Nigeria Niger Delta Crisis | History, Causes & Effects

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The Nigeria Niger Delta Crisis (Causes & Consequences)

The Niger Delta refers to the area around the southern tributaries of River Niger and includes states such as Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and parts of Edo and Ondo states. The area is largely in habited by small ethnic groups, and this in itself creates problems of its own and promotes divisiveness and inter-group rivalries.

The Nigeria Niger Delta Crisis
The Nigeria Niger Delta Crisis

The situation is not helped by the difficult topography of the area. Most of the states in the area are littoral states. A littoral state is a state on the shore of the sea or a region lying along a shore. There are several creeks, lagoons, rivers, etc. The development of the Niger Delta therefore requires a special and deliberate effort by government.

Unfortunately, the area has been neglected by successive governments since oil was first discovered in commercial quantities at Oloibiri (Bayelsa State) in 1956. The oil produced and exported from the area has been the country’s major revenue earner since the end of the civil war in 1970.

Ironically, the Niger Delta people have not derived as much benefit from the oil wealth in proportion to their contribution to the national economy. The people therefore feel alienated and have taken certain actions (some legitimate, others illegitimate) to compel the central government and its agencies to remedy the situation.

The Niger Delta crisis therefore refers to the incessant violence and upheavals that threaten the Nigerian state and economy and which result primarily from the determined and conscious attempt by the people of the Niger Delta to correct the perceived unequal distribution of national wealth.

This section explains the causes (remote and immediate), and the nature and consequences of the crisis and the efforts being made by government to address the problem.

Causes of the Niger Delta Crisis in Nigeria

The reasons, causes of the Nigeria Niger Delta crisis may be summarized as follows:

  • The proportion of total national revenue paid as derivation is Considered generally too low. Under the 1960 and 1963 constitutions respectively, derivation (that is, the amount paid to an area or state Producing a resource or commodity) was 50 percent but this was reduced to zero after the war. Derivation is 13 percent under the 1999 Constitution, a figure which the people consider too negligible. They now demand for a minimum of 50 percent or outright control of their resources in what is popularly called resource control.
  • The failure of successive governments to develop the area in another factor. The people are outraged that their area remains underdeveloped whereas other parts of the country (such as Abuja and Lagos) are developed largely from the revenue accruing from the oil produced in their region.
  • The insensitivity of the oil companies, and their principals, to the havoc caused by oil exploration in the area also deserves attention. The degradation of the area, and damage done to communities are widespread and devastating and, yet the oil companies have only paid lip service to, the development of the region. It is not that these multinationals are not doing anything. They pay tax to government, employ some indigenes of the area and pay compensation, where necessary, but these pale into insignificance when the damage done to the area is considered. It is their social responsibility to help develop and maintain peace in the area.
  • The agitation by the people for a redress of the situation was usually suppressed with force. Ken Saro Wiwa, the renowned human rights activist and, eight other Ogoni activists were executed by the Abacha government in 1995 largely because of the role they played in mobilizing the Ogoni people against the activities of one of the major oil companies operating in the area. There is therefore a distrust of the oil companies which often work in concert with the state. Violence encourages further violence.
  • The South-South geo-political zone which is more or less coterminous with the Niger Delta was until 2010 the only zone in Nigeria that did not produced a Nigerian head of state or president. It is therefore no surprise that the zone has been quite vehement and virulent in its agitation to produce the president of the country after the tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) might have reckoned with this when the Vice President slot was conceded to the zone in the 2007 elections. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was Vice President in 2007 later became president m 2010.
  • The existence in the Niger Delta of a large army of unemployed youths makes the security of the region precarious.

Immediate Causes of the Niger Delta Crisis

The immediate cause of the escalation of the crisis was the hijack of the genuine demands by self-seeking individuals other factors were the arrest, detention and trial of Asari Dokubo, the leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and, to a lesser extent, the impeachment, arrest, detention and trial of Diprieye Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of Bayelsa State. The Federal Government later released Asari Dokubo on bail and Alamieyeseigha was set free after a plea bargaining.

Nature of the Niger Delta Crisis in Nigeria

The crisis has taken several forms including the following:

  • The use of propaganda by the people to draw the attention of the local and international community to the environmental degradation and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta.
  • Agitation for review of the revenue allocation formula.
  • Agitation for resource control (that is, states should keep the resources and be taxed by the federal government).
  • Peaceful engagement of other parts of the country.
  • The forced closure of oil flow stations is another example of non-violent engagement. Look at this example that happened at Kula, Rivers State in 2004:

     “In November 2004, women, men, youths, and children of oil-rich Kula in Rivers State protesting over 40 years of neglect, shut down about five flow stations in their area that produced about eight percent of Nigeria’s oil and 30 percent of Rivers’ without arms. They did not leave until their demands were met, and subsequently the new Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Commissioner from Rivers State was appointed from KuIa.”

  • The establishment of several militia groups all over the region and attack on police barracks and security patrols.
  • Constant threat to oil installations by militia groups, angry warlords and militant youths who dot the entire landscape. In some cases, oil pipelines are destroyed and vandalized.
  • Sporadic attacks on oil companies and related businesses.
  • The kidnap of expatriate oil workers and some of their local counterparts.
  • The kidnapping of toddlers, children and aged people who are relatives of top government officials or rich people.

Consequences of the Niger Delta Crisis in Nigeria

The effects of the Niger Delta crisis on the Nigerian polity and economy are manifold.

  • It has led to a drastic reduction in the oil output of Nigeria (about one third of the total output in 2006) and a simultaneous decrease in her revenue from petroleum products.
  • The crisis has pushed up oil prices which crossed $100 per barrel in 2008.
  • The crisis produced an army of youths equipped with sophisticated weapons. Nothing could be more dangerous than this.
  • It has led to the militarisation of the area and worsened the insecurity in the region.
  • Governments and oil companies are now more alive to their responsibilities to the people of the area through the provision of basic amenities and the employment of young men.
  • The political leadership is now bound to reckon with the area in the allocation of political offices. For example, the Petroleurh Minister and Chairman of NDDC are usually appointed from the area.
  • Many oil contracting firms and related companies have decided to move out of the region because of concern for the security of their business and staff. For example, Michellin Tyre Company closed its Port Harcourt office in 2006. The renovation of the Port Harcourt International Airport could not be completed in 2006 beeause of activities of militants operating in the area.
  • The internationalization of the crisis has led to the militarisation of the Gulf of Guinea.
  • Bunkering and the stealing of Nigerian oil has become less profitable.
  • The cultiste héwe become so bold that they invaded Port Harcourt for several days in September and October 2007. It took military intervention to restore law and order.

Intervention Measures By Government on the Nigeria Niger Delta Crisis

The crisis in the Niger Delta has always been there and successive governments have taken measures to address the problem. Some of the intervention measures are:

  • The establishment of the Willink’s Commission in 1958 to address the problem of minorities in the country. Among other things it recommended the establishment of the Niger Development Board.
  • Creation of states at different times. For example, the minority groups were the major beneficiaries of the creation of states in 1967 and 1976.
  • The review of the revenue allocation formula from time to time.
  • Recourse to negotiation and dialogue. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo for example, met leaders and people of the region several times in the past to map out strategies for the development of the Niger Delta.
  • The organization of national conferences to enable Nigerians talk and agree. The National Political Reform Conference held in 2005, in particular, gave the people the Opportunity to negotiate for a new revenue allocation formula. Although the demand of the South-South for 50 percent derivation was not granted, but Nigerians are now sufficiently sensitized to the problem of the Niger Delta.
  • The establishment of interventionist matitutions such as the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to bring development to the area. Unfortunately, these institutions are usually bogged down by bureaucratic inertia and incompetence.
  • The granting of amnesty to people arrested, tried and imprisoned for breaching the peace of the region.
  • Increase of military presence in the area. The Eastern Naval Command was strengthened and a Joint Task Force comprising members of the different security agencies was established to patrol the creeks and maintain law and order in the region. In the 2008 budget the Yar‘Adua Administration gave the Niger Delta one of the highest votes.
  • The Federal Government introduced a guns-for-money deal in 2004 to enable youngsters who owned guns to surrender them.
  • In recruitment into the army, police etc the Obasanjo Administration decided that the coastal states should take extra quota.
  • The federal government has established a fifteen-year Marshall plan, which involves the massive development of the infrastructures in the area.
  • In 2008, the Yar’Adua Administration introduced an Amnesty Programme. Under this programme, the militants were encouraged to surrender their arms in exchange for training in various skills and trades both at home and abroad. As a result, there has been relative peace in the area and the country’s crude oil output which was disrupted during the crisis rose from about 1.5 million barrels to over 2 million barrels per day.

The Jonathan Administration has continued to implement the Amnesty programme with renewed vigour and determination.

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