The Niger Delta Crisis: It’s Impact on Nigerian’s National Security

The Niger Delta Crisis: It’s Impact on Nigerian’s National Security


The Niger Delta is one of the numerous parts of the country which have enjoyed considerable academic attention, scholars from different intellectual and academic persuasions have carried out research on different aspect of the history. Society and economy of the Niger Delta, History remains a veritable and indispensable discipline for any critical understanding of Niger Delta Crisis at any period. Also, most of the historical work say up to 1960 do not have direct relevance to the impact which the Niger Delta Crisis is planning in Nigerian national security. However, a fact which remain Niger Delta Crisis can be adequately appreciated with a good knowledge of relevant academic publications on the history of the people and culture of the region called “Niger Delta” it is in this connection that was shall take a cursory look at some core historical literature on the Niger Delta history and people before the demise of colonial rule in 1960. This aspect of review of existing literature will lead us to the one that are published since 1960 and most importantly in the past few years.

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From a purely historical point of view, Kenneth Onwuka Dike’s “Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1885”1 remains monumental; to be sure, this work of history is the first academic publication of the history of the people of the present day Nigeria from a Afro-centric point of view. Dike and other academic disciplines revolutionarized the writing of Africa History by presenting Oral Tradition as a veritable tool for historical reconstruction. This publication opened the water-gate of historical scholarship which eventually gave birth to the so called “Ibadan School of History” in focusing on the economic and political developments in the region, from 1830-1885, the work affords us the opportunity to appreciates the relationship between Niger Delta people and their African neighbor on the one hand and that between the Niger Delta people and the Europeans in the Gulf of Guinea on the other. The discussion on the nature of the slave trade and the palm oil trade (two main resources) are as incisive as they are engaging.

Another classic work that provides us with background information about the Niger Delta Crisis is Obaro Ikime’s Niger Delta; Rivalry: Itsekiri-Urhobo Relations and Europeans presence 1884-1936. Even though the work focuses on the three ethnic groups Urhobo, Itsekiri and Isoko in the Niger Delta it dwells essentially on the context for the then identified resources of the region. Again, like Dike Ikime’s examines the conflict from two perspective: the rivalry between the Urhobo and the Itsekiri and the imbroglio between the Niger Delta people and the British during the age of “New imperislism”.2 In foregoing, our understanding of the past for the purpose of illuminating the present state of affairs between these three ethnic groups in the Niger Delta. Ikime’s work helps us to understand the relationship between people of the then Delta province, more importantly, he region. Instructively, he asserts, “the respective geographical location of these people has been one of the most important determinants of the relationship between them”.

E.J. Alagoa is arguable the most celebrated authority on the history of the Niger Delta. One of his most interesting works on the history of Niger Delta is his contribution in Groundwork of Nigerian History.3 This chapter provides use with the essential knowledge of Ijaw history; the Ijaw constitutes the largest ethnic group in the Niger Delta and are dispersed over a very wide area. In this study of Ijaw, Alagoa brings to fore the internal developments within the region and the peculiar state structures that developed partly as a consequence of external influence to the region. Indeed, the picture of the evolution of economic and political structures of the Ijaw communities is well covered in this work.

From a purely anthropological point of view, P.A. Talbot; The People of Southern Nigeria contains substantial information on the people of the Niger Delta before the colonial era.3 For this research work the materials is of some assistance to our attempt to understand what constituted the resources of the area in the pre-colonial era, it also sheds considerable light on the nature of Euro-Niger Delta trading relations before the advent of colonialism. However, the strength of this publication lies predominantly in a critical exploration of the cultures of the various people in the Niger Delta region. Virtually all works of traditional societies in the Niger Delta uses this publication as a reference.

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All the above mentioned works on the Niger Delta were either published before 1960 from this point. I shall review some significant publication that were published after 1960 and also contained contemporary analysis of the Niger Delta Crisis.

The Land and people of Nigeria: River State a book edited by E.J. Alagoa and T. Tamuno compliments earlier texts as an important referential materials on diverse issues relating to the Niger Delta.4 Although, like the earlier texts, it dos not cover the entire Niger Delta region, it is useful in understanding issues that relates to some cultures and people inhabiting the Niger Delta.

E.J. Alagos’s recently edited work: The Land and People of Bayelsa State,15 is another important text that gives us a panoramic view of the history, culture and environment of the Niger Delta area.

A work of over thirty scholars focused on the Niger Delta, the text covers a wide variety of subjects pertaining to the environment. Economy, religion politics, land and the people of the region. The multidisciplinary nature of the various chapters, recommends the book as a good source material for the requisite background information to our study.

Our next focus in this review is on texts that are useful in our comprehension of the nature of the Niger Delta Crisis. The book: The Ijaw in the New Millennium, a more contemporary work of Alagoa,6 contains useful information for out study, in it he asserts that “the forms of struggle in the region have continued to change with the times as the antagonists and protagonists also change with time, indeed, the change of parties to the conflict has been conditioned by circumstances of history, change in political arrangement and modes of governance. Today, in its most advanced manifestation, it has become an imbroglio between the representatives of the Niger Delta people in the state governments and the National Assembly on one hand and the federal government on the other, the imbroglio extends beyond the relationship between the Niger Delta, the federal government and areas of national question of security and sovereignty.

For Steve Odi-Owei, the issue at stake is the persistent neglect of the Niger Delta over a long period. This he submits has put in the people a feeling of frustration and helpless sense of detachment from the developmental activity and body politic of the Niger nation state. Other scholars such as Ojeifa. A and Ibeanu, O. regard the Niger Delta conflict as basically one emanating from environmental problems that have been made worse by the incidence of oil exploitation and exploration.7 This situation is compounded by the almost non-positive response of the Nigerian state to the diverse problem arising from the environmental problems.8 R. Suberu has explained this non-response in his discourse of state response to minority problems. He posits that the over centralization of power and the tendency towards unitarism in a supposedly federal structure have worsened the marginalization of the minorities and aggravated their agitation for resource control. Suberu’s theoretical construct not only attempts to offer an explanation of the origins of the crisis but also its nature.9

Peter Ekeh attributes the problem of the Niger Delta people in the post colonial era to the dysfunctional federalism that came into practice as a consequence of persistent military rule.10 He argues that because Nigeria’s federalism is now top-heavy and power resides almost exclusively at the center invariably control the resources of the state and determine those to benefit from them. Thus a situation where the bulk of ht resources of the state is located in a minority area whose population strength makes it impossible to control power at the center. Such people become disadvantaged in the competition for power and resource in a dysfunctional federal state.

This view is given credence by Onimode’s submission that a vestige of fiscal unitary in a supposedly federal state in which the essential elements of accountability, consultation, consent and reciprocity is backing is a recipe for violent conflict.11 Suberu offers an interesting twist to the conflict by submitting that the creation of new states in Nigeria has been to gratify largely the economic interest of the major ethnic groups. Since state creation has not been pro-minorities it fellows that the process is a ploy to advance the financial and political aggrandizement of the major ethnic groups and to promote the economic dispossession and political re-marginalization of the minorities. The state depends on allocation from the federation account for over 70 percent of their finance, yet the bulk of this finance is gotten from sale of crude oil derived from the Niger Delta States.12

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Regarding the issues dealing with theoretical postulation and clarification that are of relevance to our study, the books Community Conflict in Nigeria: Management, Resolution and Transformation and Introduction to Third Party Intervention in Community Conflicts offer us a good theoretical background. Although the books do not focus on the Niger Delta, the examination of the causes of group conflict responses conflict by Nigeria, political leadership provides useful insight into the situation in the Niger Delta. Also Wumi Raji’s edited book Boiling Point: The Crisis in the Oil Production Communities in Nigeria, tries to elucidate the contemporary problems in the Niger Delta, of particular interest to this study is his focus on the response of the Nigerian state to the Niger Delta problems and agitations.

The list of relevant literature on the Niger Delta is inexhaustible, the ones that are surveyed here are the ones which I feel have enough academic flavor for this work, it is significant to understand that a close look at e literature will show that most of the works on Niger Delta dwell predominantly on aspect of resource control and environmental degradation in fact, people have seen the problem of Niger Delta as explicable solely in terms of the desire by the people to have adequate or greater percentage of the resources emanating from their region. It is significant to understand that crisis led to security problems and security by the federal government should be seen as one of the causes of crisis in the Niger Delta and attempt should be focused on how the crisis lead to problems of national security both domestic and international. Put in another manner, it is imperative that we see how national security related problems contributed to escalation of crisis in the Niger Delta and vice versa.

The present work is intended to fill this gap in the literature on Niger Delta, it is also a contribution to the growing knowledge on peace and conflict studies in Nigeria, military and as well as strategic studies.


Scholars are yet to agree on the definition of the term “National Security”. This is not surprising because the phenomenon of security is harly precise. Yet two essential analytical views have emerged in the attempts to define national security. One view focuses on the strategic definition and the other on non strategic definition by putting emphasis on socio-economic factors. In general, the encyclopedia of social sciences defines national’s security as the ability of a nation to protect its internal values from external threats. Walter Lipmann, a philosopher gives the term national security a more explicit definition by stating that “a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interest to avoid war. For Hans Morquethau, National security and national interests are interrelated, where national security and interests are seen in terms of power and therefore are the essence of politics. Consequently, between these two schools or thought in the definition of national security, the strategic definition and the socio-economic non strategic definition there is a contention between national security, its definition or analysis is fundamentally about how much of individual freedom should be sacrificed for national security and how much power (authority, coercion) is required to maintain the power balance between order and fundamental human rights.


National security defined in terms of national survival is an illusion, because it is an erroneous perception of the Nigerian reality, it is used by the ruling class as a fine transparent concept for deluding the masses into thinking that government policies in this regard represent actions designed actually to protection them from hunger, disease, unequal treatments, and violations of human dignity and life, thus in Nigerian the concept of national security has given rise to two dangerous doctrines of illusion and militarism.

When the president, Major General Babangida, argued in his 1986 Kuru address that “the concept of national security could no longer be used as a rhetorical phrase to be employed by slogan loving political leader, he was indirectly referring to the doctrine of illusionism” in Nigerian politics, it is not the familiar doctrine which postulates that the material world is an immaterial product which postulates that the material world is an immaterial product of the sense. Rather it is the doctrine which dictates that a typical Nigerian politician, acting as an artist, a conjurer and a ventriloquist uses illusionary techniques and devices in his approach as much to economic development issues as to matters of national security. The Nigerian political system becomes a large theatre or art room. To take just one example, Nigerian were told that the N2M-N6M voted annually by state governments during the Second Republic was not meant for the military and the police commands or for security equipment but a vote to assure the security of the part in government. In fact, the basic assumption of security policies in Nigeria and indeed in most Africa states is that the pillage of the national economy by the political illusionist and conspiratorial class represents not only one of the greatest assaults on national security, but also one of the most complex aspects of the national security question.

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The second doctrine that the illusion of national security has created is militarism; this doctrine has three interrelated dimensions. The first is the deliberate glorification of the ideals and the projection of those ideals and ethics as the most salient component values of the national character. The second is the belief that a typical Nigerian politicians is bankrupt in terms of these qualities and that the military alone has the key role as guardians of state policy and administration. The third is the belief that the predominance of the military in state policy and administration will provide greater momentum to the development of the foundations of national security than a civilian government.

We must swallow this doctrine with great caution for while its seems a sound synthesis of the political, military and economic aspects of national security, the doctrine tends to divert the attention of the military from its traditional roles and to hasten the effect of the armed forces, more importantly, militarism implies a grave threat to the stability of the Nigerian polity and security. The analysis of the national security question must address this internal source of potential threat, it must probe the real intentions of the ruling group in the Nigerian military to impose its domination on the entire, especially civilian, religious, ethnic in the country and to oppose with all the might of the proletarian weapons the gangers implicit in the increasing militarist ascendancy in politics.

National security built on the doctrine of illusionism and militarism is self defeating, National security concept must draw from the fundamental reality of the Nigerian political history and Nigerian perception of the strategy of peace and war. At the same time, it must take into account the world-wide implications of the scientific and technological revolution. It is in sense that Nigerian’s National interest defined in terms of “national security interest” can bridge the gap between our foreign policy and our capacity not only to protect out internal values as a nation but also to implement the policy as defined by our leader


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