation at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), draws on the experiences of the author and Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) over the past four years in the Niger Delta. During this period, conflict has escalated significantly while governance indicators, for the most part, have stubbornly refused to improve.

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Summary

  • Neither Nigeria nor foreign donors are investing enough to end violent conflict in the Niger Delta. While Nigerian officials opt to buy short-term cease-fires, such as the 2009 amnesty process, other governments spend too little in money and manpower to grow local civil society, engage core conflict issues, or adequately understand the region’s problems.
  • All parties likewise fail to focus on deeper trends when planning their anticonflict strategies. This causes them to undervalue the potential costs of ongoing violence, as well as the importance of a peaceful Niger Delta to Nigeria’s economic development and global energy security. A tragedy of the commons results.
  • The situation in the delta remains fragile and will likely return either to intermittent conflict or full-blown insurgency within six to eighteen months if a “business as usual” approach is taken to interventions. The amnesty process opened a door for stabilization but did not reduce the long-term potential for violence or deal with root conflict issues.
  • Governance is both at the heart of the conflict and the best place to seek solutions. To best help catalyze peace in the region, donors should invest heavily in democratization and learn lessons from a decade of setbacks and poor investment choices.
  • International support for governance reform in the delta must start at the grass roots. The key is to lay a foundation to support and argue for better government practices higher up. Civil society is already having some success promoting accountability at the community level. Obstacles are high and progress is slow, making longer commitments from donors a must.
  • Reformers in the Niger Delta also have operated too much in isolation. Local and international actors need a multilateral strategy allowing them to combine levers and use each other’s momentum. They must ground this strategy in deeper analysis of the region’s problems and a unified theory of change.
  • Donors should also complement their support of governance reform in the delta with funding for innovative local development work. Ideas and best practices should be sought from other countries, with flexibility for keying in to promising government initiatives.

About the Report

This report, sponsored by the Centers of Innovation at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), draws on the experiences of the author and Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) over the past four years in the Niger Delta. During this period, conflict has escalated significantly while governance indicators, for the most part, have stubbornly refused to improve.

The first steps in this report were taken more than a year ago, well before ill health weakened and then led to the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. At present, few things are certain about Nigeria or the Niger Delta, and stability is a key concern for international actors. This report argues that the quest for stability is counterproductive. The region has not been trapped in the fossilized state that has crumbled only recently in North Africa. Change from the status quo is inevitable; the question is whether the region will be trapped in deepening cycles of violence or whether sundry actors can assist in making a remarkable break with the recent past.

About the Author

Chris Newsom is an adviser on strategy and research for Stakeholder Democracy Network. Working with local organizations and emphasizing community empowerment, SDN is a young nonprofit organization that seeks to improve leverage and human rights standards for communities affected by the extractive industries in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. It focuses on research, analysis, and capacity building.

The author would like to thank Aaron Sayne for his energetic editing and shaping skills. A far longer list of civil society counterparts and colleagues deserves thanks for their willingness to spend breakfasts, evenings, and weekends discussing the challenges of the Niger Delta. Thanks also go to colleagues at SDN and all those at USIP who have been very patient and supportive with the formulation of this paper.

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