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Majority of Nigerians Reject Violence in Delta Region

Majority of Nigerians Reject Violence in Delta Region

More than 8 in 10 do not condone vandalizing pipelines

by Magali Rheault and Bob Tortora

This article is the third in a series about economics and governance in Nigeria.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Recent attacks on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta have contributed to pumping up the price of oil to near $120 a barrel in late April. Results from a Gallup/NOI Poll reveal that although 63% of Nigerians think the people of the Niger Delta have a right to protest their current situation, such empathy doesn't translate into support for violence.

Last year, Gallup partnered with NOI Polls, a Nigeria-based opinion-polling firm, to gauge Nigerians' attitudes toward the unrest in the Delta, as well as other social and economic issues. The nationally representative survey, the first of its kind to examine Nigeria-specific issues, was conducted in November 2007, just a few weeks after the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) threatened to extend the scope of its bombing activities to other parts of the country if the government allowed the military to invade militants' camps.

According to the poll, 61% of Nigerians think residents of the Delta are suffering, and a similar percentage (63%) think the people of the Delta have a right to protest against their current situation. However, strong majorities of Nigerians also reject the violence that marks the region: 82% of respondents do not support vandalizing pipelines, taking hostages (82%), kidnapping children (86%), or kidnapping women (85%).

The Delta's vast oil and gas wealth is the cornerstone of Nigeria's economy (the sector represents 85% of government revenue). However, a lack of economic opportunities, environmental degradation caused by oil spills and gas flares, and poor infrastructure, among many other things have contributed to feelings of frustration among the region's residents. While Nigeria's national government has launched several initiatives to help alleviate poverty in the region, the challenging human conditions have fueled violence and social unrest, especially among the youth. Gangs have reportedly taken advantage of the dissatisfaction and unrest in the region to sabotage the pipeline infrastructure or kidnap foreign oil workers or their children.

When asked which groups cause the most trouble in the region, 34% of Nigerians say militants do, 21% say it's the work of criminal gangs, and 36% of respondents do not have an opinion ("don't know"/ "refused").

Furthermore, many Nigerians perceive those responsible for the unrest in the region negatively. Almost 4 in 10 respondents (39%) say they view militants in the Niger Delta as criminals, 19% view them as liberators, and 37% do not have an opinion.

In the Delta region, 26% of residents say they view militants as liberators, but 48% say they consider those responsible for the violence in the region to be criminals, and 22% do not have an opinion. In Lagos, the North (excluding Kano), and the rest of Nigeria, residents are also more likely to view militants as criminals rather than liberators, but relatively large percentages of residents do not have an opinion. In Kano, residents are almost as likely to say the militants are liberators (17%) as they are to say the militants are criminals (22%), but 54% of respondents do not have an opinion.

Bottom Line

Overall, the relatively large percentages of "don't know"/"refused" responses regarding which groups are responsible for the unrest and respondents' attitudes toward militants suggest that many Nigerians are ambivalent about the situation in the Niger Delta. While there appears to be a measure of sympathy for those who cause unrest, many Nigerians fall short of glorifying militants. In fact, the overwhelming rejection of kidnappings (particularly of women and children) as well as disapproval of the sabotage of oil facilities suggests that over time Nigerians' weak support for the militants' actions could erode.

Survey Methods

Results from the Gallup/NOI poll are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 2,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in Nigeria in November 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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