Nobel Peace Prize for Nigerian leaders?
“Nigeria will reach a deal with Niger Delta militants in 2017.” That is the topmost prediction by SB Morgen, one of the up and coming, risks analysis, intelligence and consulting groups in Nigeria. It is a bold and an important prediction. Bold, because the crisis in the Niger Delta has lasted nearly as long as the rebellion led by the Marxist-leaning Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which began its revolutionary war in 1964. The Niger Delta crisis first erupted with Isaac Boro’s declaration of “twelve day revolution” in 1966.
Important, because a resolution of the Niger Delta crisis will be a significant milestone in the country’s political history and bring much needed economic stability at a time of a severe recession in Nigeria. If such a peace deal happens, will it have “the pragmatic noble strands” of a Nobel Peace Prize or will it be a temporary convenient arrangement? How can a durable peace be organised in the Niger Delta? Before proffering responses to those questions, it helps to examine some recent experiences of countries whose peace efforts were deemed path breaking to merit the Alfred Nobel Memorial Peace Prize.
On 10 December, 2016 Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia, received the Nobel Memorial Prize for Peace. The award honoured “his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than-50-year-long civil war to end”. Successive governments of Colombia, including the predecessor administration in which Manuel Santos served as the Defence Minister, had battled the FARC for 52 years. However, the Santos administration decided to chart a new path for the country by negotiating a peace deal with FARC, which was signed on 26 September, 2016. The award of the Nobel Peace prize to the President Manuel Santos conformed to a pattern where political leaders who have exerted much effort in favour of peace have been so honoured. But non-political leaders have received the award as well.
A 2013 book, Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent, edited by Adekeye Adebajo, highlights the fact that by 2012, 13 persons of African descent had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By 2015, this number jumped to 17, after the Tunisian National Quartet, consisting of a representative of a labor union, a trade confederation, a human rights organization, and a lawyers association, was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. Of the 17 Nobel laureates of African descent, only five were national political leaders. More significantly, 11 of the African Nobel peace laureates were awarded the peace prize for tackling a major political problem in their countries. The Tunisian National Quartet, for example, was awarded the prize for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in the country in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011”, by articulating in 2013 a roadmap for overcoming the political crisis which was presented to, and accepted by, all the relevant parties in the country. This was an illustrious example of a private initiative in support of breaking a national impasse.
Any credible peacebuilding process — whether government-led or private initiative — that seeks to break the cycle of intermittent conflict in the Niger Delta must recognize a few inconvenient truths. First, the problem cannot be resolved by military means. If that were the case, the problem of the Niger Delta would have been resolved over fifty years ago. Yet, today the Niger Delta is suffused with a variety of military operations. Second, whatever solutions are proferred must address the inter-generational sources of the conflict which is reflected in the fact that Niger Delta conflict had tended to erupt on a ten-year cycle: in 2016, 2006, and 1996 after Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution. Indeed, according to an analysis published in a 2008 book, Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta, edited by Michael Watts, the only quiescent years in Niger Delta region since oil was discovered in Oloibiri in 1956, were from 1970-1980, the first decade after the civil war. The fact that an Amnesty Programme, created as recently as 2009 and extended till 2018, did not stop the emergence of Niger Delta Avengers and other militant groups in 2016 shows that the past and many current initiatives have addressed the “risk factors” rather than the “root causes” of conflict. Third, precisely because the root causes of the Niger Delta conflict are economic, social and environmental in nature, any expenditures in the region on military operations (swords) is a huge opportunity cost to reconstruction and development (ploughshares).
A plethora of institutional arrangements currently exist to address aspects of the Niger Delta crisis. In addition to the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Presidential Amnesty programme; there is an effort by the present administration to implement the recommendations of the 2011 UNEP’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, reflected in the launching in June 2016 of $1 billion clean up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland. That study concluded that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland is possible but may take 25 to 30 years. The environmental degradation of Ogoniland is emblematic of the rest of the Niger Delta, which according to an analysis by Time Magazine of 17 May 2010, has “experienced oil spills on par with Exxon Valdez every year for the last 50 years.” Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 262,000 barrels of oil in area known as Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska in March 1989. In spite of on-going initiatives, there is a sense that current efforts lack a grand bargain between the Niger Delta and the federal government.
The fact that the Niger Delta crisis is almost as old as the Colombia conflict, the resolution of which has earned international acclaim through a Nobel Peace Prize should inspire Nigerian leaders to ask why the Niger Delta has proved so intractable. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize cannot be the goal of public policy in any country. Instead, the Nobel Peace Prize is a metaphor for exertion of efforts and commitment to the pursuit of durable peace. Indeed, political leaders do not set out to address their major national problems because they want the Nobel peace Prize. But the Nobel Peace Committee scans around the world for instances of peace efforts that are worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize
How can a durable peace process be organised? Serious nations, when confronted with difficult problems, draw on their best and brightest talents in the relevant field, to offer solutions. In a variation of the Tunisian National Quartet, the federal government should consider forming a committee of three eminent Nigerians to address three issues: why has the Niger Delta conflict become so intractable? How can it be overcome? And how can a grand bargain of an inter-generational nature be struck between the Niger Delta and the federal government? For this important national assignment, I suggest three Nigerians, all of whom who have held the position of foreign minister and served in the 2005 Constitutional Review Conference or the 2014 National Political Conference. One of them has headed a major international organisation. The second has held a high level position in another international organisation.
And the third was the deputy chairman of the 2014 conference. The recommendations from this group of eminent persons will complement the inchoate dialogue between Pan-Niger Delta Elders Forum and the federal government. If the eminent group’s recommendations can help achieve durable rather than fragile peace in the Niger Delta, and federal government can act courageously on their findings, the members of the group and Nigerian leaders might merit a Nobel Peace Prize.
• Otobo is a Non-Resident Senior Expert in Peacebuilding and Global Economic Policy at the Global Governance Institute in Brussels, Belgium.