Urhobo Historical Society



By Akpobibibo Onduku

Being the text of a presentation at the ceremony in honour of Ms Ibiba DonPedro, the Winner of the 2003 CNN African Journalist of the Year Award, at the Lambeth Town Council Building, London, Saturday 18 October 2003.

When the message came across to make some remarks on possibilities for peace in the Niger Delta at this ceremony which is been organised in honour of this year’s winner of the CNN African Journalist of the Year Award, I had great difficulty in choosing which path my comments here should take.  I was tempted to confine myself to the way forward for sustainable peace and argue whether it is a myth or reality.  But after a critical reflection on the title of Ms Ibiba DonPedro’s award winning story, ‘The Travails of the Swamp in a Bleak Landscape’, my sensibilities reminded me of the coming anarchy in the oil-rich region of Nigeria.  But I know we all desire Peace especially those of us coming from the Delta.  We should do all that we could for peace to be restored in our cherished Niger Delta.  It’s in peace and peace alone that the manifestation of the full potentials of the Niger Delta could be utilized.  We should sacrifice all other options and interests and choose the path of peace and tolerate the agents of destruction of our region.  But the peace option must be a proactive one.  The unfolding events daily have called for this approach but in all we must be very frugal.  We have had in Nigeria, governance without government; and we have had leadership with no genuine followership.  We have long lost the ‘One Nigeria’ patriotic zeal.  Our leaders have lost the culture of service and imbibed instead a culture of lordship.  Its time we make them realise that leadership is a call to service.  We need their unbiased commitment to the development of all fabrics of the society.     

The award recipient’s story has been described in the invitation as one that captures the suffering of the people of the Niger Delta region.  To a considerable extent, the locals in the Delta swamp still live in primitive conditions alongside with the high tech and modern facilities of the multinational community they play host to.  The story of the people is one of subjugation of indigenous peoples rights by successive ruling governments.  They have been raped of their resources and the wealth gotten from the region is still being looted and plundered.  There seems to be collusion between the government and the western commercial interests against the inhabitants and any sustainable development effort for peace in the region.  With these reflections, I have chosen in much of this paper to dwell on the issues that threaten human security in the Niger Delta region and consider in some detail possibilities for sustainable peace.  I am quite optimistic that sustainable peace in the Niger Delta is not an illusion.


We are in an era where human security is considered a highly ambiguous interdisciplinary research item and gradually it is becoming an issue of global concern.  The focus on security is shifting towards the individual from the old tradition that was centred on the state.  There are emerging efforts in reshaping and reappraising the security sector.  Today, we are confronted with several questions in relation to security sector reforms: Reform for whom and for what? We may translate it to the Niger Delta region and ask, by whom - the West and their commercial interests, or the Federal Government, or the locals.  We may go further to ask, reform for what - national sovereignty or the survival of citizens that inhabit the region. 

Central to the human security debate is the UNDP approach that focuses on health, economic, food, environmental, community and political threats.[1]  This approach also reiterates such questions as: Security for whom?  Security for which values?  Security from what threats? Security by what means?[2]  Mahbub ul Haq[3] responded to the question of “security for whom” succinctly.  He suggests that the world is “entering a new era of human security in which the entire concept of security will change dramatically”.  In this new conception, security will be equated with the “security of the individuals, not just security of nations” or, to put it differently, security of people, not just security of territory.”  He went further more normatively, stating that, “we need to fashion a new concept of human security that is reflected in the lives of our people, not in the weapons of our country.”  In fashioning this new concept, we may ask once more, what values will we seek to protect?  Again, Haq is not explicit on this issue, but clearly the prime values are individual safety and well being in the broad sense.  Whereas the traditional conception of security emphasizes territorial and political integrity as primary values that need to be protected, human security pertains above all to the safety and well being of “all people everywhere – in their homes, in their jobs, in their streets, in their communities and in their environment”.[4]   Can we begin to imagine the Niger Delta in this light? 

Two nations that stand out in the human security debate are Canada and Japan.  While Canada advocates a people centred view of security based on humanitarian interventions, Japan opts for the core of development issues that ensures human dignity.  We may easily agree that state power and state security establishes and expands to sustain order and peace.  But in the 21st century, both the challenges to security and its protectors have become more complex.  To a great extent the state remains the fundamental purveyor of security.[5]  The Nigerian state in her case has failed to fulfil its security obligations to her citizens and is atimes seen as a source of threat to her citizens.  For the country to survive the ‘New Nigeria Project’, due attention must be giving to the security of her citizens as opposed to threats to their survival.  Particular attention should be focused on the security of the people of the Niger Delta, a region that is now a keg of gunpowder that may someday explode again beyond the now everyday ‘skirmishes’.

More precisely, the objective of human security is to safeguard the vital core of all human lives from critical pervasive threats, in a way that is consistent with long-term human fulfilment.[6]  Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms - freedoms from doubt and freedom that ensures a degree of confidence and assurance amongst members of the State.   It is more challenging to note that the preservation of human dignity is the core of human security, human rights and human development.  It means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations.  It means creating political, social, environmental, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.

The emphasis is made because it is absolutely necessary for us to understand the obstacles to human security as well as the potential remedies and social technologies available to make human security a reality.  Human security brings together the human elements of security, of rights and of development.  Human freedom is considered as the epicentre of human security.[7]  The concept of human freedom is a multidimensional one, extending far beyond the basic dimensions measured by the Human Development Index.  Of course, the human development concept encompasses additional choices and goals, processes and outcomes that are highly valued by people, ranging from political, economic and social freedom to opportunities for being creative and productive, and enjoying personal self-respect and guaranteed human rights.  Human development emphasizes enhancement of human capabilities, which reflects the freedom to achieve different things that people value. 

So far, we have seen that ensuring human security translates to human development which in turn translates to human freedom.  Therefore, we may agree that human insecurity leads to a denial of human dignity and ultimately restriction to human freedom that is “the common denominator of human development and human rights.”[8]  The Niger Deltan today lives one day at a time with fear about what would unfold the next day.  Five distinct types of instrumental freedoms threaten human security in the region and they complement one another.  These are political freedoms, which relate to the available opportunities of the people to determine who should govern and on what principles; economic facilities, which can be understood as the ways in which the economy can function to generate income opportunities and promote the distribution of wealth; social opportunities, which could be likened to the arrangements that the society makes for education and health care, both of which influence the peoples substantive freedom to live better; transparency which safeguards the social interactions between citizens and which are undertaken on the basis of some presumption of what they are being offered and what they expect to get; and protective security, which deals with the provision of the relevant social safety measures of the vulnerable groups in the society.


The notion that conflicts can erupt over access to resources appears commonplace.  Societies in conflict or emerging from conflict constitute a majority of those that fail to achieve widely agreed goals of economic well-being and social development.  The Niger Delta is challenged by serious and overlapping social and environmental problems with the Nigerian State, the oil multinationals and the oil-bearing communities as key actors.  The broadening of security in the Niger Delta to include foreign military intelligence reflects the changing international and national environments.  The recent emergence of the British Scotland Yard detectives[9] and the request for US Marines[10] underscores the fact that security of the region is fast becoming a global commodity.  The commercial interests easily have their way in influencing and manipulating the politics of the nation.  The “State” itself prefers to ‘dine’ with the multinationals and ‘rubbish’ the Niger Delta.  The gap between wealthy and destitute people had never been greater than today.  The exclusion and deprivation of whole communities of people from the benefits of development has naturally contributed to the tensions, violence and conflict within the region.  The escalation of intranational ethno-political conflicts has further threatened the survival of Nigeria’s nascent democracy.   

The Niger Delta basin is considered Nigeria’s economic lifeline, naturally endowed with viable deposits of hydrocarbon and gas reserves.  There is a need now, more than ever to reorder priorities and to seek better understanding of the underlying causes and dynamics of the crisis with an aim to provide effective conflict prevention and management strategies.  The instability in the region has been manifested in the violent political, economic and social conflicts.  Studies into causes of protracted social conflicts have shown that conflicts most often occur when basic human needs, such as the need for physical security and well-being; communal or cultural recognition, participation, and control; and distributive justice are repeatedly denied, threatened, or frustrated, especially over long periods of time.[11]  Noticeably, many contemporary conflicts are the current manifestation of a cycle of historical grievance.  Although led by modern political entrepreneurs, who are also articulating modern grievances, their intensity is related to deep-rooted beliefs in a separate identity that were never completely extinguished by state policies of repression, eradication, or homogenisation.  The severe political and economic discrimination in the Niger Delta have left a durable legacy of reverberating echoes of conflict.

An urgent task today is to persuade all stakeholders of the need not to risk the survival of the present and future Niger Deltan and for the parties to transform or alter their positions.  There is also the need for a more fundamental change in government’s approach.  It is glaring that participants in the political space have no protection.  The oil boom brought great wealth but greater corruption; divisions between rich and poor are growing; and subsistence practices are getting weaker.  The despoliation of their environment and the resultant conflicts has their roots in the discovery, exploration and exploitation of oil by the multinationals.  Today, oil accounts for about 90 per cent of Nigerian exports and more than 80 per cent of government revenue.  The Niger Delta being the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs’ has nothing to show for this precious gift of creation. 

Consequently, demands for more equitable distribution of the oil-based wealth and the observance of sustainable business practices with due regard to a clean environment is today championed by several groups globally.  Particularly threatened is the mangrove forest of Nigeria - the largest in Africa and sixty per cent of which is located in the Niger Delta.[12]  Therefore, the Niger Delta’s potential for sustainable development remains unfulfilled and is now increasingly threatened by environmental devastation and worsening economic conditions. 

The conflict is today being made more complex and worse by the several goal-post shifting activities of the parties involved.  The government continues to marginalize the people, militarising the area, and maiming and killing countless number of the locals.  The locals have now resorted to hostage taking, hijacking and kidnapping of expatriate oil company workers and demand of ransom, and repeated invasion and blockading of oil installations.  The companies are determined to continue in business by aligning with the government and adopting ‘divide and rule tactics’ leading to many communal and ethnic crises in the region.[13]  The complexity of the conflict has grown today with the revelation of the involvement of top government security personnel and their domestic and foreign secret business associates in bunkering practices along the coasts.[14]  These are grave propelling factors for human insecurity in the region. 


Since the basis of conflict is the clash of interests, values and goals, conflicts can only be resolved when these are changed.[15]   Preventing and mitigating the impact of internal violent conflicts are not sufficient to achieve peace and stability in today’s interdependent world. The upholding of human rights, pursuing inclusive and equitable development and respecting human dignity and diversity are very important.  Equally decisive is to develop the capability of individuals and communities to make informed choices and act on their own behalf.  In many respects, “human security requires including the excluded.”[16]  It focuses on the widest possible range of people having enough confidence in their future- enough that they can actually think about creating genuine possibilities for people to live in safety and decency.  Seen from this perspective, human security reinforces state security but does not replace it. 

Ensuring genuine peace that would bring solace and self-actualisation to the people of the Niger Delta without mortgaging the comfort and pleasure of the unborn generations seem a great paradox.  A sustainable system naturally, is one that does not harm the environment or a system that can continue or be continued for a long time.   Therefore, the peace that we pursue in the Niger Delta should be an enduring one.   Many do not believe in this idea being realisable in the Niger Delta, but whether achievable or not, we should note that the principle behind sustainability is to make life meaningful to all.  It all depends on our perceptions and sincere feelings as regards our collective responsibilities toward lasting peace in this region. 

The world today is full of contradictions we might say but Albert Einstein did posit that “the world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking”.  There lies the test of our collective appreciation of the dynamics of this multidimensional and complex crisis.  Peace in the Niger Delta can be an end or a means to an end.  Peace is not a static concept particularly when the status quo entrenches continuing inequities, injustices and tyranny.  Peace is much more than the absence of war.  We are all not unaware that we live in a world of unprecedented wealth and opportunity but one in which gross inequities and imbalances continue to deprive major portions of the world’s population of the benefits which our technological civilization now makes possible.  The fact that we have at the same time greater concentrations of wealth than ever and more poor and deprived is also an unsustainable paradox, which challenges the moral basis of our civilization.  It is becoming painfully obvious for instance, that the gulf between the beneficiaries and the victims of globalisation is growing.  Redressing the gross imbalances and inequities are quintessential to sustained and sustainable peace and the primary challenge for the 21st Century.

At the same time we must be realistic. The process of change, which this involves, is itself a source of tension and potential conflict.  Prevention of conflicts and maintenance of peace is therefore largely a matter of learning to manage the processes of dynamic change required to enable all to have access to the benefits that the globalisation of our economies has made possible.  This is why the goal of achieving and maintaining peace and security must be pursued along the pathway to development which is sustainable in economic, environmental, social and human terms, and which redresses the imbalances and inequities from which conflicts arise.  Along the pathway to peace, continuing conflicts will inevitably arise and many lessons are to be learnt from the collective experiences which can help produce better and more effective means of preventing and resolving future conflicts.  This is the case in the Niger Delta today where the human costs of conflict are immense and the wounds they inflict on the attitudes of people, and their relationships with one another, heal much more slowly than their physical wounds.  There is need to lay emphasis on developing a culture of peace, which will entrench within the societies the values, the attitudes, and the bonds of common interests which will transcend the differences from which conflicts arise.


The message to all Niger Deltans is that peace is an absolute necessity.  How to go about it, is the question left for us to consider.  The Federal Government seems to believe that the intervention agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is the way out.  The Delta State Government on her part has advocated a ‘Road Map to Peace’ as the way forward for the western Niger Delta.  We all agree that the militarisation of the region isn’t it.  Lasting peace cannot take place in the midst of pervasive and deep poverty, and gross social and economic inequalities.  In the absence of peace, economic growth, development and democracy cannot strive. Peace, democracy and development are in some way form an interactive triangle.  It would be noteworthy that governance plays a major role in the creation of the enabling environment of peace, security and stability.  There must be genuine intentions. Dealing alone with such issues of negative peace like hijacking, kidnapping, sabotage and bunkering will not appraise the root causes of the conflict.  Genuine peace effort in the Niger Delta should involve the participation of all stakeholders in the peacebuilding process.  It is now obvious that for any development action, an understanding of the institutional conditions in which the action will take place should be a priority.  In fact, an appropriate starting point towards achieving enduring peace in the region should consider efforts geared toward preventing an escalation of the conflict at same time not ignoring the interests and aspirations of the people.  Sustainable peace in the region should embrace options for positive peace, which revolves around addressing the issues of poverty, environmental devastation, political, economic and social justice, low level of literacy and unemployment.  This forms the core of human security in the region.  These in the Niger Delta have never been pressing than now.

Finally, it is time we realized that the inevitability of conflicts is inherent in human societies and organisations.  As long as people live in societies or groups and nations, there are bound to be difference of interests, prejudices, needs, wants and ambitions.  They will as well differ in their capabilities by which these interests and ambitions are promoted.  To be candid, Nigeria still lacks the essential ingredients necessary for building sustainable peace in the Niger Delta region. She needs to empower the people economically, integrate the region properly into the national body polity to assure them a sense of belonging. 

[1] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), (1994), Human Development Report, 1994.  New York, Oxford University Press.

[2] See analysis of David Baldwin (1997), “The Concept of Security” by Kanti Bajpai “Human Security: Concept and Measurement” Kroc Institute Occasional Paper, No.19, OP.1, August 2000.  Also UNDP (1994), “Redefining Security: The Human Dimension.”  Current History, vol. 94, pp. 229-236.   

[3] Mahbub ul Haq has been closely associated with the idea of human security from the beginning.  Much of his analysis appeared in “New Imperatives of Human Security” RGICS Paper No. 17, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies (RGICS), Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, New Delhi (1994), in Kanti Bajpai ibid.

[4] Hag, New Imperatives of Human Security, p.1.

[5] A central argument is that national security is insufficient to guarantee people’s security.  See DFAIT, Government of Canada (1999), “Human Security: Safety of People in a Changing World”.  Website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, http://www.dfait.maeci.gc.ca/foreignp/HumanSecurity/secur-e.htm 

[6] See Commission on Human Security (2003), Human Security Now, New York.

[7] Minar Pimple, “Understanding Human Security, Human Development and Human Rights Interface and the Role of Human Rights Education” a presentation at the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Graz, Austria, September 6, 2003.

[8] Minar Pimple, 2003.

[9] Austin Ogwuda (2003), “Expatriates’ kidnapping: Scotland Yard detectives storm Delta State”, The Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper, Tuesday, August 12.  Online: http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/cover/f412082003.html. Retrieved 18/10/03

[10] Eguono Odjegba (2003), “US Marines in Niger Delta to protect US investments only – Okumagba”, The Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper, Sunday, October 12.  Online: http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/national/nr412102003.html. Retrieved 18/10/03. 

[11] See Burton, J. (1990), Conflict: Human needs theory, New York, St Martin’s Press.  Also Pruitt, D.G., and J.Z. Rubin (1986), Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, New York, Random House

[12] See Douglas, O. and D. Ola (1999), “Defending Nature, Protecting Human Dignity: Conflicts in the Niger Delta”, In Searching for Peace in Africa: An Overview of Conflict Prevention and Transformation.  The Netherlands , European Centre for Conflict Prevention.

[13] For more, see Onduku, A (2001) “Sustainable Development as a Strategy for Conflict Prevention: The case of the Niger Delta”.  Online: http://www.ogele.org/features/features_nigerdelta.html.   

[14] Emma Amaize (2003), “Bunkering: N-Delta topshots under probe“.  The Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper, Tuesday, September 16.  Online: http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/cover/f416092003.html. Retrieved 18/10/03.

[15] Miall, H. (1992), The Peacemakers: Peaceful Settlement of Disputes since 1945, London, Macmillan.

[16] Commission on Human Security (2003), p.5.