Urhobo Historical Society
THE ESSENTIALS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF URHOBOLAND IN
presented at the 11th Annual Convention of UNANA,
Over the past fifty years, there have been significant changes in Urhoboland leading to a gradual but alarming deterioration in both the environment and the economy of the area. Unless appropriate remedial actions are taken now, the future appears gloomy and our children may not be able to enjoy the same quality of life like us and our forebears. This paper examines the environment and economy of Urhoboland and presents some of the essential actions that are needed now in order to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
There are currently over sixty definitions of sustainable development (SD) (or sustainability) but the standard (and original) definition is that of the Brundland Commission (1987) which defined SD as:
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
In other words, SD is about satisfying the needs of the present generation without compromising or diminishing the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs. By causing irreparable damage to the natural environment or depleting available natural resources, we limit the access of future generations to these resources and thereby compromise their ability to meet their own needs. Thus, SD is the interplay of the economy and environment (ecology) and how to manage both to ensure inter-generational equity.
Before the early 1980s, mankind pursued the quest for economic growth without minimizing its impact on the environment and acknowledging the right and ability of future generations to meet their own needs from the finite resources of the environment. The Brandt Commission (established by the United Nations in 1977 under the Chairmanship of Mr. Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany) was the first major independent global panel to examine the connection between the environment and international development. The first report of the Commission, titled “North-South”, noted for the first time that:
“important harm to the environment and depletion of scarce natural resources is occurring in every nation of the world, damaging soil, sea, and air. The biosphere is our common heritage and must be preserved by cooperation, otherwise life itself could be threatened”
In 1987, the Brundland Report (Our Common Future, by
Commission on Environment and Development) took a close look at the
interplay between economic development and the environment and came up
concept of sustainable development with the definition cited above. In
the first Earth Summit (Rio Summit or the UN Conference on Environment
Development) took place in
Today, there are very many organizations interested in SD and the UN has established various agencies to look at various aspects of SD. Thus the body of literature on SD is now overwhelming. Economists and environmentalists continue to put heads together to find out how to use natural resources and modify our life styles in order to achieve sustainability. The environmental factor has added a new dimension to the pursuit of economic growth and development. The promise of intergenerational equity in the use of natural resources, based on the principles of sustainability and combination of economic and environmental reforms has been one of the hallmarks of international development during the past two decades.
3. The Environment and Economy of Urhoboland
3.1 Location, Size & Physical Features
people live in the western part of the Niger Delta region of
The natural vegetation is rain forest with swamp forest in some areas. The forests are rich in timber trees, rubber tree, palm trees as fruit trees. Unfortunately much of the rain forest has been destroyed as a result of farming (especially shifting cultivation), preponderance of rubber plantations and commercial lumbering. Much of the countryside is now dominated by secondary re-growth vegetation of palm trees, rubber trees, and patches of swamp forest along rivers. However, the is still a fairly large area of swamp forest vegetation especially in Okpe forest reserve, south of Sapele, and in the lower sections of the Jamieson and Ethiope rivers. In the swamp forest, raffia palms are the dominant trees.
The soils in most areas of Urhoboland are heavily weathered, nutrient-deficient, loose and poorly aggregated due to low levels of clay and organic matter and heavy rainfall. There are a few patches of clayey soil which provide valuable raw material for the pottery industry.
The occupations in Urhoboland include farming, fishing, trading, lumbering and manufacturing.
Farming is the major occupation in the rural areas. The main food crops include cassava, white guinea yam, water yam, plantains, bananas, maize, cocoyam and groundnuts. These crops are usually inter-cropped with three or more crops grown on the same field. The main farming system is shifting cultivation (also known as rotational bush fallowing) but permanent or continuous cultivation is increasingly being practiced in some areas, especially in the outskirts of the towns. In the past, the fallow period was about 5 years but it has been reduced to about 3 years during the past two decades as result of rapid increase in population and the increasing pressure on available land. The shortening of the fallow period has resulted in a general decline in soil fertility. Consequently, yams which were widely cultivated in the past have been largely replaced by cassava which is more tolerant of less fertile soils. Plantains, paw-paw, guava, mango, avocado pear, oranges, coconuts, pineapples are usually cultivated perennially in home gardens. Occasionally yams are also planted at the back of homes. There has however been a decline in home gardening in past two decades due to rapid population growth and the increasing conversion of agricultural land to residential use.
The main cash crops are rubber and oil palm. Attempts to cultivate cocoa in the past proved unsuccessful because the soils are unsuitable for the crop. On average, about 50% of the arable land is under rubber production. Plots of rubber trees stretch almost uninterrupted along both sides of roads, giving the impression of plantation. There are a few commercial rubber plantations near Sapele. Most of the rubber trees were planted between 1950 and 1965. The size of the rubber plots of individual farmers are relatively small (5-10 hectares) but they are contiguous, giving the impression of continuous plantations. The rubber trees are tapped daily and the latex processed into rubber sheets or lumps. In the past, most of the rubber produced was exported but they are now used locally to produce shoes, tyres and mattresses by local factories. Most of the rubber trees have become old and latex yield has declined considerably due the age of trees, declining soil fertility and bad tapping techniques.
palm trees are also ubiquitous throughout Urhoboland but most oil palm
groves have become old and unproductive. The oil palm is a source
vegetable oil and the fibres and hard
shells of the
oil palm fruits are used as fuel for cooking and heating, and the
making brooms and baskets. The tree is also tapped for wine. The bulk
oil produced comes from wild palms in peasant holdings using manual
(old-fashioned) methods. In recent years some farmers have established
palm plantations. There are also a number of oil processing factories
mills. However, palm oil and kernel production has declined
Many fruits grow wild or are cultivated including oranges, mangoes, guava and pineapples. Some of these fruits can be commercially processed for juice or canned. Thus plantations of these fruit trees can be established as well as agro-based industries to process the fruits.
Livestock farming is very limited due to the absence of extensive grazing fields in Urhoboland. In the villages, however, people keep a few goats, sheep, pigs and poultry to complement crop farming. A few poultry are kept in rural areas as sources of meat. Commercial poultry production is growing in the outskirts of large towns such as Warri, Ughelli and Sapele.
In the past, fishing was an important occupation along the rivers and streams. The catch consists mainly of tilapia and catfish. However, there has been a significant decline in fishing activities as a result of increasing pollution of streams and rivers and the importation of cheap fish (frozen or iced fish).
used to be an important activity but there has been a decline during
30 years due depletion of the extensive forests by excessive and
lumbering and failure to plant replacement trees as well as
of fuelwood. However, there are still many
in Sapele and Warri. A few decades ago, the African Timber and
(AT&P) company in Sapele was one of the largest factories of its
major cities (Warri, Sapele and Ughelli)
are the main
centers wholesale and retail trade but they cannot compete with towns
The smaller towns and villages have markets that hold periodically rather than on a daily basis. When it is a "market day" in a particular village, itinerant traders travel from nearby villages to sell their wares. Farmers also transport their crops to the rural periodic markets for sale.
The main mineral resources are
crude oil and gas. Oil was
discovered in Urhoboland in the early 1960s and exploration is still
place in parts of the area. There are numerous oil fields in Urhoboland
at Ughelli, Kokori,
Udu ). During and immediately after the
civil war, Ughelli was a major operational
base of Shell before it was
relocated to Warri. Today, Shell still has a significant presence in Ughelli where it’s UQCC is located. Shell also
has its Gas
Plant at Utorogun and several flowstations
in Urhoboland. The First Urhobo Economic
took place on the 27th and 28th of
November 1998 at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun reported at
million barrels of crude oil is produced annually in Urhoboland,
about 10% of the total national production.4 The
“ at an average price of $14 per barrel, the oil produced from Urhobo land fetches approximately $900 million annually or N76.5 billion, at the autonomous exchange rate of N85 per dollar, for the Joint Venture partners. The total value of oil produced in Urhobo land to date amounts to over $25.7 billion or N2,185 billion with little or nothing to show for it”
oil exploration has had both positive and negative effects on the
economy of Urhoboland. Occasional oil spills have resulted in
farmland, rubber plantations and aquatic life. While some of these
due to corrosion and technical problems, a large number are due to
deliberate cutting of oil pipelines to either generate spills (for
demand purposes) or to steal crude oil. Sometimes, spills occur when
remove oil facilities such as pumps and “christmas
trees” to sell in the black market. Some of these spills have
fires and have caused extensive damage (e.g. at Ekakpamre
and Jesse). Continuous gas flaring at some oil production facilities
destroy nearby vegetation and scare away wildlife. However, the oil
have made significant contribution to the development of Urhoboland
their community development programs and the employment opportunities
provide or generate for the people.
There are deposits of clay in parts of Urhoboland which local people use for pottery production. There are also deposits of silica, especially near Ughelli where two glass factories have been established to utilize the silica to produce bottles, tumblers and other glass materials.
tourism industry is very weak. There are only a few tourist
and recreation facilities but there exist potentials for the growth of
A small tourist industry is developing along the
The few industries in Urhoboland are located mainly in or near the cities. With a population of 218,000 in 1991, Warri5 is important for boat building, oil refining and petro-chemical industry. The development of Warri is however hampered by conflicts between the three main ethnic nationalities (Urhobo, Itsekiri and Ijaw) that claim ownership of the city. Many oil companies have relocated from Warri as a result of frequent violent ethnic clashes. The Delta Steel Company located at Ovwia- Aladja at the outskirts of Warri has been moribund for over 10 years and is now up for sale.
Sapele is the second important industrial town in Urhoboland with a population of 110,000 in 1991. It was noted for the AT&P company and rubber-processing factories. Most of these factories have closed down but there are still many small and medium and small-scale industries/enterprises (SME) located in the town. The Sapele Thermal (Gas and Steam) Plant was commissioned by NEPA in 1980 and upgraded in 1985 and currently has a total installed capacity of 1,020MW.
Ughelli is the third industrial town in Urhoboland with a population of 54,000 in 1991.There are also many SMEs in Ughelli. The Sparking Brewery and Olo Drinks located in Warri have shut down. There is an Asphalt Plant at Agbarha-Otor, near Ughelli. There two glass factories near Ughelli but only one (Beta Glass Co. Ltd) is operational. The Delta Power Plant (I, II and III) near Ughelli was built by NEPA in the early 1970s, In 1991, the Delta Power IV Thermal Plant was commissioned. Today, the total generating capacity of the Delta Power plant is 600MW.
As at 1998, the Sapele and Ughelli power plants had a total installed capacity of 1,620MW representing about 27% of NEPA’s total installed capacity of about 5,958MW. However, due to technical problems, the average daily power generation of both plant for the week June 6 to
Impact of Economic Activities on the Environment and Quality of Life
Reduction in Soil Fertility
There has been a significant reduction in soil fertility due to the dominance of rubber trees (which has destabilized the natural rain forest ecosystem and the efficient cycling of soil nutrients), the reduction in the fallow period under the shifting cultivation system (from about 5 to 3 years), and the neglect of the cultivation of leguminous crops, especially cowpea and groundnuts. To restore the fertility of the soil will require generous application of fertilizers. However, it is unlikely that farmers will be able to afford to apply the required quantities of fertilizers in the near future because of the high cost of imported fertilizers and the difficulty of obtaining locally produced fertilizers.
4.2. Loss of bio-diversity
has also been a significant loss of biodiversity due to frequent
of vegetation through shifting cultivation. Many useful trees
common in three or more decades ago are now becoming rare or extinct.
been a gradual deforestation of Urhoboland resulting in loss of plant
and wildlife. Animals such as elephant,
chimpanzee, leopard and hippopotamus have almost become extinct in
Even rabbits, antelopes, grass-cutters and monkeys are becoming rare.
The preponderance of rubber trees has also increased the rate of erosion. In addition, cultivation of field crops such as cassava and maize contribute substantially to erosion because they do not provide adequate protection for the soil, unlike the native rain forest. Also, frequent flooding adversely affect crops such as cassava and guinea yam which have to be harvested before maturation. Flooding during the rainy season is also hindering the use of the savanna patches for sheep and cattle grazing.
decline in agricultural productivity has increased the rate of
migration resulting in shortage of farm labor and accelerated decline
and cash crops production. There has also been an increase in migration
to greener pastures in
Over the past three decades, there has been a significant increase in the level of pollution in Urhoboland, especially in the urban areas and oil producing communities. In the urban areas, the absence a urban sewer systems and waste management/disposal systems means that each home or compound has to have its own “soak-away” pit and make its own arrangement to dispose of its refuse, usually at dumpsites or along the streets or outskirts of the towns. In some cases, the refuse is incinerated. Due to the non-existence or unreliability of public water supply, most people now install their private boreholes or wells. In the rural areas, people get water from well, rivers or streams and in some cases, boreholes. The practice of burying people at homes (rather than in cemeteries) is may compound the problem of ground water pollution in the immediate future if it has not started already. There has also been a significant increase in air pollution resulting from old and rickety automobiles and motor-cycles, use of generators (due to unreliable public power supply). The refinery and petrochemical plant in Warri is causing significant air pollution around the plant just as oil spills and gas flares in oil producing areas have increased air and water pollution.
Quality of Life
there are no statistics on the quality of life in Urhoboland,6
there are strong indications that the quality of life has
over the past three decades despite the opulence of a few. Using the
data on Delta state as a proxy for Urhoboland, one can infer that about
the people live below
poor environment and economy have worsened the security situation in
The rate of crime and armed robbery has increased as well as gangsterism and extortion of property developers
youth groups under the guise of “development levies”. Recently, banks
in Ughelli and Sapele have been attacked
by armed robbers
killing several people.
It is clear from the above review that both the environment and economy of Urhoboland are currently in a deplorable state. If appropriate remedial actions are not taken now, the prospects appear bleak and the quality of life of our people will continue to deteriorate in the years ahead. This will accelerate the exodus of enterprising Urhobos to greener pastures and increase crime and restiveness at home. In other words, the prospect for sustainable development in Urhoboland land is bleak unless appropriate corrective actions are taken NOW.
Essentials of Sustainable Development of Urhoboland
Establishment of a Pan-Urhobo “Quasi Government” (PUG)
It will be difficult to solve most of the problems of highlighted above under the current political arrangement. The establishment of an Urhobo state7 with committed and accountable leadership is thus a critical success factor in addressing the problems of sustainable development in Urhoboland. Since this is not likely to happen soon, we need an arrangement that will galvanize some elected Urhobo representatives and the organized private sector to form a body that will act as an all-Urhobo “quasi government” to direct and guide actions that will ensure sustainable development in Urhoboland. Members of this body should include the Senator representing Urhoboland (i.e. Delta central senatorial district, as chairman), elected Urhobo members of the House of Representatives, State House of Assembly, the Chairmen of all Urhobo LGAs, Urhobo Ministers and Commissioners, the President-General of UPU and about five other very important persons from the private sector and academia. The body should meet at least once a quarter to review developments in Urhoboland and take necessary decisions and actions that will ensure sustainable development in Urhoboland. The body should be apolitical. It should set up committees to handle specific projects and tasks. Any Urhobo person with requisite competencies can be appointed to serve in any of the committees. Action Party: UPU or The Senator Timing: ASAP but not later than March 2005.
Preparation of a Sustainable Development Plan (SDP) for Urhoboland.
Soon after its formation, the PUG should appoint a Committee of experts to prepare an actionable long-range SDP for Urhoboland. The plan should draw on available plan documents such as the NDDC’s master plan. It should clearly identify the resources and action parties for implementing the various programs/activities in the plan. Among other things, the plan should address the items listed below. Action: PUG/SDP Committee Timing: ASAP, before October 2005.
Restoration of Soil Fertility
This is a necessary condition for improvement of agricultural production. Aweto (2002) has suggested the integration Urhobo traditional agriculture with agro-forestry as one of the ways of achieving this. Secondly, farmers should be encouraged cultivate leguminous crops (e.g. cowpea and groundnuts) as cover crops to reduce soil erosion and to replenish soil nitrogen.
Replacement of Rubber Trees.
Aweto (2000) has also suggested the replacement of the vast unproductive rubber tree plantation with plantations of indigenous trees that will provide raw materials for fruit drinks industry and enhance bio-diversity and make nutrient cycling more efficient. Given the amount of resources required for this and fact that the rubber plantations are owned by poor farmers, there is need for government support in cutting down the rubber trees. A few productive rubber plantations should however be left or be replanted.
Rejuvenation of the timber industry through re-planting of trees and halting indiscriminate lumbering and promoting alternatives to the use of fuelwood.
Rejuvenation of production of major cash and food crops including rubber, palm produce, cassava, plantain and banana. Consider the setting up of commodity boards to support this process.
Establishment of agro-based export industries such as cassava-processing and starch manufacturing factories, palm-oil and cake industry and fruit drinks/beverages industry.
Formation of a joint Urhobo Investment Corporation by all the Urhobo local government councils to manage pan-Urhobo investments, similar to the Odua and Arewa/Northern investment entities.
Setting up Urhobo Chambers of Agriculture, Commerce and industry (UCACI)
Initiating a system of systematic data collection and analysis of the economic condition and resources in Urhoboland.
Reactivation of the moribund industries in Urhoboland, e.g. ATP Sapele, the breweries, the glass factory, rubber processing plants, salt factory at Ogharefe, the Delta Steel Company at Ovwian-Aladja.
Setting up export processing zones in Sapele and Warri.
Setting up of industrial estates, self-sustaining business development centers, business incubators skills acquisition centers in major towns.
Transformation of Sapele, Warri, Ughelli and Abraka/Eku to major commercial centres.
Promotion of small and medium-scale industries as well as micro-finance institutions.
Encouraging investment at home by Urhobos living in the Diaspora.
Ensuring security and peace, e.g. through community policing to weed out armed robbers, and establishment of peace and conflict resolution committees.
Ensuring easy and cheap access to land for property development, agriculture and industry. E.g. by halting disruptive/extortionist youth activities under the guise of “development levies”.
Improving transportation: Develop an integrated transportation plan and do the following:
Expand/upgrade the Osubi airport (built by Shell Nigeria) from the status of an “airstrip” to a full-fledged domestic airport and ultimately to an international airport like that of Port Harcourt. This will make it possible for larger aircrafts (including cargo planes) to use the airport and thus reduce the high cost of flying to Osubi. It will also enhance tourism, commerce and industry.
Upgrade and continuously maintain the road network in Urhoboland. The Benin-Warri dual-carriage road (expressway) should be completed as soon as possible. It is a shame that after over 15 years since work started on this road, the Urhobo portion of the road seems to have been abandoned. The Warri-Port Harcourt Road as well as Ughelli-Asaba Road and Effurun-Agbor and Sapele-Eku Roads should also be expanded and dualized. There is also an urgent need to ensure security and safety along these roads.
Restore the inland
Dredge and restore the network of inland waterways in Urhoboland
enhance water transportation and natural drainage and deal wiith the
menace of water
Restore Sapele Port and relocate the Naval Base, NNS Umolokun. Also establish smaller ports or large jetties at Oghara, Eku, Abraka and along the major rivers.
Extend the Ajaokuta-Aladja
(at least the part of it in Urhoboland land or
Halt illegal tapping of crude
petroleum products, sabotage of oil production facilities including
rupturing of pipeline. Community policing will assist with this.
Stop or minimize gas
flaring at oil flowstations and at the
Warri Petrochemical Plant at Ekpan.
Control automobile emissions/pollution, especially by motor cycles and rickety taxis and minivans/buses by imposing a ban or heavy fines on polluters. Either the state or local governments should set up Emission Inspection Services as part of the Environmental Quality Management System. Any vehicle that is more than 5 years old must pass the equipment and emission tests (engine off/cranking, engine running tests, smoking test) as a condition for annual renewal of vehicle license. This service may be costly initially but it can be self-financing from the service charges and will also provide employment in addition to ensuring that only environmentally-complaint vehicles are registered to ply our roads. The major problem will be with enforcement and corruption by officials.
Town Planning: This should be enforced in all major towns.
Population and Environment
Urhoboland is among the
most densely populated areas of
In this paper, I have examined some of the problems of sustainable development in Urhoboland. Despite the non-availability of required data, a cursory examination of the past and present condition of the economy and environment of Urhoboland clearly indicates that the area has since strayed way from the path of sustainable development. Thus if the current trend continues, the future generations (both immediate and distant) in Urhoboland are very likely to have a worse economy and worse environment, and hence a reduced ability to meet their needs and hence again, worse conditions of living than the already poor conditions of the past and current generation.. Thus, the current generation owes it as a sacred duty to bequeath a better environment and economy for the future generations in Urhoboland. We have no other land we can call our own even if we decide to remain in the Diaspora. Now therefore is the time to act. In this paper, I have also set out some of the essential actions that should be taken now in the immediate future in order to put Urhoboland on the path of sustainable development.
1. Aweto, A.O. (2000): Agriculture in Urhoboland. In www.waado.org
2. Aweto, A.O. (2000): Outline Geography of Urhoboland. In www.waado.org
3. Darah, G. G. (2004): Urhobo and the Mowoe Legacy. The Guardian, August 11, 2004.
4. Delta State Ministry of Commerce and Industry (undated): Land of Abundant Investment Opportunities.
5. Pinstrup-Andersen, P and Pandya-Lorch, R, ed (2001): The Unfinished Agenda – Perspectives on Overcoming Hunger, Poverty and Environmental Degradation. International Food Policy Research Institute.
6. The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (2000): Information Brochure - Agricultural Projects and Extension Service.
7.. The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. Annual Reports (Various Issues)
8. The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria. Stakeholders Workshop Reports (Various Issues).
3 In a
recent article in the Vanguard of
4 In 1998,
6 It is only recently that the DSG launched a household survey to measure poverty and track progress towards the millenium development goals (MDG).
a recent article in the Guardian of
8 The construction of the Ajaokuta-Aladja railway has shown that it is possible for the Nigerian government to expand the railway network in the country for both commercial and passenger traffic. Already the Odua Group is considering building an Ibadan-Lagos railway line.