After the 2015 Presidential elections which saw a peaceful transition of power from incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to General Mohammadu Buhari, many observers have rightfully expressed optimism for the future of Africa’s biggest economy. There is much to be optimistic about. For one, the Boko Haram counterinsurgency campaign has marked significant successes in the Northeast over the last year. However, by contrast in the Niger Delta region, communal, criminal, and election-related violence have been steadily rising. In fact, conflict-related incidents and fatalities in the Niger Delta were higher in the past six months than at any point since the end of the last wave of militancy in 2009.
Nowhere has it been more salient in the region than in Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa states, which have had the highest per capita fatalities. Amidst the overall levels of insecurity, these states have also witnessed a resurgence of militant groups, who have staged a series of attacks on energy infrastructure. One contributing factor to this surge in violence may be the shaky future of the Presidential Amnesty Program, a staple of the Goodluck Jonathan VicePresidency, and later maintained throughout his Presidency. Since the Buhari administration took power in 2015, key security contracts held by ex-militant generals have been cancelled, and plans have been announced to phase out the Amnesty Program that provides stipends and other benefits to ex-militants by 2018.
Although this newest round of militancy may be a power-play for a new round of security contracts and stipends, the stated demands of the militant groups are more expansive. Since bursting onto the scene in February 2016, with a series of attacks on major oil pipelines in Delta and Bayelsa, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) has made a deliberate effort to hijack a wide range of local, ethnic, and sectarian interests and demands, in an attempt to cobble together a coalition of the aggrieved. In this, they have had some limited success.