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The Niger Delta

Overview of the Niger Delta

Mismanagement of the oil and gas industry over decades in the Niger Delta has caused huge amounts of land, water, and air pollution. Communities living in the Niger Delta are frustrated to suffer the worst impacts of the oil industry and gain little of the potential benefits. Despite its natural resource wealth, many parts of the Niger Delta lack access to basic services, such as electricity, sanitation, and primary healthcare and education – and unemployment rates are high.

The mismanagement of the oil and gas industry, and low development rates in the Niger Delta, are associated with very high levels of corruption and the use of politically-sponsored violence. The region has experienced significant outbreaks of conflict since the 1990s. This has included waves of militancy, and serious violence during elections, as different groups compete for control of oil and gas revenues. With a very high number of illicit small arms and light weapons reportedly in circulation in Nigeria, everyday violence is common, including criminal, intra-communal, and other conflicts. One in 20 households experienced a bereavement due to conflict between 2010 and 2017.

Demographic and geography

The Niger Delta is a large area of southern Nigeria. It is home to around 30 million people, although what states are often included in the Niger Delta varies. The core states are Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta, where most of our work is focused, with some activities in the surrounding states of Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Edo. Sometimes the states of Abia, Imo, and Ondo are also included in the definition of the Niger Delta region.

The Niger Delta is biodiverse, with its mangroves providing carbon sequestration capacity and supporting a wide variety of plant and animal life, as well as the agriculture and fishing on which many in the region rely for their livelihoods.

Oil production and dependence

It also sits on top of major hydrocarbon reserves. Oil was discovered in the 1950s, and the industry which has developed around it has become central to Nigeria’s economy. Its high-quality crude oil is exported around the world, with total daily production averaging around two million barrels per day in 2018, the latest year for which official figures are available. Petroleum exports account for around 87% of Nigeria’s total exports, and therefore a large amount of its foreign exchange. Although 2016 saw oil revenue fall below 50% of total government revenue, this was during a large drop in production volumes due to pipeline bombings and a significant drop in the oil price, and the Nigerian government remains highly dependent on oil income. This means public spending is significantly exposed to international price volatility; the long-term goal of the Nigerian government to address this is to diversify the economy away from the export of oil as a commodity.

Civil society

A vibrant range of civil society organisations, working with all stakeholders, are working to address these challenges. SDN is proud to be among them. We work on a variety of programmes, and the overall change that we want to see is a Niger Delta where:

  • People live in a healthy and safe environment, and human rights are met.
  • There is greater equality of opportunity for all to secure decent jobs in a diversified economy, to access justice, and to have a meaningful say in decision making.
  • Government and politicians are accountable and transparent, and understand, prioritise, and respond to the needs and rights of citizens.
  • The oil and gas industry is responsibly governed, with its benefits fairly distributed, and negative impacts minimised, as part of a plan towards a transition to clean energy and economic diversification.

Need statistics on oil spills or gas flaring across the Niger Delta? Check out our oil spill and gas flaring monitoring project, with links to where, when, and how much oil is spilled or gas is flared.

Published: 29.01.2020