BY HANNAH BLYTH*
The Export Processing Zone (EPZ) is located in the vicinity of Ugborodo Community, Warri South West, Delta State. Also known as the Gas Industrial City Project, the EPZ is a $20 billion initiative by federal and state governments which would house a major industrial gas hub, and petrochemical, methanol, and fertilizer plant facilities. Compounded by intra-communal tensions, a legacy of inter-communal violence, competing political interests, and underlying socio-economic conflict drivers, the project has been fraught with delays and controversy.
1. The Intra-Communal Dimension
The presence of the EPZ initiative has raised the stakes in an ongoing dispute between two Itsekiri factions in Ugborodo Community. The tension stems from a Youth Leader and a Businessman jockeying for leadership of the Ugborodo Community Trust (UCT), which is responsible for redistributing the funds from oil revenue into community development. In August 2012 when the Businessman’s tenure as UCT Chairman ended, the rival Youth Leader accused the outgoing Chairman of misappropriating funds, leading to violent clashes and fatalities.
2. The Inter-Communal Dimension
Conflict between two ethnic groups in the region, the Ijaws and Itsekiris, over territory, natural resource revenues, and political representation peaked during the Warri Crisis of the late 1990s and early 2000s in which hundreds were reportedly killed. Simmering tensions have persisted, despite a power rotation agreement which helped to stop the violence in 2004. In the context of this historical ethnic grievance, the EPZ which is located next to the Itsekiri Ugborodo community, has spurred tensions with the neighbouring Ijaw communities in Warri South West who fear that they may not benefit fairly from the project. A major point of contention has been whether to name the project the Ogidigben (Itsekirki) EPZ or to change the name to also include the Ijaw kingdom of Gbaramatu, given its proximity to the site.
An interface committee established in 2014 comprising stakeholders from both factions of the community and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), to mediate issues surrounding the EPZ has yielded limited results. Violent clashes between the Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic groups in Ugborodo has resulted in fatalities, and with local media reports of stockpiling weapons, contributed to heighted insecurity in the area in the 2015 pre–election period.
3. Political Dimension
Amidst the backdrop of the 2015 Federal Election, the EPZ made media headlines and caused political jockeying by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw from neighboring southern Bayelsa State, and challenger Muhammadu Buhari. With increased political tensions in the pre-election period, the Chairman of ILR, an Itsekiri political group announced their shifted support to General Buhari, following anger over President Jonathan’s delays to perform the ground-breaking ceremony for the of the EPZ. Media sources reported that President Jonathan urged Delta State Governor Uduaghan to broker a peace deal between Ijaw and Itsekiri leaders. A truce was brokered between the ethnic groups in March 2015, before breaking down in April 2015 with renewed clashes. Intervention by the Nigerian Navy to restore order has at times complicated attempts by the government to re-establish peace among the various stakeholder groups.
4. Socio-economic Dimension
Ongoing socio-economic pressures contribute to conflict risk in the area. These include high unemployment, displaced community members, poverty, and crime, as well as governance challenges linked to corruption and illegal oil bunkering.
Trends in Reported Violence
Violence stemming from Group Grievance has been elevated in the Warri South and Warri South West Local Government Areas of Delta State in recent years. As outlined in Figure 1 below, there was a spike in fatalities in the first half of 2014. According to news reports as of April, renewed violence has broken out after a brief lull. The fatalities reported since 2014 are underpinned by incidents of inter-communal clashes, intra-communal clashes, and group based political tensions in the run-up to the 2015 elections. In Figure 2 below incidents of communal tension are tallied. A brief lull in incidents during the Jan-Mar 2015 period appears to have been broken by recent events.
Update: April 2015 Violence
Though a truce between the warring ethnic groups was brokered on March 4, 2015, incident reports suggest violent clashes occurred between Ijaw and Itsekiri militia on April 13-14, 2015 in the Madangho area of Ugborodo. Local reports suggest the driver for the armed skirmishes between the groups was a land dispute over the Deep Sea Port in Gbaramatu.
*Nate Haken and Patricia Taft also contributed to this report.