Urhobo Historical Society

Towards Peace and Security in the Niger Delta:

The Urhobo National Association of North America’s Position


The recent events in the Niger Delta of Nigeria have again focused national and international attention on this region which produces  more than 2.5 million barrels a day of crude oil daily. It is now widely acknowledged that peace, security and rapid economic development of this neglected region are critical to stability of the world energy prices and overall development of Nigeria. The Urhobo National Association of North America (UNANA) is an association of Urhobo people resident in the U.S. and Canada. The homeland of Urhobo people is in the western part of the Niger Delta region. With an estimated population of over about 2.5 million living in an area of about 5,000 square kilometers, the Urhobo people rank as the sixth largest ethnic nationality in Nigeria and the second largest in the Niger Delta region.  Oil was discovered in Urhoboland in the early 1960s. There are numerous oil fields and production facilities in Urhoboland which account for about 10% of Nigeria’s total crude oil production. The area has suffered from the adverse environmental effects of oil production such as oil spills, destruction of farmland, wildlife and aquatic life.

As stakeholders in the Niger Delta region, we believe it is possible to bring peace, security and development to this troubled region if appropriate policies are implemented. We offer in this paper some suggestions that can assist in this endeavor.


The Niger Delta Question


At the root of the current problems of the Niger Delta region is the issue of “(oil) resource control” by the oil producing communities. Since the exploration and production of crude oil and gas commenced  in the region over 50 years ago, the federal government has always claimed to have “owned” and “controlled” the resource while production is carried out by multinational companies under joint venture arrangement with the Federal government.


The oil producing states and communities have been left out in this arrangement (between the Federal Government and the multi-national oil conglomerates). Worse still, less than 3% of the total oil revenue that the federal government has realized from its “control” of the oil industry has been used in the development of oil producing communities. The result is that abject poverty is still pervasive in oil producing communities unlike many parts of the country and oil producing communities in other parts of the world. Thus the oil producing communities have been struggling to wrestle back “ownership” and “control” of the oil industry from the federal government and/or compel the federal government and the oil companies to devote more resources to tackle the developmental and environmental problems of the oil producing communities. Most of the other problems of the region – high unemployment, lack of or poor socio-economic infrastructure, poverty, communal conflicts, insecurity, etc- are linked to the neglect of the region by successive federal administrations and the oil companies and the struggle by the people to correct the economic injustice.


Historical Perspective of the Niger Delta Question


The Niger Delta region has a population of about 21 million people (1991) and covers an area of about 70,000 sq. km. The people live in a few large cities and over 3,000 small and often remote communities/villages in the mangrove, swamp and lowland rain forests. Farming and fishing are the main economic activities in the communities while commerce and oil-industry related activities dominate the urban areas. The terrain is extremely difficult and a substantial portion of the region falls under the “world’s fragile ecosystem”. Many communities live along creeks and are accessible only by boats. The riverine communities are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes and man-made disasters (floods, sea encroachment, oil pollution, piracy, hostage taking, communal conflicts, etc). Oil exploration started in the Niger Delta region in the late 1930s and oil was found in commercial quantity in 1956 at the village of Oloibiri. Since then oil production has increased significantly.


The Niger Delta region is faced with a lot of developmental and environmental challenges including high level of poverty, decline in agricultural production, low level of industrial activities, environmental degradation and social conflicts. The unique characteristics of the Niger Delta region have made occasional and uncoordinated development efforts difficult, expensive, and unsustainable. This is especially true when the implementers of the developmental effort have no long-term interest in developing the area. This is why the Sir Henry Willink’s Commission (1958) recommended that the Niger Delta region deserves special developmental attention by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Consequently, the Federal Government established the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in 1960 to handle the developmental needs and challenges of the region. In its seven years of existence, the NDDB achieved little if anything before it faded away following the military coups in 1966 and the outbreak of civil war in 1967.


At independence in 1960, the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed to have a “true” federation of three regions. In 1963, the Mid-West region was carved out of the Western region, as the fourth region of the federation. The 1963 constitution was fashioned to reflect some of the tenets of true federalism. For instance, it included a provision for the payment of 50% derivation (of rents and royalties from mineral resources) to the regions from where such mineral resources were obtained.  However, when the military took over the government in 1966 it opted for a unitary system of government and dismantled the regional governments, replacing them with 12 “states” governments and increased the number gradually to 36 before handing over to a democratically elected regime in May 1999.


In line with the centralization of fiscal powers, the military regime abolished the 50% derivation in 1969. After the civil war, crude oil became the major source of government revenue after the sharp increase in crude oil prices in 1973/74 and the rapid increase Nigeria’s crude oil production. By the mid 1970s, oil had become the mainstay of the economy, accounting for over 85% of federally collected revenue and over 95% of foreign exchange revenue. All the oil was produced from the Niger Delta region and its adjoining offshore but the region remained neglected and impoverished despite the negative consequences of oil exploration and production activities. Successive military regimes dominated by military generals who were not from the Niger Delta region did not deem it fit to tackle the development and environmental problems of the oil producing areas or allocate a good percentage of the revenue accruing from oil to the oil-producing states to address these problems. Based on the recommendation of a Presidential Task Force (popularly known as the 1.5% Committee) in 1980, 1.5% of the Federation Account was allocated to the Committee to tackle the developmental problems of the oil-producing areas. The committee was ineffective and most of the revenue the Committee received ended up in private accounts of bureaucrats and contractors and did not reach the poor people of the oil producing communities. With the return of the military in 1984, the 1.5% Committee was scrapped.


Meanwhile discontent and restiveness continued to grow in the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta. For instance, on August 26, 1990, the leaders of the Ogoni ethnic group in Rivers State adopted the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” which they presented to the federal military government and peoples of Nigeria in November of the same year. Sections of the bill read as follows:


iv)  That in over 30 years of oil mining, the Ogoni nationality have provided the Nigerian nation with a total revenue estimated at over 40 billion Naira (N40 billion) or
30 billion dollars.

v)  That in return for the above contribution, the Ogoni people have received NOTHING.

vi) That today, the Ogoni people have: No representation whatsoever in ALL institutions of the Federal Government of Nigeria,  No pipe-borne water,  No electricity, No job opportunities for the citizens in Federal, State, public sector or private sector companies, vii) No social or economic project of the Federal Government.

vii) That the search for oil has caused severe land and food shortages in Ogoni

viii) That neglectful environmental pollution laws and sub-standard inspection techniques of the Federal authorities have led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment, turning our homeland into an ecological disaster

ix) That it is intolerable that one of the richest areas of Nigeria should wallow in abject poverty and destitution.

x) That successive Federal administrators have trampled on every minority right enshrined in the Nigerian constitution…. and have by administrative structuring
and other noxious acts transferred Ogoni wealth exclusively to other parts of the Republic

xi) That the Ogoni people wish to manage their own affairs.

xv) We make the above demand in the belief that, as Obafemi Awolowo has written:

"In a true Federation, each ethnic group no matter how small is entitled to the same treatment as any other ethnic group, no matter how large."


The Ogoni Bill of Rights brought some of the Ogoni leaders into direct confrontation with the federal military government leading to “military occupation” of Ogoni territory and to the execution of nine activists of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) including its leader, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, on November 10, 1995.


In an attempt to address the growing restiveness, the military regime of Gen. Babangida established the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992 allocating 3% of federally-collected oil revenue to it to address the developmental needs of the Niger Delta. Although OMPADEC initially raised the spirit of the people, it became clear that the 3% allocation could not address the problems of the area adequately. Worse still, OMPADEC became inefficient and corrupt and ended up as a great disappointment. Between 1992 and 1999 when it was scrapped, OMPADEC completed several projects but bequeathed very many abandoned/unfinished projects and huge a debt, most of which were dubious. OMPADEC failed to abate discontent and restiveness in the region. In fact, the degree of restiveness increased leading to the proclamation of the "Kaiama Declaration" by the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) on December 11, 1998 which can be regard as the beginning on the current wave of “resource control” struggle in the region. Sections of the Kaiama Declaration read as follows:


all land and natural resources within the Ijaw territory as belonging to the Ijaw communities… because they are the basis of our survival… peoples and communities right to ownership and control of our lives and resources".


Some other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta followed the example of the Kaiama Declaration by declaring their own "bills of rights", "charters of demands", "Resolutions" and "Declarations", etc, all demanding greater control or ownership of mineral resources within their territories.


In order to address this growing discontent, the federal military government inserted a “minimum 13% derivation” clause in the 1999 constitution, which it bequeathed to the civilian administration in May 1999. According to section 162 (2) of that the constitution: 


The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilization allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before the National Assembly proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, the National Assembly shall take into account, the allocation principles especially those of population, equality of States, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13% of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources."


One of the first immediate actions taken by President Obasanjo following his inauguration in May 1999 was to send a Bill to the National Assembly for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), to replace OMPADEC. After some delays, the NDDC was officially inaugurated on December 21, 2000 with a vision


to offer a lasting solution to the socio-economic difficulties of the Niger Delta Region” and a mission “to facilitate the rapid, even and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”.


Despite its promise, the NDDC has not lived up to expectations. The Niger Delta is still ravaged by “poverty in the midst of plenty”.  Hence, the clarion call for resource control has grown stronger since 1999.


In what appeared to be a counter action, President Obasanjo re-introduced the offshore/onshore oil dichotomy when he took office by applying the 13% derivation to onshore oil production only which was roughly 60% of total oil production.  To settle the ensuing controversy, the Federal Government took the littoral states (mainly oil-producing states of the Niger Delta) to the Supreme Court in 2001. On April 5, 2002, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment upholding the offshore/onshore dichotomy but declared as illegal the spurious “first line” charges and the non-inclusion of the revenue from natural gas in the derivation formula mentioned above.  The debate during and after the Supreme Court case further intensified the “resource control” issue and further galvanized the governors of the Niger Delta states (South – South geopolitical zone). It was during the heat of the offshore/onshore court case, that the South - South governors met in Benin and defined their struggle as ultimately one of “resource control” which, according to them, is:


"The practice of true federalism and natural law in which the federating units express their rights to primarily control the natural resources within their borders and make agreed contribution towards maintenance of common services of sovereign nation state to which they belong. In the case of Nigeria, the federating units are the 36 states and the Sovereign nation is the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.


In 2004, the Federal Government decided to abolish the dichotomy thus paving the way for the allocation of the 13% of oil revenue to the oil-producing states in 2005 in accordance with the 1999 constitution. But the resource control issue had become more radicalized and a key issue in the clamor for a sovereign national conference (SNC). In early 2005, Obasanjo staged the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in place of the SNC.   


At the NPRC, Niger Delta (ND) delegates demanded for 60% derivation but eventually settled for “25% now and 50% within 5 years”, i.e. a return to the 1963 position within five years. However, the majority non-ND delegates, especially those from the North, insisted on 17%, which was eventually adopted by the NPRC. The recommendation of the NPRC fell short of the expectations of the ND delegates and proponents of “resource control”. To demonstrate their total and complete dissatisfaction and opposition to the recommendation, the delegates walked out of the conference. They refused to be complicit in the ratification of the exploitation of their people.

 Thus some of the greatly agreived citizens of the region decided to wage an “armed struggle” to achieve their objectives. The arrest of one of their leaders,  Dokubo Asari and the impeachment/arrest of the governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha was perceived by many in the region as attempts by the federal government to frustrate the “resource control” struggle, and some have reacted by taking western oil workers as hostages and vowed to damage oil production facilities in the area and reduce oil production.


Issues and Proposed Solutions


Some of the contentious issues that need immediate resolution and the attention of the federal government and our recommended solutions are presented in the following sections.


First Issue: Resources Control


We recognize that it will require a constitutional amendment and it is highly improbable for the federal government to cede 100 percent “ownership” and “control” of the oil industry to the oil producing states/local governments and/or communities in the short or medium term. However, it is essential to acknowledge the rights of the Niger Delta people and to “transfer” some degree of ownership and control to the state and local governments by ensuring that they acquire shares in the joint venture JV) companies. This way they will feel vested in the oil industry. Given that the average federal government share holding in the JVs is about 60%, we recommend that 15% of the shares should be transferred (sold) to the state governments and 15% to the local governments while the federal government should retain the balance 30%. The re-distribution of the shares among the state and local governments should be based on oil and gas production (current and historical) and value/importance of oil/gas assets in their territories. A target date should be established to accomplish this transfer, e.g. December 2007.


Second Issue:  Participation in the Oil and Gas Economy

We acknowledge  the fact that the Federal Government has awarded some marginal field rights to companies owned by indigenes of the Niger Delta.  To further strengthen such  initiative, UNANA recommends that the federal  government should reserve 20% of all marginal fields and new oil and gas blocks and licenses to companies  owned and controlled by Niger Delta indigenes . A similar policy should also apply to all other aspects of the oil and gas industry, including: transportation, distribution, and all other oil downstream businesses.


Third Issue: Revenue Allocation – Oil Derivation Formula


Clearly, the 13% derivation is low. It is essential to increase the derivation percentage gradually to 50% over a period of several years. We recommend that the derivation percentage should be raised to 25% with immediate effect and subsequently increased by 3% per annum until it reaches 50%. Thus, percentage derivation will be 25% in 2006, 28% in 2007, and 31% in 2008, and so on.


Furthermore, the derivation fund should be distributed as follows based on oil and gas production (current and historical) and value/importance of oil/gas assets in their territories:

45% to state govts

30% to local govts

9% to NDDC to implement interstate infrastructure projects, e.g. roads, bridges, electricity and large water projects

15% as direct cash payments (as in the state of Alaska in the United States of America) to residents of host/impacted communities through registered trustees of community clusters (ND: a cluster will be made up of at least 50,000 people). The communities can elect to use the funds to implement specific projects.

1% to the Oil T&A Commission.


Fourth Issue:  Transparency and Accountability (T&A) of Oil Revenue Utilization


  An Oil T&A Commission should be set up as a gate keeper or watch dogs over all oil revenue received under this plan:

to ensure that every penny of  the oil revenue is accounted for and utilized judiciously for whatever it is meant

to vet the plans/budgets and audit the accounts of all recipients of oil revenue to seal all leakage

impose necessary sanctions where necessary.


Under this arrangement, all audited accounts must be published and posted online not later than 6 months into a new financial year. Furthermore, the Commission will hold public forums/press conferences in all states and LGs to address issues of concern and responsible officers made to respond to audit queries.


Fifth Issue: Infrastructure


Roads - A team of transport planners and engineers must be set up to develop a modern transportation plan that will guarantee easy movement of people and goods in and out of the Niger Delta swamps and open the coastal area to tourism development. Our recommended transportation plan must include:

at least two east-west federal super-highways and at least five north-south federal super-highways to form a grid network of road interconnectivity within the Niger Delta

the provision of inland waterway mass transit systems with modern jetties and waiting facilities in at least 500 riverine communities in the next two years

the development of inland waterways and at least 20 secondary ports in the larger riverine cities

– A massive program for the extension of pipe-borne water to all settlements in the Niger Delta is a must. We recommend a joint action team consisting of the three tiers of governments should be inaugurated before the end of 2006 to ensure that every citizen of the Niger Delta has equal access to potable water by the year 2010.


Electricity – It should be a federal policy that all communities within 70 kilometers of all the power plants scattered across the Niger Delta must first be serviced with electricity before the plant is connected to the national power grid. In addition, a community or cluster of communities with a population of 100,000 people should be licensed to own and operate an electric and water company to be built by the federal government in partnership with the oil companies  operating in such community.


Health Facilities – The federal government must see it as its responsibility to monitor any new diseases its citizenry is exposed to due to the petroleum industry. We recommend a house-to-house health survey in the Niger Delta to identify any emerging health problems in the area. Also, health clinics should be established in every community with more than 1000 persons and at least 100 teams of foot-doctors set up to service the clinics on a regular basis. Each team will consist of five medical doctors with an appropriate mix of specializations and a pharmacist to service a pre-determined number of clinics and villages.  Each team should be fully equipped and provided with at least two vehicles, one of which should be well-equipped ambulance.


Sixth Issue:  Poverty Eradication


Each of the state and local governments  as well as the NDDC and oil company must produce a 10-year results-orientated poverty reduction strategic plan. The Oil T&A Commission will monitor and evaluate the performance of the plans and provide technical assistance to ensure effective implementation.


On the other hand, the federal government should establish industrial parks in Warri and three other places in the Niger Delta equipped with cutting-edge infrastructure and technological backbone facilities ready for immediate plug-in by specialized companies in the oil and computer industries to be attracted to the area through specially packaged incentives. In this plan, twenty percent of each industrial  park must be reserved for enterprising Niger Delta indigenes whose business proposals have been accepted by the Industrial Park New Business Incubation Committee for funding and mentoring.


Seventh Issue: Unemployment


The NDDC and State Governments should implement massive youth employment schemes based on large infrastructure projects, road maintenance, low-cost housing construction, agricultural settlements, and support for SMEs, etc.  On the part of the oil companies, they should pursue an employment “affirmative” action targeting host/impacted communities for at least 20% of senior staff and 50% of junior/middle level employment (within 100 kilometers radius).


Eighth Issue: Security


The federal government should establish and fund “community policing” throughout the Niger Delta.  Personnel should be drawn from no more than a 50 mile radius of  the communities where they will be deployed.


Also, it should increase the number of Nigerian Police, establish more police posts, and equip police with good vehicles, motorcycles, speedboats and telecommunication facilities. The ultimate goal is to establish a rapid response police and rescue system in the region as well as public emergency phone system (“911”) that will enable citizens to call for help and report criminal activities.





We commend all those who have sacrificed their lives, energy and time in getting the issue of the Niger Delta to the discussion table.  Through these efforts, the socioeconomic and environmental injustice meted on the people of the Niger delta since 1956 can no longer be swept under the carpet. We believe that Nigeria could be a better place if the prevailing injustice visited on the people of the Niger Delta were replaced by a just order in which their rights are fully recognized and given full effect. In the words of the 1960 Nigerian National Anthem, we can once again begin to build a Nigeria where “no one is oppressed”.  Let us begin our journey to freedom for all Nigerians. 



Engr. Oghenovo Omene
James Obaebor