REVIEW OF “RE-CONCEPTUALIZING THE RIGHT OF THE NIGER DELTA PEOPLES TO SELF-DETERMINATION AS INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND NATIONAL MINORITIES IN INTERNATIONAL LAW: EXPLORING NEW HORIZONS AND RESEARCH POTENTIALS”

Recommendation: Substantial revision.
There is some good work here.  The literature review of the right of self determination and indigenous peoples is quite thorough. There are however, some major and minor concerns.

Major concerns:
What is really missing here is the analytical focus. The author/s provides some very good research on the literature, but then fails to apply this. What needs to be addressed here, rather than suggestions for future research, is the implications of this work on the case of Nigeria. Without this, the piece is an informative report on the state of the literature in the above mentioned areas, but no real synthesis or analysis as it pertains to the Nigerian case. Are those in Niger River delta all liberation fighters? Are there no common criminals engaging in deadly behavior? Is there any one group with a viable claim to self determination? How do the various approaches to understanding indigenous peoples apply to the peoples of the Niger River delta? If we want to situate the current crisis in Nigeria as an international legal issue, what specific laws should we refer to? Which ones have been violated and by who? Who is fighting and for what? Do we have evidence that none of the minority groups within the region are receiving any gain from the oil business (local chiefs, etc.)? If some are benefitting, can we make a claim about the persecution/oppression of the whole group, why/why not? Without addressing some of this, the piece is incomplete.

The connection between self-determination and terrorism is not as fleshed out as it should be. One way to do this might be to highlight cases where efforts at self-determination have been labeled terrorism. This can be tricky. It is clear that there is an interest for a state that is trying to suppress a liberation movement to label those engaged in it and its actions as terrorists and terrorism respectively. This does not mean that these classifications are taken seriously by the rest of the world. For example, the apartheid government of South Africa labeled the ANC as a terrorist organization, but many around the world refused to accept this classification. Some liberation groups engage in what can be called terrorism, i.e. targeting civilians with no political goal other than to terrorize.  If we break this down further, individual acts may be seen as terrorist in intent even when the overarching goal is admirable, e.g. the use of necklacing in South Africa.  Here we must take into account methods, targets, and goals. Because this is a very complicated issue, it really needs to be fleshed out more.

Minor concerns:

There are a lot of grammar and spelling errors along with poor/questionable word choices and several cases where the author relies on the use of passive voice.

References such as “The region is likened to the proverbial African axe that fetches the wood but sleeps in the cold” need to be clearer for readers unfamiliar with the proverb.

And “It has been observed that the right to self-determination first appeared in positive international law in Article 1 and 55 of the United Nations Charter” for those not familiar with the discourse for international law, explaining what is meant by “positive international law” would be helpful.

Re-Conceptualizing the Right of the Niger Delta Peoples to Self-Determination as Indigenous Peoples and National Minorities in International Law: Exploring New Horizons and Research Potentials


This essay is well-researched and comprehensive, but suffers somewhat from a lack of clear and narrowed focus in the questions asked.  Part of this comes from the very beginning of the article - while the factual detail is very effective (particularly for a North American audience who is unlikely to have much knowledge of Nigeria), it is not entirely clear in the beginning what *question* the essay is setting out to answer.  Is the question whether inhabitants of the Niger Delta can reasonably make use of the law applicable to indigenous peoples, for example, or is it whether making use of that law would be of any assistance to them?


These are distinctive questions, which lead in different directions.  Given the degree of mistreatment involved in these cases, and the lack of international support for these peoples (since the oil is unfortunately in the hands of the central government legally), it's not clear that being able to meet the criteria for indigeneity or national minority status would be helpful to them internationally.  Or is the paper's central concern with their right to militarized self-defense of their territorial and other interests?  If so, will the notion of indigeneity make a difference here?  The problem, then, is that it's not clear exactly what argument the very detailed evidence in the paper is intended to support.  The directions for future research noted toward the end of the paper are all interesting ones, but right now the paper needs to try to answer at least one or two of them more clearly.


The uncertainty noted above becomes important in several specific points in the paper.  For example, it's not clear at present why the paper gives such careful consideration to the legal possibility of secession in the section on self-determination.  Is this simply an abstract inquiry about what the right to self-determination means, or is it intended to make a case for or against a particular interpretation of how the Niger Delta populations can react to Federal incursions?  It seems relatively easier to show that the right to development on their own terms is being compromised, for example, which might lead to similar conclusions about remedial resistance or separation, without involving the broader questions of secession at all.  (The lack of legal property rights to the oil and lands overlying it within the Nigerian system seems important here.  If the central government is able to dispose of the relevant lands however they see fit, there are obvious problems even if self-determination as secession is not relevant.)  Narrowing the discussion of secession somewhat, and ensuring that it is clearly linked into the paper as a whole, would thus strengthen the argument.


The essay comes into focus more strongly once the issue of terrorism is reached.  Perhaps part of the problem is the paper's failure to say early on exactly *how* it will involve terrorism, so that the reader understands more clearly how some of the previous information will be relevant for the project.  However, even in the terrorism section the paper has some indeterminacies.  Perhaps most importantly: is the relevant question whether the activities of the Niger Delta people meet the legal criteria of terrorism, or is it whether they have effectively been characterized as terrorism by Nigeria, even if they do not in fact meet that description?  (The latter question is more political than legal.)   It seems important here what the nature of the military struggle has been.  Have they generally fought government military forces in actual battles, for example, or have they resorted to bombings of non-military officials or even of civilians?  The essay notes that these kinds of distinctions are relevant (e.g. pgs. 25-26), but it would be stronger if it were to be more specific in this regard.  (Is the question for the paper about the means they are adopting, or about the legitimacy of armed resistance in the first place?


Perhaps more importantly, it is not clear that the evaluation of the *military* aspect has been the central focus of the paper throughout.  Does it matter whether the people of the Niger Delta are internationally "indigenous" to evaluate the nature of their resistance?  (Does international law require that groups resisting the state show that they are eligible for self-determination in precisely the same way that is necessary where decisions of outside third parties will be decisive, as for example with East Timor?)  Or does the paper want to make a point about the legal meaning of indigeneity through the discussion of terrorism, rather than the other way around?


Many of the author's questions for future work are excellent, and very interesting.  However, at least some of them seem as if they could be given a provisional answer from the information the author has already outlined.  I believe that author should seek to do at least this with one or two of them: to stake a claim from the beginning about how the relevant law should be interpreted, and to show why this is so.  Leaving most of the questions open after this seems useful, but right now there are too many open threads left remaining for the article to be successful.  My own preference would be for the paper to focus more clearly on the question of whether rights to indigeneity necessarily entail rights to military resistance in the case of theft, violence, and generalized oppression, but focusing on other questions (e.g. whether more familiar forms of self-determination legally justify "terrorism") are also appropriate.  (These other questions may not be of equal interest to the journal's readers, however.)

There are also a number of moments of stylistic awkwardness in the paper.  For example, the Quebec study is discussed somewhat before the nature of the study is actually introduced and described, and Vyver is introduced by his last name only at the first mention, without explanation of why his view should be particularly interesting.  (Is it intended to be, or is he simply one expert among many with Alfreddson, Hannum, etc.?)  Generally, the essay feels somewhat like a draft in this regard, rather than a finalized article.  It is clear that the author is including a great deal of evidence from diverse sources, and it is virtually always appropriate, but the paper is not yet hospitable enough to the reader's needs to make its point with full effectiveness.  Ensuring that transitions between topics or personalities are clearly signaled would be helpful in the next iteration.
--
White Earth Anishnaabe
 Michigan State University   
    American Indian Studies Program
    WRAC Department
Co-director of the Center for the Study of Indigenous Border Issues <http://www.csibi.org>
Editor, <Indigenous Policy Journal> <http://www.indigenouspolicy.org>
Anishnaabeg Joint Commission University Liaison


"I’ve heard rumors; the world is starving, but we’re well fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we’re hated so much?"  Ray Bradbury --Fahrenheit 451-- 1953.
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