Urhobo Historical Society

Community Impact Assessment of
Lower Niger River Dredging

By C. P. Wolf, E. A. Emerhi, and Patrick H. Okosi


Rivers have no respect for political frontiers. They are the common property for many peoples and, if they are to be harnessed to the service of mankind, it is essential that we should continue to consult together, to exchange information and to discuss our problems. (Abubakar Tafawa Belewa; quoted in Anyaoku 2001: 20)
The statement was made by Belewa, then the Nigerian Minister of Transport (see below), in an address to the international conference on navigation on the River Niger held May 1956 in The Hague. The conference venue can be explained by the long association of the Netherlands Engineering Company (NEDECO) with Niger River development, a role since assumed through its Nigerian affiliate by Haskoning Consulting Engineers and Architects B.V. (now Royal Haskoning) in Nijmegen.

This paper will review a proposed action by the Federal Government of Nigeria to dredge a year-round navigation channel in the Lower Niger River some 573 kilometers upstream from Warri to Baro. The purpose of the project is to promote the economic development of the country, especially Northern Nigeria. A number of “concerned communities” along the proposed waterway and throughout the Niger Delta have voiced concerns about its potential environmental, social, and economic impacts. They contend that, contrary to federal law (Salu 2000), they were not consulted or even contacted during preparation of the federal EIA report. They believe their communities were misrepresented in the report which, moreover, has not been made available for public review and comment. It was proposed by IAIA-Nigeria that the communities undertake an independent assessment of the proposed action.

The Proposed Action: Dredging the Lower Niger River

According to the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), 

Nigeria is blessed with a huge natural water resources of over three thousand (3,000) kilometers of underdeveloped but developable and navigable Inland Waterways. If fully harnessed, it should be poised for a virile commercial River transportation. The accruable benefits of our waterways system are maximized from its vast potentials through proper exploitation and development.

In 1953, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, then Nigerian Minister of Transport, visited the United States and observed how the Mississippi River was contributing to its economic development. He became convinced that the Niger and Benue rivers could play a similar role in Nigeria. In the 1950s, the Netherlands Engineering Company (NEDECO), were contracted to provide a feasibility study of waterway development, which they did in a series of reports (1954, 1959, 1961). According to the draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) report (Triple “E” Systems Associates Ltd. 1991: II, p. xxix),

… the Lower Niger has been dredged twice, first in 1958 by NEDECO and secondly by a consortium of LCHF/Westminster Dredging Company, in 1978 from Baro through Lokoja to Onitsha, Onya to Warri/Port Harcourt. Due to lack of maintenance, the entire dredged channel has silted up.

After independence from Britain in 1960, Balewa became Nigeria’s first prime minister. Although he died tragically in 1966, his dream of inland waterways development has continued down to the present. The current development situation, and project justification, for dredging the Lower Niger River are described by NIWA:

Prior to 1967, the Inland Waterways played an important role in transporting goods from the Southern part of the country to the hinterlands in the North through Rivers Niger and Benue. Its importance dwindled after the Civil War in 1970. This was due to the fact that emphasis was laid on road and airport development.

The development of the Ajaokuta Steel Mill and the New Federal Capital of Abuja has brought renewed interest in the development of the waterways. Also, the realization of the fact that river transportation is the cheapest, safest and most environmentally friendly mode of transportation has given further boost to the development of river transportation.

There is currently a renewed effort to dredge the River Niger from Baro to Warri and also provide training works along the banks. Also, efforts are on to study the navigability to River Benue and the Cross River throughout the year. In all these cases, new River Port[s] are to be developed.

Sometime before February 1999, the (then) Petroleum Trust Fund (now the Ecological Fund) initiated a project to dredge and maintain a navigation channel of about 573 km in the Lower Niger River from Baro to Warri. The channel would be 100 m wide, with a minimum average depth of 2.5 mfor year-round shipping. The initial dredging operation would involve the removal and disposal of some 16 million cubic meters of dredge spoil (material). The scope of the dredging contract, which was awarded in advance of draft EIA report preparation, stated (EIA report, p. 2) that the Federal Government of Nigeria is planning to:

·Dredge about 573 km of the Lower River Niger Waterway, from Warri to Baro;

·Develop and/or complete inland ports at Idah, Lokoja, Baro and Onitsha;

·Develop river training works;

·Plan and initiate recurrent (maintenance) dredging, on completion of the capital dredging.

The EIA report covers only the first of these, however.

In February 1999 BGM, the Beneficiary Interface Consultant designated by PTF, formally commissioned Triple “E” Associates Limited to prepare the EIA report. Dry season fieldwork had previously been conducted between 18–28 March 1998 and wet season between 19-30 August 1998 (EIA report, Vol. II, p. xxiv). Roundtable seminars were held in 1999, at Warri on 17 April, Onitsha on 3 May, and Lokoja on 20 Mayprior to completion of the draft EIA report on 15 November 1999. An EIA Open Forum was held in Warri on 1-2 February 2000.

At the Warri roundtable it was suggested that a social impact assessment be conducted for purposes of community consultation. That was taken up and continued through January 2000 by BGM. The Nigerian Shipping Council in Jos also had some interest in this process, although no economic or transportation studies are cited in the EIA report. A copy of the draft social impact report was obtained by the senior author in October 2000. Whether it was incorporated into the final EIA report is unclear; that document has not has not been seen. 

In June 1999, the newly elected civilian government initiated a master planning process for physical and social development to achieve “the speedy and global transformation of the Niger Delta Region into a zone of equity, prosperity and tranquility.” The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was formally established in December 2000 to carry forward that program. In March 2001 NDDC asked member states in the region to submit a short list of their top development priorities, which often involved land reclamation. In principle, that would seem to present a strong demand for dredge material. 

In June 2001 the Federal Ministry of Environment approved the draft EIA report and issued an environmental certification for the project to proceed. Dredging operations have reportedly commenced in some of the upper reaches under the supervision of NIWA as the lead agency. NIWA’s Managing Director, Engineer Rabiu Diori Abubakar, has emphasized however that it is a misnomer to characterize the proposed project exclusively in terms of “dredging.” Rather it refers to comprehensive development of host riverine communities and to the provision of infrastructure for navigation and shipping, such as channelization and port development (The Guardian 2001: 31). 

This “full project” is described but not assessed in the EIA report. Engineer Abubakar stated that a reputable consultant had been engaged to perform a thorough review of the project, which would delay its execution beyond 2001. There was no mention of a supplemental EIA or consideration of macroalternatives, such as rail. NIWA’s consultant, Haskoning Consulting Engineers and Architects B.V. of the Netherlands, did address some of these larger issues, however, at the International Conference on Navigation Activities within the River Basin in the West and Central Africa Sub-Region, held in Abuja on 26-28 June 2001, where they discussed (Laboryrie, Pearson, and Rufa’i, p. 2) formulation of an “Inland Waterway Master Plan”:

While the development of IWT [inland waterways transport] has proven to be successful in many countries world-wide, there is a real need to study how and in what way IWT can benefit the Nigerian economy in order to justify any investments in this sector. These goals can only be achieved by carrying out a well-planned Inland Waterway Master Plan, which would define the optimal development strategy for IWT in Nigeria within the overall framework for future development of the transport sector in Nigeria.

The development of a Master Plan requires a comprehensive approach, which should address the following major considerations:


·River hydrology and morphology

·Design of improvement works

·IWT (navigability, fleet, ports, transport costs)

·Environmental assessment

·Socio-economic impact

·Institutional strengthening

As noted above, the EIA report considers only river hydrology and morphology, environmental assessment, and socioeconomic impacts in any depth, and the adequacy of that treatment has been seriously disputed (e.g., Aroh 2000, Egborge 2000). Considering environmental assessment, for example, Laboryrie, Pearson, and Rufa’i, (p. 7) outline the following process.

Once options for improvement of the IWT system have been identified, an environmental assessment can be made which follows national and international legalisation/guidelines. In addition to these standard procedures, it [is] advisable to start with a scoping meeting for extensive liaison with all stakeholders in the beginning of the baseline assessment and field studies phase. The potential impacts and mitigatory measures should be discussed with the stakeholders before project alternatives are assessed and evaluated on, among others, their environmental costs and benefits, for comparison in a multi-criteria analysis. The results of the foregoing process can be laid down in an IEE report, together with a detailed monitoring plan and (if necessary) a TOR [terms of reference] for a full-scale EIA.

In light of these considerations and criticisms, how can the necessity of a full-scale, full-systems EIA be avoided? In the meantime, it seems equally necessary that dredging operations be suspended.

Speaking of master plans, NDDC and its consultants are now in the process of preparing 16 sectoral master plans, 9 state master plans, and a regional Niger Delta Plan to serve as the basis for decision making and coordination. The seeming disrelation of this with NIWA’s “Inland Waterway Master Plan” development is disconcerting, though perhaps indicative of the common fate of “master plans.” This is all the more ironic since both NIWA and NDDC are on record as committed to avoiding “the errors of the past.” 

The Niger Delta Project

IAIA-Nigeria with its partners embarked in October 2000 on the Niger Delta Project (Emerhi, Kotschoubey, and Wolf 2001), an ambitious program of regional and community development in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria (there is an inland delta far upstream in Mali). The community level process consists of three main parts: 

·Statewide awareness and capacity building workshops to identify community problems and formulate community projects for solving them, followed by 

·Community consultation and implementation, supported by

·A network of community research centers.

The pattern for the first two parts was established at the October 2000 workshop in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, and was refined at the sequel workshop held there in March 2001, with the addition of a proposed program for community based participatory research.

At the October workshop, members of the general public were invited to participate in exploring problems and possibilities for community development in their local government areas. Some 750 registered; daily attendance averaged around 450. Participants heard formal presentations and formed community based workgroups to identify and rank their problems and propose solutions to them, with and—more importantly—without external support.

Following the workshop, proposals for community projects were submitted through IAIA-Nigeria coordinators for review and endorsement by state government and, ultimately, also by the federal government and international donors. To further strengthen this grassroots approach, a follow-up workshop was held in March on the topic of “Managing Community Development.” At this event, the concept of community research centers (CRCs) working in close collaboration with area universities was introduced as a further support to project implementation and effectiveness.

At the conclusion of the October workshop, representatives of IAIA-Nigeria and the Social Impact Assessment Center were invited by the Bayelsa Ministry of Environment to join in memoranda of understanding to assist in upgrading their capability to independently assess the impacts of oil spills and appropriate compensation for their damages. IAIA-Nigeria had previously initiated an emergency response unit to assist local communities in damage assessment and monitoring. After the March workshop these terms of reference were broadened to encompass not only oil development but all development, such as facility siting and primary road construction. Part of the process will be the involvement of communities in all phases of impact assessment.

THe “Concerned Communities”

A case in point is the proposed—now federally approved—dredging and channelization of the Lower Niger River. At the October workshop, King Patrick Okosi of Trofani came forward to deliver an eloquent appeal on behalf of some 30 “Concerned Communities” in regard to the proposed dredging. They complained that their communities had not been consulted or even contacted and were misrepresented in the federal EIA report which, contrary to federal law, had not been made available for public review and comment.

At the March workshop King Okosi restated this position and issued an invitation to attend a meeting of the communities at Asaba-ase, at which it was decided to continue legal action against the dredging. King Okosi stated however that the communities were willing to accept the proposed action if project consultants’ recommendations for mitigating its negative impacts were implemented. He and others expressed the wish to avoid bloodshed, a frequent outcome of confrontations between local communities and oil companies.

Among the mitigation measures demanded were the usual litany of basic physical and social infrastructure needs—roads, potable pipe-borne water, health care and educational facilities, electricity, and job creation—as well as those relating more specifically to the proposed project, such as shore protection and land reclamation, the siting of dredge material, cash compensation for damages to farming and fishing, and relocation of endangered communities.

It was pointed out however that in fact there was no reasonable basis for expecting that the mitigation measures recommended would actually be implemented, and that in any case the communities should not be willing to accept any consequences until they were better understood. For this purpose it was suggested that the Concerned Communities undertake an independent assessment of the proposed action, with the support of IAIA-Nigeria’s Bayelsa and Delta state chapters. 

In June the two senior authors, together with Alan Bornbusch, Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Africa Program, visited the Federal Minister of Environment in Abuja, who concurred in the desirability of opening a dialogue with the Concerned Communities on the issue of dredging. It should be emphasized that IAIA-Nigeria and its partners, acting pro bono on behalf of the communities, were and are strictly neutral as to the merits or demerits of the proposed action. Their interest is to encourage the preparation of a comprehensive and objective assessment in full consultation with potentially interested and affected parties, as mandated by existing federal legislation, and to empower the communities participating in that process. 

The federal-local dialogue was scheduled to begin with a meeting on 29 July in Trofani. Invitations were sent to NIWA, the Federal Ministry of Transport, and other agencies. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, no federal representatives were able to attend. NIWA did hold a subsequent meeting at their headquarters in Lokoja, at which IAIA-Nigeria was represented. The Communities’ invitation was renewed for a 12-13 November community workshop in Trofani. Some 150 participants attended, mainly from the surrounding area. One representative of NIWA was present, and some Federal Ministry of Transportation officials came late. Triple “E” Associates, the principal investigator for the EIA report, were also invited but failed to appear.

At that workshop it was resolved to continue legal action against the proposed dredging and to initiate a community assessment of its potential impacts with the assistance of IAIA-Nigeria’s Bayelsa and Delta state chapters. Since the governments of those two states are on record in opposition to the proposed dredging, it would also be appropriate to request the assistance of their respective ministries of transport, environment, and health to provide technical assistance, as well as IAIA colleagues and other international NGOs. In any case, the objective is to empower community people to participate effectively in all phases of impact assessment and management.

Community Impact Assessment

Questions may be raised as to the propriety of community participation in assessing a proposed action of regional and, indeed, national scale. What might be the outlook for community-based solutions to areawide problems such as flooding and shoreline erosion? Experience with popular participation in flood protection plans in Bangladesh lends support to the proposition that communities can act effectively in their own interest, given minimum institutional and logistical support. For example, self-help and self-management are strongly supported as means for expediting disaster recovery.

It is widely accepted that public participation can and should enter at every step in the assessment cycle, and that such participation is generally mobilized and organized at the community level. While much of the evidence to confirm this comes from experience in developed societies (e.g, Burdge 1999), that can be readily adapted and widely applied. Increasingly, local communities in developing countries are being asked by development agencies such as the World Bank and UNDP to take the initiative and control of projects and programs responsive to their own priorities and needs (Narayan 1995). Many participatory techniques are available and adaptable for this purpose, such as those compiled by Rietbergen-McCracken and Narayan (1999).

In principle, the methodology of community impact assessment is no different from that normally employed by professional practitioners. A strategic place to start the process would be to identify and analyze the potential negative impacts perceived by community members themselves, such as shoreline erosion and saltwater intrusion. The next step would be to inventory and acquire data relevant to these perceived impacts, combining indigenous with expert knowledge, and comparing existing (baseline) and future conditions on those dimensions “with and without” the proposed project. Community self-surveys can be conducted at low or no cost using the universe for the sampling frame. (One of the major complaints of the communities was their exclusion from the sample surveys conducted by consultants to the EIA report.) The data acquired by this means will have utility for a variety of future community development plans.

Community participation is especially pertinent on the “back end” of the assessment cycle: mitigation, monitoring, and management. Some of the mitigation measures demanded by the Concerned Communities refer to the general condition of basic needs deprivation—potable water, paved rural roads, educational and health facilities, electricity —ascribed previously to “neglect” by government. Though not directly connected to the proposed action, they are nevertheless compensable in its development. In the case of drinking water, although not presently available, there is a widespread fear of contamination from dredging. How well-founded those fears might be is a matter for assessment. Other demands are project-related, however, such as the following:

·To protect all the communities from [shoreline] erosion, they should be properly piled, that is a proper foreshore protection measures [sic] taken before the dredging.

·Resettle all … [who] would be affected [in] communities that are likely to be completely removed.

·The spoils of the dredging could be used for land reclamation purposes of the communities but arrange for where to dump the remaining, not on any of our farming areas.

The matter of cumulative impacts—neglected in the EIA report—is invoked in this demand:

·Because of the effect of the oil exploration … the Government should provide Health Centres in all the Communities and give free medical services to all within fifty kilometers of an oil flow station and the areas to be dredged.

Community monitoring can be highly effective, especially when coupled with a community impact agreement on the order of the Atikokan-Ontario Hydro model (Baril 1982; Hancock, Smith, and Lockhart-Grace 1986).

Finally, the proactive and creative application of impact assessment as an instrument for conflict management and resolution is a promising approach that can be explored in the present context and extended to many other places and uses. This needs to be tested in conflict situations not only involving local and national interests but also in the case of ethnic and communal conflicts that similarly abound in the region. This paper is offered as a contribution toward that end.


On 4 July 2002 a World Bank delegation headed by Chief Economist Nick Stern and Country Director Mark Tomlinson, accompanied by members of IAIA-Nigeria, visited Asaba-ase and Trofani to learn at first hand some of the conditions and problems of the region. The Bank are planning to undertake a project in support of the Niger Delta Development Commission, following an earlier project on defining an environmental development strategy for the region (Singh, Moffat, and Linden 1995).

In collaboration with the New Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Tulane University, an international conference on “Comparing Rivers: The Mississippi and the Niger” is scheduled for 7-8 November 2002. The main purpose of the conference is to review historical experience in the two regions and its relevance for current development policies, programs, and projects. A related objective is to establish and strengthen linkages among a broad range of institutions in the two countries.

The desired outcomes of the conference are to survey and solidify the knowledge base and to identify development problems and possibilities for the two regions as an agenda for further research and application. Topics for discussion include: physical and ecological settings, oil and gas development, shoreline erosion and protection, flood control and land management, agricultural and industrial development, environmental pollution and justice, wetlands preservation and restoration, navigation and dredging, and natural and cultural resources. For its part, NIWA has proposed a collaboration with the Corps “aimed at encouraging [the] current drive toward harnessing the potentials of our waterways.”



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