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Environmental Damage in the Niger Delta Is a Global Challenge, by Nasir Aminu
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Environmental Damage in the Niger Delta Is a Global Challenge, by Nasir Aminu

Chief Edwin Clark wrote to Obasanjo in which he highlighted the Niger Delta’s environmental, socio-economic, and financial challenges. It is clear that the Niger Delta environment needs urgent attention. It is inhumane to not sympathize. Anyone with ethical consideration must sympathize with the environmental problems facing the region. 

While it is hard to deny the effects of global warming, the human contribution to these problems is clear. Millions of barrels have been lost since oil was discovered for the first time in 1956. Flaring, which is the burning of natural gas in oil extraction, is another problem. Gas flaring is similar to oil leakage. It kills crops, pollutes water, and causes health problems. Amnesty International’s investigation revealed that oil and gas flaring are caused by poor maintenance and negligence. Shell however has said that spillage is due to accidents and organised criminal interference. Numerous reports on gas flaring point to market and economic constraints. 

Shell oil company was the largest onshore producer in Nigeria for more than 50 years. It was responsible for spilling 560,000 barrels of oil in Bodo between 2008-2009. The payments have been made and further litigations in European courts will continue. The UNEP’s 2011 report on Ogoniland was deemed to be one the most complex investigations by the agency. President Goodluck Jonathan was recommended to clean up the situation by UNEP. They suggested that the government and Ogoniland jointly carry out a campaign to end illegal oil-related activities. He was able to see it through.

In June 2016, President Buhari started the clean-up operation by commissioning the Hydrocarbon Pollution Removal Project (HYPREP) which will be completed in four phases. The announcement was celebrated by the entire international community. It’s been five and half years since the announcement and the first phase has yet to be completed. The Minister of Environment announced in July 2021 that only 10 of 17 lots from the first phase had been fully restored. Ogoni Liberation Initiative (a non-governmental organisation) appealed last week to President Buhari to halt any further payments to HYPREP. They claim that the agency has repeatedly misused the funds released for clean-up. 

Without blaming those responsible, it is impossible to discuss the problem. Clark would not have received any objections if he had asked why the government wasn’t keeping its promise. Nothing you can say about government will make it look worse than they already do. It would have been beneficial if he had advocated for litigation with oil companies to compensate the communities in international courts.

The Niger Delta’s social and economic problems are not isolated to the Niger Delta. Because of the long-term underperformance of the government, the country is now facing economic and social problems. These problems could be caused by specific factors in a particular region. Studies have shown that oil spillage from the Niger Delta and gas flaring have contributed to the region’s economic and social problems. These include pipeline destruction, militant violence and water contamination. 

To prevent the country’s unemployment rate from rising, it is necessary to address the environmental degradation that has led to people being unemployed in Niger Delta. The history has shown that if there is a high concentration of unemployed young people, the likelihood of revolt and unrest increases. The Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Petroleum Commission has released the latest figures showing that oil production has fallen by a quarter and that only 12 out of 53 oil rigs in Nigeria are operating. This is due to a variety of criminal activities in the area.

Let’s not forget that the Niger Delta was the first region to have a specialized commission to meet its socio-economic needs. Under the Obasanjo government, the Niger Delta Development Commission was established in 2000. On its website, the commission’s mission statement reads: To offer a lasting resolution to the socio-economic problems of the Niger Delta Region, and facilitate rapid and sustainable development in the Niger Delta into an economically prosperous, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful region. 

The Niger Delta’s people and the entire world would feel lifted if they could achieve the above mission. Any crisis there tends not to affect world oil price. Instead, the commission is marred by corruption allegations and a lack of competence from the government. The global community would benefit if Clark demanded efficiency from the NDDC. 

It is worth reflecting on the fact that, if you speak with facts and point fingers at the right people, you will increase the pressure on the government to act appropriately.  


Dr Nasir aminu is a senior lecturer in economics at Cardiff Metropolitan University. (Twitter: @AminuEcon)

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