Health Implications of Oil Spills in the Niger Delta

6915 words (28 pages) Dissertation

13th Dec 2019 Dissertation Reference this

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Ogoniland has a population of close to 832,000 (Yakubu, 2017), The region is comprised of four LGAs, namely: Eleme, Gokana, Khana, and Tai (Yakubu, 2017) in Rivers State. Ogoniland is one area in the Niger Delta region, that is naturally endowed with an abundance of rivers, creeks, and stream and crude oil and has been the site of oil exploration and exploitation since the late 1950s. It has also experienced a negative impact of pollution from oil spills, gas flares, and oil-well fires. Ogale community is in Eleme Local Government Area (LGA) in Ogoniland of Rivers state with an estimated population of over 40,000(REF). The people of Ogale have traditionally depended on both crop farming and fishing as the main source of the community livelihood.


Even though the incidence of theft and sabotage is considerably high in the Niger Delta, however, the problem of corrosion and equipment failure, ageing pipeline and human error is far more alarming and worrisome. The increase is due to the MNOCs operating in Nigeria do not comply with the international standards. Amnesty International and environmentalist in the Niger Delta continue to argue that Shell has not invested considerable energy, pointing to the fact that the issues of sabotage, theft and illegal refining of petroleum as the primary cause of oil spills in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta region is defenseless. Describing the worsening oil pipelines situation in Nigeria, William (2002) argued that oil companies take great pains and caution to bury their oil pipelines in the ground out of sight in other countries. Unfortunately, in the Niger Delta region, it is laid on the surface of the ground across farmlands and near people’s home. This practice breaches the regulations, conventional and international standards where pipelines are buried under the ground. This indicates why these pipelines are susceptible to vandalism by oil theft and sabotage.


There are serious questions regarding the age and condition of oil pipelines in Nigeria with regard to industry and international standards (Akpomuvie 2011). By the provision of the Oil Pipeline Act 1956, a ten years replacement and maintenance of oil and gas pipelines were compulsory to avoid incidents of corrosion and ruptured pipelines resulting in environmental pollution. However, the Oil Pipelines Act fixed the duration of an oil pipeline license for a term not exceeding 20 years in recognition of the fact that after a long time, ageing pipelines are more likely to be prone to stress and corrosion. Unfortunately, in many oil fields across the Ogoniland and other Niger Delta communities as well as many parts of Nigeria, ageing pipelines abound, which have been in use over the past four decades that are overdue for replacement (Omofonmwan and Odia 2009). This is attributable to severe cases of oil spills that have become a major conflict between the operator and the rural communities. This provision in the environmental regulations on the oil and gas industry is vague and gives little or no serious protection to the communities who live near and around the oil pipelines. For example, Section II (5)(c) of the Oil Pipeline Act 1965 (still in force) prohibits paying compensation for oil spills if it is as a result of the default of the aggrieved/affected persons or by a malicious act of a third party. According to Barry (2010), if a third party bunkered oil from the pipelines and this led to a spill, the MNOCs would no longer be legally responsible for remediation of the site. Although this may be justifiable, however, over the years, oil companies have often taken advantage of this law and the excuse of sabotage as a defense to incidents of oil spills. Simply claiming the act of sabotage by the oil companies negates the claim for compensation, and this explains why most people who seek compensation in court are often denied. The claim of sabotage by MNOCs is mainly to avoid compensation payment if the spill is found to be as a result of equipment failure and corrosion. The prevailing conflict situation in the Niger Delta region leading to constant battles with a large dimension between MNOCs and their host communities has created a sense of sabotage, including deliberate attacks on oil and gas pipelines with severe environmental consequences (Odoemene 2011).


The activities of sabotage, theft, illegal bunkering and artisanal refining are identified as the primary source of oil spills posing serious health and environmental disaster in the Niger Delta. The NNPC (2013) argued that most oil spills in Nigeria occur through sabotage and theft, which represents 59.7% (see Table 1 above). This position is consistent with Shell (2014) who maintained that 75% of spills incidence recorded in 2009 to 2013 resulted from intentional third party interference with pipelines and other infrastructure. Similarly, 92% of all the volumes of spills from Shell facilities are from intentional damage (Shell 2014). Specifically arguing, they maintained that around 32,000 barrels of production per day (popd) were stolen from Shell pipelines and other facilities, while the joint venture lost production of around 174,000 bopd due to shutdown related to theft and other third party interference which translate into several billions of dollars in revenue losses. According to Obenade and Amangabara (2014), the scarcity and high cost of diesel, petrol, and kerosene is believed to have created the demand for cheap supplies of locally refined fuels

While the problem of vandalism is most significant and rampant in Nigeria, however, the oil and gas producing communities continue to argue that the proportion of oil spills caused by sabotage as opposed to corrosion and equipment failure cannot be accurately determined (Barry 2010). The causes of oil spills in the Niger Delta have not been subjected to any independent assessment or verification. In most instances, the MNOCs are part of the investigation process and have considerable leverage in determining the causes of a spill, which amount to a deeply troubling conflict of interest that is detrimental to the communities (Amnesty International 2014). Oil theft and illegal refining is striving because of the high level of insurgencies in the Niger Delta region, high cost of crude oil in the international market which has become seemingly low very recently, and more importantly, the scarcity of refined petroleum products in Nigeria. Shell (2014) estimated that crude oil theft and the associated deferred production amount to over 300,000 barrels of oil per day. This is consistent with the view expressed by Obenade and Amangabara (2014) that oil theft and artisanal refining had expanded over the last decade and are responsible for an estimated 150,000 barrels of crude oil stolen every day in Nigerian causing unimaginable environmental and economic devastation. In addition, Shell (2014) argued that theft and sabotage of oil pipeline was responsible for 75% of all oil spill incidents and 92% of all oil volume spilled from facilities operated by the Shell during 2009- 2013.


The lack of appropriate regulation and the political will to enforce environmental regulations is unarguably the major cause of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) lack the will power to respond to oil spills caused by the MNOCs that are highly influential within the Nigeria political context. The agencies have identified more than 1,150 oil spill sites abandoned by various oil companies in various communities in the Niger Delta region, which is posing serious threat to the people and the environment (Odoemene 2011). Unfortunately, in many cases, the agencies have neither a helicopter nor a boat to monitor onshore and offshore oil and gas operations and spills given that the Niger Delta region topography is made up of mainly swamps, creeks and deep seas and rely on MNOCs (motor vehicles and boats) for logistics support to investigate degraded spill sites. The regulatory agencies are almost at the mercy of the MNOCs and are wholly reliant on them for logistical support (UNDP 2006; Muller 2010). The lack of technical capabilities undermines the regulatory agencies’ ability to carry out its oversight functions and strikingly inconsistent with the huge oil and gas revenue accruing to the government from oil and gas for over several decades. In addition, some provisions in the Petroleum Act, Oil Pipeline Act, Associated Gas Reinjection Act, the EIA Act and other environmental protection regulations promote environmental pollution with a clear violation of individual and community rights. For example, the Associated Gas Re-Injection Act 1979 permits the oil companies to continue to flare gas in any particular field/s provided there is permission from the Minister of Petroleum Resources. Similarly, the provision in the Petroleum Act 1969 and the Land Use Act 1978 makes the producing communities to be susceptible to environmental degradation. More irksome is that environmental protection agencies (DPR and NOSDRA) are not meant to deal with the psychological and emotional damage arising from oil spills. They focus on the physical aspect of degradation, and that explains why the issue of oil spills and other environmental degradation have not received the much-needed attention compared to what obtains elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, Section 29(2)(b) of the Land Use Act refers to the Petroleum Act that stipulate a fair and adequate compensation for the disturbance of surface or other rights be paid to the owner or occupier or licensed or leased land in the producing communities. What constitutes a fair and adequate compensation remains a subject of controversy which leaves the oil and gas producing communities in a serious quagmire and has led to a series of conflicts between the MNOCs, government and oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. The Oil Pipelines Act confers so much power on the holder of the ‘permit to survey’ such as right to dig the soil and get free of charge any gravel, sand, clay, stone and other similar substance within any land and within the area covered. It also confers right to cut and remove any trees and other vegetation causing impediment to oil and gas exploration, and to do other acts necessary to ascertain the suitability of establishment of an oil and gas pipelines or ancillary installations. Oil Pipelines Act further averred that any person whose land or interest in land can lodge notice of objection in court of law and state any grounds of objection. According to the provision of the Oil Pipeline Act 1956, consideration of the objection is at the discretion of a Minister of Petroleum, whose interest, at the very least, is to ensure that oil and gas exploration is not hampered, and in most cases, with little or no regard to the environment. Under the Petroleum Act, the Minister is empowered to grant oil prospecting licenses, oil mining lease and allocate oil exploration licenses, but does not take into consideration oil producing communities’ consultation and objections. It only allows limited provisions within subsidiary legislation to prohibit or restrict activities that would harm the human population of the affected communities


Several laws regulate the activities of the oil industry vis-à-vis, the environment. These include:

The Petroleum Act, Cap 350, LFN 1990 and its attendant regulations

The Oil in Navigable Waters Act Cap 331, LFN 1990 and its attendant regulations.

The Oil Terminal Dues Act Cap 339, LFN 1990.

The Associated Gas Re-Injection Act Cap 26 LFN 1990 and its attendant regulations

The Federal Environment Protection Agency Act Cap. 131 LFN 1990

The Petroleum Act

generally empowers the Minister in Section a – (1) (b) (iii) to make regulations for the prevention of pollution of water courses and the atmosphere. Accordingly the Petroleum Regulations 1969 contain provisions on environmental pollution. There is an omnibus provision on pollution in Regulation 25, which provides that: The licensee or lessee shall adopt all practicable precautions including the provision of up-to-date equipment approved by the Director of Petroleum Resources to prevent pollution of inland waters, rivers, water courses, the territorial waters of Nigeria or the high seas by oil, mud or other fluid or substances which might contaminate the water, bank shore line which might cause harm or destruction to fresh water or marine life and where any such pollution occurs or has occurred, shall take prompt steps to control and if possible, end it

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act was enacted in 1988, after a long gestation period of 12 years. It is the first Nigerian Statue to deal exclusively with the environment. The Act establishes the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is to be responsible for the protection of the Nigerian environment. Among others, the Act prohibits the discharge of hazardous substances (including crude oil) into the air or upon the land and the waters of Nigeria. Unlike the other legislation (which provide for only criminal sanction for its breach or the payment of compensation for damage consequent there to, as the case may be), this law provides for both criminal sanction and civil liability for its breach and consequent damage. Regarding civil liability, section 21 therefore categorically states that any person (particularly an oil company) who contravenes the prohibition of section 20 shall, in addition to the penalty specified in the section, be liable for: (a) the cost of removal thereofincluding any costs which may be incurred by any Government body or agency in the restoration or replacement of actual resources damaged or destroyed as a result of the discharge and (b) costs of third parties in the form of reparation restoration, restitution or compensation as may be determined by the Agency from time to time. However, such a person shall not be liable if he proves that the discharge was caused solely by a natural disaster or an act of war or by sabotage. Furthermore, section 36 of the Act, specifically provides that where any corporate body (for example, an oil company) contravenes any provisions of the Act or any Regulations made there under, every director or officer of that body shall be directed to “pay compensation” and to “restore the polluted environmental area to an acceptable level as approved by the Agency” unless he proves to the satisfaction of the court that (a) he used due diligence to secure compliance with the Act: and (b) such contravention was committed without his knowledge, consent or connivance. To be sure, it seems the idea behind this, is to make oil company managers, personally accountable for environmental degradation and thereby encourage them to ensure compliance with relevant environment protection statues.

The Oil in Navigable Waters Act, 1968 (and the Regulations made there under) is an elaborate anti-pollution (specifically, water pollution control) law. According to its preamble, it is an Act to implement the terms of the International Convention for the prevention of pollution of the sea by oil 1954 to 1962 and to make provisions for such prevention in the navigable waters of Nigeria. Etikerentse (1985: 64) surmised that ‘the primary aim of this legislation, is to reduce the incidence of pollution of the World’s High Seas generally and of Nigerian waters in particular. Five pollution-related offences are created by the Act under sections 1, 3, 5, 7 and 10 respectively. Essentially, they relate to the prevention of pollution of water by sea going vessels (ships) both Nigerian and foreign vessels. Under section 6 of the Act, any person who violates the provision of this section, shall on conviction by a High Court or a superior court or on summary conviction by any court of inferior jurisdiction, be liable to an unspecified fine

Oil Pipelines Act is another important law in the field of environmental claims, particularly in cases of oil – related environmental damage. According to its preamble, it is an Act to make provision for licenses to be granted for the establishment and maintenance of pipelines incidental and supplementary to oil fields and oil mining and for purposes ancillary to such pipelines. Under section II (2) thereof, ‘oil pipeline’ is defined as ‘a pipeline for the conveyance of mineral oils, natural gas and any of their derivatives or components and also any substance (including steam and water) used or intended to be used in the production or refining or conveying of mineral oils, natural gas, and any of their derivatives or components. Essentially the Oil Pipelines Act, is particularly concerned with the laying (establishment) of pipelines- the Act provides for the issuance of permits to survey and oil pipeline licenses, authorize the holder of a permit, to enter the land specified in the permit or any adjoining land thereto. Even so, there are important environment protection-related provisions therein. The Harmful Wastes (Special Criminal Provisions) Degree of 1988 is yet another vital law in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. This was enacted in the wake of an incident when some Italian companies, with the collaboration of some local officials and citizens, imported and deposited some highly toxic and radio-active waste materials on a farmland, near the port at Koko town in Delta State. The Decree creates criminal offences in respect. of movement, handling and disposal of toxic and generally harmful substances on any land or territorial waters or contiguous zone, or Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria. It stipulates very stiff penalty


Part of the means of managing the environment is to have in place the necessary laws, regulations and guidelines. According to FEPA Lagos Nigeria, the following relevant national laws and international agreements are in effect:

  • Endangered Species Decree Cap 108 LFN 1990.
  • Federal Environmental protection Agency Act Cap 131 LFN 1990.
  • Harmful Waste Cap 165 LFN 1990.
  • Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution Damage, 1972
  • International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971
  • Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations, 1969.
  • African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources,1968
  • Mineral Oil (Safety) Regulations, 1963.


A National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) has been approved by the Federal Executive Council of Nigeria. The Ministry of Environment, which initiated the Agency, has also forwarded to the Federal Executive Council for approval, the reviewed draft National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) which the Agency would manage (Alexandra Gas and Oil Connections, 2006) The establishment of the contingency plan and the agency was in compliance with the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC90) to which Nigeria is a signatory. The draft bill on the NOSDRA has been forwarded to the National Assembly for deliberation and enactment into law (Alexandra Gas and Oil Connections, 2006). Apart from intensifying efforts towards compliance monitoring and enforcement of oil and gas regulations and standards, the ministry is also mounting pressure on the oil and gas operators for a gas flare-out. Effort is also being made, according to the sources, to ensure the use of environmental-friendly drilling fluid and mud systems (Alexandra Gas and Oil Connections, 2006)


To reduce the rate of oil incidents along the Nigerian Coast particularly as a result of vandalization, the Federal Government through an act of the National Assembly in 2000 passed into law the Niger Delta Development Commission. (NDDC). The Act among other things, established a Commission to carry out among other things the following task

  • Cause the Niger-Delta area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures, which are necessary to promote its physical and socio-economic development;
  • Prepare plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta area;
  • Identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger-Delta and assist the member states in the formation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger-Delta;
  • Assess and report on any project funded or carried out in the Niger-Delta area by oil and gas producing companies and any other company including non-governmental organisations and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised;
  • Tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil in the Niger-Delta area.
  • Liaise with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution prevention and control.

Essentially, items (e) and (f) deal with issues pertaining to oil exploration and production

and the NNDC act is a strategic way of dealing with all forms of pollution from these

activities in the Niger Delta


Frequent and collectively substantial spills have amplified the health challenges faced in the region. In 2011, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report revealed that drinking water in Ogoniland was found to contain a known carcinogen at levels 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines (United Nations Environment Programme, 2011). In another study, it was found that oil spills reduce the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%, which results in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition in the region (Ordinioha and Brisibe, 2013). In the same study, it was found that animals that come in contact with crude oil could be hemotoxic (destroying red blood cells) and hepatotoxic (destroying the liver), and could suffer infertility and cancer. Figure 3 for example, shows a polluted fishing lake with oil crude that could be detrimental to human health when consumed.


In response to the question ‘what is/are the greatest concerns for your health?’, all sixty-nine respondents pointed to the oil-related environmental hazards in the delta. This appears to be the main source of health concern in the region and all of the respondents were able to mention at least one health effect of oil spill or gas flaring (such as difficulty breathing, heartburn, eye pain, headaches, and skin conditions). Some respondents were also concerned with the swampy land which allows the impact of the oil spill to spread more quickly through the community. Air pollution and contamination of water sources were identified as posing the greatest health risk due to effects on everyday water supplies, agricultural produce and aquatic species that the local population directly consume and use as a source of income. This finding is synonymous with studies that claim that oil spills and gas flares contaminate surface water, ground water and air with adverse health implications and that damage to the livelihood of the locals (Nriagu, 2011; Obiajunwa et al., 2002; Ovuakporaye et al., 2012).




The Niger Delta is one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. The Niger Delta is also the location of massive oil deposits, which have been extracted for decades by the government of Nigeria and by multinational oil companies. Oil has generated enormous financial returns both to the government and the oil companies. However, the people of the Niger Delta have derived little benefit from the revenue accruing from oil production in their area. Oil exploration has given rise to several problems in the Niger Delta which makes the potential for sustainable development in the region look very bleak. Although there are various environmental legislations in Nigeria aimed at checkmating the excesses of the oil companies and achieving sustainable development, most of these legislations have been largely ineffective and unenforced. Various studies on the impact of oil exploration in the Niger Delta have been carried out by several authors, but few of these have been on the people’s perception of the impacts of oil industry in the Niger Delta. This study assesses the perception of the people concerning the impact of oil production activities on the environment, health and socio-economic lives of the people of the Niger Delta. The data used in this thesis was obtained from primary and secondary sources. In order to assess the community perception of the impacts of oil exploration, a community in the Niger Delta was selected and questionnaires were administered to 52 respondents from this target community. These questionnaires were analyzed using the SPSS software package. Findings revealed that oil exploitation and its attendant pollution have impacted negatively on the environment and socio-economic activities of respondents. Oil exploitation was strongly linked to pollution of the air, soils, waters and usurpation of the social life of the community


Before primary data collection began, an extensive literature review was done and there was a thorough search for existing records. Sources for information included relevant governmental ministries, organizations, and companies. Other source of data was reports of non-governmental and community based organization; annual reports of oil companies and corporate organizations. Articles dealing with sustainable development (especially those focusing on Niger Delta) served as a vital source of information. Further, publications by the NDDC and the Niger Delta Environmental Survey (NDES) the UNDP program, Amnesty group, were largely relied upon as source of baseline information. In addition, the works of authors like authors like Ebeku, Nwilo, etc. provided very rich source of information and was copiously quoted from. Newspapers, magazines and journals also formed part of the source of information in this study and were useful for gaining insight on how the public understood the issue under discourse. The internet provided up-to-date information on trends in the Niger Delta and was a very significant source of data for this study



It is normal for any research that has human as subjects to face some challenges including ethical, moral and language and other socio-political issues. Besides, Data collection in developing countries such as Nigeria is always problematic.

During the field work, there were various types of problems which required ingenious solutions. The field work entailed administering questionnaire to individuals and conducting interviews with different classes of people with different levels of education and literacy level. A significant part of the respondents read, understands, speak and write English, these sets of people presented little or no problem. However there were other sets of people whose literacy level were very low and who could not read or write English. This presented a severe communication problem, communicating with these classes of people posed a great challenge. It was not easy administering questionnaires to people or interviewing people who could not read or write in the English language, which was the medium of communication. To solve this problem, help was sought from the community. A field assistant was “employed” from the ethnic group used as the target population for the study. The selection of participants (especially for the interview section) also proved to be very difficult. Many people refused to participate claiming that they were too busy even were it was clearly stated that the interview can be done at the most convenient time for them. However, this challenge was overcome with the help of one of the respected elders in the town who explained to the people that they had nothing to fear. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, the confidentiality of participants was assured and they were informed of their right to withdraw at any time or decline to answer any question that made them uncomfortable. The location date and time of the interviews were completely chosen by the participants in order to protect them and assure them of confidentiality; this created a relaxed atmosphere and made the participants more amenable to answering most of the questions freely. Another problem encountered during the research was the high level of skepticism on the part of the respondents. During the fieldwork, respondents were reluctant and skeptical to participate because they didn’t trust the motives of the researcher. This skepticism evidently emanates from suspicion about the intentions of the researcher and the ultimate purpose of the study. In fact, there was accusation by some community members as to who the researcher was working for. However, this issue was resolved when the leaders of the community and the respondents were assured that the study was just for academic purpose and not related to the government. Besides, the questionnaire was designed in such a way to provide confidentiality, respondents were not required to provide any personal information, and this conferred confidentiality on the whole 30 process. The confidentiality provided by the questionnaire and interview schedule gave participants greater assurance since their anonymity could be maintained. Further, most of the respondents displayed high level of apathy; some of them opined that there was no need for studies that will do them no good. According to some of the respondents, they were getting tired of people coming to ask questions and promising them a lot of things, but that they have not seen anything come out of it. This made it exigent to point out to the respondents that the aim of the study was not to influence government decision; rather it was to find out their perception of the impact of oil production in their area. Another constraint was the lack of access to oil production sites. In the course of the field study there was constant harassment from the security personnel of the oil and gas companies who absolutely refused to grant access to any of the oil production sites. Enquires revealed that access to the oil production was only granted to selected individuals because of the issue of insecurity in the area. The security maintained that the security level could not be compromised in view of the high level of insecurity in the area. Further, private investigation revealed that access to oil production sites was restricted to researchers because most researchers painted the oil companies in bad light and this was very detrimental to the public image of the companies. Funding was one of the major constraints in this study. Based on the fact that study was a private study there was no external source of fund, this was a serious constraint considering the peculiar nature of the research. Questionnaires had to be printed and distributed. Several trips to and from the community was made several times. All these posed a serious financial challenge. In order to accomplish the task within a given time frame, interviews and questionnaire administration were done round the clock, however most of the interviews were done mostly in the evenings and at night using local flashlights to navigate the way. These interviews were conducted at these times because during the day almost all the participants went about their daily chores of providing food and sustenance for their families and could not afford to sit down for an interview. However, this also provided a first hand opportunity of seeing the impacts of oil production activities and the problems the communities faced

NIGER DELTA REGION Afinotan and Ojakorotu )(

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria comprises of nine states which includes Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Imo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia and Ondo, making it coincident with all of Nigeria’s oil producing states. Stretching over  swamp land in the littoral fringes of the country, it embraces one of the world’s largest wetlands, over 60% of Africa’s largest mangrove forests, and one of the worlds’ most extensive (Eyinla and Ukpo, 2006). Comprising mainly of a distinct aquatic environment which embraces marine, brackish and fresh water ecosystems, it encompasses the most extensive fresh water swamp forest in West and Central Africa, and manifests an intricate network of creeks, rivers, streams, swamps, braided streams and Oxbow lakes, besides a stretch of flat and fertile land mass. In this picturesque basin lives a kaleidoscope of ethnic nationalities which include among others, the Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Ikwere, Andoni Efik, Ibibio, Kalabari, Okrika, together with sections of the Yoruba and Igbo. Among these, the Ijaw seems by far the largest. In this region also lies Nigeria’s over 35 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (Eyinla and Ukpo, 2006), besides an even larger deposit of natural gas. The region also accounts for over 80% of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product and represents the economic jugular of the country

Here in this intricate network of creeks and braided streams also lie the operational bases of a plethora of ethic militia and insurgent groups of various kinds, with differing goals and objectives ranging from nationalism and freedom fighting to criminality and terrorism. This region is therefore Nigeria’s hot bed of ethnic violence, terrorism and insurgency. But in the midst of unchecked violence and a revolving criminality, together with the resultant widespread anxiety to douse tension and appease the militants, the real issues seem to have been forgotten, and prescribed solutions rendered puerile. This paper sets out to revisit and highlight the real issues involved in the struggle, and to analyse the true challenges that confront the Nigerian State. And deriving from this, to point out some ways to an amicable solution which alone can form the foundation for a genuine reconciliation, and sustainable development and peace through coorporate social responsibility

THE NIGER DELTA covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometers, and is considered the largest wetlands in Africa. It is also one of the world’s three largest mangrove forests covering about 6,000 square kilometers.1 The region is a swampy maze of creeks, mangroves, streams, estuaries and rivers, with a population of about 28 million (2002 Census figure in Nigeria). The area is peopled predominantly by minority ethnic nationalities, with the Izons (Ijaws) as the largest group. Ironically, this swampy region is home to Nigeria’s enormous oil and gas wealth, which constitutes the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. The oil produced from the Niger Delta accounts for about 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings, and 80 per cent of federal government revenues. Despite the immense wealth generated from the Niger Delta, its impact is not felt within the region, a situation that is further worsened by the deleterious impact of the oil industry on the region’s fragile ecosystem and wetland.2 Thus, while oil production has generated wealth on the one hand for oil companies and ruling elites, it has also resulted in human suffering for local people in the Niger Delta. Some of them associate the internal displacement from their ancestral peasant agrarian economy with the activities of oil corporations and state repression of community protests. The effects of such dire social, economic and human development impediments underpin the crises that prevail in the Niger Delta communities today.3 Since the discovery of oil and inception of oil production in the Niger Delta in 1956 and 1958 respectively, the people and oil-bearing communities of the delta have experienced increasing ecological degradation cum poverty. In a recent report by UNDP (2006:36-37) on the human development situation in the delta, it was observed that “a critical issue in the delta is not only the increasing incidence of poverty, but also the intense feeling among the people that they ought to do far better given the enormous resources flowing from their region”. The report further states that “poverty has become a way of life due to economic stagnation, unemployment, poor quality of life due to shortages of essential goods and facilities, an unhealthy environment and government insensitivity”. The UNDP (2006) report conceives poverty in the Niger Delta as “en- compassing issues of discrimination, neglect and lack of a voice”. In the Niger Delta, ecological devastation from oil or its derivatives starts from exploration when explosive mechanisms are used and drilling is undertaken. The environmental abuse continues at the production level when “unneeded” gas is flared indiscriminately and the transportation stage when channels are created that allow for salt water intrusion into fresh water (the people’s source of drinking water) or when the crude or refined products are pumped through pipes that are old and rusty resulting in leakages/blow-outs/spills that pollute the fragile ecosystem. The network of oil infrastructure: oil pipelines, flow-stations, rigs, terminals and wellheads that criss-cross the entire Niger Delta region places further pressure on the relatively scarce land in the face of growing population pressures. The assault on the Niger Delta environment by the oil industry is directed at the land, water and air. In a study by a group of sixty-five Nobel Laureates comprising the Commission of Nobel Laureates on Peace, Equity and Development in the Niger Delta in 2006, it was estimated that about 7,000 oil spills occurred in the Niger Delta between 1970-2000,1 with devastating consequences for the environment and local livelihoods. Mrs. Halima Alao, then Nigerian Minister for Environment, Housing and Urban Development at a national workshop on the “Finalization of Environmental Security Index Imaging in Nigeria” also noted that Nigeria recorded 418 oil spill cases in the first six months of 2008.2 The Minister stressed the great danger posed to Nigeria, the environment, and the social and economic well-being of the people of the Niger Delta, by oil spills. She therefore, emphasized the need for the government to acquire the sensitive technical know-how necessary for the challenges of protecting the sensitive ecosystem of the Niger Delta area.3 The damage to the Niger Delta environment should be taken in the context of the observation by the President of the Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), Dr. Emmanuel Enu, on October 2007, that Nigeria and the oil companies had extracted about 100 billion barrels of oil from the Niger Delta since the commodity was discovered at Oloibiri in 1956.4 Based on the foregoing estimate, it could be extrapolated that Nigeria has earned about US$600 billion from oil and gas exploration from this marshy and “difficult” terrain since the inception of oil exports in 1958. According to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environment is man’s first right: the absence of a safe environment makes it impossible for man to fight for other rights: be they economic, social or political.5 The consistent oil spills and gas flares in the Niger Delta have degraded the environment, driven the people out of their farming and fishing trade and enthroned endemic poverty. The land and waters on which the people of the Niger Delta depend for their survival (subsistence existence) have either been taken over by the oil companies and their for-profit operations, or polluted. Thus, these local people have been dispossessed and sometimes displaced from their homes. As a result, their means of subsistence and dignity are destroyed without any alternative or adequate compensation


conducting a one-time seminar and interviews. Secondary data was collated from previous research materials and records of similar incidents from other parts of the world, as medical practitioners in these communities found it difficult to share any detailed information about their patients as it was against their work ethics

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