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February 26, 2021

Let us Talk about Young Men and their Participation in the Niger Delta Violence

Niger delta

Pollution in the Niger Delta (courtesy: Stakeholder Development Network SDN)

Written by Dr Modesta Alozie

Anjo limped as he walks towards me for an interview, I wondered what had happened to his leg. He had been shot in 2003 in Bayelsa during a violent clash between the military and the local youths, many of whom were men. For months, local youths sabotaged oil pipelines in the region and kidnapped oil company staff for ransom, which led the federal government to send in the military to repress dissidents. Although the National Youth Policy (2019) says the age range of youth in Nigeria as 18-29 years, it is not unusual in the Niger delta to find people as old as 45 years old identify as youths. This is because youth, in this context, is mainly a site of marginalisation and contestation rather than an age category.

The violence was not only happening in Bayelsa but across the other eight states of the Niger delta where Nigeria’s oil production takes place, with a huge consequence for the development of the region. Thousands of people have died and thousands have been displaced. Properties have been destroyed, and between 2007-2008, Nigeria’s oil production decreased by 40%. In a country where 88% of the government earning comes from oil, the economic effect of this violence cannot be understated. Peace was eventually restored in 2009 after the government introduced the Amnesty Programme which promised monthly stipends to the youths if they dropped their arms. But sporadic violence still occurs.

Because Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, the violence in the Niger delta has huge implications for global oil supply. As such, there is serious interest from academics as well as the media to explain this violence. Economists like Paul Collier tell us that what fuels this violence is greed by young men, and in the media, these young men have been labelled as criminals. Blaming young men for this violence leads to the stigmatisation of young people in the society and obscures the role of the state as well as the oil companies in creating the inequalities that fuel this violence in the first place.

In my doctoral research, I sought to explain this violence from the perspectives of these young men. I spoke with these young men and observed their social environment to understand how their identity as men influence their violent behaviour. Many of the youths I spoke to blame the government and the oil companies, who are in a joint business arrangement with the federal government, for this violence. When Nigeria’s oil revenue surged in the 1970s, the federal government introduced new economic and political structures to monopolise control over oil proceeds. First, a Federation Account was created into which all oil revenues are channelled to be shared subsequently across all the states in the country. Then, the Derivation Principle which regulates the proportion of internally generated revenue to be retained by any state was slashed from 50% to 3% in the 1980s. At the moment, the oil communities retain 13% of the oil profits generated within their region as specified by the Derivation Principle and population size is considered the most important criteria for sharing the revenue collected by the federal government. As such, the majority ethnic groups, especially the Hausa Northerners, have received the largest chunk of the oil proceeds due to their large number. The oil communities see this as distributive injustice. There is a perception amongst the oil communities that their ethnic minority status makes it difficult for them to negotiate a better revenue-sharing arrangement at the federal government level.

Corrupt practices by local politicians and harmful corporate practices by the oil companies further compound the problems of the oil communities. A large chunk of the funds which could have been invested in development projects, such as employment creation is diverted into private pockets, and so the level of unemployment in the region is very high. For decades, oil spills have occurred frequently in the Niger delta often without remediation and compensation to the oil communities. Between 1976-2001, 7000 oil spill incidents occurred in the Niger delta and every year, 240,000 barrels of oil are spilt in the Niger region. This is the highest rate of oil spills recorded anywhere in the world leading the BBC to name the Niger delta ‘the world oil pollution capital’.

Oil spills in the Niger delta occur mainly from operational failures or pipeline vandalisation by youths. By law, the local communities are supposed to be compensated by the oil firms when an oil spill happens due to operational failures. However, compensation rarely happens because the Joint Investigation process (JIV) which is used to determine the cause of an oil spill is seriously flawed. The oil companies provide the equipment and finances required for the JIV, which leaves little room for accountability and transparency in the process. As such, the oil communities believe that most oil spill data from the JIV is unreliable.

In many instances when local residents have gone to the court to challenge the outcome of the JIV, they have been unsuccessful, although a recent court case in which four local farmers won an oil spill case against Shell in a Dutch court brings some glimmer of hope. Because rural livelihood in the Niger Delta is predominantly fishing and farming, local people have watched their future drain away with oil and concern for health continues to rise. It is within this context of exclusion and pollution that young men like Anjo are challenging the oil companies and the institutional structures which they believe do not serve them.

My research found that while women also experience the economic exclusion resulting from oil exploration, men are disproportionately affected by the social consequences of this economic exclusion. Also, some traditional ideas of manhood encourage violent behaviour amongst Ijaw men. Egbesu, the Ijaw god of war commands young men to rise as men and protect their communities against any external danger and injustice. This cultural context normalises violence to a certain extent and many young men who are socialised in this context see the enactment violence as merely a habitualised way of being a male member of the Ijaw community.

Young men in the Niger Delta are expected to provide for their households as well as to marry, but in the Niger Delta, marriage is a long and elaborate process requiring large sums of cash. Without getting married, many young men remain in limbo as junior men and they are not able to participate meaningfully in local community life. Many young men I spoke to saw marriage and the provider role as essential to who they are as men. They explain how unemployment undermines their ability to perform these roles as well as how violence enables them to meet these social roles.

During my interview with Anjo, he explained that before joining violent militancy, he had no money to pay his children’s school fees and to feed his family as a man, which led to regular insults from his wife. After joining one of the well-known militant gangs in the region, Anjo’s economic situation improved significantly. He and his peers were paid hugely by the oil companies to protect oil territories. Consequently, Anjo received enough money to provide for both his immediate as well as extended family.

Many Ijaw men I spoke to justified violence as a normal way of being a good man in the Ijaw community and in a context characterised by injustice. The dependence on Ijaw men’s strength for community protection shifts the responsibility of resistance against military repression and exclusion on young men, who then use violence to resist an equally violent state.

While many unemployed men struggled to become providers and to marry, I observed in the night clubs and in wedding ceremonies that violent men lived a different life. In the clubs, women wanted them for their cash, and in the wedding ceremonies they were invited as ‘Chairmen’, an honourable Nigerian title almost exclusively reserved for older rich men. In this context of exclusion, violence offered young men an opportunity to insert themselves into the mainstream social and economic life, albeit through the back door.

Since young men are the main perpetrators and victims of this violence, addressing this violence and achieving inclusive development in the Niger delta requires that intervention strategies meet the diverse needs of young men (and women) many of whom live at the margins of the oil communities. Finally, it is time to move towards a society where men are humanised and manhood is not linked with violence.

Author Bio

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations University of Warwick, UK. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Before joining Warwick, Modesta worked as a research consultant at the Urban Institute University of Sheffield in the LO-ACT low carbon project. Her research has focused on climate change and analysing the complex impacts of oil extraction in Nigeria from an intersectional perspective. Recently, her research has expanded geographically beyond Nigeria to include South Sudan focusing on the experiences of internally displaced people in these two contexts.

January 26, 2021

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Boy in tarp shed_Mories

Photo Credit: Knut Bry/Tinagent

Written by: Henrik Kjellmo Larsen & Eleanor Gordon

A Policy of Silence?

After the fire that destroyed the Moria Reception and Identification Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos, on 08 September, the 13,000 migrant-residents were moved into a quickly assembled new camp in Kara Tepe. Within a month this camp was already being referred to as ‘worse than Moria’, which had itself been described as ‘hell on earth’.

After the fire, European Commission (EC) Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johanson, said there would be ‘no more Morias’, recognising that the poor conditions were partly responsible for the developments which led to the fire.

Whether or not conditions in the camp would improve and the Commissioner’s assurances honoured will now be difficult to ascertain in light of a recent General Operation Regulation of the Temporary Reception Facilities in Greece passed on 30 November. This regulation prohibits all workers operating in a refugee camp, including government civil servants and volunteers, from publicly sharing any information about the residents or the conditions in the new camp. Kara Tepe is thus continuing a dangerous trend of hiding harm with a policy of silence.

‘Living Hell’

Moria was designated a ‘hotspot’ due to the overwhelming surge of migrants arriving on Lesvos in 2015. The ‘hotspot approach’ was intended to allow for a quicker Registration and adjudicate of asylum application and provide additional support to ensure dignified shelters and services.

However, when the EU-Turkey statement was signed in 2016, the vastly understaffed Greek asylum service meant asylum claims could not be processed quickly enough. The camp became a bottleneck, severely and perpetually overcrowded, with the 3,000-person capacity far exceeded by up to 20,000 people.

As a consequence, Moria, built as a short term transit camp but without even meeting the UNHCR standards of a transit camp, essentially became a camp for long-term residency where many migrants effectively remained trapped in deplorable conditions for months and sometimes years. Some described the camp as ‘the worst refugee camp on earth’, as ‘a living hell’, and a prisonlike place where the lack of food, poor sanitation, limited water and electricity supply and prevalent violence, earned the camp a reputation of being ‘the moral failure of Europe’. These deplorable camp conditions contributed to a number of fires in the camp, including the fire which destroyed the camp, resulting from technical faults and growing desperation among migrant residents.

Over a period of 18 months, we, two scholars, one of whom has extensive field experience from Lesvos, conducted interviews with humanitarian actors working in Moria on the causes and effects of these poor camp conditions. Invariably, research participants described the conditions as deplorable, and as intended to both deter humanitarian actors and, moreover, prospective migrants hoping to enter the EU. Many were also critical of how information about these conditions was being carefully managed in order to avoid public scrutiny.

Information Control

Humanitarian actors described being prevented from taking photos or video footage in and around the camp by the police: ‘If they get your camera, they delete everything’. This could be an indication of a desire to hide what is going on in Moria, and in so doing to keep it away from media scrutiny.

A number of humanitarian actors also regarded the recent, high-profile arrest of Salam Aldeen, a prominent NGO manager in the field, because he shared pictures and information and was an unrelenting critic of the terrible camp conditions and the treatment of migrants. His arrest was regarded by other humanitarian actors as intended to silence those seeking to document and share what they perceived to be wrongdoing by the Greek authorities. Many also regarded his arrest and the broader practice of policing humanitarian aid workers as intended to deter other volunteers from offering humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian actors also said that when official visitors came, they would only be shown a small part of the camp, and only after it had been cleared and cleaned. These visits, during which journalists are not allowed in, were effectively staged to present the camp in a very particular way to avoid criticism and public scrutiny. However, a difficult balance needed to be maintained between avoiding criticism, while maintaining the spectre of deterrence by ensuring the message was communicated to migrant groups particularly, as well as to domestic groups hostile to migration, about the poor conditions. As one of our research participants (a humanitarian volunteer working in the camp) said in 2019:

They don’t want to keep the camp so bad so that Greece reputation is completely ruined. When Angelina Jolie and the pope visited, they cleaned up the camp a little bit. Journalists are not let in… They don’t want to show the worst part of the camp, but they want to make sure it’s bad enough to not want to come.

Official communication thus becomes a balancing act between presenting a powerful show of deterrence for migrants, as well as those who might want to help them, and evading criticism for failing to meet the international humanitarian standards. This difficult balance is maintained by limiting disseminated information and keeping audiences separate. Paradoxically, the less that is actually known about Moria, the more these dual messages are able to be managed: criticisms can be avoided, and the spectre of detention is all the more powerful because of the element of the unknown.

Barbed wire_mories

Photo Credit: Knut Bry/Tinagent

The Camp as Carceral Space

Prisons also perform this balancing act of communicating different messages to different audiences, and similarly do so by controlling and limiting information that is disseminated.

It is no coincidence that Moria has been referred to repeatedly by our research participants as ‘prison-like’. This is not just because it looked like a prison with its perimeter fences, barbed wire and gates, checkpoints and police guards. Nor is it just because the camp became a space of indefinite confinement. It is also because residents were segregated, contained and screened from outside communities, their movements strictly controlled and curtailed, and information about them tightly controlled.

Carefully managing information about groups in carceral spaces – through segregation, containment and curtailing communication channels – also helps protect the presentation of these groups as deviant and in need of control and punishment. Their continued segregation and containment, in often deplorable conditions, can thus be justified.

In effect, rendering migrants invisible enables a discourse to be constructed and maintained around the migrant left relatively unchallenged by a lack of evidence to the contrary. Segregation and control of information about migrants and how they suffer is also an effective governing technique, helping to dehumanise, facilitate indifference towards them and reduce acts of solidarity.

Hiding the Harm

With the policy of silence being legislated in Greece, under the General Operation Regulation, the Greek government is authorising an environment where the suffering of migrant remains unseen hidden from society. When suffering cannot be seen, when it is confined behind prison-like barriers, and when it is kept from public scrutiny by destroying camera footage, it is easier to dehumanise and to deny that human rights violations and other harms have occurred.

Efforts to hide the suffering enables dehumanisation and reduces the migrant to a number it enables them to be presented as someone who represents a danger, rather than someone who’s in danger.

In turn, this justifies entrapping migrants in deplorable camp conditions and, paradoxically, helps justify disinterest in the harms they suffered, thus allowing harms to continue under the shroud of silence.


Gordon, E. and Larsen, H.K. (2020) ‘Sea of Blood’: The Intended and Unintended Effects of the Criminalisation of Humanitarian Volunteers Rescuing Migrants in Distress at Sea’, Disasters.

About the Authors:

Henrik Kjellmo Larsenis a PhD candidate in The School of Social Science at Monash University. He spent four months as a field coordinator doing search and rescue on Lesvos in 2015 and has spent the last six years working in the field of criminalisation of humanitarian workers, security, global governance and human rights. His research, practise and field work focus on violent borderwork, human rights and mental health of emergent groups and spontaneous volunteers in disaster areas.

Eleanor Gordonis a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Development at Monash University. She spent 20 years working in the field of conflict, security, justice and human rights, including 10 years working in conflict-affected environments with the UN and other international organisations. Her research, teaching and practice focuses on inclusive approaches to building security and justice after conflict.

June 12, 2020

Global Insights – COVID–19: Migration, Refugees and Borders

Migration blog image

Authors: Ann Fitz-Gerald, Maria Koinova, Alison Mountz, Maurice Stierl

Editors: Briony Jones and Maeve Moynihan

This post is part of a larger collection covering the Global Insights webinar series, hosted jointly by Balsillie School of International Affairs (Canada), the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick (UK), the Institute for Strategic Affairs (Ethiopia), American University’s School of International Service (USA), and Konstanz University (Germany). Global Insights webinars take place every Thursday at 16:00h (BST). You can access a recording of this week’s webinar here.

Panelists: Ann Fitz-Gerald (Moderator - BSIA), Allehone Abebe (UNHCR), Maria Koinova (University of Warwick), Alison Mountz (IMRC, Wilfrid Laurier University, BSIA), Tazreena Sajjad (American University), Maurice Stierl (University of Warwick)

Although the swift closure of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic shocked many, such closures were a familiar reality for many refugees, displaced people, and migrants. In the past year prior to COVID-19, over 70 million migrants (including refugees and internally displaced people) moved around the globe. Meanwhile, international organizations adopted two global compacts, with varying degrees of success and implementation. COVID-19 has changed the landscape for people on the move in a multitude of ways.

What was the situation for migrants and refugees like before COVID-19?

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the situation for migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and internally displaced people was dire. Only 1% of displaced people have access to resettlement, demonstrating that for many people on the move, national borders were already closed. For some, the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, published in December 2018, served as symbolic markers of change, however for others selective or minimal enforcement has yielded little concrete change and questions surrounding accountability remain. The compact is non-binding, as nation-states continue to be the bodies that enforce the compact, making implementation uneven. The Global Compact for Migration advocates for “safe, orderly and regular migration,” however nation-states continue to use deterrence methods that paradoxically make migration unsafe and disorderly and provide very few legal paths for movement. While both global compacts served as an achievement and recognition of current challenges, it failed to implement the basic human rights, non-discrimination, and gender responses. The compacts focused on state perspectives rather than the perspectives of people on the move. In doing so, it neglected the rising xenophobia and vilification of migrants and refugees, which warrants a legitimate human rights response.

How is COVID-19 affecting migration globally and in different parts of the world?

The pandemic has illuminated and exacerbated the stark inequalities present in the world prior to the outbreak. In an extreme sense, as millionaires escaped to private compounds, those that were already displaced or seeking protection were driven into more precarity. Those seeking protection or entry however, are forced into more fragile situations, demonstrating how the pandemic has affected people very unequally. For example, Qatar has barricaded migrant labor work areas, called “Cordons Sanitaires,” creating unequal conditions for migrant workers and others. People have framed migrant health-workers as heroes, but society has not acknowledged the plethora of other essential migrant workers, like agricultural workers. For example, while most flights remained grounded the UK considered chartered flights to bring agricultural workers from Bulgaria and Romania, and other places, to bring people and expertise to support agricultural flow and production in the UK. Meanwhile, European countries have misused the pandemic to impose further restrictions on movement, particularly in the Mediterranean. For example, the Maltese government continues to intercept migrant boats and direct them back to conflict-ridden Libya, breaching human rights and maritime conventions. However, Europe remains silent about these violations at the external borders of Europe.

What does COVID-19 mean for the protection of refugees?

The so-called refugee crisis of 2015, which is perhaps more accurately referred to as a European governance crisis, obscured the history of refugee movement and placed the focus on Europe alone as a refugee reception destination. However, countries in the Global South historically and contemporarily continue to see the largest flows of refugees, rather than countries within Europe or North America. Despite the focused attention on the Global North, the top refugee-reception countries, like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Pakistan are in the Global South. COVID-19 creates a different dynamic of emergency, people are both being forced to flee, whether related to COVID-19 or otherwise, meanwhile border restrictions are increasing forcing people to cross highly-militarised borders. In Africa alone, there are over 7.8 million refugees and an estimated 90 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), which presents an immense challenge. Key protection issues have arisen such as: diminishing asylum, the closure of borders, and a crisis of education. Principles that have come to define life during the pandemic, such as rigorous hygiene care, teleworking and online schooling, are often not easy to access from a refugee camp. This lack of access generates knock-on effects like lack of nutrition for children unable to attend school and thus unable to get meals. For refugees outside of camps, who may be residing ‘illegally’ in difficult conditions, accessing healthcare is feared as entailing potential detainment, presenting another set of challenges.

Similarly, detention centres represent threats to hygiene and medical care. Prior to the pandemic, immigrant detention had proliferated across the globe in a variety of forms. When the outbreak took hold, governments provided a panoply of responses in their decision-making processes. Within facilities, physical distancing is nearly impossible, personal protective equipment and testing are unavailable for both detainees and staff. Some governments, such as Canada, which held very few immigrants in detention, have released individuals in detention. Others, however, such as the United States, have used the pandemic to further detain and deport quickly, holding over 38,000 people in detention in March 2020. Large crowded facilities have seen significant outbreaks, such as Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego (U.S.), where Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia became the first person to die in immigration detention from COVID-19 on May 7. One can also point to the ‘floating’ detention centres near Malta, where currently about 425 people who fled from Libya are still held by Malta, now for about 5 weeks and without the ability to claim asylum.

What effect is the crisis having on border controls?

On one side, governments have used the pandemic to exacerbate human rights violations and fortify hostile practices. However, at the same time, the pandemic has made migrants more visible. For example, at the Croatian border, border police marked the heads of migrants with spray painted crosses, presenting migrants as objects to be categorised. Meanwhile, the dialogue surrounding migrant health workers in the National Health Service in Great Britain has rendered migrants more visible and their contributions and presence more important. Governments have used moments of crisis to further enforce limitations on migration and asylum. 160 countries have put restrictive border closures into place since the pandemic began, and more than 50 of them did not make an exception to refugees in such closures. Countries in the Global North are effectively containing people displaced in the Global South 84% of displaced people remain in their region of origin. The European Union and the United States dominate in ‘sophisticated’ fortifications and use technological advancement of biometric surveillance that supports the wall-building enterprise. Although there has been extensive action in the Global North surrounding walls and fortification building, the literature does not support connections between migration patterns and physical borders. Walls do not deter migration, but in fact render mobility more difficult and expensive, leading to an expansion of human smuggling, trafficking, vigilante groups, visa overstays, environmental destruction, and lost lives. In addition to such dangerous physical borders, countries have implemented bureaucratic and external borders, such as third country gatekeepers as we see with Morocco for the EU.

What might the future of refugee and migration governance look like?

Despite the current restriction on movement around the globe, people will not stop migrating. Tools of global governance to ‘manage’ migration are highly reactive in response to crises. Border externalisation and securitisation of the sea, two concerning trajectories in migration governance have already grown since the outbreak of the pandemic. The border externalization process, in which European countries outsource border control to non-democratic regimes, contributes to increased militarization and ‘militia-ization’ of border control. Governments in Turkey, Morocco or Libya are intercepting hundreds of migrant boats on behalf of Europe, often in close coordination with EU authorities. EU border externalisation in the Sahel serves as a noteworthy example of such practices. In places like Libya, Sudan and Niger, not only state authorities but also sub-state forces, including rebel groups and criminal networks, profit from Europe’s border externalisation process, and become involved in the deterrence and containment of migrants.

Securitisation of the sea, in Malta for example, exonerates nation-states from responsibility for migration management and blocking NGOs from intervening in many cases. Despite obvious negative and alarming impacts, the pandemic also provides an invitation to step back and look at the big picture. For example, as countries rethink elderly care, they may also rethink refugee management and resettlement. In what ways are existing policies causing harm. Where do people who are resilient continue to go to survive, seek livelihood, seek protection?

Key Conclusions: Five pieces of advice for policy-makers

• Do not rely on border externalisation and third-party agreements (whether with sovereign states or militias) to have responsibility over migration control as it most often leads to human rights violations and unnecessary deaths. Instead the focus should be on allowing safe passage of people in need of protection.

• As you consider solutions, take all forms of forcible displacement into account (including de jure and de facto refugees and Internally Displaced People). Furthermore, recognize that most of the world’s refugees live in informal settlements, not camps. As such, greater attention needs to be paid to their agency, leadership and perspective when considering solutions.

• Take diasporas seriously as an actor embedded in global processes (apart from their cherished remittances) and engage them in new institutional arrangements rather than ad hoc forums, to coordinate transfers of finances, expertise, and more.

• In the realm of research, take a step back to look at the big picture and ask questions about demographics, gender, and ways in which resource access has shaped individual realities. Consider to what extent existing policies are effective and how actual movement can be brought into better alignment with demand in labor markets.

• Show leadership and solidarity with international human rights law and refugee law and offer greater opportunities for refugees and asylum-seekers to engage with, lead in, and be supported for solutions that directly impact their lives.

Any solution needs to consider their perspectives, experiences and context. Furthermore, it is critical to keep in mind that most of the world’s refugees also do not live in camps—many live in informal settlements, in semi-urban and densely population urban centers in close proximity to a country’s urban poor and its internal migrants, and at times with stateless populations. Greater attention needs to be paid to the needs and agencies of these different groups and more attention needs to be paid to context, and solutions need to incorporate the experiences, perspectives and local leadership of these communities.


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