The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has been embroiled in crises between the Federal Government and some militant elements aggrieved over certain fundamental issues affecting the region. Since 1999, militants have fought with government forces, sabotaged oil installations and taken foreign oil workers hostage (Ikelegbe 2010:15). The crisis has been exacerbated by emergent issues of gross distortion of Nigerian federalism in respect to resource control and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, the external manifestation has mainly been that of hostage taking and violent agitations which have taken advantage of the bad situation (Ejibunu 2010:3). The Niger Delta is the centre of oil and gas production in Nigeria, accounting for about 80% of total Government Revenue, 95% of Foreign Exchange and over 80% of National Wealth (Tell 2008:33). The oil industry in the region is dominated by multinational corporations such as Chevron, Texaco, Exxon-Mobil, Total, Agip, SPDC, ELF and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (Chevron 2011). Presently, there are over 500 Oil fields, 3,284 onshore and offshore Oil Wells, 7 Export Terminals, 275 Flow Stations, 2 Refineries and a Liquefied National Gas Project (Lubeck, Watts and Lipschits 2007). The 2013 NNPC statistics shows that about 25,183.9 billion barrels of Crude Oil are produced in the Niger Delta daily, which amounts to a staggering National revenue of 36.2 trillion naira (This Day 2013). Notwithstanding the abundant wealth produced in the region (Ogbogbo 2010), the locals live in a state of chronic squalor and abject poverty of which oil seems to be a curse.
According to a new Amnesty International report (2014), the exploration and exploitation of oil since its discovery in 1958 brought impoverishment, conflict, human rights abuses and despair to the majority of the people in the region. The pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry led to violations of the rights to health and a healthy environment, the right to an adequate standard of living (including the right to food and water) and the right to gain a living through work for hundreds of thousands of people (Amnesty International 2014). The region has over the decades been deprived of peace, progress, justice and its resources that were expected to bring about good life to its inhabitants (Inokoba and Imbua 2008:647). Prior to the discovery and exploration of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta, the primary occupation of the people consisted of fishing and farming. It is however sad to note that, oil exploration and exploitation has destroyed the subsistence economy of the people. Testimonies from various quarters lend credence to the claim that environmental degradation occasioned by oil spillages has made life extremely difficult for the local people. The destruction of farmlands, fishponds and rivers had radically altered the economic life of the once self-reliant and productive region (Okonta and Oronto, 2011:108). Put differently, the unbridled exploration and exploitation of crude oil and gas beneath the soil of the Niger Delta over the past fifty years has caused indescribable and irredeemable ecological devastation to the land. The oil related environmental problems that have made life unbearable for the people of the Niger Delta include: water and land pollution as a result of oil spillage and drilling activities; destruction of land suitable for vegetation; displacement of human settlements as a result of installation and location of exploration facilities such as the crude oil and gas carrying pipes crossing most communities in the region; air pollution and acid rain from oil and gas processing, evaporation and flaring etc. (Azaiki 2007). Oil has wrought poverty, state violence and a dying ecosystem within the area (Okonta 2011). Dissatisfied with the condition under which the people live, the youths in the Niger Delta have become more restive than ever, this restiveness has attracted state violence, repression, suppression and brutalization (Aaron 2006) rather than redress the situation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the consciousness of exploitation, marginalization and disempowerment has made the Niger Delta a region of deep rooted frustration, hence the incessant hostage taking incidents wrapped in militancy. Experts on the Niger Delta issue maintain that the reason for this is due to federalism and the politics of revenue sharing in (Ibaba 2009, Okoko and Nna 2007 and Orabator et al 2006); environmental injustices and human rights violation (Aaron 2008:128, Okonta and Oronto 2007); the failure of corporate social responsibility on the part of multinational oil companies (Ikelegbe 2010, Clark 2009:133 and Aaron 2008:128-129); accountability and transparency failures in governance (Peel 2009, Enweremadu 2008 and Inokoba and Imbua 2008); hegemonic politics (Isumonah 2007) and the obnoxious laws that govern the oil industry (Ibaba, 2005). It is this prevailing reality in the Niger delta that has given birth to an environment of youth restiveness and general insecurity.
MEND has since then attracted international attention to the plight of the region, and its resistance campaign through hostage taking of foreign oil workers demonstrates the inability of Nigerian forces to stop its attacks and the sabotage of oil installations. With no credible presence on the internet, the group sends messages and images to the world’s leading news agencies and local newspapers via emails (Abubakar 2007:31), and takes journalist and media representatives to their camps in the swamps of the Niger Delta . This group has become a force to be reckoned with (Junger 2007). Militant groups in the Niger Delta obtain their funding from donations from politicians and mostly ransom payments from hostage taking (Okechukwu and Njideka 2011: 33). The hostage taking of foreigners in the Niger Delta region made the Federal Government lose about N570 billion ($4.4 billion) in revenue as at 2006 (Ogundiya 2009). Between 2007 and 2008, more than 60 foreigners, mostly oil workers, were kidnapped but later released (Ifidian 2009:34). This later spread to other parts of the region, for instance, the Pa Simeon Soludo (the father of the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) hostage incident on the 27th October, 2009, in the South-East, Anambra State (Anyanwu 2009:6). Foremost Nollywood actors- Pete Edochie and Nkem Owoh were taken hostage in August 2009 (Ifidian 2009:3; Amatus 2009:8). In the North West, the Secretary to the Government of Kaduna State, Mr. Waje Yayok, was taken hostage in September 2009 (Omipidan 2009:8).
The incidence of hostage taking presents a bad perception on the country as the act instils fear and uncertainty in the minds of the citizens, thereby inhibiting investment and development (Oraetoka, 2009). Apart from creating fear and insecurity in the country, the increase of hostage taking virtually affected any positive development that was to take place. The concern of the Federal Government of Nigeria towards proffering solutions to the issues highlighted has therefore motivated the researcher into undertaking a critical analysis of hostage taking in the Niger Delta region. Nigeria, as a country, is under internal security threats occasioned by acts of hostage taking which affect the nation’s stability and well-being (Ogundiya 2009:31). Hostage taking negates security and there is therefore an urgent need for the Federal Government of Nigeria to curb the act, as it has far-reaching negative consequences on the country and its foreign image.

Figure 1: Current Map of the Niger Delta Region (BBC 2013).

This phenomenon has taken an alarming dimension in Nigeria, such that it has become a big business. It therefore becomes necessary to look at the meaning of hostage taking, identify some scholarly definitions and the forms in which it occurs. According to Hakeem Jamiu (2010), hostage taking is the forceful abduction of human beings with the intention to hold them for ransom, or for the motive of harassment (physically, mentally or sexually) etc. It is done by the way of taking the hostage to a place where they are unlikely to be found and released until the abductors demands are satisfied. Bad governance/corruption, unemployment, lack of development, structural deficiency of the Nigerian federalism, environmental damage, human rights violations etc. are thought to be responsible for its continuity in the Niger Delta region (Jamiu 2010) Ngboawaji (2011:64) believes that the high level of unemployment and poverty in the Niger Delta region (which is above the national average) is one of the precipitating factors pushing some Niger Delta youths into hostage taking (UNDP, 2006). This is because, ironically, while not justifiable by any means, the growing spate of hostage taking has its roots in the inequality, unemployment and the breakdown of the educational, social structures, and the value system in Nigeria. It is also emblematic of the disequilibrium in resource sharing. Furthermore, one can link hostage taking to the overall growth of national crime rate and underdevelopment (Ngboawaji 2011:64) In a country where the middle class has but all disappeared, hostage taking may be a low culture habit meant to target and open the high society and elite, especially in such restive regions like the Niger Delta (Okaba and Nte 2011). In the same vein, with a pervasive regime of poverty, an increasing army of unemployed youths, and a ready pool of employable youths for political thuggery; the end result is militancy, which has found expression in all sorts of violence, including hostage taking in the Niger Delta. It is therefore a mismanaged negative fall out of the ill feelings in the Niger Delta which the political elites employ to capture and consolidate their grip on power (Okaba and Nte 2011).

Figure 2: Map of Nigeria showing the oil producing states of the Niger Delta (Aniefiok et al 2013)

Since the 1998 Kaiama Declaration (a declaration attributed to the political crises in Nigeria on the struggle for the control of oil and other mineral resources), the Niger Delta has experience several violent activities. Immediately after the declaration was made, President Olusegun Obasanjo created a Joint Task Force and deployed them to the various communities in the region to calm the violence which led to the loss of lives. For instance, the annihilation of the Zakibiam and Odi communities where the JTF soldiers levelled both communities, killing scores of people (Frank and Ukpere 2012). Peterside cited in Ikuli (2007) argued that the youths tool up arms because of the nonchalant response of the government. He continues by saying:
…early protests by the people of the Niger Delta over oppressive practices of the state involved peaceful methods that yielded no results. As the pains and cries of poverty intensified, youth militancy emerged as an alternative approach to draw attention of the plights of inhabitants of the region. The state’s response to this method of the struggle was massive deployment of military forces to crush popular pressures. To resist the deadly military might of the state, armed confrontation was adopted by the youths as a defence mechanism (Peterside cited in Ikuli 2007).
As a result of this, the Niger Delta required a voice and Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the leading outspoken voices of the Niger Delta. He spoke against the exploratory activities of the MNOC’s through his article write-ups and emails to non-governmental organizations about the devastating effects of the oil exploratory activities on the region (Etebu 2011:104). In 1990, he started to dedicate himself to the amelioration of the problems of the oil producing regions of the Niger Delta. Focusing on his homeland, Ogoni, he launched a non-violent movement for social and ecological justice. In this role he attacked the oil companies and the Nigerian government accusing them of waging an ecological war against the Ogoni and precipitating the genocide of the Ogoni people (Trowell 2014). He chose to fight using nonviolent resistance techniques such as poetry, prose and peaceful protest and was able to mobilize the people of the Niger Delta to push for adequate representation and the preservation of their homeland, which was continuing to be destroyed by oil exploitation (Clean the Niger Delta 2009). Ken Saro-Wiwa knew that his life was in danger and he never stopped with his persistent messages to the MNOC’s. Etebu (2011:105) posited that hostage taking is a reaction to the Federal Government’s response to the call for justice by the Niger Delta youths on concerns of oil revenue sharing; and also the poverty and unemployment suffered in the oil producing region that happens life bank of the Nigerian economy (Etebu 2011:105). The Federal Government constantly maintains the terrain of the Niger Delta procures difficulty when it comes to development. Ejituwu and Enemugwem (2007) however admitted that the Niger Delta terrain is terribly difficult, but under the terrible terrain is buried a large quantity of oil, which has turned out to be about 90% of Nigeria’s source of revenue.” Similarly, Okowa (2007) maintained that despite the difficulty to focus development in the region, there is no doubt that the region is blessed with oil resources that can foster development. He continues further by saying the oil resources are controlled by the major ethnic groups in power, thereby leaving the minor groups of the Niger Delta at a disadvantaged position (Okowa 2007). As a result of this, Bright (2010) has tried to explain how less than 4% of communities in the Niger Delta have access to electricity in spite of the trillions of volumes of gas flared each year. The fact is that the problem of the Niger Delta is not of particular concern to the Federal Government. As long the oil flows, and the political engine is being oiled by the resources of the Niger Delta, nothing else matters (Bright 2010:11). Ejituwu and Enemugwem (2007) maintain that the reason why these problems remain constant is because the policies of the Federal Government only mention the problems of the Niger Delta but are not sympathetic with them. Naanem (2008) captures this by saying that:
…the structural and constitutional weaknesses of the post-colonial Nigerian state were exploited by sections of the country who use their numerical strength and privilege access to the existing opportunity structure, the dominant class in the majority ethnic groups infiltrate the multinational corporation, thereby, constituting the comprador class that mediates between the corporation and the local society (Naanem 2008:46).

Hostage taking has riddled the region and left millions of dollars unrealized due to deferred production as a result of the stoppage of oil exploration and production. This is because the exploration of oil exposed the region to several environmental issues- pollution of water and land which has endangered aquatic life and the entire ecosystem which Ibeanu (2007) termed as the gruesome murder of the ecosystem (Ibeanu 2007). The region has been denied the required development of social and economic infrastructure such as stable electricity, good roads and a proper healthcare system (Mbah 2013:21). These problems are located within the revenue sharing principles of the Federal Government which has starved the region of the much needed resources.

Hostage taking undermines confidence in the states ability to protect its citizens. It threatens the security of lives and properties as well as stalls economic development and foreign investment (Oche 2009: 41). The inability of the government to overcome hostage taking proves that the root causes of these conflicts are yet to be identified; and therefore leading to the use of incorrect mechanisms to manage or resolve them. Since the role of the state is to provide security from any threat to its citizenry, whether violence within or without, it is seen as the only institution capable of providing that security on the face of an anarchical domestic environment of an armed state (Terif et al 2009:145). The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 368 of the criminal code states that it is illegal and punishable with ten years imprisonment:
Any person who – unlawfully imprisons any person within Nigeria in such a manner as to prevent him from applying to a court for his release or from discovering to any other person the place where he is imprisoned, is guilty of felony and liable to 10 years imprisonment (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999: Section 368).
Hostage taking was a tactic adopted by militant organizations as an instrument of negotiation during warfare. Ikuli (2007) on the Niger Delta maintained that: the act of hostage taking is a recent development. Youths of the region resorted to it as a way of protesting, agitating and also expressing their grievances against the Federal Government of Nigeria that is accused of being insensitive to the plights of the people of the geo-political zone (Ikuli 2007). Oyeniyi (2009:14) argued that because of the precarious security situation in the country whereby the police were overwhelmed, many vigilante organizations were formed to improve on the security situation in their communities (Oyeniyi 2009:14). He further stated that the emergence of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) for instance is as a result of the insecurity problem in the country. With the existence of such militant groups, the role of the state security agents has been summarily usurped. A situation whereby vigilante organizations take over the role of the state security agents shows the failure of the security system and, hence, the adverse effects on the image of the country (Oyeniyi 2009:15).
The Niger Delta region, with its rich endowment in human and natural resources, is a living paradox in the development paradigm of Nigeria. The inhabitants of this region reel in abject poverty in the midst of plenty and are criminally impoverished and continually in want as their environment and terrain are despoiled, degraded and polluted. The deplorable and despicable circumstances in the Niger Delta has accounted for the present upsurge of acts of militancy in the region because of the perception of the youths that the antidote to the continued expropriation of their commonwealth is the recourse to armed resistance. These traumatic experiences have incorrigibly helped the spread of armed resistance resulting in hostage-taking, kidnapping of expatriates, pipeline vandalisation, closure of flow stations, and created a general sense of insecurity in the Niger Delta region. Hostage-taking, for all it has come to represent, must not be allowed to continue as we cannot afford a sustained bonfire of our hopes and aspirations to greatness on the altar of youth recklessness and Governmental insensitivity. We, the people of Nigeria must arise and speak anew in boldness and courage to the people of the Niger Delta who live in depravation, that inasmuch as we will neither ignore your oppression nor excuse your oppressors, we can only stand up for your liberty and stand with you in an atmosphere devoid of reckless exuberance, mindless violence and inarticulate posturing.

In the same vein, Nigerians must also rise and put their Government to task on proffering lasting and workable solutions to the seemingly intractable Niger Delta question as previous and current interventionist attempts at providing lasting and meaningful solutions to hostage taking and general instability in the region which have come to oscillate between taking two steps forward and three steps backward. We should make our Leaders to understand that a genuine effort by the Federal Government of Nigeria in directly intervening in the Niger Delta region with a view to giving them a sense of belonging and partnership in the Nigerian Project remains the most cogent and penetrative panacea to the problems of the beleaguered region. Such an effort must encompass a complex whole of strategies and steps that when implemented fully, will assuredly address the decades of neglect, exclusion and abandonment experienced by the inhabitants of the region and it will also restore hope and impart a sense of collective fulfilment. As an important overture, Government should as a matter of necessity embrace the time-tested ideals of genuine dialogue which are sincerity of purpose, sense of collective importance, patient listening, readiness to implement decisions, faithfulness and focal commitment to progress and not rely on the current Aso Rock choir of cheerleaders of Niger Delta extraction which has since become as potent as a dialogue with the deaf. For a meaningful dialogue to hold, Government should cease further hostilities against the Niger Delta people by the Armed Forces in order to create conditions necessary for genuine dialogue aimed at addressing the underlying factors for violence in the region. The planned use of chemical and aerial bombardments of positions believed to be occupied by the militants should be denounced for what it is: anachronistic and unproductive.


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