The Niger Delta occupies 7.5% of the total land area of Nigeria, 70,000km2, and is home to over 30 million people. This number is increasing quickly and therefore the need to address the currently neglected basic needs of the population is of paramount importance. The Niger Delta region accounts for around 90% of Nigeria’s proven gas and oil reserves, and the sector currently earns the Federal Government around 90% of its foreign exchange.
Yet despite this enormous wealth of natural and human resources, essential services such as electricity, sanitation, healthcare and primary education have not been delivered to communities. Energy poverty, poor governance, gas flaring, and oil pollution are just some of the myriad issues facing the people of the Niger Delta.
The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) summary of the situation in the Niger Delta is disappointingly accurate. A prime example of region and nation deeply affected by the Resource Curse; the paradox that a country with an abundance of natural resources, specifically non-renewable (e.g. minerals and fossil fuels) tends to have a negative effect on economic growth and development than countries with fewer natural resources. State institutions are unfavourable to communities.
Powerless in front of the State and oil companies and unable to influence social, political and economic factors that determine their wellbeing, communities become victims of both corruption and arbitrariness of the government. Discriminatory social and cultural norms, values and customary practices within the family and community also reinforce poverty at the community and family level. These processes deepen people’s vulnerability and create a feeling of powerlessness and insecurity, which in turn contributes to perpetuation of underdevelopment and poverty.
The current conflict in the Niger Delta is driven by this powerful mixture of weak governance, systemic corruption, underdevelopment, political marginalisation and economic inequality. The vast wealth available to those who control the power structures of the state and the increasing polarisation of society has led to a significant shift in the underlying conflict dynamic.
Challenges aside, the Niger Delta is one of the most beautiful environments in the world. The biodiversity is spectacularly rich – from abundant plant and fish populations, to primates and the largest diversity of butterfly species in the world. The people are warm and welcoming, and have a vibrant culture extending back thousands of years to some of the most advanced centres of civilisation in Africa. These are just a few of the many motivations to stop the destruction.