How corrupt practices are driving conflict in the Niger Delta

The reoccurring conflict in the Niger Delta for more than a decade has festered due to failure of successive governments to address the core conflict issues or adequately understand the region’s problems. This is coupled with the fact that many stakeholders in and outside the region benefit from the rot that has characterized the region for years.

At the root of the major problems in the Niger Delta are corrupt practices driving conflict and impacting negatively on investment in energy-rich communities. More importantly, awareness of the host community risks to bankability have been difficult to capture with traditional political and financial risk assessments and management processes for companies operating in the region.

Dr Zibima Tubodenyefa, a political science lecturer at the Niger Delta University, aptly captured the situation in a report titled: Corruption and conflict: Identifying methodologies of corrupt practices driving conflict and the impact on investment in energy-rich communities published in October 2018.

Dr Tubodenyefa had come up with an analytical tool that was adapted for companies, governments, and communities to support understanding host community conflict dynamics called the Macro-Conflict Risk Impact Assessment (M-CRIA) by:

1. Making more informed decisions on projects (investments) by facilitating a deeper understanding of causes (Root causes, proximate causes, triggers, etc.) and consequences;

2. Understanding the roles, interests, and capacities of major conflict stakeholders as well as the issues that may shift or change their decision-making;

3. Designing mitigation strategies based on up-to-date information gathered.

“A trend analysis of the history of conflict in the Niger Delta will show that highly political contexts are prone to conflict. As it is, every conflict is driven by interests and positions, which may be economic, cultural or political.

“What the tool does is to follow three logical steps in understanding the dynamics of the context, categorize the key issues, and develop mitigation strategies through comprehensive and open processes of engagements.

“You will agree with me that it is this supposed highly political contexts that have contributed to the failure of planned investments in the region. These conditions have persisted because government and investors have yet to understand the contexts wherein investments are to be located,” Dr Tubodenyefa explained further in an email to Legit.ng.

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Utilizing the M-CRIA tool means going over the dynamics of the conflict, understanding the issues that generate highly political conditions, and developing strategies to mitigate them in a way that supports the successful takeoff of projects.

The advantages of M-CRIA are:

1. Planning ahead should enable companies to identify better local partners. Many of the initiatives identified will be long-term in that they seek to transform structural conflict issues, such as underdevelopment or unemployment.

2. There are reputational gains at the local and international levels from implementing strategies early, and pre-empting negative impacts.

3. It helps to manage expectations if companies communicate with stakeholders about their plans as early as possible.

4. Companies interact with host societies through three basic categories of business activity: core business, social investment and policy dialogue

The MCRIA structure is geared towards conducting conflict analysis, prioritizing conflict risks and initiating multi-stakeholder dialogue.

The report noted that as a strategy for increasing influence and access to rent, community leaders and key influencers are increasingly expanding linkages by acquiring political power either via appointments or elective positions.

The report also established that issues such as community leadership crises and community engagement practices are processes which support the methodologies employed and instrumented by conflict enterpreneurs.

The findings also show that in terms of instrumentalizing conflict for corrupt accumulation, the greater the actor linkages across stakeholder clusters (community, government and investor interactions), the more control they have over community governance structures and, by implication, the greater their capability for mobilizing violence.

Dr Tubodenyefa’s report indicates that stakeholders in the region fail to focus on deeper trends when planning their anti-conflict 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.

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His words: “There are different levels and stages to the conflicts in the Niger delta. Intra and inter-community conflicts, conflicts over crude oil extraction, and the wider issue of militancy in the region.

“At the level of national security, it has been the issue of militancy and how it affects oil production that has been more visible and with more impact. Different conflict resolution tools can be applied to given the differing nature of these conflicts.

“However, the M-CRIA is best suited or was developed to mitigate conflicts arising from the extractive industry; conflicts from the interaction of investors, governments and communities. In this regard, where the conflict drivers are linked to extraction especially new investments, the M-CRIA can be used to develop mitigation strategies.”

Indeed, the key is to lay a foundation to support and argue for better government practices higher up. Luckily, a civil society organisation like Facility for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER) is already having some success promoting accountability in the oil industry.

This move will address the poor expenditure quality which are geared toward short-terms goals, such as reinforcing patronage channels, increasing political leverage, or ensuring steady oil production. The outside limit for most planning and management decisions is two to four years, with larger strategic costs largely ignored.

The Niger Delta region is currently riddled with bad governance and corruption on the parts of government officials, both at the state and local government levels, community leaders, youth groups and oil producing companies amongst others.

Corruption has continued to defy all possible solutions in Nigeria because the cost of corruption is too low and the political will to implement anti-corruption laws is absent.

Corruption remains the number cause of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region. This can, however, be remedied by incorporating insights from the theory of M-CRIA to address the conflicts arising from the region.

Corruption has continued to defy all possible solutions in Nigeria because the cost of corruption is too low and the political will to implement anti-corruption laws is absent.

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Poorly constructed, inappropriate, and nonviable institutional set-ups are responsible for a significant level of the opportunism and corruption that has pervaded the Niger Delta for decades.

It is important to note that the stability of the Nigerian state depends mainly on equity, probity, accountability and transparency in the management of the nations’ oil wealth.

In his report, Dr Tubodenyefa recommended that based on his findings from the corruption and conflict case, it is imperative that government, private investors, local actors, community members, and interested parties should:

1. Facilitate more transparent, accountable and inclusive community engagement processes that promotes inclusive community governance. This will allow more information flow and less distortion for community action to be based on accurate information;

2. Conduct community sensitisation of the collective benefits of the project to remove the sentiment of extreme individualism;

3. Entrench collective ownership through opportunities for community equity participation;

4. Establish protocols for perception and expectation management by providing more accurate and timely information sharing to raise awareness of the process and knowledge of the community members as to the process they are a part of.

“The intention is to provide for a robust process in developing interventions in the region and the creation of conditions that will support the success of industries and investments in the region. It is our belief that the adoption of the M-CRIA in the life cycle of oil and gas investments will improve the success of emergent development policies in the region,” Dr Tubodenyefa concluded.

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