«Ethnic Militias and Criminality in the Niger-Delta (Pp. 315-330) Okumagba, Paul - Dept. of Sociology/Psychology, Delta State University, Abraka. ...»
An International Multi-Disciplinary Journal, Ethiopia
Vol. 3 (3), April, 2009
ISSN 1994-9057 (Print) ISSN 2070-0083 (Online)
Ethnic Militias and Criminality in the Niger-Delta
Okumagba, Paul - Dept. of Sociology/Psychology, Delta State University,
The proliferation of ethnic militia and their activities in Nigeria, particularly
in the Niger Delta region has moved from the closing of flow stations to kidnapping for ransom. The aim of these militia groups have changed from asking for fairness and equity in the distribution of the wealth of the Nigerian state into a serious form of criminality especially the kidnapping of indigenes and expatriates for ransom. The activities of these groups have adverse economic and security implications for the region and the nation at large. It is against this background that this paper examined the activities of ethnic militia and the consequences of their activities for the Niger Delta Region.
Finally, the paper proffered solutions to the continuing crisis of militancy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Introduction In Nigeria, ethnic and religious groups have taken the centre stage and play prominent roles in the dynamics of governance of the Nigerian state. Ethnic, socio-political formations like the Ohaneze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum and the Afenifere are the most visible on the political arena. These groups have a penetrating influence. They, particularly at the youth leve, are called ethnic militias, though the agenda and activities of these groups, i.e the militias and the ethnic socio-political groups may not necessarily be related.
The most prominent of the ethnic militias include Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA), Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Niger Delta People Volunteer Force (NDPVF), 315 Copyright © IAARR 2009: www.afrrevjo.net Indexed African Journals Online: www.ajol.info African Research Review Vol. 3 (3), April, 2009. Pp. 315-330 Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Arewa Peoples Congress (APC) and religious militia groups in Northern Nigeria. As already stated, these movements, seeking to protect and advance different ethnic interests, are now contesting not just the political space and democratic dividends, but also resource control as part of the liberation of the political environment. (Agbu, O. 2002).These groups, who claim to represent ethnic and regional interests, adopt diverse strategies which include violence and criminally motivated actions in the conduct of their activities.
There are, however, different opinions on how to tackle the problems emanating from the actions of these groups. Some argue that the activities of these militia groups are a way ofdemanding for fairness and equity in the distribution of the wealth of the nation, the bulk of which they believe comes from the region. These groups see the activities of ethnic militia as manifestations and frustrations expressed as a result of the dysfunction in the structure and character of the Nigerian state. The solution for this group lies in addressing the national question, particularly as it affects the Niger Delta region. Others see the activities of the militia groups particularly in the Niger Delta region, as an act of criminality. The solution for this group is that since this is purely a security issue, the state must deploy its coercive machinery to put these criminal activities under some meaningful control.
A plethoral of these groups has emerged from all the geo-political zones of the country, but are more pronounced in number and activities in the Niger Delta. One of the implications of the activities of the groups is the proliferation of small arms and weapons. This has led to an increase in criminal activities in the region with profound security implications.
It is against this background that the paper examined the phenomenon of ethnic militias in the Nigerian context with particular reference to the Niger Delta region. The paper also examined criminality in the Niger Delta and also proffered solutions on how to address the activities of militia groups which, some argued, presently constitute a threat to the survival of the Nigerian state.
Conceptualizing Ethnic Militia in Nigeria Duverger, M. (1976) sees militia as a a kind of private army whose members are enrolled on military lives, one subjected to the same discipline and
same training as soldiers, like them wearing uniforms and badges, heady by a band and flags and like them ready to meet, the enemy with weapons in physical combat He noted further that militia groups vary significantly from regular armies, because members of these militia groups remain civilians without military culture. Furthermore, they may be obliged to meet and train regularly and be ready to hold themselves at the disposition of their leaders.
They are never mobilized on a permanent basis and also not maintained full time by their organization. Moreover he noted that two categories are distinguishable among the militia, namely those who may be referred to as a kind of “active army”, who are ever ready for confrontation and others who are described more or less like “reserve”. Furthermore, he observed that the military character of the militia appear not only in its composition but also in its structure, which is usually “based on very small groups which build up into pyramids to form larger and larger units (Duverger, 1976).
An ethnic militia movement can be described as an extreme form of ethnic agitation for self determination as various ethnic groups assume militant postures and gradually metamorphose into militia groups which rely on ethnic identity and purport to act as machinery through which the desires of the people are actualized. The common characteristics of these ethnically inspired groups are the resort to violence, a preponderance of youth membership, an ethnic identity affiliation.
From the foregoing explanations and definitions, an ethnic militia can be described as youth organization formed for the struggle against deprivation and marginalization which have transformed into violent militant youth some of who, have also changed their objectives from struggles for ethnic desires into criminal activities.
Ethnic Militias in the Niger Delta The emergence and growth of militia groups in contemporary Nigeria can be traced to the internal contradictions in the Nigerian political economy. First, is the nature of the Nigerian state which has been a violent one and has
striven to maintain control and dominance of the society through violent approaches.
Militia groups became visible in the country in the 1990s when the Nigerian state was in distress under callous military dictatorship, particularly during the Babagida and Abacha regimes. One of the consequences of the character of these regimes was the rise of militia groups. (Adejumobi, 2002).
The other dimension to the rise of militia groups under the Babangida and Abacha regimes was the marginalization and social deprivation, particularly of the ethnic minorities of the Niger Delta region. The response of the government to the Niger Delta crisis has been the militarization of the region to keep at bay restive youth and other groups to ensure the free flow of oil to the Nigerian state. This has led to the emergence of several militant youths while the existing non-violent groups have resorted to violence as a challenge to brutality occasioned by the presence of military personnels in the region.
The objective of these militant groups is to challenge the violent posture of the state and highlight the marginalization and deprivation that characterized the Niger Delta region.
The above context has led to the emergence and growth of militia groups in the Niger Delta region. Between 1990 and 1999, not less than twenty-four ethnic based minority right groups emerged in the region with radical postures. These include the Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA), Chikoko Ijaw National Congress, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Ijaw Peace Movement (IPM), Isoko National Youth Movement (INYM) and the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Others that emerged after 1999 include Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF).
None of these groups, at their inception, had violent inclinations as their objectives. The prevailing circumstances forced these formations into violence some of which have degenerated into criminal activities.
The nature and character of the Nigerian state, failure and lack of political leadership and political institutions, the struggle for power and unfair or unequal economic relations among ethnic nationalities are some of the factors that have prompted the emergence of ethnic militia groups in the Nigerian state and the Niger Delta region in particular. The resolve is to
resist the deprivation, social injustice, marginalization, neglect, and seeming insecurity of the people through whatever means including the formation of underground organizations.
Factors Responsible for the Emergence and Proliferation of Ethnic Militia Diverse explanations have been put forward for the growth in the number of ethnic militia groups in Nigeria. Babawale (2001) conceives of the emergence of militia groups as being due to imperfections in Nigeria‟s federal system. He observes that the emergence is due to the manipulation of ethnicity by the governing elite across the various geo-political zones.
Furthermore, these groups were formed as a consequence of mismanagement of ethnic grievances by the Nigerian state and were meant to be the militant organs of expression of defiance against oppressive rule. Danjuma (2002) argues that the formation and activities of ethnic militias are traceable to neglect by government or a perception of such neglect on the part of many
ethnic nationalities in the Nigerian state and suggests:
Neglect by government or even perceived neglect can be capitalized on by opposing groups to whip up ethnic sentiments which invariably results in communal conflicts. It is this neglect or a perception of it, which has resulted in the creation of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys, Bakassi Boys, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the Arewa Peoples‟ Congress among others.
The point must be made that the emergence and proliferation of militia groups can not be hinged on a single factor. However, the major factors responsible for the emergence and proliferation of ethnic militia groups in the Nigerian state can be examined under the following themes:the perception by the elite of the various ethnic nationalities who see the structure and operations of the Nigerian federal state as a failure and consequently their interests and ethnic aspiration have not been accommodated and properly taken care of as opined by Fredrick Fasheun the leader of the Oodua Peoples
Congress (OPC). Fasheum (1999) explains that:
we looked outwards to build the Nigerian state and the picture we got was a blurred picture. We didn‟t see the
Nigerian State. So we looked inward to our ethnic nationalities and we saw the ethnic nationalities. So we recoiled into our shelves so as to develop our ethnic nationality and provided platforms on which we can interact. The military, during their subjugation of this country, did a lot of havoc to us. All platforms for expressing social discontent were disrupted; the Nigerian Labour Congress was disrupted, the ASUU proscribed;
NBA, NMA and so on and so forth. So there were no platform for social interaction and unity contin ued to elude us. So we looked inward, like is said, into our ethnic nationalities and we decided that, okay, let us have these social platforms like the Ijaw National Congress, the Igbo Peoples Congress.
In a similar note Fawehinmi (2000) mentioned the emergence and proliferation of ethnic militia group on perceived injustice, deprivation and marginalization of some ethnic nationalities and contended that The ethnic militant organisations arose in Nigeria because of perceived injustice, perceived exclusion of various forms, such as political injustice, ethnic marginalization and economic exclusion in terms of access to social services.
He further elaborated that These organizations are products of several reasons, several areas of misgovernance of our country. OPC came into being as a result of the dastardly, illegal and immoral scuttling of the June 12 (1993) election. In the North, APC is in the limelight because the masses of the North are ignored by their leaders (who) are not able to improve the quality of life of the poor people… In the East, the insecurity has been very unwholesome and this cannot be contested. The police is unable to take care of lives and property in the East and therefore the Bakassi Boys emerged. Then the Egbesu Boys situation is even more depressing, because they come from the Niger Delta and
98 percent of our resources are derived from the Niger Delta. And when they cried for succour, the Federal Government gave them bullets… when they asked for education; food on the table, the Federal Government met them with bullets. So the Egbesu Boys said „No, enough is enough‟.
Thus, it is arguable that the collapse of most institutions, inter-ethnic inequity has stimulated the political elite of the various ethnic nationalities to promote and encourage new organizations that, would promote interests of those ethnic nationalities. In doing this these groups have drawn strength from “the new global recognition of ethnic self-determination as an intergral part of the promotion of global human rights (Amuta, 2000).