Historicising the Phenomenon of Arms Race in the Niger Delta

By Asuk, Otokpom Charles | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), September 2018 | Go to article overview

Historicising the Phenomenon of Arms Race in the Niger Delta


Asuk, Otokpom Charles, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


Introduction

Conventional literature on arms race focuses attention on the orthodox perspective of cold war politics or state actors' rivalry especially between the United States of America (USA) and the former Soviet Union. Few among the works include: Chris Brown's Understanding International Relations (2001); Joseph Cirincione's Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (2002); Norman Palmer and Howard Perkins' International Relations: The World Community in Transition (2004); Norman Lowe's Mastering Modern World History (2005); Jeremy Black's Introduction to Global Military History: 1775 to the Present (2005); Charles Kegley, Jr.'s World Politics: Trend and Transformation (2007); and Timothy Nte's Power Tussle and Collective Security: Sources and Responses to International Conflicts (2015). Even Cyril Obi's (2009) and Henning Melber's (2009) penetrating discourses on the new scramble by international state actors for African resources and markets fired by "the need for raw materials to fuel industrialisation" and its militarisation did not capture the accompanying 'arms race' involving both state and non-state actors in the Niger Delta, a classic African periphery.

The present work examined Niger Delta 'internal arms races' by regional state and non-state actors (Klare 1999: 16). The Niger Delta is described as the most militarised region of Nigeria with the largest collection of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) (Ukeje 2006: 29). The proliferation of SALW is directly connected to the phenomenon of arms race, which dates back to the incorporation of the region into the world economic nexus beginning with the Atlantic trade from the fifteenth century. The arms race phenomenon is the critical outcome of the scramble for the region's resources. While the Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans originated the arms race, the palm oil economy heightened it, but it assumed a more horrendous scale in the crude oil economy due to the internationalisation of the region's oil theft and smuggling (bunkering) activities, and liberalisation of the markets (legal and illicit) for SALW. This liberalisation resulted from the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, the proliferation of terrorist groups with complex international networks and structures, and the nature of contemporary global capitalism characterized by the quest and hunger for crude oil energy resources for industrial power. Petroleum sits at the heart of the ruthless struggles for resource control and clash over natural resources in Nigeria's Niger Delta (Clarke 2007: 185).

The incidence of arms race has an inherent connection with war and conflicts (Nte 2015: 45). Trade and war are intimately-and reciprocally-related to each other, and to the process of capital accumulation (Frank 1978: 214). War and trade alternated with the seasons as the twin characteristics of the Niger Delta region for over five centuries (Dike 1956: 207; Banigo 2008: 50). In much of mercantilist thinking and practice, there cannot be trade without war or war without trade (Goldin and Reinert 2007: 196). However, trade and war represent two contradictory metaphors: factors of prosperity and underdevelopment. Trade is the thesis, while war is the anti-thesis (Asuk 2013: 146). Nineteenth-century Niger Delta witnessed various inter-city-states' conflicts over commercial interests resulting in war, which, in turn, decreased trade and attracted the consuls and gunboats to restore trade (Dike 1956: 99-100; Enemugwem 2000: 108).

The outbreak of war occasioned rivals' mobilisation of resources for its prosecution, formation of alliances, and ascendance of arms race to accumulate weapons (Ukeje 2006: 3). During the Atlantic trade in the enslaved Africans, the Niger Delta was characterised by such rivalries as Elem Kal ab ari-Bonny, Andoni-Bonny, Okrika-Elem Kalabari, Bille-Elem Kalabari, Nembe-Brass-Elem Kalabari (Dike 1956; Jones 1963; Ejituwu 1991; Abam 1988). Evidently, trade rivalries of the palm oil economy extended to Afro-European episodes (Zeleza 1993: 383), and inter- and intra-city-states and Canoe-Houses with concomitant arms races such as Igbanibo Will-Braide-Amachree in Elem Kalabari in 1879, and Manilla-Annie Pepple war-Canoe Houses in Bonny in 1869 (Anene 1966: 10). …

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