The environmental challenge of developing the Niger Delta

Dec 23, 2003 01:00 AM

Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha, executive governor of Bayelsa State, discusses how the problems of Niger Delta could be tackled.

I feel truly honoured and delighted to be given the opportunity to speak on the subject matter before you at this historic occasion. Indeed, it is with profound humility that I accept the privilege of delivering the inaugural NewsAfrica International Lectures Series here in London.
As a news medium, NewsAfrica magazine has made remarkable impact in the highly competitive international news magazine industry. The magazine has not only opened a new vista of qualitative news reporting but has focused a great deal on the several socio-economic and political problems and prospects of Africa.
Through incisive and engaging features, the magazine has highlighted the great potential of Africa and the urgent development needs of this vital geo-political region of the world. Little wonder, therefore, that NewsAfrica has sought, through this lecture, to focus on one of most richly endowed and yet one of the most under-developed deltas in the world.

I believe there are more competent people, experts on environmental issues, who can speak on this topic more comprehensively. Many distinguished scholars, advocates and people of conscience from the Niger Delta and around the world have made commendable efforts at analysing the situation in the Niger Delta and proffering solutions to the myriad problems facing the people and the region.
However, I take solace in the fact that I hail from the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. I lived there, and I serve the people of the Niger Delta in a position of authority as Governor of Bayelsa State. I consider myself well placed, therefore, to speak on the provocative circumstances under which our people live.
For some time now, the subject of this paper has been on the front burner of public discourse. This is not by any means surprising. First, oil and gas revenue from the Niger Delta region accounts for about 90 % of Nigeria's income. Secondly, the region is of strategic importance to the global economy and in particular to the Nigerian State. It is the sixth largest oil exporter among OPEC.

The Niger Delta is located in the Southern part of Nigeria, a geopolitical framework mainly populated by the Ijaw ethnic nationality. Spreading over a total landmass of about 70,000 sq km, the region is inhabited by an estimated population of 20 mm Nigerians in 2000 communities.
The area is also home to the Ogonis, the Ikwerres, Ekpeyes, Ogbas, Egbemas, Engennes, and the Abuas of Ahoada division as well as the Obolos and the Opobo people. In addition to the Ijaws of Western Delta are the Urhobos, Isokos, the Itsekiris and part of Kwale. In its present composition, the Niger Delta covers the six states of the South-South namely Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo and Rivers. This is so even though the definition given the Niger Delta by the Sir Henry Willink Commission Report of 1957 is much narrower.

However, the legislation on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in 2000 has further extended the frontiers of the Niger Delta to include Abia, Imo and Ondo States, thus making the political map of the Niger Delta to comprise nine states. The Niger Delta communities have settled in the area for several millennia, the oldest group having been in the areas for some 7 to 10,000 years. The primary occupations of the people include fishing, farming, forest product gathering, craft, etc usually at subsistence level.
The immediate source of livelihood for the people of the region has been supplied by the rich flora and fauna of the area for many generations. For so long, the people there lived in harmony, and there was evident balance in the ecosystem.

The Niger Delta is characterized by wetlands and water bodies with creeks and rivers criss-crossing the entire region. The higher-lying plains experience 5, 7 months of flooding in the year, resulting from the overflowing waters of the lower Niger River in which whole communities andfarmlands are invariably submerged. Flooding and river-bank or coastal erosion are the bane of the people. The Niger Delta is, no doubt, a difficult if not an outrightly inclement terrain.
However, the region is endowed with enormous natural resources. It has the world's third largest mangrove forest with the most extensive freshwater swamp forest and tropical rainforest characterized by great biological diversity. Alongside the immense potential for agricultural revolution, the Niger Delta region also has vast reserves of non-renewable natural resources, particularly hydrocarbon deposits in oil and gas. Other non-renewable natural resources include clay pits for burnt brick making in the construction industry, and silica sand for the glass manufacturing industry which have however, remained largely untapped.

Part of a World Bank report following a visit to the Niger Delta in 1952 and 1953 declared that the region has great prospects to feed the entire population of the West African sub-region and havesufficient commodities for export. Some of the produce highlighted by the report includes rice, palm oil and cassava, which are in abundance throughout the Niger Delta, especially Bayelsa State, the epicentre of the region.
Yet, the Niger Delta remains pervasively poor and underdeveloped, lacking virtually all forms of social amenities and infrastructure, including electricity, potable water, medical facilities, roads, shelter, etc. The area suffers a regrettable legacy of hunger, high and rising rates of unemployment, communal conflict, youth restiveness and all forms of social insecurity.

It is evident that nature has done its part by freely depositing valuable treasures as life support systems in the Niger Delta. What remains missing is that the Nigerian nation-state is yet to play her role to overcome, tame and nurture the harsh environment to ensure the overall well-being of the people of the Niger Delta region in particular, and the nation at large.
Like the withering plants in autumn, the swamps and mangrove forests in the Niger Delta have lost their essence. They are dying before their time. The people of the area have continued to complain bitterly about mass poverty, hunger and disease, environmental degradation and loss of their traditional means of livelihood. No one seems to be listening enough.

As Dr Steve Azaiki puts in his book, Inequities In Nigerian Politics: "the fact that these issues are still staring us in the face indicate general neglect of the Niger Delta, which now challenges our sense of justice and precipitates the quest for fairness." Given the region's sensitive and fragile ecosystem and, in spite of the vast resource endowment, its immense potential for socio-economic growth and its contribution to the overall development of Nigeria, it remains increasingly under threat from rapidly deteriorating economic and environmental conditions as well as social tension.
Clearly, the challenge of developing the Niger Delta is complex but not insurmountable. The choice of the theme of this lecture is, therefore, apt and auspicious at a time when all hands must be on deck to identify the root causes of the problems, and proffer solutions to the worsening physical and economic crisis in a region of critical global significance. This presentation seeks to identify the causes of the problem and more. I shall look at the constraints to developing the environment and proffer development alternatives in the Niger Delta region.

The complex environmental challenges of the Niger Delta can be clipped under two broad classifications:
i. The difficult terrain, and
ii. The menace posed by multi-national prospecting corporations.
I shall attempt to provide an insight into these challenges within the context and scope of this paper. I shall thereafter point the way forward. But, first, let us be acquainted with the historical background.

It is tragic that the Niger Delta area has come to be recognized in recent times as an enclave of social conflict. The political, economic and social dynamics of the region can only be understood in the context of the on-going under-development, which has oil exploitation and exploration as its principal signpost. The relentless exploitation of the natural resources of the area, without due compensation for the environmental hazards it has occasioned, has given rise to youth restiveness, which is primarily aimed at seeking redress for over forty-five years of neglect and deprivation.
At any rate, the seeds of dissent so visibly displayed in the Niger Delta today have their root in the distant past, especially from colonial rule. In 1900, Britain created the Northern and Southern Protectorates which were merged in 1914 to form the Colony of Nigeria.

The amalgamation of North and South in a "marriage of convenience" between ethnologically contrasting partners, and a political contraption that resulted in a federal structure of three regional governments, each with a distinct geo-ethnic majority group, gave birth to distrust in the Nigerian political scene. There was wide spread agitation in minority areas of the North, East and West over their perceived fears of autocratic domination, neglect, insecurity and discrimination by majority groups, and the minority groups accordingly demanded for separate states of their own.
In the twilight years marking the end of British colonialism and the dawn of independence in Nigeria, the ethnic minority agitator for better recognition and treatment necessitated the setting up of the Willink Commission of Inquiry in 1957 to "enquire into the fears of minorities and the means of allaying them."

The Willink Commission Report of 1958, based upon ample evidence and the personal experiences of members in the course of the enquiry, observed that:
-- the needs of those who live in the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta are very different from those of the interior
-- it is not easy for a government or legislature operating from inland to concern itself or even fully understand the problems of a territory where communications are so difficult, building so expensive and education so scanty in a country which is unlikely ever to be developed.

The Commission concluded:
-- we had no doubt that a feeling of neglect and a lack of understanding was widespread in both Regions (Western and Eastern Deltas). We consider that a case has been made out for special treatment of this area. This is a matter that requires special effort because it is poor, backward and neglected.
This was the prologue to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in 1961 "to consider the problems of the area of the Niger Delta". It has remained the prologue to similar renamed agencies since then, from the Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) in 1976; the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992; and the present Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000.

Two negative deviations are worthy of note in the implementation of the Willink Commission report of 1958. The first false step by the Federal Government was to deviate from the prescribed composition of members of the Board established in 1961. The Board, which that government put in place for the defunct Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority had no representative from the Niger Delta area. Thus the ill-conceived Board did away with the aspirations of the people of area which was vitally needed to make correct policy solutions to the problems of the area.
The second problem which the government at the centre in Nigeria created was to establish ten more River Basin Development Authorities in 1976. By so doing, a serious economic problem was seriously politicised. Meanwhile, the original Authority-Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), which was supposed to serve the designated "special area" was starved of funds, while the ten agencies which did not need to be created, were generously funded.

Undoubtedly, the Commission understood the challenges of the region but the colonialists came short of creating the Niger Delta region like the other existing three regions- the Western, Eastern and Northern regions. It lacked the political will to do so, and that was to be a major blow to the peoples of the Niger Delta.
It is only a matter of stating the obvious that the Niger Delta region presents an array of seemingly insurmountable physical constraints for human habitation. As with most deltas of the world, the region is fragmented into countless islands surrounded by an intricate network of rivers, rivulets and creeks. It goes without saying that infrastructural development would be cost-intensive in such an environment.

The greatest single problem in the physical environment of the Niger Delta region is that posed by water. The very low elevations, decreasing to below sea-level in some parts of the coastal areas, brings about an annual ritual of flooding in which the rivers overrun their banks and the floodwaters spread and deposit their sediment in the swamps.
The economic frustration, loss of lives and property in submerged communities and farmlands is one major source of anguish and despair in the Niger Delta region. According to the report of the Civil Engineering Adviser to the defunct NDDB (1966), the movement of the annual sediment load of the parent river through the Delta are two of the most important problems to be solved in connection with the use and development of the water resources of the delta.

The problems besetting the Niger Delta are truly formidable. There is no denying the fact that the twin problems of flood and erosion go far beyond the capability of individuals or communities, and even state governments, to contain in a comprehensive manner. It requires a strong political will on the part of government to transform the Niger Delta environment for sustainable development in the region.
Let me bring to your notice, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, that land reclamation in the Niger Delta is a costly venture that brings shame to the development process. Only last year, the Bayelsa State government spent about $ 66 mm to reclaim a parcel of land before construction work on a 500-bed general hospital project could commence.
In upland Nigeria, that same sum would go a long way to complete a number of housing estates. The problems of flood and erosion have remained with the people of the Niger Delta region forty-three years after Nigeria attained the status of a sovereign nation, thus stalling the prospects of any form of development in the region.

The environmental challenges of the Niger Delta region are complex and enormous, constituting ecological and natural impediments. Specifically, they include the following:

a. Sedimentation and siltation
This process is caused by an increase in tidal wave action and results in narrow creeks and reduction in creek depth. Whilst the semi-diurnal tidal regime ensures two high tidal floods and two low ebb tides within the course of each day, wave action along the coastline results in both depletion and loss of sediments in the beaches. A good example of this is Koluama (1) and Koluama (2), the off-shore facility operated by ChevronTexaco, which was once on land, and is now an off-shore well.

b. Land degradation
This challenge is related to inadequate waste management, oil spillage, bush burning, urban industrial pollution, erosion and inappropriate agricultural practices. The impact of industrial wastes and oil pollution on fishing and farming activities over the years, have left deep scars on the economic resources of the peoples of the region.

c. Bio-diversity depletion
This problem relates to air pollution, deforestation, population pressure, urbanization and over-exploration. The challenge of air pollution is related to gas flaring and acid rain, as well as gaseous emissions from variety of sources. The water in this region is known to have very high iron content.

d. Oil spillage and gas flaring
The proportion of crude oil loss to the environment is quite disturbing. A Department of Petroleum Resources report in Nigeria states that over 95 % of the volume of oil spilled in the region is not recovered. This spells serious health hazards for the communities in the area affected. It is prima facie evidence that no elaborate and concrete efforts are made to protect the ecosystem from environmental pollution.

Oil and environmental degradation
In a 1986 lecture at the University of Lagos, entitled "Oil in World Politics", the late Chief M.O. Feyide, Nigeria's former Secretary of OPEC, points out as follows: All over the world, the lives of people are affected, and the destiny of nations are determined by the result of oil industry operations. Oil keeps the factors of the industrialized countries working and provides the revenues, which enable oil exporters to execute ambitious national and economic development plans. The march of progress would be retarded and life itself would be unbearable if the world was deprived of oil.
That is why oil has become the concern of governments, a vital ingredient of their politics and a crucial factor in political and diplomatic strategies. Oil has been given the image of a big business ruled by naked politics and dominated by ruthless men who are sensitive to nothing except their profit. Every known law on environmental safety has been violated in Nigeria. A good example of this is the volume of natural gas flared in the country.

The average rate of gas flaring in the world is about 4 %. In Nigeria, over 70 % of associated gas is flared. Nigeria has the notorious record of 25 % of all gas flared in the world. There are intense debates about compliance with the United Nations Agencies 21 and the Kyoto Protocol in other parts of the world.
Nigeria is a signatory to these and other international conventions. Yet, the government does not enforce them because the main victims of this ecological massacre are the people of the Niger Delta. As far as the power brokers in Nigeria are concerned, the people of the Niger Delta are good game; they do not deserve the protection of their national government.

The deadline for an end to gas flaring was first fixed for 1985. A policy of gas re-injection was put in place. Pressure from the oil companies forced the government to abandon the policy. Shell canvassed 2008 as another deadline. The year 2004 is now being mentioned as the new date. That is only one year away, yet the programmes on the ground do not indicate that 2004 would be realistic. What is more, none of the 150 flare sites has been discontinued.
In the oil-producing states of Nigeria, an average of one oil spill occurs every week. In the delicate ecosystem of the Niger Delta, these oil-related accidents cause grave damages to the environment and all that it harbours. Protected by the might of the federal government, the oil companies accuse the impoverished victims of being the cause of their tragedy.

Over 1,000 youths, women and children perished in the Jesse inferno at the turn of the century. The figures of the dead in the Odi invasion have been estimated to be about 2000. In all the cases of major calamities associated with oil, the Nigerian government has not taken the pains to calculate the casualty figures nor has it bothered to rebuild the devastated communities.
One of the most disturbing ironies in the Niger Delta today is that crude oil for export is transported to Bonny and Forcados through a network of pipelines covering about 6,000 km. The pipelines are laid across farms, waterways and fishing grounds. Some pipes cross communities and living quarters. Not enough care is given to the technical integrity of the pipes, and so they corrode, burst and cause a deluge of oil spills and fires that consume plant and human life.
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) was set up in 1989 to watch environmental abusers. In the case of the oil industry in Nigeria, however, FEPA is an idle threat. Although the activities of the oil operators take place in territories belonging to states, they are prevented by law from penalizing polluters and destroyers of the environment. That is because oil and mining matters are preserve of the Federal Government as indicated in the exclusive legislative list of the constitution.

The challenge of underdevelopment
The challenge to development in the Niger Delta region can be better understood when we ask specific questions and attempt to answer them. For example, why has there been stagnation of the living standards among the people of the Niger Delta region for decades? Why has the Niger Delta remained underdeveloped for decades, despite the region's contribution of about 90 % to the nation's national wealth? From the onset, all the agencies set up by the Federal Government to address the developmental problems of the Niger Delta were beset by a number of constraints including those of legitimacy and transparency.
Allegations of high level corruption were prevalent and there was very little to justify the resource allocations received in terms of actual delivery. As such, they were unable to pursue effective programmes.

Besides, the people of the oil producing states were unable to exercise any significant political influence over the military government at the federal level in their attempt to redress the situation. Those who paid the piper dictated the tune.
Except for the NDDC, these agencies clearly lacked vision and planning; employed improper developmental strategies; and had a poor implementation focus. Above all, they all suffered from inadequate funding. What is more, some of the programmes embarked upon to stimulate development have no commensurate financial backing. Late release and poor management of funds impede a good number of well-meaning projects and programmes. The result is that these projects and programmes are abandoned midway without creating any decisive impact on the lives of the Niger-Delta people.

In the face of constant changes in government and policies, it is expedient to understand the effects of political power structure in Nigeria on the developmental process of the Niger Delta. Since the end of civil war in Nigeria in 1970, until the Obasanjo presidency, political power remained solely and exclusively vested in the hands of the Hausa-Fulani and the Middle-Belters with a considerable number of Yorubas and Igbos in the cabinet.
The minority ethnic groups of the Niger Delta have not been brought fully into the scheme of things; the occasional few considered for the Federal Executive Council appointments have had little or no authority to attract development to the Niger Delta. This unfailing concentration of power in the three major ethnic groups has contributed in no small way to the gross neglect of the Niger Delta.

Nigeria's treasure trove
Like the gold rush of California in 19th century America, there is a rush for the hydrocarbon treasure of the Niger Delta. As at the last count, over 20 foreign companies and more than 100 indigenous ones are involved in the business of extracting oil in the Niger Delta Basin. Therush for the "black gold" as some have tagged crude oil has opened new chapters in the relationship between the region, its people and those who seek to benefit from the region's abundant natural resources.
More people and allied industries are coming in to take up space in the region as they position to participate in the oil trade whether as oil service contractors, job seekers, oil administrators, law enforcement officers or private security contractors, environmentalists, researchers, journalists and development specialists.

The population of the Niger Delta is growing at the rate of about 2,000 immigrants per day because of oil. This is in addition to the local population growth in the region. The implication for social service and infrastructure is telling: there is a growing demand for housing, electricity, schools and hospitals.
Above all, governments of the region need to rise to the challenge of training adequate manpower to manage the various institutions to meet the yearnings of our people for a better life. The region's inability to meet the real needs of the people, the frustrations arising from their inability to convince the central government and to some extent the international community and donor institutions, as to their real predicament may be following a familiar pattern that urgently needs to be reversed.

Allow me to recall that, in 1966, a young man full of promise and brilliance grabbed a gun and assembled a few like-minded fellows and announced a revolution by the banks of the River Nun. The revolution lasted twelve days. That man was none other than Nigeria's civil war hero, Major Adaka Boro. Twenty-five years later, a middle-aged writer, businessman and former government administrator launched a movement in his native Ogoni.
The mobilization of the Ogoni for economic, cultural and environmental justice through the Ogoni Bill of Rights and Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) attracted the attention of the whole country and the world. Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the movement, together with eight others, were hanged exactly eight years and fifteen days today in a Port Harcourt prison for reasons connected with the successful agitation by the Ogoni for survival. The death of Isaac Boro and the hanging of Ken-Saro Wiwa and his Ogoni kinsmen did not seem to have deterred the people of the Niger Delta in the continuing agitation for justice.
The Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) launched the Kaiama Declaration. This was followed by the Oron Bill of Rights, the Urhobo Economic Charter, the Ikwerre Charter of Demands, the Aklaka Declaration, among others. The primary focus of these bills of right, declarations and charters was the demand for resource control, self-determination, true federalism, environmental and economic justice and peaceful co-existence. In all, they are efforts that have been wilfully misunderstood by the powers that be.

The way forward
The environmental challenge of developing the Niger Delta is indeed a great one. By no means will anybody envisage easy solutions to one single enclave like the Niger Delta that defines wealth and poverty simultaneously.
However, while it is exceedingly late in many respects for certain measures to work in the region, a lot can still be achieved if deliberate and determined steps are taken to halt the time bomb from ticking. It is therefore my considered opinion that the following suggestions be considered.
1. The much-needed political will should be cultivated to develop the Niger Delta, using the Willink Commission recommendations as a basis in many respects.
2. The draconian laws concerning oil and gas and land use should either be abrogated outright or amended to foster accelerated development in the area. At present, all types of decrees, which had been transformed into Acts, exists to justify the "federation" called Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution; the Land Use Act; the Oil Mineral Acts among others exist to prevent dialogue among the various people of Nigeria.
3. For Nigeria to survive, the centre should give up some of its powers to the federating units. At the moment, the centre represents injustice to millions of minorities in Nigeria especially the Niger Delta. A centre that does not produce but consumes is an unsustainable centre. Such a centre can only protect its unfair privileges through the force of arms.
4. Oil and gas matters should be removed from the exclusive legislative list and placed on the concurrent legislative list. This will enhance improved relationship between oil and gas companies and their oil bearing host communities, which are largely manipulated and short-changed.
5. The oil and gas companies should either alone or in partnership with the oil-producing companies embark upon small and medium scale industries. Such industries should be based on raw materials sources from the local area.
6. There should be massive skills acquisition programmes by the multinational companies as well as local, state and federal governments.
7. The large-scale oil and gas based industries such as refineries, gas plants and the oil and gas companies themselves should have indigenes of the area in which they operate to serve on their boards and should enjoy 25 % of the equity structure. Furthermore, 80 % of unskilled labour needed by these industries and companies should be drawn from the catchment area. At the management cadre, 40 % of each position should be reserved for the indigenes.
8. The oil and gas companies should ensure the integrity of their pipelines and, in times of spillage, the best industry technology should be employed to effect remediation. In addition, the oil and gas companies should undertake urgent removal of toxic waste, which is widespread throughout the Niger-Delta.
9. The oil and gas companies should faithfully implement the 45 % local content proposed for the industry.
10. The community engagement policies of the various oil and gas companies can be made more favourable than they are now.
11. The federal, state and local governments should pay appropriate attention to the development of communities responsible for wealth generation i.e. oil and gas producing communities.
12. The indigenes of host communities should avoid greed and fictionalisation in their ranks so that they may not be easy prey to those who seek to rule them.
13. The Federal Government should establish a Niger Delta Development Bank. Oil and gas producing states and communities should participate in the equity structure of such a bank.
14. The federal and state governments and private investors (foreign and local) should set up industries around the commodities and raw materials obtainable in the area such as rice, fish export, sharp sand industries, etc. Of particular interest are the rice fields of Peremabiri and Isampou in Bayelsa State, which are capable of supplying the entire West African sub region.
15. The federal and state governments must develop the infrastructure that will bring riverine filling stations to the rural people to reduce the highcost of petroleum products.
16. In addressing the environmental challenges facing the Niger Delta region adequately, it would be advisable to start from the rural communities, which constitute over 70 % of the region's total population, and harbours most of the oil wells. All the problems associated with oil and gas exploration ranging from environmental degradation, loss of farmland and marine life are solely borne by the rural dwellers. It is therefore necessary that basic amenities be provided for them with some degree of urgency.
17. One of the biggest challenges facing the Niger Delta people and its leaders lies in designing an appropriate political and economic framework that will ensure the protection of local communities. The Niger Delta states must come together and pull resources for regional development. Investments in mutually beneficial infrastructure such as railways, communications, agro-allied industry with special emphasis on fishing, farming and manufacturing will be ideal. I am convinced that the foregoing suggestions will certainly raise the standard of living of our people.

Other Delta region such as Mekong in Vietnam and the Mississippi River in the USA with worse environmental challenges have proved that, with dedication and political will, the Niger Delta can be fully developed to avoid what the current chairman of NNDC, Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, said frankly about the region: It is essentially the least developed area in Nigeria. The paradox of a resource-rich enclave remaining so pervasively poor is one of the enduring scandals of Nigeria's development.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is ironic that Nigeria is yet to feel the outcome of resolutions at the United Nations Earth Summit, which took place in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil about thirteen years ago. After 43 years as an independent nation, the central government in Nigeria seems not to have fully understood the implications of being unjust to any part of the country, especially by depriving the citizenry of their God-given wealth. This injustice has given birth to countless problems, among them a parlous economy and recurrent political instability.
Let me reiterate that the policies of successive administrations as well as the activities of multinational oil companies have aggravated the neglect of our land and people. The Land Use Act Decree No. 6, which came into force in March 1978 appropriated all lands in the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In 1969, the Federal Government promulgated the Petroleum Act, which forbade individuals from engaging in mining petroleum resources. This was followed by Decree No.13 of 1970, which empowered the centre to acquire all federally collected resources. Decree No. 9 of 1971 gave the Federal Government all rights to offshore rents and royalties.

It is obvious from all this that, over the year, our leaders used state machinery to make laws aimed at dispossessing the people of the Niger Delta of their God-given resources. It is time to revoke these laws, and release the Niger Delta from bondage. Since 1958, when export of crude oil began in commercial quantities, Nigeria has realised well over $ 20 t as proceeds. Yet, in spite of this staggering figure, the Niger Delta area remains wretched. Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered in Nigeria, is now a ghost town in the very best sense of that description, a carcass rejected even by the hounds who laid her bare in the first place.
The effects of oil exploration and exploitation are everywhere in evidence in the Niger Delta. Marine life is virtually extinct. Indigenous occupational industries are comatose. Erosion is a widespread menace. Pollution of the very sources of life for the ordinary people manifests in everything from our fishing equipment to the water we drink.
The oil companies themselves are certainly not helping the situation by their flagrant display of insensitivity. At the drilling sites, all the amenities that make life tick is to be found: electricity, water, telephone services,high-powdered marine transport vehicles, air transport and health facilities.

Yet, within a short radius of this drilling haven, there is a stark 100 % disparity in living standards. This is the paradox that the people of the Niger Delta have had to contend with for almost half a century. I do not exaggerate when I say that infrastructural provisions that are taken for granted by other states in Nigeria are luxury to the people of the Niger Delta. One small step for the rest of the country is, more often than not, a giant stride for us. That is why the people feel elbowed out of the race, and why the parameters of competitive growth have to be restored in our favour.
To protect the people of the region from further hardship, there must be effective implementation of all environmental protection laws. The people must be involved in the decision-making process to widen their choices, and increase their chances of influencing the socio-economic and political agenda of the Niger Delta region.

I believe that in the face of such a welcome eventually in a nation where justice and equity reign supreme, the people of the region will feel a greater sense of belonging. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our environment is our only inheritance. If we lose it, there will be no basis to measure our development. Everything begins and ends with the environment. We cannot afford to look at it in abstract terms. It is the living environment where policies and politics mix. It is that arena that determines our happiness or otherwise.
My heart goes out to the management and staff of NewsAfrica magazine, organisers of this forum, for giving us a chance to consider afresh the plight of Nigeria's Niger Delta. I am equally indebted to you all for being such a kind patient audience. I thank you for your attention, and God bless.

Source: The News
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