Urhobo Historical Society

Road Map to Peace in Niger Delta

By Senator David O. Dafinone, OFR

The Niger Delta Region: A Description

The Niger Delta region has a population of 27 million, covering an area of 70,000 square kilometers, with 5000 communities, 50 ethnic groups and 250 dialects.

The region is not only rich in oil and gas, but also well endowed with other natural resources like water, timber and other forest resources, wild life and sharp sand. It is the third largest wetland in the world, following after the Amazon basin in Latin America. The Niger Delta is endowed with various species of aquatic organisms.

There are six states in the Niger Delta, namely; Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers, constituting the core and original states through which the River Niger drains into the Atlantic Ocean, and three others which include, Akwa-Ibom, Cross Rivers and Edo. Politically, these six states constitute the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria.

The significant feature of the Niger Delta is the general state of underdevelopment, not only by world standards but also in relation to many parts of Nigeria itself.

The poverty of this region, whilst being the source of the majority of Nigeria’s wealth, is the paradox that poses one of the key challenges of our emerging democracy. Stakeholders who seek the evolution of democratic and stable governance in Nigeria must regard the resolution of the Niger Delta paradox as a key building block.

The Niger Delta was recognized as a region for a special development initiative and attention in the Independence Constitution of 1960. The Pre-Independence Constitution also recognized a special right of the region to oil and gas resources ownership. Thus, 50% of royalty deriving from the Oil and Gas exploitation was paid to the Oil Producing Regions or States.            

Hazards of Oil Exploration and Production (1956 – 2007)

The hazards of Oil Exploration from Oloibiri to date (1956- 2007) have changed the structure of the region from stagnation to decay. Over the years, the oil-rich Niger Delta region has been the backbone of Nigeria’s economy and it will remain so for years to come, because oil exports account for over 90 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Most of the oil and gas production that has earned Nigeria close to US$500 billion in the past four and half decades has been produced and exploited in the Niger Delta.

Yet, the scourge of poverty in the Niger Delta region is grim with the people lacking basic human needs and their environment willfully and constantly degraded by the foreign oil companies and the Nigerian State.

The Oloibiri oil wells, for instance, where oil was first found in 1956 in Nigeria, became extinct in 1979 after the completion of the full circle of exploitation by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and British Petroleum (BP), a subsidiary of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. At that time, Shell removed pipelines, capped the wells and pulled out of the community as if oil was never produced in the area.  However, they did not redress the damage to the environment as a direct result of their production. Consequently, the heavily polluted environment of the Kolo River further degraded and this action led to the neglect of the entire community amongst other antecedents.

This is not the only incidence of oil companies failing to rectify the environment during and after production.  I was in the Senate when the wellhead of Oben 1, one of Shell’s oilfields in today’s Delta State blew out in 1982, roasting five workers to ashes and leaving a scorching environment that was uninhabitable.

The fact-finding mission of the Senate Committee on the Oil Producing Areas that visited the affected community discovered that the explosion was caused by the company’s negligence. Shell was forced to shut down Oben 1 and it vacated the oil community following the order of the Committee.

In 1981, Chevron/Texaco’s offshore rig at Finima was gutted by fire, again on account of the company’s recklessness. Over two million barrels of crude spilled into the surrounding waters.

In 1986, the inhabitants of the old Finima community with their traditional sacred sites were all evicted and dumped into a poorly artificially sand filled area to allow the construction of the Bonny LNG. By 1988, the newly created Finima was flooded, turning the people into refuges in their ancestral home.

With the ageing of most on-shore oilfield, the antecedents of Shell in the extinct Oloibiri field are already being repeated. The oil-producing communities have at various times suffered frequent oil spillages caused largely by lack of careful maintenance of the flow lines, persistent flaring of the gas for over five decades, and the dumping of untreated toxic waste generated from oil exploration and production into the creeks, rivers and land. As oil exploration and production moves offshore, the Niger Delta is increasingly being polluted from both land and sea.

The Niger Delta region is constantly threatened by a huge loss of biodiversity. There is also decline of brackish water (a finite resource and the basis of sustainability of the wetland), massive pollution of surface and underground waters with increasing presence of lead and mercury.

 This has worsened the attendant health hazards, resulted in a dramatic increase of derived savannah in the world’s third largest wetland, and created a rural land crisis, the spectre of landlessness, food insecurity and constant extinction of aquatic life.

This combined with other issues arising from poor governance and policy have partly shaped the structure of the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region.

Governance in the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) - a sole creation of the Nigerian state – has not only failed to formulate poverty alleviation policies and programmes but also unable to frontally tackle the environmental disaster wrecking the region. On the contrary, the Commission has been reduced to that of an implementing agency of the state that appoints contractors to execute projects designed and approved by it and whose implementation it rarely monitors effectively. Sadly, the Commission is poorly funded.

As a creation of the Nigerian state, the NDDC serves as an avenue where the politics of the state mode of surplus extraction is played out in concrete terms through the award of contracts and plum appointments to the political elite and their cronies. For a commission that has never been well funded from the onset, an allocation of a paltry N69.9billion further underscores the perceived unwillingness of the state to enable the body function efficiently in dealing with the crisis of development in the region.

By the provision of the Land Use Decree of 1978, the inhabitants of the oil producing communities have been turned into squatters in their own ancestral homes, as land where oil is explored, produced, transported and stored still belongs to the state long after political independence in 1960.

However, the oil companies are expected to pay compensation for crops destroyed and fishponds polluted in the process of finding and producing oil, but only at rates exclusively determined by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the oil companies. Even payments made to aggrieved persons were done under sharp practices.

Furthermore, the foreign oil companies have been fermenting inter and intra community conflicts in the oil producing communities by playing a divide and rule game. This, they have done to essentially undermine the traditional authorities opposed to their recklessness. The oil companies have acquired the notoriety of not only funneling largesse inclusive of huge cash amounts to the tribal leaders, who, in turn, fail to share the benefits with their communities, but also inciting some of the youths to rebel against such leaders in an effort to save their facilities from attack. The majority of the foreign oil companies have become sources of funding for some prominent local leaders scheming for political/traditional leadership positions in the communities.

 Buoyed with the financial gratifications from the oil companies, the local elite recruit and equip youth leaders with money and weapons to engage in violence in order to control the villages and further their narrow political and social interest. These groups have grown more powerful and resentful towards village chiefs. In some areas, youth groups that did not benefit from the largesse have rebelled against local chiefs on ground of collaborating with both oil companies and the government to oppress and exploit them. While conflict entrepreneurship is flourishing, insecurity in the region is deepening.

The emergence of armed groups across the region is partly a function of the zero-sum politics in Nigeria, though a faction has taken the path of armed confrontation as a means of bringing the government and oil companies to the negotiation table.

Desirous of winning an election, majority of the politicians hire the daring youths and have them equipped with dangerous weapons to crush all forms of opposition. Socialized into violence, the armed youths can hardly withdraw from acts of lawlessness long after elections are over. As a result, with the slightest power tussle between and among the local politicians and conflict entrepreneurs, the youths are mobilized by the local powerful elites for action, causing mayhem.

 Coupled with the deepening poverty, underdevelopment, widespread youth unemployment and alienation of the people, the insecurity in the area has been accentuated.

The proliferation of small and light weapons across the Niger Delta stems from the desire of arms dealers - local and foreign - to create a market for their products in the country. Evidence has shown that the AK47 rifles and self-propelled grenade launchers amongst others used in the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the then Yugoslavia have been found with some of the armed groups operating in the Niger Delta. In essence, the armed violence in the Niger Delta region has been internationalized.

The existence and application of the Mineral Act of 1914; part of which has been extracted to form the Petroleum Act of 1969, the Land Use Act of 1978 and the Land (Title Vesting) Decree of 1993 have directly or indirectly contributed to the present state of neglect, under-development and the insecurity of the region.

In all appearances, the root cause of the crisis in the Niger Delta remains the denial of the peoples’ right to land and its content, which the above pieces of legislations have concentrated on the state. Originally, the current crisis in the Niger Delta was a governance crisis and right-based, with economic agenda only factored into it following the prolonged period of underdevelopment.

Naturally, the recipe for peace in the enclave is fundamentally the return of the rights of the people to land and its contents as it was under the pre-colonial period. The Repeal of the Land Use Act 1978, the Petroleum Act 1969 and the Lands (Title Vesting) Act 1993 are therefore imperative.

The protracted intransigence in the Niger Delta is an indication that the military action is not a viable option for reversing the underdevelopment of the region and restoring peace there. This explains in part why the allocation of N444.6 billion in the 2008 national budget for security in the Niger Delta is placing undue emphasis on issues that will not further peace in the restive region. Dedicating such huge amount to policing the Niger Delta will, as usual, be counter productive because the resentment of the Nigerian state and the oil companies by the people will continue to deepen.

State sponsors of terrorism cannot sustain oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta. There can be no peace and guarantee for human security in the Delta region without social, infrastructural and overall development of the area. Government must move away from the current piecemeal approach to the crisis and drop its misplaced belief that a military solution can be found to the festering violence in the region.

I do not only share this huge burden of pain, but I also feel challenged to cause a restoration of the people’s rights to ownership of land and its content as it was under the pre-colonial period. Again, the Federal Government must ensure environmental security and allocation of more financial resources to the Niger Delta region.

There is urgent need to reorder the political, social and economic development of the Niger Delta area, as a necessary step to redress the numerous unresolved issues under the national question.

As part of the effort to find enduring and practicable solutions to the protracted crisis in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the first Niger Delta Peace Conference was held in Abuja, Nigeria on Wednesday, November 7 -8, 2007. Participants at the conference deliberated on a broad range of critical issues hampering the growth and development of the region, the insecurity in the area and the empowerment of the people who live there.


Taking cognisance of the prolonged underdevelopment and unrest of the Niger Delta region, and concerned about the need to promote growth and development of the region, the road map to achieving these objectives are as follows:

(i.)           The practice whereby entrepreneurs represented by international oil companies fail to rehabilitate and ameliorate the hazards from oil and mining exploration during and after their cessation of activities constitutes health and environmental hazards which the nation cannot sustain. International oil companies should therefore rehabilitate and ameliorate the hazards arising from oil exploration and production in accordance with generally accepted international standards both in the period of production and after their activities have ended. As part of that strategy, foreign oil companies operating in the region are required to return the farmland, creeks and wetland, surface and underground waters and the entire polluted environment back to normalcy. The international community, the home countries and government of the foreign oil companies should help to enforce the principles of environmental sustainability and laws by prosecuting erring oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region.

(ii.)          Hostage taking and abduction of oil workers must stop, as the crisis has not been mitigated. Rather, there should be broad based consultations and dialoguing between the people, the oil companies and the state and other stakeholders.

(iii.)        The proposed construction of pipelines from Kaduna to Libya and from Lagos to Cote d’Ivoire should be scrapped because the laying of oil pipelines is immersed in huge corruption. Further, the proposed Pipelines risked vandalization. This is because the disruption of oil exploration and production has portrayed Nigeria as an unstable country unable to manage its resources and unsafe for foreign investment. One of the consequences of such negative perception is decline in investment.

(iv.)        There is the need to establish a mechanism to protect the oil pipelines. Part of such a strategy is the establishment of Pipeline Marshals Commission (PMC), to be supervised by the Niger Delta Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The Commission should also create jobs for disenfranchised youths, both in and those who are already out of the creeks, in order to protect the pipelines against further vandalisation.

(v.)         There is an urgent need for the Federal Government, the foreign oil companies, the European Union and other countries whose citizens engage in bunkering to put a mechanism in place for the control and prohibition of illegal bunkering that has turned the Niger Delta into a morass of violence and insecurity. This will help stem the rising tide of insecurity in the region.

(vi.)         It is imperative to restore the peoples’ rights to their natural resources namely; oil, gas, land, forestry and water-in order to mitigate the struggle for resources in the Niger Delta region.

(vii.)       The creation of a Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the Niger Delta will also become meaningful and functional after the democratization of the governance of resource rights of the people. The proposed Bank, into which all royalties from the oil companies will be paid, will be the custodian of the funds, as well as preventing misuse of funds now and in future. The Bank will lessen the effect of corruption in the disbursement of such funds, by drawing useful lessons from the experiences of Alberta in Canada and Alaska in the United States of America where similar Trust banks are created for such purposes ensuring that funds from non-renewable resources are not spent for the payment of salaries and travel.

(viii.)      There is the need for the international community, particularly the World Bank, European Union as well as the governments of the home countries of the oil companies to contribute by way of grants and subventions to the development of the Niger Delta region. This is because the Federal Government cannot embark on this project alone as the issue of the Niger Delta is assuming a crisis point militating against the world supply of oil.


It is midnight in Niger Delta and the current methodology being adopted by treating the matter as an ethnic problem of the Ijaws, while omitting other nationalities such as the Ogonis, Urhobos, Ibibios, Effiks, Itsekiris and Edos respectively is not in the interest of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I cannot subscribe to the theme that the use of force as a policy can bring about lasting peace to the region.   

It is imperative that Nigerians from regions other than the Niger Delta, who may feel that the problems of oil producing communities are not in their backyard and who may feel a safe distance from the oil communities, should be reminded that the Federal Republic of Nigeria is an entity within the environment; A decay in part will ultimately affect the whole nation. (Life and works of Sir Ahmadu Bello – The Sardauna of Sokoto).   


Senator David O. Dafinone

February 22, 2008