Historical Perspective On The Niger Delta

The Niger Delta region has a population of about 34 million people (2005) and covers an area of about 70,000 sq. km. The people live in a few large cities and over 3,000 small and often remote communities/villages in the mangrove, swamp and lowland rain forests. Farming and fishing are the main economic activities in the communities while commerce and oil-industry related activities dominate the urban areas. The terrain is extremely difficult and a substantial portion of the region falls under the “world’s fragile ecosystem”. Many communities live along creeks and are accessible only by boats. The riverine communities are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes and man-made disasters (floods, sea encroachment, oil pollution, piracy, hostage taking, communal conflicts, etc). Oil exploration started in the Niger Delta region in the late 1930s and oil was found in commercial quantity in 1956 at the village of Oloibiri. Since then oil production has increased significantly.

The Niger Delta region is faced with a lot of developmental and environmental challenges including high level of poverty, decline in agricultural production, low level of industrial activities, environmental degradation and social conflicts. The unique characteristics of the Niger Delta region have made occasional and uncoordinated development efforts difficult, expensive, and unsustainable. This is especially true when the implementers of the developmental effort have no long-term interest in developing the area. This is why the Sir Henry Willink’s Commission (1958) recommended that the Niger Delta region deserves special developmental attention by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Consequently, the Federal Government established the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in 1960 to handle the developmental needs and challenges of the region. In its seven years of existence, the NDDB achieved little if anything before it faded away following the military coups in 1966 and the outbreak of civil war in 1967.

At independence in 1960, the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed to have a “true” federation of three regions. In 1963, the Mid-West region was carved out of the Western region, as the fourth region of the federation. The 1963 constitution was fashioned to reflect some of the tenets of true federalism. For instance, it included a provision for the payment of 50% derivation (of rents and royalties from mineral resources) to the regions from where such mineral resources were obtained. However, when the military took over the government in 1966 it opted for a unitary system of government and dismantled the regional governments, replacing them with 12 “states” governments and increased the number gradually to 36 before handing over to a democratically elected regime in May 1999.

In line with the centralization of fiscal powers, the military regime abolished the 50% derivation in 1969. After the civil war, crude oil became the major source of government revenue after the sharp increase in crude oil prices in 1973/74 and the rapid increase Nigeria’s crude oil production. By the mid 1970s, oil had become the mainstay of the economy, accounting for over 85% of federally collected revenue and over 95% of foreign exchange revenue. All the oil was produced from the Niger Delta region and its adjoining offshore but the region remained neglected and impoverished despite the negative consequences of oil exploration and production activities. Successive military regimes dominated by military generals who were not from the Niger Delta region did not deem it fit to tackle the development and environmental problems of the oil producing areas or allocate a good percentage of the revenue accruing from oil to the oil-producing states to address these problems.

Based on the recommendation of a Presidential Task Force (popularly known as the 1.5% Committee) in 1980, 1.5% of the Federation Account was allocated to the Committee to tackle the developmental problems of the oil-producing areas. The committee was ineffective and most of the revenue the Committee received ended up in private accounts of bureaucrats and contractors and did not reach the poor people of the oil producing communities. With the return of the military in 1984, the 1.5% Committee was scrapped.
Meanwhile discontent and restiveness continued to grow in the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta. For instance, on August 26, 1990, the leaders of the Ogoni ethnic group in Rivers State adopted the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” which they presented to the federal military government and peoples of Nigeria in November of the same year.

The Ogoni Bill of Rights brought some of the Ogoni leaders into direct confrontation with the federal military government leading to “military occupation” of Ogoni territory and to the execution of nine activists of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) including its leader, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, on November 10, 1995.

In an attempt to address the growing restiveness, the military regime of Gen. Babangida established the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992 allocating 3% of federally collected oil revenue to it to address the developmental needs of the Niger Delta. Although OMPADEC initially raised the spirit of the people, it became clear that the 3% allocation could not address the problems of the area adequately. Worse still, OMPADEC became inefficient and corrupt and ended up as a great disappointment. Between 1992 and 1999 when it was scrapped, OMPADEC completed several projects but bequeathed very many abandoned/unfinished projects and huge a debt, most of which were dubious. OMPADEC failed to abate discontent and restiveness in the region. In fact, the degree of restiveness increased leading to the proclamation of the “Kaiama Declaration” by the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) on December 11, 1998 which can be regard as the beginning on the current wave of “resource control” struggle in the region. Sections of the Kaiama Declaration read as follows:

“all land and natural resources within the Ijaw territory as belonging to the Ijaw communities. because they are the basis of our survival. peoples and communities right to ownership and control of our lives and resources”.

Some other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta followed the example of the Kaiama Declaration by declaring their own “bills of rights”, “charters of demands”, “Resolutions” and “Declarations”, etc, all demanding greater control or ownership of mineral resources within their territories. In order to address this growing discontent, the federal military government inserted a “minimum 13% derivation” clause in the 1999 constitution, which it bequeathed to the civilian administration in May 1999. According to section 162 (2) of that the constitution:

“The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilization allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles especially those of population, equality of States, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13% of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources.”

One of the first immediate actions taken by President Obasanjo following his inauguration in May 1999 was to send a Bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to replace OMPADEC. After some delays, the NDDC was officially inaugurated on December 21, 2000 with a vision “to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region” and a mission “to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regene

rative and politically peaceful”.

Despite its promise, the NDDC has not lived up to expectations. The Niger Delta is still ravaged by “poverty in the midst of plenty”. Hence, the clarion call for resource control has grown stronger since 1999.

In what appeared to be a counter action, President Obasanjo re-introduced the offshore/onshore oil dichotomy when he took office by applying the 13% derivation to onshore oil production only which was roughly 60% of total oil production. To settle the ensuing controversy, the Federal Government took the littoral states (mainly oil-producing states of the Niger Delta) to the Supreme Court in 2001. On April 5, 2002, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment upholding the offshore/onshore dichotomy but declared as illegal the spurious “first line” charges and the non-inclusion of the revenue from natural gas in the derivation formula mentioned above. The debate during and after the Supreme Court case further intensified the “resource control” issue and further galvanized the governors of the Niger Delta states (South – South geopolitical zone). It was during the heat of the offshore/onshore court case, that the South – South governors met in Benin and defined their struggle as ultimately one of “resource control” which, according to them, is:

“The practice of true federalism and natural law in which the federating units express their rights to primarily control the natural resources within their borders and make agreed contribution towards maintenance of common services of sovereign nation state to which they belong. In the case of Nigeria, the federating units are the 36 states and the Sovereign nation is the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. In 2004, the Federal Government decided to abolish the dichotomy thus paving the way for the allocation of the 13% of oil revenue to the oil-producing states in 2005 in accordance with the 1999 constitution. But the resource control issue had become more radicalized and a key issue in the clamour for a sovereign national conference (SNC). In early 2005, Obasanjo staged the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in place of the SNC.

At the NPRC, Niger Delta (ND) delegates demanded for 60% derivation but eventually settled for “25% now and 50% within 5 years”, i.e. a return to the 1963 position within five years. However, the majority non-ND delegates, especially those from the North, insisted on 17%, which was eventually adopted by the NPRC. The recommendation of the NPRC fell short of the expectations of the ND delegates and proponents of “resource control”. To demonstrate their total and complete dissatisfaction and opposition to the recommendation, the delegates walked out of the conference. They refused to be complicit in the ratification of the exploitation of their people.

Thus some of the greatly aggrieved citizens of the region decided to wage an “armed struggle” to achieve their objectives. The arrest of one of their leaders, Dokubo Asari and the impeachment/arrest of the governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha was perceived by many in the region as attempts by the federal government to frustrate the “resource control” struggle, and some have reacted by taking western oil workers as hostages and vowed to damage oil production facilities in the area and reduce oil production.


At the root of the current problems of the Niger Delta region is the issue of “(oil) resource control” by the oil producing communities. Since the exploration and production of crude oil and gas commenced in the region over 50 years ago, the federal government has always claimed to have “owned” and “controlled” the resource while production is carried out by multinational companies under joint venture arrangement with the Federal government.

The oil producing states and communities have been left out in this arrangement (between the Federal Government and the multi-national oil conglomerates). Worse still, less than 3% of the total oil revenue that the federal government has realized from its “control” of the oil industry has been used in the development of oil producing communities. The result is that abject poverty is still pervasive in oil producing communities unlike many parts of the country and oil producing communities in other parts of the world. Thus the oil producing communities have been struggling to wrestle back “ownership” and “control” of the oil industry from the federal government and/or compel the federal government and the oil companies to devote more resources to tackle the developmental and environmental problems of the oil producing communities. Most of the other problems of the region – high unemployment, lack of or poor socio-economic infrastructure, poverty, communal conflicts, insecurity, etc- are linked to the neglect of the region by successive federal administrations and the oil companies and the struggle by the people to correct the economic injustice.

Written by
Carl Collins Ogunshola Oshodi
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