Tuesday, August 21, 2012



There is no gainsaying the fact that the contemporary situation in the Niger Delta region is worrisome and pathetic. The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is riddled with development crisis consequent upon environmental changes, land degradation, destruction of qua culture, conflict, poverty, growing segment of disenchanted populace, and the consequence of youth restiveness and militia upsurge. Such bodies as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Egbesu Youth, and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), are all seen to typify southern minority responses to environmental degradation, political marginalization, and economic underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. This paper focuses on, and examines the motive behind the current Niger Delta insurgency. One might be inquisitive to ask: Why is there constant sporadic or intermittent crisis in the Niger Delta? Why is the Niger Delta region of Nigeria not developed? What factors accounts for its current backwardness? Why did militancy ensue in the region? To what extent has the rationale for the militants’ agitation been achieved? What could be the way forward in the Niger Delta crisis? These are some of the questions and problems this paper seeks to answer and solve. Essentially, the nitty-gritty of this paper is to critically analyze and dispassionately evaluate the factors responsible for the Niger Delta fracas, and to suggest possible ways through which the crisis in the region could be quelled. In order to achieve the stated objectives, this paper is divided in to four sections. Section one, which is the introduction, deals with the main idea by which the topic is backed. Section two deals with the conceptual clarification of terms, and the theoretical framework that will guide the paper. Section three examines the rationale behind the Niger Delta crisis, while section four encompasses the conclusion and recommendations.


 The current conflict in the Niger Delta ensued in the early 1990s over scuffles between the foreign oil corporations and a number of the Niger Delta’s minority ethnic groups who felt they were being exploited, particularly the Ogonis and the Ijaws. Ethnic and political fracas has continued throughout the 1990s and persists as of 2007 in spite of the transition to democracy and the election of the Obasanjo’s government in 1999. The struggle for oil wealth has fueled violence between the myriad of ethnic groups, culminating in the militarization of almost the entire region by ethnic militia groups, as well as the Nigerian Military and the Nigerian Mobile Police Force. Quite a number of scholars and activists have given attention to the environmental conditions and problems of the Niger Delta with a view to highlighting their major causes and advocating remedial measures. The Niger Delta region is vulnerable to various forms of environmental pollution. It is established that the beginning of oil exploration and production in the 1950s marked the beginning of extensive environmental pollution (Niger Delta Report, 2001:11; Human Right Watch, 1999:45). Mineral exploitation has left devastation consequence not only in the Niger Delta, but also in other parts of Nigeria such as the Jos-Plateau where Tin and Columbite had been mined for years and the Coal mines of Enugu. But never has the problems associated with mineral exploitation assumed such proportion with dire consequence as in the Niger Delta. Over the years, the region has been exposed to series of oil spillages having long-lasting damaging impact on the human, land, and the ecosystem. Other forms of threatening pollution arise from gas flaring (a form of oil and thermal pollution), drill cuttings and mud, effluents and oil, and industrial wastes which are injected into land and streams. These various forms of pollution have had wide implication for the livelihood, health, and well-being of the region (Osuntokun, 1993:3; Human Right Watch, 1999:95; Onosode, 1999:44; Iyayi, 2000:72). Indeed, oil spillages are the commonest and most extensive form of pollution experience in the Niger Delta. This arises at blow outs at production sites, leakage of pipelines due to failure resulting from obsolescence, operation and maitenance errors, and of course, sabotage by bunkerers (Omoweh, 2005:19; Osuntokun, 1999:30). However, it is viewed, the fact remains that there occur devastating spillages, majority of which have nothing to do with vandalism or sabotage. According to the official estimate supplied by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), approximately 2,300 cubic meters of oil are spilled annually in about 300 different incidents. This however, cannot be the real figure, given the fact of what Human Right Watch (HRW) refers to as Under-reporting; hence, the actual figure is much greater. According to the statistics gathered from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), between 1976 and 1990, a total of 4,835 incidents, spilling at least 2,446,322 barrel (79.7 million US gallons, i.e. 776 of spillage) were lost to the environment (Human Right Watch, 1999:59). Another estimate has it that between 1960 and 1976, 1.07 million Barrels of oil was spilled. The largest oil spill occurred in 1998 when at least 2,000 barrels of oil was spilled from Texaco facility destroying 340 hectares of mangroves. Department of Petroleum Resources estimated a different figure of more than 400,000 barrels as being spilled in the same incident (Human Right Watch, 1999:60). The trends continue till date. In the final analysis, the impact of various oil spills cannot be overestimated. In some places, people have complained of river water, even sunk boreholes as tasting of paraffin. Imoubere’s discovery of 1987 was that ground water around Port Harcourt area contained 1.8mg/l as against 0.1mg/l as recommended by World Health Organization, that is 18 lies greater than the recommended (Okechia, 2000:8). Again, Nigeria has the worst record of gas flaring all over the world. According to findings, 75% of total gas production in Nigeria is flared and close to 95% of the associate gas, a by-product of crude oil extraction from reservoirs. This is compared with countries such as Libya (21%), Saudi Arabia (20%), Iran (19%), Mexico (5%), Britain (4.36%), Algeria (4%), former USSR (1.5%), USA (0.6%), and Netherlands (0%) (Iyayi, 2000:168; Chika, 1977:74; Ihonvbere, 2000:100; Human Right Watch, 1999:72). Consequent upon this grave environmental situation, a great concern has been shown by various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) globally, as well as International Organizations. The consequential effect of gas flaring which cannot be ignored is health related. Hitherto, unknown ailments have developed. This is not peculiar to the flare alone but also other forms of pollution including industrial waste (Haruna et al, 1999:227). Mutation is also a common feature, some of which are congenital. Cases of congenital abnormalities have been reported in such communities as Islemo, Okrika, Umuechem nand Olashi region. Other cases include babies with one or one-and-a half, or no nostrils and mutilated lips. Some other common illnesses include cough, bronchitis, asthma, sore eye and throat, itchy skin, short breath, weakness, cancer, stroke, etc with a high degree of vulnerability among communities directly exposed (Iyayi, 2000: 175). A number of other forms of pollution indirectly connected with oil exploration affecting the environment sanity of the Niger Delta have been identified. These are sometimes mostly ignored or unrecognized forms. Among these are light pollution (with drastic effect on nocturnal animals as well as hunting activities), industrial waste, pollution (extreme heat) which leaving most adults to go half nude during the day to maintain body homeostatic, and efforts resulting from oil infrastructure development like canal dredging, road built for access to oil facilities, seismic lines, etc. All these contribute to environmental and natural hazards. At these times, seismic lines destroy mangroves and other vegetations (Durotoye, 1999:30-31). From the foregoing arguments, with the commencement of oil exploration and production, the Niger Delta peoples’ means of self-reproduction and source of livelihood have been affected which in turn, has a telling effect on the cost of living and within which the ethnic conflict and violence in the Niger Delta has emerged.


 The Niger Delta, simply put, is the oil producing region in Nigeria. In other words, all states recognized by the Federal Government as oil bearing are regarded as the Niger Delta. These include Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers States. The Niger Delta is indeed, a region of boundless wealth cum social and economic opportunities. The Niger Delta region, which comprises 9 of the 36 States of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the world’s third largest wetland coming after the Mississippi in North America and the Panatela in South America respectively. It covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometers and account for 7.5 percent of Nigeria’s land mass. It is noted for sandy coastal ridges barriers, brackish or saline mangroves, and fresh water, permanent and seasonal scamp forests, as well as low land rain forests. The estimated population of the region is about 25 million, comprising over 40 different ethnic groups, speaking 250 different dialects across about 3010 communities. The predominant occupations of the people are farming and fishing. Since oil was first discovered about five decades ago, the area has grown to become the main source of foreign exchange for the whole country. Over the period 1978 to date, more than 90% of the nation’s export earnings have on the average, been generated from the region’s oil resources. Yet, the Niger Delta remains the least developed area of the country in physical, social and economic terms. Since the 1960s, oil has taken over the main resource base of the nation. Consequently, the Niger Delta has attracted some major oil exploration and production companies in the world. Unfortunately, while these companies became richer from the region’s oil resources, the Niger Delta region became poorer, raising peculiar issues of both human and physical development.


 In order to enhance the theoretical meaning, relevance, and focus of this paper, which forms the pivot and proffer direction on the search for a panacea to the problems this paper seek to solve, the Frustration-Aggression Theory is adopted. The orientation basis for the frustration –aggression theory is psychological. The basic postulation is that aggression is always a consequence of frustration. More specifically, the proposition is that the occurrence of aggressive behavior invariably presupposes the occurrence of frustration and vice versa; that the existence of frustration always culminates in, or translates to aggression. The frustration aggression theory was jointly popularized by Dollard John, Doob Leonard, Miller Neal, Mowrer O.H., and Sears Robert in their Seminal Work, “Frustration and Aggression” published in 1939. The work drew inspiration, succor, and influence from the work of the renowned psychologist, Sigmund Freud, who is a major exponent of the Instinctual Theory of Aggression, for it is in his work that the most systematic and extensive us of frustration-aggression argument was made. True to observation, it may sometimes not be self-evident in that frustration may not immediately lead to aggression. From lessons learnt from social living, nonetheless, the act of people suppressing and restraining their overt aggressive reactions does not imply annihilation or elimination of such tendencies, rather, they are temporarily compressed, delayed, disguised, displaced, or otherwise deflected from their immediate and logical. The relevance of the discussed theory argued that the frustrated individuals or groups in the Niger Delta, due to environmental degradation and other myriad of assorted problems in the region, may resort to breaching socially accepted norms and exhibit defiant behavior, make vociferous demands, threats, and ultimately, violent destruction of lives and property.


The circumstances which culminated in the event that led to the agitation by the Niger Delta people and the ultimate eruption of the insurgency by the militants in the region are highlighted and dissected below:

1. Poverty and Deprivation of the Means of Livelihood: The government of Nigeria has made hundreds of billions of dollars of oil revenue in the last 40 years of oil production in the Niger Delta. Despite this huge amount of money, the local people remain in abject poverty and deprivation as they lack the basic necessities of life such as water and electricity. The region, according to Mukagbo, Cable News Network (CNN) anchorman for Inside Africa, “is a region where time seems to have stood still and where people live the most meager of existences, living them bitter and angry from not having benefitted from the black gold that makes Nigeria Africa’s largest producer”. In a nutshell, deprivation and poverty amidst its plenty oil and gas resources accounts for the agitation by the Niger Delta people for resource control.

 2. Environmental Devastation: The social and environmental costs of oil production in the Niger Delta have been very extensive. They include destruction of wildlife and biodiversity, loss of fertile oil, pollution of air and drinking water, degradation of farmland, and damage to aquatic ecosystems all of which have caused serious health problems for the inhabitants of areas surrounding oil production. It is ironical that environmental regulations which are common practice in developed nations are often not followed due to lack of power, wealth, and equity of the affected communities. As a result, oil companies often evacuate inhabitants from their homelands, further marginalizing them. The system of oil production in Nigeria is skewed in favour of the multinationals and government elites who are direct recipients of oil production revenue. As a result of environmental damage brought about by the activities of the oil companies, environmental problems like erosion, flooding, land degradation, destruction of natural ecosystem, fisheries depletion caused by dredging and toxic wastes into the rivers, etc are common phenomenon in the region. The local people can no longer take to farming and fishing which are their common occupations.

 3. Lack of Development and Unemployment: The Niger Delta region is underdeveloped in all its ramifications despite the fact that it is the bread basket of Nigeria. Taking a look at the economic dilemma of the region, it is so evident that away from the main towns, there is no real development, as there are no roads, no electricity, and no running water. The underdevelopment is so severe and the youths of the region are the hardest hit by this lack of development. This accounts for why many of them have resorted to militancy in an effort to focus national and international attention to their plight. Despite all the claims by the oil companies to be involved in the development of the region, it is to the contrary. The pervasive underdevelopment made Whittington (2001:12) to note that “The government and oil companies have profited by hundreds of billions of dollars since oil was discovered. Yet, most Nigerians living in the oil producing region are living in dire poverty. Also, the anger of the people of the region, especially the youths, derives from merely that the other parts of the country, sometimes the arid regions, are built to the standards obtainable in the developed world. They have bridges built over dry land and less traveled roads, while most of the Niger Delta communities are only accessible by boats and seriously in need of bridges. Away from that, unemployment is very high among the people of the region as oil companies do not hire their employees from the region that produces the oil, but from non-oil producing region in Nigeria. Majority of the youths in the region are unemployed. They do not benefit from the presence of the multinational corporations operating in their communities. Less than 5% of the people in the Niger Delta work in these companies, women from the region in oil companies are less than 1%. A majority of the beneficiaries are from other parts of Nigeria.

 4. Distortions in the Social and Economic Fabric of the Local Societies: The oil companies introduced major distortions in the social and economic fabric of the local societies. According to Hutchful (1985:112), “Shell and other oil companies have perpetuated regional and class inequalities by creating oil colonies in local areas where oil executives live quite lavishly in comparison to the impoverished conditions of the local communities”. Because the oil industry requires highly-skilled workers, local villagers are either forced to migrate to the urban centres after being economically displaced, or to become low-skilled workers dependent on the oil company. These structural changes in the economic life of the local communities have often generated bitter conflicts, as the issue of unemployment and participation in the oil industry has divided different segments of the communities often along ethnic lines. Other structural effects of the oil industry are rural depopulation, disintegration of the peasantry, and urban marginalization.

5. Human Rights Violations: Violations of the human rights of the local populace can be cited as one of the factors responsible for militia upsurge in the Niger Delta. Oil companies like Shell, Chevron, Agip, Mobil, and other western oil companies have been very unkind to the people of the region. The human rights of the people are constantly violated by security forces at the behest of the companies. Perhaps, few examples of military and security activities carried out in the past might help to buttress this assertion. For instance, in attempt to suppress the Isaac Boro rebellion in 1966, Nigerian troops terrorized the entire communities including raping of innocent women. Boro was considered to be a threat to the free exploitation of the petroleum resources in the Niger Delta. In 1987, the Iko community in Akwa Ibom State was extensively brutalized by a team of Nigerian Mobile Police Force at the request of Shell. In 1992, at the insistence of Shell, some youths were killed in Bonny during a peaceful demonstration against the activities of the oil company. In January 1993, the crisis over environmental pollution and economic marginalization from the oil industry reached its peak when 300,000 thousand Ogonis protested against Shell Oil. This organized protest was followed by repeated harassments, arrests, and killing of Ogonis by Federal Government Troops. On January 11, 1999, Ijaw women who were engaged in a peaceful demonstration on the marginalization of their people in Port Harcourt was violently tear-gassed, beaten, stripped, and detained by a combined team of policemen and soldiers. Also, the Warri wars of 2003 were allegedly instigated by the activities of some oil companies and the Nigerian Naval Officers. The people of the region viewed all these as assaults and marginalization because they belong to ethnic minority groups in the Nigerian Federation.

 6. Bad Governance and Corruption: The Niger Delta region is riddled with bad governance and corruption on the part of government officials both at the State and Local Government levels. It has been argued that if government officials in the region have judiciously utilized their monthly allocation to better the lots of the ordinary people through the creation of jobs, and embark on infrastructural development of the region, the situation would have been better than this current sorry state. Rather, the jumbo monthly allocations are spent on trivial and frivolous things that have no corresponding bearings on the life of the people.


Ample efforts have been made by the Federal Government of Nigeria to arrest the adverse conditions of the Niger Delta people. With the dawn of democracy in 1999, the Niger Delta people felt a glimmer of hope for improvement to their pitiable and lamentable conditions. True to this, one of the earliest move of the Obasanjo Administration was the setting up of a Commission to find lasting solutions to the protracted developmental and environmental problems if the Niger Delta. In 2000, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established but fully commenced operation in 2001. The NDDC Board at its inaugural meeting in 2001, adopted a two-pronged strategy, namely, the design of a Regional Master-Plan and Interim Action Plan in defining the objectives of the Commission. The NDDC Act also transferred all assets, funds, resources, and other movable and immovable property of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) to NDDC. Since over 1,200 projects of the defunct OMPADEC were at various stages of completion, the NDDC Board decided to complete over 600 projects that were viable. These projects formed a major component of the Interim Action Plan pending the completion of the Master Plan project. The Interim Action Plan was, therefore, first and foremost designed to promote and encourage conflict resolution and risk management programmes. The essence was to create an investment friendly atmosphere which will attract both foreign and local investors to the region to accelerate its development process while awaiting the completion of the Master Plan. In sum, the NDDC, within its years of existence, has been able to carry out it omnibus mandate in order to improve on the development crisis in the Niger Delta region. It is envisaged that in the next 15 years, the Niger Delta region will be the most pleasant, most peaceful, and most prosperous region in Nigeria if the Master Plan is implemented. Apart from the above, the Yar’Adua Administration came in and granted amnesty to all repentant militants. However, irrespective of the amnesty, pockets of militant activities still persist in the Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta youths (militants), who arose (ostensibly) to fight for resource control and freedom from marginalization, ultimately divested the real or actual motive behind their struggle as they delved into kidnapping and oil theft (bunkering) which has caused more damage to the region and its people. Between 2006 and 2008, kidnappers and hostage takers pocketed ransoms of over 100 million dollars. The Vanguard report of 27th March, 2009, reported that about 680,000 barrel per day (bpd) of oil was being lost to oil theft, while about 1.3 million bpd was being shut in for 6 months. The value of oil revenue lost through spillages and bunkering by militant youths in the Niger Delta between January and September 2008 was about 20.7 billion dollars. Consequently, the motive behind the struggle by the Niger Delta Militants have not been achieved as the struggle has been reduced from promoting the overall interest of the people in the region, to personal or individual gratification of the avaricious interests of militant groups involved in the struggle.


In this respect, we hereby recommend that:

1. The Federal Government should fulfill the economic, social, and cultural rights of the minorities and indigenous people of the Niger Delta by providing adequate basic infrastructure and social services.

2. The government should create jobs for the teaming army of youths in the Niger Delta region which would be a more serious way of dealing with the oil security challenge.

3. The government should review existing land and environmental legislation, including the Mineral Act of 1958, the Land Use Decree of 1978, and the Petroleum Decree of 1969 in order to ensure proper environmental maintenance.

4. The Federal Government Should establish independent mechanism for monitoring the performance of oil companies as regards their contribution to development in the areas where they operate, and ensure that the activities of Transnational Oil Companies and their Nigerian Affiliates comply with international human right and environmental standards.

 Chikor, B. A., (2000). “Appraising The Structural Aspect of The Crisis of Community Development and Environmental Degradation in The Niger Delta” in Osuntokun Akinjide (ed) (2000). Environmental Problems of The Niger Delta, Lagos: Fredric Ebert Foundation.

Durotoye, B. (2000). “Geo-Environmental Constraints in The Development of The Niger Delta Area” in Osuntokun, A. (ed) Ibid pp. 26 – 36.

Idornigie, P. O., (2000). “Niger Delta Development: History and Appraisal of Legal Regime” in Tasie, G. O. M., (ed) Journal of Niger Delta Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1.

 Ihonvbere, J. (2000). “A Recipe for Perpetual Crisis: The Nigerian State and The Niger Delta Question”, Ikeja: CDHR. Iyayi, F. (2000). “Oil Corporations and The Politics of Community Relations in Oil Producing Communities” in Raji et al, eds, ibid pp 151.

Onosode, G. (1999).” Environmental Management and Sustainable Development in The Niger Delta” in Osuntokun, A., ed, ibid, pp 11-25.

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