Niger Delta, Nigeria:
Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Equitable Development

By Chinedum Ile
By Dr. Chinua Akukwe
Thursday, March 8, 2001


The Niger Delta of Nigeria is a boiling cauldron and a Pandora box that has exploded in the past and will likely continue to simmer for many generations until drastic steps are taken by ALL stakeholders to end the current political, economic and environmental impasse in the country's economic basket. The stakeholders include the host communities, the State (local, state, and federal governments), oil and gas companies and other multinationals active in the Niger Delta, the elite of the Niger Delta, the civil society, and the international community. Nobody doubts that Niger Delta is the real (not proverbial) goose that lays the golden eggs in Nigeria: Approximately 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 80 percent of federal revenues for the last 20 years come from oil, the so called Bonny, sweet, "light" oil.

The Niger Delta is believed to hold at least twenty billion barrels of oil reserves. Nigeria pumps 2 million barrels of oil daily from the Niger Delta. Although Nigeria has earned more than $280 billion dollars over the last 30 years from oil exploration, the environment and living conditions of the oil producing communities is a misery tale of unparalleled proportions. For the inhabitants of the oil producing communities, every day basic activity is a gargantuan struggle. They cannot drink water because of oil pollution; Cannot enjoy gainful employment because their traditional sources of livelihood have been destroyed; Cannot hunt because their wildlife is gone; Cannot send their children to school or enjoy basic healthcare because of abject poverty, and; Cannot enjoy basic transportation, electricity and telephone service because of the "Nigerian" factor.

Nigeria's current political experiment will continue to be hounded by the environmental, health and economic morass of Niger Delta. The Niger Delta issue is a complex web of political betrayal at all levels of government (local, state, and federal), endless economic marginalization, and massive environmental insensitivity and neglect. Furthermore, the Niger Delta question is not amenable to quick organizational fixes, political expediency, inflammatory rhetoric or double talk. Niger Delta represents the rot of Nigeria's polity and its chicanery tendencies, and the diabolical machinations of unrepentant elite both from the Niger Delta and the corridors of power in Lagos/Abuja. The Niger Delta question also transcends the usual Nigerian past time of simplistic ethnic jingoism, atavistic political leaderships, cult and personality following, and self-imposed immunity from personal and collective responsibility.

The Niger Delta question is very simple: Should Nigerians that occupy the source of our enormous national wealth enjoy an equitable standard of living, pursue economic freedoms with minimal discomfort, and live a healthy life free from avoidable environmental hazards?

We do not believe that any Nigerian or multinational conglomerate can argue otherwise or respond in the negative. Consequently, it is rational to ask the following questions: What went wrong in the Niger Delta since 1956? How and when did it go so wrong? Can anything be done to rectify the wrong and assure that it will never happen again?

The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework for the equitable development of the Niger Delta. We define equitable development as a shared process of managing and conserving the resources in Niger Delta in such a way that it enhances the living conditions of the oil producing communities without endangering the well being of future generations. We discuss the critical issues of Niger Delta, the current and future challenges, and the inherent opportunities for a comprehensive resolution of the Niger Delta crisis. At the core of our thesis is a central theme: The Niger Delta crisis can only be resolved when all the stakeholders adopt a common strategic vision and mission that focus on sound COMMUNITY-BASED economic, environmental, health and political emancipation of the oil-host communities in the Niger Delta.

We believe that the die is cast for Niger Delta. No present or future government in Nigeria can ever neglect the unjust situation in Niger Delta without major repercussions. We do not believe that the Niger Delta question will be resolved by rhetoric or grandstanding. This problem will require hard-nosed negotiations, strategies, and resolve.


The Niger Delta is one of the largest deltas in the world, probably the third largest on earth. The region is regarded as one of the nine most difficult deltas of the world comparable to the Mekong, the Amazon and the Ganges. It is situated in the central part of southern Nigeria. It lies within latitudes 4 degrees north to 6 degrees north, and longitude 5 degrees east to 8 degrees east. The Niger Delta is a geographical landmark that grew out of the fanning of the River Niger into thousands of square kilometers of swamps, waterways, vast flood plains, mangrove forest areas, and fishing villages.

Geographically, the western limit is the Benin River while the Cross River is the limit on the east. It is triangular in shape having its apex some twenty km north of Ndoni in Rivers State. It covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometers, and is spread across nine of the thirty-six states of Nigeria. These include Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Edo, Akwa-Ibom, Ondo, Abia, and Imo states. It is endowed with immense natural resources, particularly crude oil. The process of the formation of the present delta started about 75,000 years ago and over the centuries, accumulation of sedimentary deposits washed down the Rivers Niger and Benue. The present coastal formation consists of a chain of barrier islands interspersed by river estuaries, giving the delta a shape like a birdís foot. The population of the Niger Delta is about 12 million people, and is growing at 3% a year. There are more than 20 ethnic groups in the area with links to the linguistic groups of Ijaw, Edo, Igbo, Ogba, Delta Cross, Efik, Ibibio, Anang, Ogoni, and Yoruba. The Ijaws are the largest group, and probably moved to the Delta over 7,000 years ago.

According to the 1998 Niger Delta Environmental Survey, oil production and other industrial activities, population growth, agriculture, logging and fishing, are just some of the factors that have greatly impacted on the evolution of the Niger Delta. However public attention has tended to focus on the appropriation of oil from the region. From the discovery of the first commercially viable oil wells in Oloibiri in 1956 to the present day, the issue of oil production and its effect on the environment has been the source of constant friction between oil companies and their host communities. According to the Shell Petroleum Development Company, most environmental problems related to the oil industry are due to oil spills, gas flaring, dredging of canals and land take for construction of facilities. These oil-related activities have affected agricultural and fishing activities in the host communities, the major economic preoccupation in these areas. Large oil spills, depending on their location, may go undetected for many days or even months with untold damage to the fragile ecology of the Niger Delta. Thus, the simple desire of Niger Delta oil producing communities to survive according to their age-old symbiotic relationship with the environment has collided with the Federal government/petrobusiness desire to extract oil with minimum fuss and disturbance.

The oil companies/host community tensions have gone through alternating periods of restiveness and relative "peace." However, we trace the change in the oil companies/host relations to five very important milestones:

    1. The 1978 Land Use Decree that that unilaterally legitimized the transfer of all minerals, oil and gas in Nigeria to the Federal government. This move by the Military Obasanjo regime ousted the host communities from legitimate "natural" or "deep" interest in their land and effectively changed the power equation with oil companies;
    2. The decision of the Federal government to directly negotiate terms of oil exploration with multinational companies, leaving host communities as oppressed bystanders. As described by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC), for all intents and purposes, once oil is found in any Niger Delta land, a well could be sunk, a pipeline laid, the taps turned on, and the oil flows on its own pressure to moored barges or refineries with little or no input from the host communities. Consequently, there is no strategic economic interest to build roads or rail lines, train the local workforce or meaningfully engage host communities;
    3. The disproportionate share of the federal revenue that goes to the Federal government in Nigeria. Today, Nigeria, perhaps from its military-oriented governments, runs one of the strongest central governments in the world. State and local governments are constantly short of cash and must depend on the operators of the Federal government for disbursement of revenues. Agitation from the Niger Delta eventually forced Nigerian leaders to provide special ecology or derivation funds to oil producing areas. However, these "special" disbursements are constantly mired in controversy and political horse trading;
    4. The Nigerian law on compensation for oil spills contains an effective poison pill that bars oil companies from paying compensation for spills due to "sabotage" and "terrorism." In the ingenious Nigerian way of doing things, the oil companies usually determine whether sabotage had occurred, compensation guidelines are not uniform, and no independent arbiter of the cost of damaged properties exist. Affected families who seek redress in the courts must face the unlimited deep pockets of oil companies, the delay tactics of elite lawyers (many of whom come from the host communities) who have cozy relationships with oil companies and government leaders, the range of land speculators/agents, overseers, political/economic enforcers, Nigeria security forces, and a dysfunctional court system. Today, a land "holder" in the Niger Delta seeking justice has little hope of remedial action;
    5. The proportion of oil revenues that filters back to the host communities has dropped from approximately 50 percent in 1960 to 13 percent as stipulated in the 1999 constitution. Even the 13 percent derivation is a subject of intense political disputes between the Federal and Niger Delta state governments. The scramble for scarce resources in the Niger Delta is fierce and sometimes deadly. It has pitted communities against each other, magnified personality conflicts, forced elite and interest groups to move against one another, and fueled internecine ethnic warfare and mutual destruction.

As second generation (post-oil discovery) Niger Deltans grew up in pervasive poverty, they could not but notice the posh and lush surroundings of the oil companies and their privileged and pampered staff. They also noted how the local boys-made-good community leaders and community elite live in stupendous wealth while paying obligatory "eye service" to the devastating economic and environmental problems of their kith and kin. In addition, they also became wise to the jumpy stance of kill-and-go security forces deployed to oil producing communities. It is also became obvious to the harried inhabitants of the oil producing areas that the oil companies can play "god" by dispensing goodies and community-based projects, running security outfits, dealing with community "rascals" and "saboteurs", and easily summoning the might of Federal security forces. These second generation Niger Deltans are also "eyewitness" to the fate of their kinsmen in government who do "very well" after contributing their "patriotic" quota to national development. It is no secret that many Niger Deltans that served in key positions in the Federal government and the oil companies, in the name of the "struggle" became very wealthy on "behalf" of their kinsmen and women. Niger Deltans have served as deputy commander-in-chief of Nigerian government and the armed forces, service chiefs, and general officers commanding (GOC) key Army, Navy and Air Force commands. They have also served as petroleum ministers, ministers of finance, works and housing, and mines/ power, head of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC), director of the Department of Petroleum Affairs, members of Presidential kitchen cabinets, head of OMPADEC, DFFRI, and top managers of major oil/gas companies and their subsidiaries.

The outcome of the complicity of many key actors is the utter economic and environmental devastation of the Niger Delta. The lack luster economic performance of the Federal government and the unbridled quest for personal petrodollars by many individuals in the sanctum sanctorum of power helped create the powerful oil and gas industry in Nigeria. Shell Petroleum Development Company, with its control of more than 50% of the industry, is for all intents and purposes, a state-within-a-state. The inability of the Federal government to meet its cash call and other statutory obligations in the joint ventures with the oil and gas companies further eroded its regulatory authority. Nigeria's environmental laws despite flowery sections on environmental impact assessments, remedial action, and biodiversity maintenance remain hopelessly unenforceable.

Consequently, the Niger Delta became a Pandora box that ultimately burst with organized resistance at community and ethnic levels. The Ogoni 4 and Ogoni 9 incidents that led to the deaths of prominent indigenes finally ended the yawning response of the international community. The hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his supporters effectively put the Niger Delta struggle under international microscope and subsequently exposed the extraordinary efforts of the Federal government and the petrobusiness to maintain a steady flow of oil at all costs. However, the cost has become insurmountable. As civilian Obasanjo government found out after the bloody 1999 Military invasion of Odi, the issue of the Niger Delta can become an international public relations disaster, force major economic investors to become skittish, mobilize civil societies at home and abroad, and put unwelcome searchlight on Military officers. Internecine clashes between host communities and the oil/gas companies have become increasingly violent with loss of lives and destruction of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and platforms. For all practical purposes, the genie has gotten out of the bottle.

The present democratic government has put the Niger Delta question on the fast track. The Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC) is a new entity and player with the major responsibility of accelerating sustained development of oil producing areas. However, past unpleasant experience with superstructures such as the OMPADEC suggest a wait-and-see attitude with the NDDC. Recent statements emanating from the Presidency suggesting a tight control of the NDDC machinery may end up stifling badly needed innovative and flexible community-based responses to the dire development needs of the oil producing communities. Powerful Niger Delta legislative committees exist in both arms of the National Assembly. The newly created Federal Ministry of Environment has the Niger Delta as a major brief. Resource control is resonating in many communities of the Niger Delta.


Having provided an overview and background on Niger Delta, it is necessary to briefly examine the critical issues that have shaped the Niger Delta struggle. These critical issues represent direct and indirect correlates of the violence and repression in the Niger Delta. We also believe that identifying the critical issues will provide a pathway to an eventual long lasting solution to the Niger Delta question.

We have identified the following critical issues, and will briefly discuss each issue:

  1. Oil spillage.
  2. Gas flaring.
  3. Environmental degradation.
  4. Poor health status
  5. Poverty
  6. Pipeline explosions.
  7. Limited government/public sector presence
  8. Distrust of the government/petrobusiness alliance.
  9. Lack of basic infrastructure.
  10. Political marginalization.

Oil Spillage: The issue of spillage is as old as drilling itself. In every area where there is oil exploration, oil crude spills on the surface of the earth and surrounding waters. This kills plants, defertilizes the earth, harms animals, fouls farmlands, and destroys aquatic life. Consequently, farming and fishing industries, the major source of economic sustenance in oil producing areas have suffered irredeemably from oil exploration. Apart from destroying the delicate ecosystem of the Niger Delta, oil spills destroy natural freshwater reservoirs that serve as sources of drinking water, with potential health hazards. Since oil and gas pipelines crisscross the Niger Delta, it is sometimes difficult to spot spills immediately and take remedial action. However, the most difficult aspect of oil spillage is the recurring battle between oil/gas companies and host communities over the role of "sabotage." As stated earlier, oil/gas companies by law are not obligated to pay compensation for spills from deliberate, destructive acts. Rows over who will clean up oil spills, and pay compensations are often at the core of acrimonious relationships between host communities and oil/gas companies. However, one thing is very clear: oil spillage is a fact of life in the oil producing communities with widespread pollution of creeks, rivers, farmlands, and mangrove forests.

Gas Flaring: Nigeria flares more gas than any other nation in the world. At least 75 percent of Nigeria's total gas production is flared, and about 95 percent of associated gas, a by-product of crude oil extraction from reservoirs. According to the Nigeria's Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), between 1998 and 1999, the total volume of gas utilization for industrial and domestic use in Nigeria was approximately 916 million standard cubic meters. However, during the same period, the oil producing companies flared about 1.7 billion standard cubic meters of associated gas. Much of the flared gas is methane, with high warming potentials, and potential destructive health hazards. Although Nigeria since 1969 had laws requiring oil-producing companies to utilize the associated gas from their exploration activities, not much has happened in this area. Gas flaring has continued unabated. For the host communities, gas flaring is a cause of acid rains that corrode metal roofing sheets atop houses, increase soil temperatures, and visibly damage vegetation near the flares. However, there is an ongoing scientific controversy over the link between gas flares and acid rain according to conclusions by independent consultants, the World Bank, and other multilaterals. The Shell Petroleum Development Company contends that the low sulfur dioxide content and nitrous oxide in the gas flares are unlikely to lead to acid rains. However, for the inhabitants of the host community, the acid rain is real with adverse effects on their lives. The Federal government recently "ordered" the oil/gas companies to end gas flaring on or before 2004.

Environmental Degradation: According to the World Bank, there are five great plagues of mankind: war, famine, pestilence, environmental pollution, and death. The Niger Delta is in the throes of becoming an environmental wastebasket. From the oil spills to the round-the-clock gas flares and effluents from industrial wastes, the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta is under constant assault. However, it is still a mystery that no comprehensive study of oil exploration in Niger Delta and its effect on the environment exists. The role of population growth, industrialization, and physical development are also important environmental research issues. The Niger Delta Environmental Survey, largely funded by the oil/gas industry appears to be a response to this need. However, because of the tentative, formative steps of the Survey and the unsettled issue of intellectual and scientific independence, the jury is still out on the long term effectiveness and veracity of its eventual findings. It is safe to say that until the rumblings of the Ogoni people, the issue of environmental degradation was not a central political or economic issue in Nigeria. Although Nigeria has an impressive array of environmental laws, it is no secret that enforcement has been lax. Apart from the concern for their staff safety, oil companies have been largely clay-footed regarding the safety hazards of oil exploration in host communities. For example, in the oil producing Obagi town of Rivers State, the road that leads into the village is literally the lifeline of the community. The noise of gas flare and industrial machinery makes it impossible for pedestrians to hear the sound of oncoming traffic. In 1972, an oil company vehicle on the Obagi town road killed the grandmother of one of the authors of this article as she returned from her farm. No representative of the Oil Company attended the funeral or consoled the family. Nor has anything been done to address this safety situation, 29 years later. The digging of burrow pits constitutes danger to the lives of the people. Many individuals have drowned in these pits. Many have fallen into the pits and sustained serious injuries that led, in some cases, to their death. Burrow pits still abound. We will set aside the second paper of this series to discuss environmental management issues in the Niger Delta.

Poor Health Status: From a simple perspective, the scarcity of clean drinking water in the water soaked Niger Delta is not only an irony but also a potential health hazard. According to the landmark 1999 Human Rights Watch report on Niger Delta, an oil producing community reported that 180 people died following a large scale oil spill; Spills had made people sick or hospitalized, and; Fish from contaminated streams sometimes tastes of kerosene (paraffin), suggesting hydrocarbon contamination. It is important to note that the long term effect of hydrocarbons on humans is still evolving, with speculations on carcinogenic consequences. The influx of moneyed oil/gas workers into poor villages and communities in oil producing areas have led to public health tensions over the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prostitution. Recently, the Mangrove Forest Conservation Society of Nigeria filed a lawsuit in a Port Harcourt High Court accusing the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) of complicity in the high rate of AIDS in the Bonny Community of Rivers State. Various fact-finding missions to the Niger Delta have documented complaints of increasing ill health among inhabitants of oil producing areas, and shortened lifespans. It is however surprising that the comprehensive health status of Niger Delta inhabitants is not available.

Poverty: The destruction of the land and waterways of the Niger Delta Region has denied the people their major source of fishing and farming livelihoods. One of the most visible images of Niger Delta is the distinct world that exists: the affluent Government/Petrobusiness alliance versus the wretched poverty of host communities. The economic strangulation of some oil producing communities is total, with unemployment rates of 80 percent or more. Families in these communities find it difficult to keep their children in school because of limited disposable income. Consequently, intergenerational poverty has become a fact of life in these communities. Access to healthcare is also sporadic, as families have to make gut-wrenching choices between hunger and clinical care. Poverty and the attendant struggle for scarce resources remains a fact of life in Niger Delta.

Pipeline Explosions: Niger Delta is criss-crossed by approximately 10,000 miles of pipelines. Most of the pipelines were laid more than 30 years ago. Contact between water and steel will eventually result in rust, wear, tear, and leakage of highly inflammable liquids. Since 1999, there have been a series of pipeline explosions, with hundreds of people roasted alive. In most cases, villagers are accused of siphoning oil from pipelines. The central question should be: What will cause a rational human being to risk his or her life for a bucket of gasoline? Perhaps, faced with severe and sustained economic hardship, the pangs of hunger may outweigh the risk of death

Lack of Sustained Government Presence: The oil producing communities lack any meaningful government presence. In most of these communities, any evidence of local, state or federal government presence exists in the fertile imaginations of government spin-doctors and sycophants. However, there is a recurring government presence in Niger Delta: Police stations and Military patrol units armed to the teeth and ready for "action." For the inhabitants of the oil producing communities that sustains the Nigerian State, basic necessities such as functional schools and hospitals are luxury items. If they dare agitate for these luxuries, the State will "show" them for disturbing the peace.

Lack of Basic Infrastructure: The lack of basic infrastructure in the Niger Delta is perhaps one of the most visible signs of neglect. Electricity, drinkable water, roads, elementary and secondary schools, health centers, and telecommunication system are "not present" in Niger Delta. At the beginning of the present political experiment in May 1999, the oil producing state of Bayelsa was not connected to the national electricity grid. Oil companies have active community-based projects that are promoted with evangelical fervor in media establishments. However, these projects are fewer than expected by the oil producing communities, limited in scope, and sometimes, patronizing. The oil companies appear to have become experts on "tokenites," where token gestures are exaggerated with expectations of veneration. The State (local, state, federal) appears to have become experts on "earmarks" of major projects without any evident "eye mark" of completed projects. The lack of basic infrastructure in Niger Delta is not only outrageous but also wicked.

Distrust of Government and Oil Companies: In developed countries, the most strategic and resilient partnership is the Military/industrial complex. However, to survive, the Military/Industrial complex in developed countries must remain sensitive to the final arbiters of public policy: Citizens that vote in democratic elections. In Nigeria, the dominant superstructure is the Government/Petrobusiness alliance that acts with impunity. Every Nigerian government, including the present government, brooks no opposition to this unique alliance. This powerful alliance with mutual benefits will do anything humanly possible to prosper. The oil producing communities understand the existence and importance of the alliance, and consequently recognize the State and the oil/gas industry as one and the same. Thus, it is an exercise in futility for the oil/gas industry to distinguish their obligations to host communities from that of the State.

Political Marginalization of the People: The inhabitants of Niger Delta have always agitated for fairer treatment in Nigeria. The Willinks Commission was set up by the then Colonial Governor of Sir James W. Robertson in 1959 in response to the Niger Delta question. The findings of this Commission eventually led to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board. The mandate of this Board was to focus on the peculiar developmental needs of Niger Delta. From the establishment of the Niger Delta Board in 1962 to its transformation into the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority in 1978, lack of robust funding remained a major drawback. Very little could be achieved in the face of daunting ecological, infrastructural and developmental needs of the Niger Delta. The OMPADEC and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are recent attempts by the Federal government to respond to the Niger Delta question. Successive leaders of the Niger Delta have accused the Nigerian polity of political and economic marginalization. The feeling of marginalization is so pervasive that some Niger Delta scholars believe that the non-inclusion of the Niger Delta in Nigeria's national Flag is a strong signal of State-sanctioned policy of neglect. The State has responded by creating state and local governments, appointing elite from oil producing areas to top government positions, and rewarding selected indigenes with lucrative contracts and government largesse. The oil/gas industry also responded with juicy contracts to selected elite from oil producing areas, providing basic infrastructure to select communities, and hiring/promoting sons and daughters of oil producing areas to key positions in the industry. However, like all short-term political settlement, the bandage simply covers the festering sores, leaving the source of the problem. The vast majority of the inhabitants of oil producing areas have neither benefited from government programs nor enjoyed sustained "philanthropy" from the petrobusiness. Surprisingly, the managers and strategists of this powerful and wealthy Government/Petrobusiness alliance failed to recognize or acknowledge the absence of the natural third rail of the alliance: The oil producing communities. For the past 45 years, the Government/Petrobusiness alliance has ignored its inevitable partner, the oil producing communities, with increasingly unacceptable costs and consequences. The struggle to end the political marginalization of Niger Delta will continue until the recognition and inclusion of oil producing communities as the third rail of the Government/Petrobusiness alliance.


To begin our discussion, we will like our readers to carefully review the National Petroleum Policy of Nigeria as announced by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). We are reproducing the petroleum policy, verbatim.

Nigeria National Petroleum Policy:

The broad objectives of the National Petroleum Policy include the following:

  1. Increasing the oil reserve base in the country through vigorous exploration in as many parts of the country as possible and making adequate fiscal and monetary provision for the achievement of the set objective.
  2. Judicious exploitation of reserves to ensure long-term benefits.
  3. Increasing private sector participation (indigenous and foreign) in all aspects of the petroleum industry through attractive fiscal measures.
  4. Ensuring that petroleum exploration and development activities are conducted with due regards to adequate environmental protection.
  5. Ensuring peaceful/conducive environment in the domestic oil and gas geographical areas of operation as well as safety of oil facilities
  6. Supporting measures to firm up oil prices in the international oil market through membership on international bodies dedicated to these objectives such as Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA).
  7. Acquiring reasonable market shares for the various types of hydrocarbons and their derivatives.
  8. Harnessing the natural gas resources, which exist in abundance but which must be rapidly developed to serve our domestic energy needs with the added advantages of more crude oil and refined products being made available for exports.
  9. Maintenance of domestic self-sufficiency in petroleum products at market-related prices.
  10. Maximizing benefits derivable from all forms of petroleum, including crude oil, natural gas and other derivatives.
  11. Encouraging and fostering increased indigenous capability and participation in the petroleum industry, through manpower training, research and technological development as well as encouraging industry.
  12. The development of an efficient information gathering, storage and management system, for the entire petroleum industry and facilitating access to such information by interested members of the public and private organizations.
  13. Investing part of the revenue accruing from petroleum in other sectors of the economy such as agriculture, industries and infrastructure in realization of the fact that petroleum is a wasting asset.
  14. Encouraging the NNPC as the national oil company to operate at a level equivalent to other international corporations engaged in oil and gas activities, utilizing skilled manpower and current technology.
  15. Gradually phasing out the present joint venture agreement in favour of service contracts between the NNPC and interested foreign and indigenous prospectors.
  16. Continually developing enabling broad policies and guidelines within which NNPC could operate freely to achieve agreed targets.

As evident from the national petroleum policy that guides all strategic considerations of the Nigerian government in the petrobusiness sector, oil-producing communities are glaringly missing in the document. As known to any serious observer of governments, every government and its partners operate under strategic principles that guide its implementation programs and actions. As of today, the development of the oil producing communities is NOT A STATED OBJECTIVE of Nigeria's National Petroleum Policy. Thus, the absence of host communities as part of the Government/Petrobusiness alliance is not accidental. No matter what government leaders or captains of the oil/gas industry will say or write about their intentions for the oil producing communities, the deafening silence on Niger Delta's equitable development in the national petroleum policy is disquieting and odious.

We believe that the Niger Delta face the following challenges, and we will briefly discuss each challenge:

Political Challenges: Niger Delta is facing multiple political challenges under the polyglot political arrangement in Nigeria. The first political challenge is how to replace the Government/Petrobusiness alliance with the Niger Delta/Government/Petrobusiness alliance. There are divergent strategies for achieving such an alliance. Some Niger Deltans are arguing for outright control of all mineral resources (this requires constitutional amendment). Others believe in militant tactics that will ground all petrobusiness operations, eventually forcing all parties to the negotiating table. Another school of thought argues for outright but fast-forwarded negotiations to become the third rail of the alliance given the current impasse that exists in the Niger Delta. The second political challenge for Niger Delta is how to strengthen its public institutions (local and state governments, federal legislators and civil servants) to better represent its interests in the inevitable political horse-trading tradition of a federal system of government. The third political challenge is how to strengthen democracy at community levels in Niger Delta so that the community leaders will consistently represent their constituent views and interests. The final political challenge is how to hold each Niger Deltan in positions of authority accountable for his/her actions at all times. A resolution of this fourth challenge will take care of indigenes that take convenient "sabbatical" leave from the Niger Delta struggle during their forays in government and petrobusiness circles. They often come back from such forays wealthier, and ready to lead the struggle for "resource control" in Niger Delta.

Socioeconomic Challenges: A hungry man/woman is an angry person. Many Niger Delta families are both hungry and angry. The daily struggle for "survival" is alive and well in Niger Delta. The first and immediate socioeconomic challenge is to provide public and private sector jobs for the large numbers of unemployed and underemployed individuals. To end the restiveness of youth and young adults in Niger Delta, the issue of personal and community poverty must be addressed. The second challenge is improve the basic infrastructure (electricity, roads, telephones, schools, health centers, and so on) in Niger Delta so that private enterprise can flourish and quality of life can improve. The third challenge is to improve the educational capacity of young persons in the Niger Delta so as to prepare them for gainful employment.

Environmental Challenges: The Niger Delta topography is by itself challenging. Add the environmental effects of petrobusiness to the mix, and you have the makings of a major environmental disaster. The challenge is multifaceted, onerous, and requires urgent remedial action. The first major environmental challenge is to clean up the pollution from petrobusiness in the Niger Delta. The second challenge is maintain the fragile ecosystem of Niger Delta through integrated biodiversity management. The third challenge is to reach a consensus on how to maintain the basic livelihoods of oil producing communities (fishing and farming) in the presence of petroleum exploration.


Niger Delta is a marvel of creation. It's mangrove forests, swamps, numerous tributaries of the River Niger, the unique flora and fauna, the delicate fresh water/brackish water balance, the numerous species of fish, animals, birds and reptiles sustain a delicate ecosystem. The discovery of oil and gas created a crisis situation in Niger Delta. However, for every crisis, there may be a silver lining. We believe that there are multiple silver linings in the continued saga of Niger Delta that can serve as unique opportunities for sustained, equitable development of the oil producing areas of Nigeria.

  1. First, we believe the current standoff between the Government/Petrobusiness alliance and the host communities have reached an impasse. There can never be business as usual again in Niger Delta. There is no viable alternative to a Niger Delta/Government/Petrobusiness alliance. This alliance will change the current power imbalance in Nigeria's oil equation by allowing oil-producing communities (not just selected elite) the opportunity to actively participate in strategic decision making in the areas of oil exploration and compensation, environmental management, community development, and management of resources reserved for Niger Delta. A functional Niger Delta/Government/Petrobusiness alliance will devote equal attention to petroleum/gas exploration, soil and water conservation, and the prudent management of the environment. The alliance could also become the nexus of an accelerated private sector development in Niger Delta that can provide gainful employment to indigent families. For example, the provision of micro credit facilities to poor families can accelerate the creation of small-scale industries that can sustain families and provide jobs. In addition, the alliance can accelerate research in the following areas: An independent environmental survey of Niger Delta; A population-based health survey oil producing communities; A scientific study of direct and indirect effects of oil pollution in Niger Delta, and; A study of macroeconomic and microeconomic consequences of the loss of livelihood from fishing and farming, the major economic pursuit of oil producing communities. It is important to state that we see structures such as the NDDC as representing government interests in the proposed alliance. Because of our belief that in a strategic alliance, you can never serve two major interests even if they are compatible, we are proposing that there should be a dichotomy between the representatives of local/state governments and that of oil-producing communities. Representatives of oil communities in the alliance will be elected solely for that purpose and should live in these communities. They can coordinate common issues with their kit and kin in local, state, and federal governments. For example, any legislative effort to incorporate the development of Niger Delta in the National Petroleum Policy will require close collaboration between representatives of oil producing companies and Niger Delta representatives in state and national assemblies. As shown by our model of the Niger Delta/Government/Petrobusiness alliance, equitable development of the oil producing communities should be the glue that holds the alliance together.
  2. Second, the current political experiment in Nigeria offers a unique opportunity to address the Niger Delta question in a non-Military fashion. The political leaders of Niger Delta are in a unique position to review/revamp existing political alliances as they pursue the logical conclusion of the Niger Delta question.
  3. Third, Niger Deltans now have the opportunity to do a sincere soul searching among themselves regarding their past and current representatives in the Nigeria polity. Is every Niger Deltan in the corridors of power and the oil/gas industry doing their best to improve the lot of oil producing communities?
  4. Fourth, the international community is maintaining eternal vigilance on the events in the Niger Delta for both commercial and altruistic reasons. As the goose that lays the golden eggs, Western countries are unlikely to tolerate continued unrest and/or high handedness from security agencies in Niger Delta. The powerful civil society organizations in the West, especially the environmental and human rights lobbies are now highly mobilized by the blatant injustices in Niger Delta. Prominent print and electronic media organizations in the West have published and/or broadcast unflattering articles on the activities of the Government/Petrobusiness in Niger Delta. Local non- government organizations (NGOs) on various Niger Delta issues have sprung up in the last few years, with formidable legal, research, advocacy, and organizing capacities. Niger Delta organizations in North America and Europe are active in top policy circles of Western governments.
  5. Finally, the restive youths of Niger Delta have sent strong signals to all policy makers in Nigeria that the era of appeasing the elite of Niger Delta in lieu of a comprehensive community-based development strategy is over. Any future development efforts in Niger Delta will be assessed by noticeable improvements in the quality of life of families that live in the villages of Niger Delta.


We believe that the die is cast for Niger Delta. No present or future government in Nigeria can ever neglect the unjust situation in Niger Delta without major repercussions. We do not believe that the Niger Delta question will be resolved by rhetoric or grandstanding. This problem will require hard-nosed negotiations, strategies, and resolve. It will require the enthronement of a viable alliance that recognizes the recurring role of the three key stakeholders: The oil-producing communities, the State, and the petrobusiness. It will also require Niger Deltans, especially their elite, to look themselves in the mirror and ask hard questions. Finally, it must be about the men, women, and children that have never benefited from the gushing Nigeria's petrodollars.

Chinedu Ile, Director of Administration, Niger Delta Environmental Network, Washington, DC.

Dr. Chinua Akukwe, Adjunct Professor of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC, former Vice Chairman, National Council for International Health (NCIH), Washington, DC, and Board Member, the Constituency for Africa (CFA) , Washington, DC