piece is an excerpt from a major article
that is accessible from the link below)
Problems and challenges afflicting the Niger Delta Region, particularly the core Niger Delta State
- BY: B. M. WIFA*
The Petroleum Industry is the backbone of the Nigerian
economy, accounting for over 90% of Nigeriaís total foreign exchange revenue.
Nigeria is the seventh largest producer in the world and the largest in Africa.
Current daily production of crude oil in Nigeria is over 2 million barrels; most
of it is produced from the prolific Niger Delta Region.
The Niger Delta Region, as noted above, produces the oil
wealth that accounts for the bulk of Nigeriaís foreign earnings. Paradoxically,
however, these vast revenues from an international industry have barely touched
the Niger Deltaís own pervasive local poverty.
The Niger Delta Region today is a place of frustrated
expectations and deep-rooted mistrust. Unprecedented restiveness at times erupts
in violence. Long years of neglect and conflict have fostered a siege mentality
specifically among youths who feel they are condemned to a future without hope
and see conflict as a strategy to escape deprivation. Persisting conflict while
in part a response to poor human development, has also entrenched it, serving as
a consistent drag on the regionís economic performance and expectations for
While turmoil in the delta has many sources and motivations,
the preeminent underlying cause is the historical failure of governance at all
levels. Declining economic performance leading to rising unemployment or
underemployment; the lack of access to basic necessities of life like water,
shelter, food and clothing; discriminatory policies that deny access to
positions of authority and prevent people from participating in shaping the
rules that govern their lives Ė these all indicate that governance overtime has
fallen short of the peopleís expectations.
Many Reports have chronicled the Regionís monumental
problems. The magnitude of the problems of the people of the Niger Delta is best
illustrated in the Report by the World Bank in 1995. in a 1995 two volume study
entitled; "Defining an Environmental Development Strategy for the Niger Delta"
conducted by the Industry and Energy Operations Dividion of West Central Africa
Department of the World Bank. The region is described in the following words.
The Niger Delta has been blessed with an
abundance of physical and human resources, including the
majority of Nigerianís oil and gas deposits, good agriculture
land, extensive forests, excellent fisheries, as well as a well
developed industrial base, a strong banking system, a large
labour force, and a vibrant private sector. However, the
regionís tremendous potentials for economic growth and
sustainable development remains unfulfilled and its future is
threatened by deteriorating economic conditions that are not
being address by present policies and actions.
The Report goes to lament that
Ö. Despite its vast reserve, the region
remains poor (GNP) per capita is below national average of $280
The Report continued:
Education levels are below the national
average and are particularly low for women. While 76 percent of
Nigerian children attend primary schools this level drops to 30%
in some parts of the Niger Delta. The poverty level in the Niger
Delta is exacerbated by the high cost of living. In the urban
areas of Rivers State, the cost of living index is the highest
Other devastating dimensions of the state of anomie of the
people of the area that only one-fifth of rural housing is considered physically
sound; water-borne diseases are considered common; electrification (despite
enormous energy resource) is poor; so are water supply and sanitation; with only
12% of Rivers State residents percent having access to adequate sanitation (the
national average is 28 percent). The estimated cost of erosion along the sea
coast is N8.5 million annually.
Some studies indicate that the sea rise occasioned by earth
warming a one-meter rise in sea level can submerge the bulk of the Niger Delta
Again the United Nations Development Programme Ė Niger Delta
Human Development Report (2006) identifies the Regionís many problems. Some of
the most serious relate to environmental sustainability which is fundamental to
the peoplesí well being and development. Wide ranging and usually destructive
environmental changes have stemmed from oil and gas extraction,
industrialization and urbanization. Oil spills and gas flares in particular have
destroyed natural resources central to local livelihoods.
The data presented in the report reveal some troubling
findings and deep ironies. Life expectancy is falling in an age of block buster
oil prices. Energy availability is poor in a region that provides one-fifth of
the energy needs of the United States. The Region needs to import fuel despite
producing over two million barrels of crude oil per day. There is an almost
total lack of roads in a region whose wealth is funding gigantic infrastructural
development in other parts of Nigeria and expensive peacekeeping activities in
other parts of Africa. The Region accounts for upwards of 80% percent of
Nigeriaís Foreign exchange earnings and about 70% percent of government
Water related diseases are one of the most critical health
problems in the Niger Delta and the health issue most closely linked with
environmental degradation. Water related diseases represent at least 80% of all
reported illnesses in the region.
These monumental problems have been acknowledged by both
National and International Institutions as stated above.
Development experts and policy makers have engaged in many
debates about the Regionís human development dilemma questioning why abundant
human and natural resources have had so little impact on poverty. Why do
conflict and youth restiveness simmer despite years of development
What should be done to calm the situations?
How can environmental sustainability and poverty reduction be
achieved given continued extraction of oil and gas resources?
Finding lasting answers to these pertinent questions requires
a complete overhaul of the legal and justice sector to develop a model one. This
a. Change in the legal regime relating to oil and
gas exploration, ownership and
b. Strengthening institutional framework to meet
the needs of the conflicts in the Niger
c. Creating an unfettered access to justice for
the minutest wrong/injury
d. Enhancing legal mechanism for protecting and
asserting individual and community
Generally speaking, communities are dissatisfied with the
consequences from oil operations. This disaffection is expressed in various
forms, including violent demonstrations, blockages of their operations, the
sabotage of pipelines and other oil installations and hostage-taking.
Some groups have produced charters, declarations, agenda and
resolutions to express their demands. These began with the Ogoni Bill of Rights
in 1990 and the Kaiama Declaration by Niger Delta youths, containing "100
reasons why we want our resources"; the Oron Bill of Rights in which the Oron
people of Akwa Ibom State resolved to take their destiny into their own hands;
and the Warri Accord in which the Itsekiri people of Delta State sought ways to
maximum benefits from the oil production in their area.
Many conflicts have centred on renegotiating the memoranda of
understanding that communities negotiate with the oil companies for the benefits
meant to compensate everyone in the community for the consequences of the oil
exploration and exploitation activities. Since there are no standard or
regulated compensation rates for either exploitation or spillage, different
rates are paid to different communities. Conflicts arise when communities
realize that they have not bargained hard enough and have not secured as many
benefits as other communities.
Directly or indirectly, however, the government and its
agencies through negligence and outright failure are implicated in most
conflicts. The government has failed in establishing a proper legal and social
environment for peaceful conflict resolution which has contributed significantly
to the emergence of parties that resort to violence in the Niger Delta.
In the light of the foregoing, it is inevitable and timely to
discuss "Developing a model legal and justice sector in the Niger Delta Region".
* B. M. WIFA, OFR, SAN is a Legal Practitioner based in Port Harcourt.