Religious Conflict -- Nigeria has a variety of regionally oriented religions, often based on tribal structure and culture. However, the two largest religions are Islam at 50% to a 48% Christian semi-minority. The northern areas tend to be Muslim, a mix in the Middle political region, and Christian in the oil rich south. Religious conflicts come into play in that most of the Muslims are quite conservative but most of the monetary power lies in the Christian regions. The minority religions are tolerated, but have no real political or social power. It is when the religious conflict aligns with the tribal conflict that more serious issues occur. This is especially true in the Delta region -- already a hot bed of ethnic issues, but when those ethnic issues also include serious religious conflicts, even more conflict appears. We should note, though, that without the ethnic and minority disagreements, it would be unlikely that religious intolerance would result in violence (Falola, 2001).
Colonialism and Big Business -- it is not surprising then, that the major conflict in the Nigerian Delta is economic in nature, with religion and ethnicity simply used as an excuse to justify militarism and human-rights abuses. By the 1980s, Nigeria had become almost completely dependent on oil for its economic base, rising to over 40% by 2000. Oil money has created vast wealth for a few, mostly governmental officials, but economic benefits are quite slow to trickle down to the peasant population. Most of the peasants, however, have been forced to leave their agricultural pursuits to either work the oil rigs or make room for more drilling areas. This has had a devastating effect on more than just the local economy. For example, annual production of both and food crops dropped significantly in the latter 20th century; cocoa production dropped by 43% (Nigeria was the world's largest cocoa exporter in 1960), rubber dropped by 29%, cotton my 65%, and groundnuts by 64%" (Okonta and Douglas, 2003).
Tensions compound because this region also has a huge population growth -- over 30 million people regionally in 2005, almost 1/4 of the total Nigerian population. This population is expanding, yet poverty and urbanization issues -- combined with the fact that official corruption is a given, has resulted in a scenario in which there is great urban poverty and dissatisfaction which also results in destroying the ecosystem that the population needs to sustain itself ("Rivers and Blood," 2005).
Conclusions -- the resulting complexity of conflicts, point-of-view, and forces is overwhelming. There is a government contingent that continues to promise the oil companies safety and stability, yet the Islamic backed Mujahid Dokubo Asari declared an all-out war with the Nigerian State, Foreign Corporations, and foreign investors. They also threatened to disrupt oil production activities by disabling wells and pipelines, the treat taken seriously enough that Shell evacuated over 200 non-essential personnel from its two fields; cutting oil production by 30,000 barrels per day -- likely one of the consequences desired by the splinter group. Even in 2010, Shell is reporting attacks on its Nigerian stations, this time responsibility claimed by the People's Patriotic Revolutionary Force of the Joint Revolutionary Council, sounding clearly like a nationalist-Marxist group, muddying the mix even more (Gambrell, 2010). Attacks on the Niger Delta have helped increase oil prices worldwide, leading to a situation in which the United Nations, most developed countries, and over two dozen individual Nigerian groups all vying for power in a single area. The situation thus remains complex, untenable, and likely unsolvable in the short-term.
"2008 Human Rights Report: Nigeria." (February 25, 2009). United States Department of State.