Friday, March 16, 2012

Militancy in the Niger Delta and the Emergent Categories

To cite this article: Kimiebi Imomotimi Ebienfa (2011): Militancy in the Niger Delta and the
emergent categories, Review of African Political Economy, 38:130, 637-643


The oil-rich Niger Delta has been engulfed
in militant activities in recent years.
Militancy in the Niger Delta is undeniably
an issue of local resistance to repressive
state institutions. The Niger Delta is the
theatre where these repressive state institutions,
using taxes from the multinational
oil corporations, inflict their obscene
brutalities on the helpless inhabitants of
the oil-bearing communities (Owolabi and
Okwechime 2007).
From a transnational perspective, resistance
polities have become the refuge for
those who are alienated by capitalist
social relations and the hegemonic power
of the federal government/corporate
alliance over oil, and seek to oppose their
exploitative agenda. Depending on the specificities
of each moment, the balance of
social forces and the organisational
capacity of local social movements, these
movements seek forcefully to rectify the
inequities embedded in the imperatives of
global accumulation. To be candid, the
cocktail of political marginalisation, repression,
conditions of poverty, abject deprivation
and social exclusion in the Niger
Delta represent legitimate grievances for
violent group mobilisation. The reason
has been that oil production in the Niger
Delta has not generated wealth for the
majority of the people, but simply the
outflow of wealth. For instance, the centralist
nation-building project of the military in
post-civil war Nigeria, bankrolled by petrodollars,
manifested as a virtual transfer of
oil wealth from the Niger Delta to other
regions of the country. It is owing to the
failure to win concessions through peaceful
means that the youths in the Niger Delta
have been inexorably driven to militantly
protest, marginalisation, unemployment,
development deficit and inequality.

The origins of militancy in the Niger

The origins of militancy in the Niger Delta
can be divided into remote and immediate
causes. The remote causes include inter
alia: environmental degradation, marginalisation
and underdevelopment in the region,
the existence of obnoxious laws such as the
Petroleum Act of 1969 and the Land Use
Act of 1978, and the killing of Ken Saro-
Wiwa. The immediate causes of militancy
on the other hand include the militarisation
of the Niger Delta by the Nigerian state, the
‘Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha’ programme,
the Kaiama Declaration, bunkering
by Niger Delta youths and the
mobilisation of youths as political thugs
during the 1999 election. Though youth
involvement in the Niger Delta struggle
took a decisive turn (characterised by militancy)
with the repression suffered at the
hands of the Abacha regime that turned

Niger Delta communities into garrison
enclaves patrolled by the Nigerian militants,
the eye opener that propelled the
youths to change tactics was the Youths
Earnestly Ask for Abacha programme,
while the motivational force was the
Kaiama Declaration.
In his bid to transform himself into a
civilian president, the late military dictator
General Sani Abacha invited youths from
all the local government areas of the federation
to participate in the Two Million Man
March in Abuja, an event which resulted
in a serious number of backlashes,
especially in the Niger Delta. Hundreds of
youths were mobilised to attend the Abuja
programme from the poverty-ridden and
development-elusive interior enclaves of
the Niger Delta. While in Abuja, the
youths from the Niger Delta saw, for the
first time in their lives, express roads with
four lanes, roads that were free of potholes,
bridges built over dry land (flyovers) that
contrasted with the absence of bridges
across creeks and rivers back home, and
beautiful streets and high-rise buildings.
The youths at first thought that they were
in a foreign land, but after several inquiries
they were told that they were in Abuja, the
federal capital of Nigeria, a new city built
by oil revenue sourced from the Niger
Delta. The perception of relative deprivation
among Niger Delta youths amplified
by exposure to the magnificent new Federal
Capital Territory awakened the people of
the region to the surreptitious and persistent
transfer of wealth from the Niger Delta to
other regions (Ukiwo 2009). Therefore,
after seeing Abuja in its impressive splendour,
the youths returned home to fight
for the development of their land and to
secure resource control. After the Abuja
trip, protests against the activities of the
oil industry increased in geometric progression
and culminated in the birth of the
famous Kaiama Declaration.
The Kaiama Declaration was named
after the historic town of Kaiama (the
home town of Isaac Adaka Boro and the
revolutionary headquarters of the Ijaw
nation) where the All Ijaw Youths Conference
was held on the 11 December 1998.
On that fateful day (the day the Niger Delta
changed), over 5000 Ijaw youths, drawn
from over 5000 communities of about 40
clans that make up the Ijaw nation, met in
Kaiama to deliberate on ways of finding
solutions to the problems associated with
‘the enslavement in the fraudulent contraption
called Nigeria’ (Ikelegbe 2005). The
Kaiama Declaration that was announced at
the close of deliberations recognised that oil
and gas are exhaustible resources and
declared that the complete lack of concern
for ecological rehabilitation in the light of
the Oloibiri experience was a signal of
impending doom for the Ijaw race (Ikelegbe
2005). The document was signed and
published with the intention of changing
the terms of the relationships between the
oil companies and the national government.
The first four articles of the Kaiama
Declaration stated that:
All lands and natural resources (including
mineral resources) within Ijaw territory
belong to Ijaw communities and are the
basis of our survival.
We cease to recognize all undemocratic
decrees that rob our people / communities
of the right to ownership and
control of our lives and resources,
which were enacted without our participation
and consent. These include the
land use Decree and the Petroleum
Decree etc.
We demand the immediate withdrawal
from Ijaw land of all military forces of
occupation and repression by the
Nigeria State. Any oil company that
employs the services of the Armed
Forces of the Nigeria State to ‘protect’
its operations will be viewed as an
enemy of the Ijaw people.
Ijaw youths in all the communities in Ijaw
clan in the Niger Delta will take steps to
implement these resolutions beginning
from December 30th 1998 as a step
towards reclaiming the control of our
lives. (Ijaw Youths Council 1998)

‘Operation Climate Change’ was then
launched as the preliminary step to bringing
about the vision. The Kaiama Declaration
also gave birth to the Ijaw Youth Council,
with the motto ‘Resource control by any
means possible’. Thus, the Kaiama
Declaration was the harbinger of the contemporary
form of violence by the militants
who abandoned the non-violent stance of
the Ken Saro-Wiwa era and adopted
violent measures as their modus operandi.
It also shaped and popularised the term
‘resource control’.
It is important to note that the repressive
character of the Nigerian state, coupled
with military brutalities in the Niger Delta
necessitated the acquisition or possession
of alternative sources of power to oppose
the activities of the Nigeria military. This
led to the reinvocation of the Egbesu deity
(the Ijaw god of war) as a means of protection
against military attacks. There is a
belief in Ijawland that if you are fighting a
just cause, the Egbesu will make you
impervious to bullets if certain rituals are
observed, and even make you invincible.
To Best and Kemedi (2005, p. 31),
‘Egbesu seems to be an ancient cult that
was revived in the 1990s with the aim of
recruiting young Ijaw men to be inculcated
with the Egbesu rites and beliefs so as to act
as a cohesive group in the forceful protection
of the Ijaw people.’
Inspired by the triumphant release of
Timi Kaiser Ogoriba, president of the
Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw
Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta
(MOSIEND), from detention in Government
House, Yenagoa on 29 June 1998,
following the suppression of the military
security apparatus at Creek Haven, the
demonstrations that followed the Kaiama
Declaration recorded unimaginable results.
(Ogoriba was believed by his followers to
be wielding Egbesu power.) The
Ogoriba–Government House incident was
the first public test of the Egbesu power
as the protesting youths became impervious
to gunshots fired at them by security
operatives in broad daylight in Yenagoa.
The resultant effect spread like wildfire
and was accompanied by widespread Egbesubirination
(the ritual of obtaining Egbesu
power) by youths in the region. The practical
experience of the researcher is that the
Egbesu power is a very potent force that
compels its believers and devotees to be
aggressive towards military personnel.
Thus, the military men deployed to quell
the early post-Kaiama Declaration demonstrations
across the Niger Delta were
boldly attacked by barehanded youths,
basking in the supernatural bulletproof
euphoria of the Egbesu power. A notable
example is the killing of many soldiers by
youths from Kolokuma/Opokuma Local
Government Area in Bayelsa State who
were seeking to liberate Kaiama from military
occupation following the All Ijaw
Youths conference.
Moreover, it is a fact of history that the
first set of militants that emerged in the
Niger Delta did not consist of gun-carrying
insurgents, but violent resource agitators
that depended solely on the protection of
the Egbesu power in their exploits. The
first sets of guns used for the struggle were
those captured from security operatives.
However, due to the strict regulations
which are prerequisites of success in the
use of Egbesu for protection, and the attendant
violations and deaths recorded on the part
of the Niger Delta youths, the need to acquire
arms and ammunition became inevitable.
I wish to emphatically argue that the
deviation from anchoring the struggle in
the protection of the Egbesu power which
emphasised purity, equity, justice and truth,
ushered in greed, self-centeredness and fractionalisation
among the leadership of the
struggle. With the walls of the status quo
breached, every form of ‘outsider’ came
streaming through the gates: cult leaders,
political thugs, criminals, and self-centred
individuals hiding under the cloak of
resource agitators. Therefore, instead of
focusing on how the needs and aspirations
of the region would be actualised through
violent agitations to press home the demands
of the local people, some militant agitators
became preoccupied with how to satisfy
their parochial interests, deviating from the
tenets of the struggle.
The unholy mix of insurgency and criminality
evidenced by the involvement of
armed groups in hostage-taking, illegal oil
bunkering, illegal oil refining and trading,
as well as the proliferation of criminal
groups disguised as militants, has promoted
the view in some circles that militancy in
the Niger Delta is driven by the greed of
the dramatis personae (Ukiwo 2009) which
necessitates critical analysis of the process
by which militants were created.

Typologies of militant groups in the
Niger Delta

I must emphasise the fact that the militant
creation process in the Niger Delta is differentiated:
there are different types of militants
in the region. This is attributed to
the divergent factors or reasons that motivated
or compelled such youth to become
militants. Members of militant groups
expressed a variety of reasons for joining.
This included: desire to protect their land,
communities and ethnic groups; to protest
against government and oil companies’ political
and economic marginalisation of their
communities; fear for their personal safety
following threats by members of other
armed groups or government security
agencies; being hired by politicians to
help rig elections, intimidate voters, and
attack opponents; to make money through
criminal activities, and so on. We shall
therefore proceed to identify and discuss
the typologies of militants in the Niger
Delta which will help decipher the issues
of criminality and fighting for justice.

Peaceful resource-agitator militancy

This category of militants refers to armed
youths in the Niger Delta that decided to
militarise the struggle due to the inability
of peaceful agitations to yield the desired
goals in the region. It embraces youths
that are committed to the development
and resource control struggle in the Niger
Delta. The first set of militants that
emerged in the Niger Delta after the
Kaiama Declaration, especially those who
depended on the Egbesu power to execute
Operation Climate Change, belongs to this
category. One crucial fact to note is that
the pioneer resource-agitators membership
was devoid of criminality. Criminality
only crept in later as the struggle continued.
The militants were thus sustained by goodwill
donations from wealthy individuals
and communities in their region. What transpired
was that youths with the zeal to fight
for their people were mobilised to carry out
attacks on oil companies and government
security forces that perpetuate exploitation
and marginalisation in the region. A good
example of militants that fall under this category
are Government Ekpemopolo
(General Tompolo), Ebikabowei Victor
Ben (Boyloaf), and Alex Preye.

Political-thug militancy

This second category developed from political
thugs to become militants in the
Niger Delta. Though thuggery in the
Niger Delta is as old as the Nigerian experience,
it was the 1999 general elections that
ushered in the political-thug militancy category.
The move to return Nigeria to civilian
rule raised the curtain for serious
politicking by politicians struggling to be
elected into various leadership positions.
Considering the do-or-die character of
Nigerian politics, which is premised on
winning at all costs, some youths were
engaged to perpetrate electoral crimes
such as election rigging, snatching of
ballot boxes, intimidation of voters, and
kidnapping and attacks on opposition candidates.
These youths were armed with
dangerous weapons and financially
mobilised by the politicians to carry out
their parochial undemocratic plans.
Paradoxically, after they had ensured
victory for their political masters, the
youths were abandoned and nothing tangible
was ever done to retrieve the guns and
ammunitions from them. Therefore, with
instruments of coercion in their possession,
some of the frustrated and neglected youths
decided to set up militant camps and
became involved in the destruction of oil
installations and the kidnapping and
hostage-taking of expatriate oil workers
for ransom.
Thus the political-thug militancy category
was the creation of politicians.
Experience has shown that the aftermath
of every general election in Nigeria since
1999 has led to the emergence of new militant
groups fighting for space and relevance
in the Niger Delta. Youths are always contracted
and armed prior to elections to
perform illegal roles during elections. It
was in this context that Asari Dokubo and
Ateke Tom (in Rivers State) were recruited
to the cause of delivering the 2003 elections
for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Specifically, they were to deliver certain
local government areas that were seen as
crucial to winning Rivers State. For
instance, Ateke Tom (then a community
vigilante leader) was contracted for the
purpose of securing Okrika, Ogu/Bolo
and Port Harcourt local government areas
in the 2003 elections. Asari Dokubo was
also contracted to perform similar functions
in Akuku Toru, Degema and Asari Toru
local government areas. They were both
successful and the Peoples Democratic
Party won the election in those areas (Coventry
Cathedral 2009, p. 64; Best and
Kemedi 2005, Manby 2004), Likewise, in
Bayelsa State, notable militant leaders
such as General Africa, Joshua Maverick,
Young Shall Grow, Egberi Papa, and
Daddy Ken graduated from being political
thugs to become militants. Owing to the
‘abandonment-after-usage’ syndrome, both
Asari and Ateke in Rivers State turned
their attention to the transnational illegal
oil bunkering networks, collecting tolls on
the trade, providing security to bunkering
crews, selling oil or operating illegal oil
refineries whose products were sold below
market prices. In essence, the recruitment
of young men from a widening cesspool
of unemployed youths by politicians
anchored another dimension of militant

Cult-group militancy

As the name implies, the cult-group militancy
category embraces initial cult leaders
and membership that altered their activities
to militancy. This category of militants basically
emerged from the Rivers State axis of
the Niger Delta. There are two types of
cult groups that feature most often in the
media reports of conflicts in the Niger
Delta. First is the campus cult groups
formed by the original fraternity groups
such as Supreme Vikings Confraternity,
Black Axes, Buccaneers, and Mafia Fighters.
Second are the urban social groupings
that spun off from the university fraternities
and use coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and
retain their members, frequently for violent
purposes. They include Dey Gbam, Dey
Well, Greenlanders, and Germans. The
latter groups, which are also known as
street cult groups, seek to exert control
over defined geographic areas that they
conceive as their territory.
Most of the street cults are the creation
of the university cults in the sense that the
university students who founded the original
confraternities recruited younger and
less-educated teenagers to fight their street
battles, while these youths in turn recruited
still younger populations. By this process a
hierarchy of armed young people was
formed. Life became cheaper the lower
down the pecking order one descended
(Asuni 2009). From initial clashes
between cult groups with sticks and
broken bottles, it soon progressed to the
use of machetes, locally made guns (popularly
known as Akwa-Made) and later
advanced to the use of sophisticated guns
and explosives such as dynamite, as the
battle for supremacy and territorial control
intensified. The fact remains that many of
the politicians in the Niger Delta, especially
in Bayelsa and River State, are known to be
members of confraternities, particularly the
Vikings (which dominates higher institutions
in the two states). These politicians
and other wealthy ex-members act as
patrons to the various cult groups and also
fund their activities.
The cult groups were also contracted to
perform thuggery roles during elections in
return for financial incentives and sophisticated
guns and ammunition. One cult
member described a meeting in Government
House, Port Harcourt just prior to
the 14 April 2007 polls during which he
saw government officials hand out
between N5 million and N10 million to
several different cult groups in return for
their assisting or simply accepting the
PDP plan to rig the polls (Human Rights
Watch 2007). Some of them were also contracted
to protect bunkering networks with
their ever-increasing armoury. Ateke Tom,
Soboma George, Farah Dagogo, and
Occasion Boy belong to this category.
Moreover, in order to sustain their activities,
confraternities frequently change their
loyalty and actions in response to new
sources of money. Most of the confraternities
have been implicated in the
hostage-taking of foreign oil workers in
the Niger Delta. Again, due to the exposure
of cult members to gun battles, numerous
militant groups such as the Movement for
the Emancipation of the Niger Delta
(MEND) employ confraternity members
as combatants. For example, the head of
the cult group the Outlaws, Soboma
George, doubles as an MEND commander
(Wellington, 2007). It is a common practice
in the Niger Delta for cult members contracted
by militant leaders as combatants
in their camps to be paid between
N200,000 and N300,000 every two
weeks, based on the type of activities they
carry out. Other notable cult leaders
simply break away from their parent
bodies, set up their own groups, acquire
arms and ammunition and begin to
operate as militants in the region.
Community/ethnic-warlord militancy
The Niger Delta has witnessed a series of
intra- and inter-communal conflicts. These
conflicts are attributed to the divide-andrule
politics of the Nigerian state and its
alleged collaborators, the multinational oil
companies. Most of the conflicts were
fought over land ownership claims,
payment of compensation due to spillage
and exploration activities, and so on.
Some notable conflicts of these nature
include the Warri crisis, Olugbobiri and
Peremabiri crisis, Odioma and Liama
crisis, Ogbolomabiri and Bassambiri crisis
in Nembe, Biseni-Agbere crisis, Ikwerre
and the Okrika crises.
The zeal to protect one’s community
from external aggression led to the acquisition
of community armouries manned by
able-bodied youths. As seen in the Warri,
Nembe, Olugbobiri and Okrika crises for
instance, the weapons acquired to fight
communal wars were diverted to militancy
when peace returned to the affected communities.
Therefore the ethnic-warlord
category of militants transformed from
initial communal and ethnic warlords to
become militants. Examples of militants
that fall under this category are Government
Ekpemopolo, Prince lgodo, Alex
Preye, and Commander Ajugbe.
Be that as it may, the line separating the
various categories of militants is very fluid.
The reason has been that militants like
Ateke Tom, Tompolo, Soboma George
and Farah Dagogo fall into two or more categories.
Moreover, militants that basically
carry out criminal activities like kidnapping
belong to the cult-group militancy category.

This paper has identified and discussed the
remote and immediate factors that that led
642 K.I. Ebienfa
Downloaded by [KIMIEBI EBIENFA] at 22:11 01 December 2011
to the advent of militancy in the Niger
Delta, such as decades of marginalisation
and state repression, oil-induced environmental
degradation, endemic poverty,
teeming unemployment and a development
deficit. The success of the original militancy,
derived from developmental and
resource-control aspirations and from the
Egbesu military ethic of purity, equity,
justice and truth, stimulated the other
forms of militancy. This process led to the
subsequent variety of motives for and
forms of militant action in the Niger
Delta. The resultant diversity can be conceptualised
using the above typology, but
that should not obscure the nature of militancy
as a dynamic set of actions. Indeed
some militant groups fit into more than
one category in terms of their actions. As
with many struggles, the original goals of
the militancy became somewhat lost in the
course of the struggle because it opened a
space for other forms of violent action.
These new kinds of militancy and violence
had objectives far removed from the
original aspirations for which the Egbesuinspired
militancy had served as a mobilising
cultural form.
The fact remains that militancy in the
Niger Delta is as a result of the abundant
oil wealth derived from the region not
leading to regional prosperity. Consequently,
people-oriented effective and efficient
policies, geared towards addressing
the development deficit and uneven
wealth distribution in the region, must be
implemented to nip militancy in the bud.

Note on contributor
Kimiebi Imomotimi Ebienfa is a postgraduate
student in the Department of Political Science,
University of Ibadan. He holds a bachelor of
science degree from Niger Delta University
and master of science degree from the University
of Ibadan, where he specialised in
comparative politics. His research interests
include oil and environmental politics, public
policy, international security and terrorism.
Asuni, J., 2009. Understanding the armed groups
of the Niger Delta. Council on Foreign
Relations, Working Paper, September. New
York: Council on Foreign Relations, 9–10.
Best, S. and Kemedi,D., 2005.Armed groups and
conflicts in Rivers and Plateau States,Nigeria.
In: N. Florquin and E.G. Berman, eds. Armed
and aimless: armed groups, guns and human
security in Ecowas Region. Geneva: Small
Arms Survey, 12–45.
Conflict Expert Group, 2005. Peace and security
in the Niger Delta. Working paper for
SPDC, Baseline Report, WAC Global
Coventry Cathedral, 2009. The potential for
peace and reconciliation in the Niger
Delta. Coventry, UK: International Council
on Reconciliation.
Human Rights Watch, 2007. Criminal politics:
violence, ‘godfathers’ and corruption in
Nigeria. New York: Human Rights Watch.
Ijaw Youths Council, 1998. The Kaiama declaration.
Yenagoa, Nigeria: Ijaw Youths Council.
Ikelegbe, A., 2005. Encounters of insurgent
youth associations with the state in the oil
rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Journal
of Third World Studies, 22 (1), 151–181.
Manby, B., 2004. Oil jihad in the Niger Delta?
Open Democracy, 27 October. Available
article [Accessed 13 February 2009].
Owolabi, O. and Okwechime, I., 2007. Oil and
security in Nigeria: the Niger Delta crisis
[online]. African Development, 32 (1), 4.
Available from
article/view/57152 [Accessed 14 November
Ukiwo, U., 2009. Causes and cures of oilrelated
Niger Delta conflicts. Uppsala:
Nordic Africa Institute.
Wellington,A., 2007.Nigeria’s cults and their role
in Niger Delta insurgency [online]. Terrorism
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Review of African Political Economy 643
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