Interview with Dr Cyril Obi, co-editor of Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is a critical link in the move towards consolidating democracy in Nigeria, says Cyril Obi. Expectations are high as Africa’s most populous nation goes to the polls.  

The delta is the main oil-producing region in Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer and exporter of oil. It is also home to Goodluck Jonathan, incumbent president and one of the favorites to win the presidential elections 16 April.

The Niger Delta, largely inhabited by ethnic minorities, has a long history of political and economic marginalization. An election win for Goodluck Jonathan would be an important sign of recognition for the region.

–Many people are hoping that more attention will be paid to the problems of the Niger Delta. There is a tendency to attend to the symptoms, while it is necessary to focus on the fundamental roots of the conflict. One thing is certain: the Niger Delta is a critical link in the move towards consolidating democracy in Nigeria, says Cyril Obi.

However, Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy defies a tradition within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Since the return of civilian rule in 1999 the PDP has sought to rotate the office of president between the overwhelmingly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south. Umaru Yar'Adua was supposed to be the northern president who would follow the two terms served by the southerner Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007). But after the death of Yar'Adua, another southerner, the former Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan became president.

– There has been major disagreement about the formula for electing the president. There is an argument that since Mr Yar'Adua did not complete his term somebody else from that region should be allowed to complete it.

– Others say that they should throw it open and give the opportunity to a region that has never produced a president the chance to run. The Niger Delta has contributed so much to Nigeria’s economy, yet they have been excluded from the benefits, says Cyril Obi.

What are the chances of Goodluck Jonathan winning?

– It is difficult to tell but as an incumbent from a party that has been in power since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 he has several advantages, but the opposition also has some high profile candidates.

The conflict in the Niger Delta arose in the early 1990s over tensions between foreign oil corporations and the ethnic minority which felt it was being exploited.

– The story of the Niger Delta teaches us something fundamental about angry young men and women, namely how important it is that a country provides employment and ensures and protects their dignity and rights as human beings. The story of the Niger Delta teaches us that when young people are alienated they become rebels. The cost to society for such insurgencies is always too high. That is the lesson I would say.

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Cyril Obi
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