International Relations

ECOWAS and Arms Control in West Africa: A Focus on the Niger-Delta Amnesty

ECOWAS and Arms Control in West Africa: A Focus on the Niger-Delta Amnesty


One of the biggest challenges facing ECOWAS member states and Nigeria, in particular, is arms proliferation. It has stoked ethnic clashes and simmering unrest in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Against this background, the ECOWAS Moratorium and subsequently the ECOWAS Convention on small arms and light weapons (SALW) was adopted by member states. Such as the Amnesty programme organized by the Yar’dua’s administration in Nigeria. The study has been designed to critically appraise the 2009 Amnesty programme in Nigeria as an arms control measure. The study was guided by two research questions and two hypotheses to achieve this aim. We predicated analyses on the Relative Deprivation theory to analyze the issues generated. The theory x-rays what has continuously fuelled armed struggle in the Niger Delta despite the Amnesty programme. Our research design was nonexperimental, and we relied on primary and secondary data sources. After a detailed analysis of relevant data, the study revealed that although it is too early to appraise the Amnesty programme in Nigeria, recent armed occurrences in the region have not even given the programme a step in the right direction. The study, therefore, concludes that addressing the general poverty of the region can stem the tide of armed conflict instead of a massive rehabilitation of militants that surrendered their arms.



The crisis in the Niger Delta of Nigeria is increasingly attracting international attention due both to the growing security threat it portends for the Nigerian state and, mainly, due to its impact on international oil prices. Although the Niger Delta problem has been around for several decades, the emergence of organized and militant pressure groups in the 1990s has added a new dimension to the crisis.
Protests and the threat of outright rebellion against the state are now ubiquitous. Environmental activism and militancy are a direct response to the impunity, human rights violations, and perceived neglect of the region by the Nigerian state on the one hand and through sustained environmental hazards imposed on local Niger Delta communities as a result of the oil production activities of multinational oil companies on the other.

From a contemporary global perspective, the dramatic upsurge in violent confrontation and protest against the state and oil multinationals in the 1990s coincided with the end of the Cold War. In essence, ‘soft’ issues such as the environment, gender equity and equality, human rights, democracy, and good governance have attained primacy on the international agenda. International concern over the crisis in the Niger Delta, including its attendant social and humanitarian implications, should be viewed within the context of this global attitudinal shift (Ojakorotu, 2009).

The internationalization of the Niger Delta crisis derives partly from the systematic publicity and struggle of the environmentalist, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa not only succeeded in directing the attention of the international community to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta but also – through his advocacy – paved the way for robust international/civil society engagement with the issues at the core of the crisis in the region (Ojakorotu, 2009).

Armnesty International (2009) states that Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed, along with eight other members of the Ogoni people, by the Nigerian State in 1995. The executions alerted the world to the devastating impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, including how the environmental damage caused by the oil industry was damaging the health and livelihoods of the Ogoni people. Ken Saro-Wiwa was a
leading figure in the 500,000-strong Ogoni community in Rivers State and played a crucial role in drafting the 1990 Ogoni Bill of Rights, highlighting the lack of political representation and pipe-borne water electricity, job opportunities, and federal development projects for communities in the area. He was a founder and president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which demanded that oil companies and the government clean up the environment and pay adequate compensation and royalties to the oil-producing regions.

International Crisis Group, ICG, (2006: i) argued that a “potent cocktail of poverty, crime and corruption is fuelling a militant threat to Nigeria’s reliability as a major oil producer,” One might add, the banality of state power in the country.

Before the 1990s, Niger Delta communities articulated their grievances within the framework of a peaceful but assertive demand for greater political and administrative autonomy, devolution of power, and state creation. They believed these to be the best routes to bringing government closer to the people and setting the stage for sustainable political, economic, and social development. Although there is still a
strong undercurrent of politically defined agitations, the tactic has changed to that of a vociferous demand for more significant fiscal allocations based on a reworked revenue allocation formula granting oil communities larger shares of oil revenue and resource control, i.e., the right of communities to own oil wealth while paying rent and royalty to the state. There are, of course, some justifiable grounds for these
increasingly assertive demands. For instance, Ukeje (nd:6-7) noted that:

After almost five decades of oil exploration and production, the oil communities have become miserably impoverished, far more than other parts of the federation. ….host oil communities have watched as huge revenues from crude oil went disproportionately towards the physical development of other regions and caused reckless squandering by other regional elites and their own too.

That years of unregulated and irresponsible oil production have left many communities in irreversible ruins, even as their access to essential subsistence opportunities is undermined. And that oil communities’ argued with justification that before the advent of crude oil, the different regions developed based on generous annual fiscal allocations based on the principle of derivation. But with oil displacing other commodities, the revenue allocation formula has steadily nosedived: from 100% to 50% and presently, 13% (Ukeje, nd:6-7).

It is a curious irony that communities hosting the oil and gas industry in many vulnerable and developing countries often live in abject poverty, unemployment, poor health, etc. Idemudia and Ite (2006: 402) believed that the paradox of oil wealth is the byproduct of structural deficiencies inherent in the Nigerian State.

In Nigeria, the culture of impunity and the easy availability of small arms diminish people’s capacity to be open and be tolerant with each other. The possibility of conflict is intensified by the oil exploitation in the Niger Delta region, where underdevelopment is caused by environmental damage and the inequitable sharing of petro-dollars. Not even the Federal Government that should mediate conflicts has
demonstrated any neutrality. It dispenses more violence invoking the bogey of “national security.” This undermines humanitarian principles and challenges governance, threatening the country’s stability. Peace and security are a sine qua non for sustainable development. Thus, there is a need for concerted analysis and action in the Niger Delta region, where there is a large influx of small arms and where peace and security are noticeably absent.


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