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Environmental Damage In The Niger Delta Is A Global Challenge, By Nasir Aminu

December 31, 2021

One cannot deny the impact of global warming, but the human contribution to this damage is evident.

In Chief Edwin Clark’s letter to Obasanjo, he highlighted environmental, social, and economic challenges facing the Niger Delta. It goes without saying that the environmental damage in the Niger Delta requires emergency attention, and it will be inhumane not to empathise. Anyone with ethical consideration should empathise with the environmental challenges facing the region. 

One cannot deny the impact of global warming, but the human contribution to this damage is evident. Millions of barrels have been spilt since oil was first discovered in 1956. The burning of natural gas associated with oil extraction – gas flaring – is also a considerable problem. Like oil spillage, gas flaring kills crops, pollute water and damages human health. An investigation by Amnesty International reveals the reasons behind oil spillage and gas flaring include poor maintenance and negligence. In contrast, Shell has attributed spillage causes to accidents and organised criminal interference. For gas flaring, various reports point to economic and market constraints. 

Shell oil company has been the largest onshore producer for more than five decades in Nigeria and was responsible for spilling 560,000 barrels in Bodo between 2008 and 2009. Payments have been agreed upon, and more litigations will continue in European courts. The 2011 report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on Ogoniland was said to be one of the most complex investigations of the agency. The UNEP report recommended a clean-up project to President Goodluck Jonathan. They also suggested that the government jointly conduct a campaign in Ogoniland to end illegal oil-related activities, oil companies and local authorities. But that did happen under his watch.

President Buhari launched the clean-up exercise in June 2016 by commissioning the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), which will take 4 phases to complete. The global community celebrated with Nigeria when they heard the announcement. But it is five and a half years now, and the first phase of the clean-up is yet to be completed. In July 2021, the Minister of Environment announced that only 10 out of the 17 lots of the first phase were thoroughly restored. Last week, a non-governmental organisation, Ogoni Liberation Initiative, has appealed to President Buhari to halt further payment to HYPREP. They allege that the agency has always misused the fund released for the clean-up. 

Discussing the problem will not be complete without blaming those responsible. The public would not have disagreed with Clark had he asked for the reasons why the government was not keeping its promise. After all, nothing you can say about the government will make them look more incompetent than they already made themselves look. It would also be beneficial if he had pushed for litigation with the oil companies to compensate the communities at the international courts.

As for the social and economic issues in the Niger Delta, one cannot deny that the problems are not unique to the Niger Delta region. The country is facing social and economic issues because of the recurring under-performance of the government for a long time. However, the causes of these problems may be specific to a region. Studies have shown that the environmental damage caused by oil spillage and gas flaring in the Niger Delta has contributed to the region's social and economic issues. These include pipeline sabotage, social unrest, militant violence, water contamination and low food production. 

The environmental degradation that has left people unemployed in the Niger Delta needs to be addressed to keep the country's unemployment level from rising. History has proven over and over again that anytime you have a concentration of young people without work, the probability of revolt and unrest will increase. Latest figures from the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Petroleum Commission show oil production have dipped by a third and only 12 oil rigs out of the country's 53 are operating. The outcome is attributed to several forms of criminal activities in the region.

Let's recall that the Niger Delta is the first region to have a dedicated commission to cater for its socio-economic needs by the federal government. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was initiated in 2000 under the Obasanjo regime. The mission statement of the commission on its website reads: To offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region and facilitate the rapid and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful. 

Achieving the above mission would lift the people's spirits in the Niger Delta and the global community. Any crisis there tends to affect world oil prices. Instead, several corruption allegations mar the commission, and competence from the government seems to be an issue. It would benefit the global community if Mr Clark pushed to demand efficiency from the NDDC. 

In my opinion, it is worth reflecting that speaking with facts and pointing fingers at the right group will put more pressure on the government to respond appropriately.  


Dr Nasir Aminu is a Senior Lecturer in Economics at Cardiff Metropolitan University. (Twitter: @AminuEcon)