The Niger Delta Today

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In the last couple of years a lot has been written and spoken about the Niger Delta where the Nigerian government, along with the multinational corporations have been acting and operating in socially irresponsible manner. Instead of addressing the pain and grievances of the concerned communities, the government and the oil companies came to the erroneous conclusion they could just glaze over the problems and keep conducting business as they have been doing for forty or more years.

Niger Delta

Niger Delta

The core Niger Delta (Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta state) is the single most underdeveloped region of the world — when one takes into account the role and place of the region in the Nigerian and global economy. For those who are not in the know, here is a simple data as given by the Central Bank of Nigeria and quoted in “The Impact of Oil On Nigeria’s Economic Policy Formulation” (Biodun Adedipe, 2004):






















Crude Petroleum














In 2005 alone the government earned about $25 billion from oil export! In return, this is just a bit of the social, economic and political data: crippling ecological problems; health problems caused by relentless gas flaring; illegal misappropriation of productive lands without adequate compensation; abject poverty and persistent unemployment (cyclical, structural, frictional and seasonal unemployment); intimidation of local communities by the government and oil companies; forced and induced migration; the breakdown of family and social structures; and a disappearing communal way of living. While the rest of the country and the western world benefits from the oil, the same oil and gas has been a curse to the local communities.

The Henry Willinks Minorities Commission Report of 1957 was perhaps the first official effort at solving the miserable conditions of the Niger Delta. Since then however, successive governments have engaged in one deceptive move after another. They cheat. They lie. They give false hope and false promises. For instance, there was the1960 Niger Delta Development Board; the 1970 River Basin Development Authority; the 1993 Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission; the 1998 Popoola Committee; the 2002 General Alexander Ogomudia Committee Report on Oil Producing Area; and the recent Standing Committee on Good Governance and Corporate Responsibility headed by Dr. Edmond Daukoru, Minister of State for Petroleum. All came to naught!

All these commissions’ reports were never faithfully implemented. This was so because government either had no intention of implementing those recommendations; and or refused to adequately budget for the implementation of the reports and the survival of those commissions and bodies. Today, we have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) — a body that is nothing but a conduit for deception, theft and mismanagement.

In a searing editorial regarding the Niger Delta the Nigerian Guardian newspaper (Monday August 28, 2006) opined that: “The Niger Delta crisis is without doubt the most potent expression of the failure of the Nigerian state — of our inability to resolve the crisis of nationhood that has held the country down since independence four decades ago. The region’s crisis has become the sore of the nation, a cancer that may erode the fragile bonds that hold this polyethnic nation together…The region is endowed with ample petroleum resources and is the goose that lays the golden egg for the country.Unfortunately, the people from the Niger Delta have benefited the least from the oil wealth. A rapacious ruling elite has reduced the people of the Niger Delta…to a life of penury…”

The Niger Delta — the nation’s breadbasket — is “poor, backward and neglected.” It has been so for generations. From the Balewa/Azikiwe years to the Gowon and Shagari era up to the Muritala regime. Sadly, thirty years after Olusegun Obasanjo first came to power, the Niger Delta is still poor and in a miserable condition. Even in his second coming, President Obasanjo has been toothless and ineffectual in dealing with the pain and suffering of the Niger Delta and its inhabitants. Successive Nigerian governments, the oil companies and the international community have all failed the Niger Delta. In response, a segment of the people has chosen to respond; hence the militancy. Militancy, we must know, is a form of diplomacy.

Some of the groups agitating against the government and the oil companies include the Ethnic Minorities Organization of Nigeria; National Youth Council of the Ogoni People; Movement for the Survival of the Itshekiri Ethnic Nationality; The Ijaw Youth Council; Urhobo Youth Movement; Movement for the Reparation of Ogbia; Movement of the Oroh People; Elimotu Movement; Arogbo Freedom Fighters; The November 1895 Movement; Meinbutu; The Egbesu Boys of Africa; and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force. However, the most feared and effective of all these groups is the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) with its ability to run circles against the government and the oil companies.

Since MEND’s inception in January 2006, the cost of doing business has risen (costing the country about $1 billion a year in lost oil revenue, and leaving global energy investors cautious of Nigeria). The message, according to MEND, is simple: “There can be no peace, security and stability and business-as-usual for the Nigerian state and the oil companies unless there is justice, fairness and balanced development in the Niger Delta.”

Diplomacy and political settlement has always been the watchword and preference of the vast majority of Niger Deltans. It has been for years. History has however noted that there are times in the affairs of men or in the affairs of nations when the other logical option is violence: systemic, coordinated violence with an endgame. Otherwise, for how long should the region wait for

diplomatic fruits? Twenty or thirty or fifty more years? Or when the oil dries out and the region becomes barren, desolate and isolated?

It is no secret that the only thing that holds Nigeria together is the spoils from oil and gas: billions and billions and billions of dollars, yens, pounds and euros. Nothing more! The North would as soon call for the breakup of the country once oil is discovered in the northern territory. In the same vein, the Yoruba and the Igbo would “go” if enormous commercial quantity oil is found in Ife or Enugu or anywhere on their territory. And by the way: no one would have bothered to fight the 1967 war — defending or opposing “One Nigeria” — but for the oil. The story of Nigeria is the story of greed, excesses and corruption made possible by oil. Without oil, there would be no modern Nigeria.

The solution to the ongoing crisis is a no-brainer. The choice is there for the government to make: (1) massive and sustained federal presence in terms of human and infrastructural development; (2) 50-100 resource control; or (3) complete autonomy worked out under the auspices of the United Nations. For solutions one and two, the inclusion and full participation of the minority nationalities in how the country is governed must also be part of the equation. The gods did not arrogate the presidency to the north and west alone.

Disclaimer: This essay is a private opinion and does not constitute the thinking, the position or demands of the Ijaw National Congress or other properly constituted organizations working for or in search of solutions to the Niger Delta crisis.

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Ben February 19, 2007 - 9:00 am

The problem of the Nigerian Niger Delta underscores the global Nigerian problem: Injustice, lack of rule of law and order, a national culture of melancholic rent-seeking behaviours and crass corruption. Bad leadership is a direct consequence of this culture. Until the majority of the people are empowered to make the right decisions regarding the choice of leaders; until the collective will of the people is elevated above individual agenda, it is most likely that this self-acclaimed Giant of Africa, world-acclaimed sleeping Giant, will be brought to its knees by gross poverty and civil strife. We can only hope that reason will prevail, otherwise we may be heading for a 21st century revolution; or more likely a re-enactment of the Balkan Nationalistic wars of the tail end of the 20th century- which led to the fragmentation of the Balkans into tiny independent nations hardly able to sustain themselves.

Weekend Economist January 16, 2007 - 1:09 pm

A very interesting article on a very important, but increasingly compicated issue. There is no doubt that the region needs to be developed as quickly as possible, but the initiatives thusfar have failed to take root.

Check out for more on this subject and other related stories.

Anonymous November 3, 2006 - 2:26 am

The Niger Delta´s condition would always remain an eyesore until Nigeria cures that sickness it will still be far from the path of success.Most of the blame for the Niger Delta´s underdevelopment goes to Nigeria´s Federal(Unitary)government.

Anonymous November 1, 2006 - 4:52 pm

The plight of the common man in Niger Delta is unfortunate. However, common men all over Nigeria have similar problems. Many may understand the recourse to violence or militancy (different strokes!!). At the same time, the effectiveness of the methods would always be doubtful. May I point out that the problem in Niger Delta has nothing to do with the poor man in Sokoto, Ore or Aba. The victims here are the poor men all over Nigeria, and the perpetrators are the corrupt VIPs. Afterall Niger Delta has produced many ministers of petroleum and other important POLITRICKTIANS. What has Odili done for Rivers State, Ibori for Delta State, etc.


Johnson November 1, 2006 - 2:38 pm

I don't think the Delta should be annoyed with what they are having today. The Nigerian Biafran war was to be on their favor. of course they betrayed the biafrans to get themselves in this situation

they were surposed to prtect the boundry from the ocean. Instead they neglated their duties. Or rather sold out the trust given to them for one Nigeria of today of course without the Deltas


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