The four-decade situation in the Niger Delta is a ‘crisis that will not go away,’ Sabella Abidde writes in Pambazuka News, which ‘if not properly addressed may reverberate across international systems.’ Given that the Nigerian government has proven itself 'incapable' of solving the problem, Abidde argues the case that ‘the time is now for the international community – especially the United States of America – to step in.'
The history of the Nigerian Niger Delta crisis is well known. We know that this is not a crisis that came about because a group of men and women got bored and then decided to take on the Nigerian government for the fun of it. No. This is a crisis that has been brewing for decades. And for several decades, the Nigerian government thought it could simply massage cosmetics over deep wounds. The multinational oil companies also thought they could buy off a group of elites and all would be well. The international community also acted as if the conflict was a local issue to be confined to the backwater.
In any case, no one is interested in the blame game. The time is now, the hours are here for political will and other tangible resources to be applied to a crisis that, if not properly addressed, may reverberate across international systems. The Niger Delta crisis, as the world has now realised, will not soon go away. There is a limit to which people will endure abuse, exploitation and rape. Because the Nigerian government has proven incapable of solving this problem, the time is now for the international community – especially the United States of America – to step in.
A once localised condition has now become a global imperative, and as such, we urge the United States to take a leading role in this matter: Fashion or refashion policies to address the crisis. Appoint an envoy or a ‘czar’ for the region. There is precedence for such a foreign policy initiative. And this needs to be done because the Yar’Adua government, as events and records have now shown, is clueless and disingenuous.
A critical examination of America’s foreign policy in the last two decades proves that it is concerned with environment issues and with matters dealing with social dislocations, international health challenges and uncontrollable migration that are likely to constrict its resources; and that it is also concerned about activities that are likely to cause the unplanned disintegration of friendly nations. Above all, it is concerned about terrorism. We see all these as some of the end results of the Niger Delta crisis. It is in light of this that we urge the US to formulate or readjust its foreign policy to accommodate the ongoing quagmire.
In 1976, human rights were at the centre of President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy paradigm. Some ethical and moral choices were made. Today, we expect the United States government, under the tutelage of President Obama, to make the same choice: Actively participate in finding solutions to the Niger Delta crisis. It is in the interest of the US to do so, a utilitarian choice that is in the interest of all parties. Indeed, America will gain prestige by doing what is right for Nigeria and for the people of the region.
As of today, we cannot say that the policy toward the region is just, virtuous or ethical. At a time when there has been untold amount of inhumanity, neither the State Department nor the White House, has made unequivocal foreign policy statements that side with the oppressed. Insofar as the Niger Delta is concerned, we do not see America’s moral principles in motion. She is absent, silent, and seems irrelevant.
During President Obama’s visit to Ghana, and Secretary Clinton’s visit to Nigeria and other African countries, African governments, amongst other things, were advised to adopt democratic principles rooted in justice, good governance and strong institutions. We have not seen these in the oil-producing communities or in the country as a whole.
A country’s foreign policy practices are generally rooted in well-established principles and values – principles and values that are vital for the survival and wellbeing of its people and national interest. Jerel Rosati tells us that Foreign Policy is the ‘scope of involvement abroad and the collection of goals, strategies, and instruments that are selected by governmental policy-makers.’ Foreign policy instruments include trade and trade embargoes, military intervention, veto power, aid, and lending policies.
In the United States, as elsewhere in the world, a number of factors determine the scope and nature of foreign policy. And whatever those factors may be, the end game of foreign policy is the furtherance and sustenance of the national security interest of the state. A country’s foreign policy may, in addition to the interest of self, also benefit friends and alliances while at the same time deterring foes and antagonists from engaging in actions that might otherwise cause harm or derail specific goals.
Foreign policies are not always directed at nation-states alone. The 1646 to1648 Peace of Westphalia – which ended both the thirty and eighty years’ wars in Europe – ushered the modern era where nation states became the primary focus of global politics. In addition to nation states, foreign policies may be directed at non-state actors, i.e. non-governmental organisations, multinational corporations, regimes and institutions, terrorist groups, and oppressed ethnic nationalities.
For instance, the United States had a policy that protected the Kurds of Northern Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s deleterious policy. What’s more, the US, in collaboration with the United Nations and Portugal, championed the political independence of East Timor. Occasional missteps aside, Washington has a long history of championing noble causes: Helping to free nations and aboriginal groups from the grip of subjugation; spreading democratic values; preaching free markets and the inalienable rights of peoples to design their own destiny.
As noble and humane as its foreign policy may be, America has, on occasions, misread global events and/or misplaced its priorities. At other times, it simply chooses the wrong cause or the wrong side. This is rare; but we see this misplacement, misreading and false choice in its relationship with Nigeria vis-à-vis the rich but ravaged and underdeveloped Niger Delta. The Obama administration also seems to be committing the same blunder President Clinton committed in not forcefully dealing with General Sani Abacha in perhaps the darkest hour in Nigeria’s tumultuous history. His carrot and carrot alone policy allowed Abacha to run amok. And Obama, it now seems, is about to make the same mistake with Yar’Adua.
What we have in the Niger Delta region is a tragedy and travesty, a grave injustice; and an unacceptable expression of man’s inhumanity to man. Sadly, this has been the case for over four decades – with the situation becoming desperately pronounced in the last decade. Through it all, Washington has been silent; turning blind eye to a condition that calls for it considerable power and influence. It is not too late to do so.
And so we implore the United States government to employ its considerable power and influence: Call the Nigerian government and the multinational oil companies to order in their treatment of the oil-producing communities. Indeed, the intervention of the US is urgently needed in this matter. The Yar’Adua government can no longer be trusted to find a sustainable solution to the crisis. The government needs help.
There are several reasons why the White House should get involve in this crisis:
First, it is simply the right thing to do. The US is not and cannot always be the world’s policeman. Nonetheless, situations such as the low intensity conflict in the Niger Delta deserve America’s attention – especially since we know the root cause of the conflict. And we also know who the predator and the victims are.
Second, ecological degradation – such as the one we have on almost every inch and space in the Niger Delta – is not just a local problem, it has global implications. Quite a few scientific findings have shown that environmental degradation negatively impacts global security and prosperity.
Third, there are systemic studies that indicate that poverty, hopelessness and cruelty leads people to violence and terrorism. Because the three variables are present in the region, elements and groups within the region may be amenable to outside forces looking to recruit terrorists. In a spider web-like world, terrorism has no boundary.
Fourth, if the economic, political and institutional underdevelopment continues, the crisis may become too complex and too perilous to resolve. In time, the cost of oil exploration and distribution may become very costly. And in fact, the cost of some commercial activities may become exorbitant as the region is directly tied to the global economy.
Finally, the continuing crisis may trigger the violent disintegration of Nigeria, with consequences that may overwhelm the West African sub region. Should this happen, the United States and Europe will have to contend with refugees and internally displaced people. The resulting social challenges may even become a burden on a continent that is ill-equipped to handle minor crises.
Chief Ojo Madueke, the foreign minister, and the minister of Niger Delta affairs, Obong Ufot Ekaette, had on several occasions voiced Yar’Adua’s opposition to outside help. Frankly, we think the government should rescind its opposition. No amount of military armament from Israel or elsewhere can solve this crisis. The Israelis themselves live in constant fear of the unknown: Military supremacy in the region has not assured them a stress-free sleep. President Yar’Adua should demilitarise the Niger Delta and then come to the table with clean hands and a clear conscience – with the United States as the referee.
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