Bayelsa State is located in Southern Nigeria at the heart of the Niger Delta between Rivers State and Delta State. Its capital is Yenagoa and the state averages a population of over 1.6 million people (2006 National Population Census). Bayelsa is a major oil and gas producing state and contributes over 30 percent of Nigeria’s total oil production. The main language spoken across the 8 Local Government Areas in Bayelsa is Ijaw with several dialects such as Kolukuma, Mein, Bomu, Nembe, Epie-Atisa, and Ogbia.
Multiple cases of cultist violence were reported and these cases were linked to political tensions around the gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa. There were also reported attacks on cluster oil wells by Ex-Militants claiming that their actions were in protest against their exclusion from the federal amnesty program. Communal conflicts in some communities in Bayelsa leading to loss of lives.
As the trend of insecurity and unrest slowly rekindles in the Niger Delta, it is pertinent that proactive measures be taken to sensitize stakeholders on the role they can play to stop this menace especially in identifying early warning signs and how to respond appropriately.
What is Early Warning?
Early Warning is “the systematic collection and analysis of information coming from areas of crises for the purpose of, anticipating the escalation of violent conflict; the development of strategic responses to these crises; and the presentation of options to critical actors for the purposes of decision making”.
Department for International Development (DFID) through Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Program, (NSRP) and its implementing partners NDSICDE a local arm of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) organized a 2-day training on; “Early warning, Early response”.
The 2-day training was attended by over 50 persons from Ogbia and Yenagoa LGAs including; officials of DSS, NSCDC, the SSS, Local vigilantes, Paramount Rulers, CDC Chairpersons, Youth presidents and community representatives to empower them to manage and resolve conflicts and implement community level peace initiatives.
Early Warning and Intelligence Gathering
Participants led a conversation to decipher the difference between early warning and intelligence gathering and we discovered that; while Intelligence is classified information usually produced by professional spies from closed sources, early warning is unclassified and the information is gotten from a large number of open sources (contributors). It was important for participants to understand this difference because many people have hoarded security information in the past due to fear of being labeled as spies for the government.
Early warning includes monitoring of certain indicators and stakeholders in order to understand when conflict is at its early stage, it was said that the stages of conflict are; the latent state, the escalating phase, violence phase, conflict stage, and the post-conflict stage.
Some indicators to monitor in order to give proper early warning include; Possible wars, possible ethnic/tribal conflicts, Oil spills/environmental conflicts, and Political upheavals, Economic hardship. The Stakeholders to monitor are; Government officials, Security agencies, Union leaders, Secret cult leaders, Religious/community leaders, and Opinion leaders.
The participants were encouraged to imbibe the qualities of a good monitor which include; Sensitivity, Honesty, Love, Patience, reliability, objectivity, to mention a few.
On the part of the security agencies, the paramount complaint in Nigeria has been that Security Agencies are not prompt to respond to distress calls. This is why DFID and its implementing partners NDSICDE also brought the various security agencies in Bayelsa State to the conversation to educate them on the benefit of early warning as well how early response can help to nip the conflict in the bud before it escalates beyond control.
Feedback from Participants
HRH Barnabas G. Tarila, Paramount Ruler of Polaku Community; HRH Koko .E. George, Paramount Ruler of Okotiama Community; Mrs Opia Benita, Chairperson, Conflict Management Committee Ogbia LGA and Mr Philip Godfrey, Secretary, Conflict Management Committee, all appreciated NSRP and NDSICDE for organizing the training, but beyond appreciation they had some other things to say.
HRH Barnabas said; “This training came at the right time, the knowledge gained in this training will go a long way in addressing conflict issues in my community, now I understand the early warning signs and how to respond appropriately.”
Mrs Opia Benita said; “I know for a fact that as a result of this training, our communities will no longer continue to dwell in conflict anymore, because we will quickly see the signs that we’ve been taught and quickly respond and then avert any form of violence that would’ve crumbled our communities. I also want to tell the security agencies, when we come knocking at your doors for help, please do not ask us for money, when you ask us for money, it is very tiring and frustrating because we do not know where to get funds from. I’m also using this opportunity to tell us that we are family now, so let us behave like a family.”
Mr Philip Godfrey said; “Initially we don’t have the mentality to sit down with people we have dispute with to discuss the way forward for peace, but after this training, I have been made to understand that none violent approach is the best solution to every conflict situation.”
Winifred-(NSRP Representative) charged participants, and she said: “The importance of the two days training is not just in the two days, it actually goes from this point forward, as we all go back to our communities, our desire is that you put into action what you have learnt here, because if this are not put into actions, it means that we’ve actually wasted time and the resources spent in the past two days. So I urge you all to go and take actions in your various communities.”
The security agencies present at the training pledged to give support to the communities whenever they call on them.