Nigeria’s Unbalanced Budget

Cutting Funds for Amnesty Could Trigger Instability

Nigerian rebels of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force patrol the creeks of the Niger Delta near Port Harcourt in Nigeria, September 28, 2004. George Esiri / Reuters

On May 12, after a week’s delay, Nigeria quietly released the details of its federal budget. Although few gave it much attention—more eyes have been focused on Boko Haram’s roiling insurgency in the north—the budget allocations could very well retrigger instability in the south, where militias had fought for decades over the spoils of the oil-rich Niger Delta. In particular, the government cut 70 percent of funding for its Niger Delta amnesty program, a guns-for-cash-and-jobs training exchange for former militants involved in past Niger Delta conflicts. The decision was surprising, since President Muhammadu Buhari had only announced a few months earlier that he would extend the program through 2017. The cuts come following steep declines in Nigeria’s oil revenue and amid rumblings of a recession.

The cuts come at a particularly crucial time for the country’s stability. The program was regarded as having successfully disarmed and transitioned back into society nearly 30,000 former insurgents after it was created in 2009. In other words, many former insurgents had laid down their weapons and not picked them back up. But tensions have been rising again over federal petroleum policies, which distribute the oil revenue among Nigeria’s 36 states and govern the environmental and social responsibilities of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. Now newly formed militias are repeating the old call for more regional autonomy. Part of their discontent is related to long-standing religious and regional tensions, as Christian southerners are wary of the Muslim president, Buhari, who hails from the country’s north and who is now seeking to reduce their resources. That is why this budget cut could reignite conflict in the Niger Delta.

Despite the initial success in the program’s (admittedly narrow) mandate, the amnesty program itself has long been problematic and controversial. Over the years the budget of the program swelled. At its inception, its cost was pegged at $145 million, but over three years it swelled to $1 billion, according to Lamido Sanusi, the former governor

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