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Niger Delta

Problems and challenges afflicting the Niger Delta Region, particularly the core Niger Delta State - BY: B. M. WIFA*  (The piece is an excerpt from a major article that is accessible from the link below)

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 development.

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 in Nigeria.

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 underwater.

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 revenues.

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 interventions?

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 invariably involves:

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
    Delta region.

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.

                                              THE NIGER DELTA: PROSPECTS AND CHALLENGES

  Focus Nigeria


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