Friday, July 25, 2008

Tackling Niger Delta unrest

To tackle the violence in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government should take the following steps:

Initiate a credible, sustained dialogue on control of resources with Niger Delta civil society groups, including militants, activist leaders, religious leaders, women and youth drawn from nominees submitted by councils of ethnic groups in the Niger Delta states.

Institute while this dialogue is proceeding a derivation formula of between 25 and 50 per cent of mineral resources, including oil and gas, to all Nigerian states, and phase this in over five years in order to avoid budgetary shock to non-oil producing states and to encourage exploration and production of other mineral resources throughout Nigeria.

Amend or repeal the 1978 Land Use Act to expand the opportunity for communities to seek compensation for land through legal means and to allow a more transparent adjudication process of potential land seizures.

Seek in parallel with the dialogue on control of resources an agreement with militants that includes a phased withdrawal of troops from Delta towns, concurrent with a weapons-return amnesty programme that pays militants and gang members market rates for guns and enrols them in skills and job training and that pays attention as well to the needs of girls and women who may not carry guns but have roles within those bodies (such as forced wives or cooks).

Bring the increasing number of quasi-independent local government institutions formally into federal structures as part of an effort to rationalise local governments in Niger Delta states, particularly in areas where these are unworkably large or combine substantively distinct ethnicities or communities.

Ensure that security force personnel are paid on time and in full in order to help prevent dependency on oil company payments and illicit and corrupt practices; increase enforcement of penalties for corruption and consider raising salaries; clarify the chain of command; and change the uniform of the “supernumerary police” that provide security services for the energy companies.

Refashion the government/transnational oil company joint ventures that control production to offer residents a substantial ownership stake along the lines of what corporate majors including Royal/Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and Conoco have done in Canada’s Arctic.

To the State Governments:

Engage more fully with professional, nongovernmental organisations that demonstrate a capability and willingness to assist communities to take responsibility for their own development.

Accelerate steps to implement poverty reduction strategies outlined in State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies (SEEDS) that have been developed in conjunction with Nigeria’s national umbrella anti-poverty strategy, NEEDS.

Make budget details publicly available and respond to queries about specific spending patterns and projects.

To the Energy Companies:

Improve measures to ensure transparency of contracts and other community payments, including for surveillance, development projects and compensation for land use and pollution, and in particular: (a) honour company commitments and ensure that payments are made in full, by bank transfer – not in cash – to the intended recipients; (b) conclude agreements wherever possible that provide for individuals and local communities to be compensated for land use and pollution; and (c) seek independent mediation or arbitration when agreements are in dispute.

Prioritise long-term ability to operate in Nigeria over short-term production goals and seek community assent before proceeding with production-related projects.

Develop partnerships with non-governmental, community-based bodies with a demonstrated ability to provide skills training and capacity building for development projects, including women’s and religious groups that have played significant roles in mediating among various ethnic groups and actors in the past decade.