Ogoni: The Niger Delta Crisis
The Niger Delta covers about 70,000 square kilometer and accounts for 7.5 per cent of total land mass in Nigeria, which extends from Apoi to the Bight of Benin, it also covers a coastline of 560 kilometers and about two-thirds of the entire coastline of Nigeira.
The region comprises of nine out of the 36 states making up the Federal Republic of Nigeria which includes Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States.
The estimated population of the region is about 26 million, consisting of over forty different ethnic groups, speaking 250 different languages and consisting of about 300 communities and the predominant occupations of the people are farming and fishing.
Since the advent of crude oil exploration over four decades ago, the region has become the bread winner of the nation crude oil being the main foreign exchange earner for the nation, as a whole.
Despite this, the region remains the sick man of the nation since independence till date, the least developed constituency of the country in physical and socio-economic terms.
Conflicts in Niger Delta region started with the skewed federal system of government that is being practiced since independence with is at variance which the expectations of many minorities in the nation.
It has been argued that the 1999 Federal constitution now under review suffered from two fundamental and destabilising setbacks which include classification of the country into unequal regions, and the political and demographic domination of the northern, western, and eastern regions, being the majority ethnic groups, and the marginalisation of the minority groups.
The Niger Delta people, spread over the south-south geopolitical zone, are the largest among the minority groups.
It is however generally believed that, the recurring crisis in the region is the product of the deep-seated sense of neglect and marginalisation by the government and oil companies in supporting critical human development, infrastructure and provision of basic social amenities.
The region, which harbours the oil that has made Nigeria and oil companies rich, is grossly under-developed relatively to the rest of the country which is indeed a paradox as poverty thrives in the midst of plenty.
Also, there is high rate of unemployment among the youths with over two million being unemployed, while over 40 percent of the people are illiterate.
As it is also observed that pollution and continuous flaring of gas from oil prospecting and production have created health hazards which have rendered fishing and other farming activities almost impossible.
High fatality rate from water-borne diseases, malnutrition and poor sanitation, quantity and quality of housing infrastructure are also less than expected in most parts of the region, while transportation is often difficult and expensive.
The activities of oil companies in Niger Delta and its attendant abuse on the environment has been more conspicuous resulting to grave damage on aquatic and marine life that sustained the communities.
The corporate responsibility and the operating standards of the oil companies and other businesses in the region are below the internationally acceptable standards.
A situation where oil companies carried out exploration and exploitation activities for over four decades without standard environmental impact assessment, (EIA) would be absolutely unacceptable in advanced nations, but that is the nemesis of the Niger Delta.
The region is the only oil zone in the world where the people are subject to cope with oil spillage, while the federal, state and local governments provide protection for the oil companies despite their lack of social responsibility.
A practical case of aforementioned is the Ogoni community of River State, whose case is being spearheaded by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), and the late human rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who pointed out that communities in the region have been devastated and degraded, their atmosphere polluted, water sources contaminated, trees are being poisoned, flora, fauna have virtually disappeared as a result of the activities of oil companies in the area.
The Ogonis are not alone in the pursuit of change of status quo, the Ogbia community of Bayelsa State had complained of lack of amenities in their area, reflecting unfulfilled promises.
The current crisis in the region tending to transform the area into a mini Iraq with aggrieved citizens taking oil workers hostage, is the inevitable outcome of the failure of the Nigerian State and the professional political class to address the politics of oil. It would appear that the youths of the region have finally discovered how best to treat and beat the Nigeria State.
In the past weeks, a group known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), had kidnapped four oil workers, and seized two vessels, attacked three flow stations and have also very recently kidnapped nine oil workers and are threatening to move from one oil major to the other.
Shell which depends on the Niger Delta for ten per cent of its global oil production, as well as the other oil majors are already used to crises of this nature.
No doubt that, they consider violent attacks on their processes and installations, part of the price to be paid for doing business in Nigeria and has evacuated over 300 of its staff, while Chevron has suspended some of its operations.
The main challenge lies in, why in six, seven years of Nigeria’s civilian democracy, has progress not been made in addressing the Niger Delta question.
The situation in the region worsened during military rule especially under General Sani Abacha, who unleashed a reign of terror and repression on the people killing Ken Saro-Wiwa, the MOSOP activist and eight others.
Following these developments, the angry youths have since formed themselves into formidable militias mowing down soldiers and taking oil company workers hostage as a way of making their plight known.
At the just concluded national conference, delegates from the South-South had to stage a walk-out because the north bluntly refused to entertain demand for resource control.
For this reason, the 19 states of the North even went to court to challenge the derivation formula. While South-South leaders are insisting that the president of Nigeria must come from the South-South in 2007, the Northern elite have more or less told them to shut up.
When the people of the region further reminded the Nigerian State of the contributions to the economy through their ownership of crude oil, which accounts for 90 percent of national revenue, they are told, the oil belongs to the North.
Therefore, for the incumbent government to make progress, it is urgent need to pursue reconciliation among various groups or communities at loggerheads. The government must restore peace to the oil bearing communities.
The conflict in the Niger Delta calls for serious concern because the tension in the region is mounting with frightening consequences for Nigeria’s economy.
Something urgent must be done to bring lasting peace to the region and one of the major steps to be taken to restore normalcy to this region is to work out a peace initiative which must embrace dialogue as its arrow-head,
What is really needed is a firm commitment on the part of the government to address the issues at stake, and tackling the ethnic conflict demands a more mature and humane approach. So that it must be understood that the people in the oil producing areas are victims of neglect and exploitation, which have created a palpable feeling of disenchantment in them.
The multi-national oil companies operating in the area are not helping matters at all. Oil exploration activities are known to have the capacity for devastating the land and polluting the environment.
Multi-national oil companies destroy the environment through oil spillage and gas flaring, but fail to pay compensations to the host communities.