Since crude oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956, which led the subsequent exploration and production of petroleum products, including gas, the region has been regarded as the mainstay of the country's economy, accounting for more than 70 percent of Nigeria's revenue.
While crude oil should be a blessing to the people of the region, it has become a source of conflict. The people constantly complain of environmental pollution as a result of the oil operations by oil companies and seeming economic neglect by the federal government.
Despite the huge economic benefits of crude oil, a large percentage of the population in the oil-bearing region still live in poverty, triggering armed violence that lasted for years until the federal government granted amnesty to the militants in 2009. This singularly seemed to have reduced the conflict.
However, other conflicts such as communal clashes, cultism, electoral and communal violence, armed robbery, kidnapping, human trafficking, mob violence, and land disputes have persistently wrecked the region.
These security challenges have proven difficult to address, affecting peace and development in the Niger Delta region.
Therefore, the need to reduce the conflicts in the region for economic growth and development, has prompted the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), an organisation committed to economic development and restoring peace in the Niger Delta region in 2013, to establish the Partners for Peace (P4P), a network of individuals known as peace actors mobilised for conflict prevention, mitigation, and peace-building in the region.
The network, P4P, has further recruited over 10, 000 peace actors from various communities across the region to champion activities that would prevent and address conflict in their communities. The plan was for the peace actors to keep the level of violence as low as possible, particularly in key communities of interest while also building the social infrastructure and social capital for long-term sustainable peace.
In the case study of 2020 report, which was released by PIND, P4P was established with the aim of "catalyzing a dense network of peace actors with skills, knowledge, and lines of communication, to enable an environment for rapid dissemination of early warning signals and scaling and replication of conflict management efforts in the region."
Recently, the P4P Programme Manager, Nkasi Wodu, said there was the need for sustainable peace-building infrastructure to be domiciled in each state in the region in order to facilitate access to more local actors and ensure networked peacebuilders are operating across the region.
"That same year, chapters of P4P were created in each of the nine states of the Niger Delta area," he disclosed.
According to Wodu, "The peace actors were provided with the technical capacity building and small grants to support their activities in addressing conflicts in various communities in the region.
"They receive early warning signs and go into the communities and broker peace with the people involved in the conflicts. A combination of conflict prevention, resolution, and management, mediation, arbitration was adopted to restore peace in the region."
He said there was an increase in the network membership and direct recipients of the training were encouraged to train others, and through this, more peace actors are reached with knowledge for more effective peace delivery.
A P4P member in Rivers State, Tamunomie Wariboko, recently also said: "I have attended about three training sessions organised by P4P, and when I returned, I carried out step down training for my team members, and it has really helped my organisation."
According to the report, "P4P members were able to take actions that addressed potential sources of conflict before it reached a point where the parties involved see violence as their only option. In other instances, where conflict is already existent, the P4P actors helped conflicting parties to find a peaceful solution to their disagreement using informal alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as negotiation, arbitration, mediation, and diplomacy."
For instance, in a nine-year-old land conflict between two families in Urue Offong/Oruko Local Government Areas in Akwa Ibom State which had escalated beyond solution, the peace actors conducted a full situational analysis of the crisis, including identifying key stakeholders and persons who were in a position to exert a positive influence on the dispute.
"Following the analysis, mediation efforts were undertaken, involving both the aggrieved families and the key stakeholders identified in the analysis. Eventually, the families agreed to resolve their dispute through peaceful means, and withdrew their case from the police authorities," the report stated.
The Edo State chapter of the P4P network helped to reduce election-related violence during the 2016 state gubernatorial elections. The members designed and executed an intervention with two key components of advocacy and sensitisation campaigns and election conflict early warning and response training.
The advocacy and sensitisation campaigns targeted relevant stakeholders through peace messaging and advocacy visits before, during, and after the elections, while the early warning and response component focused on the training of 60 peace monitors in four identified hotspot LGAs in the state on early-warning reporting.
They established a situation monitoring room in Benin-city, the state capital, to collect, analyze reports, coordinate and contact key stakeholders, including Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police, through dedicated phone lines for timely responses. Between 2015 and 2019, the P4P network has handled 713 conflicts in the Niger Delta region alone.
During a recent group discussion among the peace actors in various states, they shared the various methods they have adopted to preach peace in their communities. In Ondo State, the members disclosed that drama in churches was used as tools to preach peace and restore sanity in volatile areas.
Also a peace volunteer in Asaba, the Delta State capital, explained that: "As a lecturer in my school, Federal College of Technical, Asaba, we have a lot of students there. So I started inculcating the habit and essence of peace for development in them in the school because there are many students from the region in the school. I meet a lot of them and I keep preaching on why sustaining peace in our community is vital to our coexistence."
In Edo State, the P4P members told journalists that: "We go to secondary schools, universities to organise seminars and workshops. When you say you are a peace actor, they will try to listen to you, then we present to them why peace is better for economic growth and development than conflict."
A P4P member in Akwa Ibom State explained that: "Within my home, I inculcate a disciplined peace attitude in my children. It is said that peace is not for a single person, it is for everybody. So I try to train people I know in homes, in communities, and in the larger society."
PIND supported P4P members with grants to conduct peace-building interventions.
The P4P Network Coordinator, Africas Lawal, said: "When they (P4P members) come up with an intervention plan that has a budget of N1, 000,000, we give them like N300, 000 to N400, 000, so they will have something to put on board as members."
He said those grants played a vital role in jumpstarting the quick conflict response objective of the network.
In 2015, P4P started to focus on encouraging the integration of economic development activities towards the goal of sustaining the network. This began with the sensitisation efforts surrounding the opportunities for economic livelihood in various agricultural value chains. The goal was to see P4P state chapters becoming more involved in economic activities to enhance peaceful and equitable livelihoods.
In 2017, while a Peace Thrift project was established by the Abia State peace actors to assist chapter members in accessing resources for small businesses, a soap and bleach-making cooperative society was also established in Bayelsa State.
The P4P actors grew from 100 to over 9,000 members in 2019. To successfully use the network of peace volunteers to address conflicts in the region, peace actors have been encouraged to avoid being partisan. Poor conflict analysis before interventions and delayed access to funds for rapid response have also been identified as pitfalls of utilising peace actors to address conflicts.
P4P Network Coordinator, Lawal, revealed that between 2015 and 2019, the P4P network has handled 713 conflicts in the Niger Delta region, adding that: "The P4P network model is accepted because it is indigenous to the people."