Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Armed Groups, Arms Proliferations and the Amnesty Program in the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Armed Groups, Arms Proliferations and the Amnesty Program in the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Article excerpt


The phenomenon of arms proliferation accelerated in the international system on the heels of the end of the Cold-War period when leftover arms from stockpiles made their way into unstable regions. Some estimates have placed the number of small arms in circulation at about 500 million, enough for one in every ten people on earth. (1) Bah notes that, "of the approximately 500 million illicit weapons in circulation worldwide, it is estimated that 100 million of these are in sub-Saharan Africa with eight to ten million concentration in the West African sub-region alone." (2) In addition, available data shows that of the 30 to 50 armed conflicts occurring between 1989 and 1995, more than 95 percent took place in developing countries and were fought primarily with small arms. (3) By one reliable estimate, more than 3.6 million people were killed in internal warfare in the 1990s and half of all civilian casualties were children with an estimated 200,000 child soldiers in Africa out of a total figure of 300,000 worldwide. (4) According to one study, in 1990 an African was twice more likely to die because of war than a non-African. (5)

In Africa, arms proliferation has led to "general insecurity, increased criminal violence, privatization of violence and security in the form of proliferation of mercenaries, private military companies and paramilitary outfits." (6) The mere presence of guns belies alternative conflict resolution strategies. More so, the easy availability of weapons and a lack of state-based control fuel violence even after official wars have ended. The economy of guns has a hand in this perpetuation, as both war and post-war economies use guns as a reliable currency. (7)

This article locates the armed conflict in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria within the context of unrealized expectations and consequent frustration and aggression. I argue that while small arms do not directly cause conflict, their stockpile fuels violent behavior and sustains conflict. In taking the availability of small arms in the Niger Delta as an intervening variable in lieu of a dependent variable, I offer a nuanced explanation of the Niger Delta conflict. I further argue that one of the reasons these convenient weapons circulate so widely and so easily is that there is a demand for them. This demand is due to the failure of the social contract between the state and its citizenry. The logic is simple: people accept state authority so long as the state equitably delivers economic goods and services and guarantees security for its citizens. When this social contract is breached, social disorder prevails and arms become the surrogate.

The rest of this article is divided into four parts. The second examines the sources and theoretical perspectives to arms proliferation in the Niger Delta. The third part explores the armed conflict in Niger Delta at a general level followed by the theoretical debates that attempt to comprehend the conflict within the frameworks of relative deprivation, and frustration and aggression theories. The fourth part explores the dynamics of resistance movements in the Niger Delta. The fifth part critically interrogates the amnesty and post-amnesty program of the Nigerian state against the backdrop of whether it provides the basis for sustainable peace that will mark the end of armed groups, arms proliferation and violent conflicts in the region.


In Nigeria alone, there are approximately one millions to three million (9) small arms in circulation. According to one reliable source, (8) to percent of the weapons in civilian possession had been obtained illegally, (10) due to strict laws on civilian possession. In turn, the illegality makes it intractable to track flows and possession. But how do weapons transit into the country? For the most part, weapons make their way into the country across land borders and through sea ports. …

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