Responsible Governance: A Panacea to Conflict in Niger Delta
Author: Oluwole Olusegun Akiyode
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 02/02/2010
The question we need to ask ourselves when prolonged violence and conflicts are associated with an abundance of resource is whether this resource abundance is a curse or a blessing. This is currently becoming a phenomenon in Africa where conflicts and violence are almost always associated with resource abundance, especially among the non-renewable resources. It is often promulgated that “natural resources have played a conspicuous role in the history of armed conflicts” (Collier 2000; Ross 1999 In Billion 2005:562,563). Furthermore, non-renewable resources do not aid economic growth; therefore, countries that are economically dependent on the export of primary commodities are at risk to political instability and armed conflict (Billion 2005, 563). At present, Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of oil in the world. However, the country is still ridden with unexplainable instability and conflicts in the oil-producing Niger delta region.
Thus, this paper shall look at the current attributes of the Niger delta that engender and contribute to regular conflict in the region. The paper will conclude by advocating responsible governance through adequate corporate responsibility as well as responsible national and state governance as panaceas to conflict and violence in the oil-rich region.
2. THE CONCEPT OF THE NIGER DELTA REGION
Myers (2004, 4) said experiments show that conflict can be driven by natural resource degradation, scarcity and by competitive control of areas where resources are abundant. In order to better understand the natural resources of the region, as well as the geographical context, the Niger Delta will need to be defined. The Federal Government of Nigeria defined the Niger delta region as the part of the Nigerian state:
[…] situated in the Southern part of Nigeria and bordered to the South by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by Cameroon, it occupies a surface area of about 112,100 square kilometres and represents about 12% of Nigeria’s total surface area of Nigeria having a population 28 million inhabitants by the beginning of 2006. The region has nine of Nigeria’s constituent states, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers (NDRDMP 2006, 49).
In addition Okoh (2001, 390) a don in one of the regions’ Universities said “there is enough evidence that 99% of Nigeria’s proven crude oil and gas reserves are situated in the Niger Delta. Thus, this region is the richest in terms of natural resources in Nigeria. Also, Nigeria’s gas reserve in the region is even believed to be greater than the national crude oil reserves; though this valuable resource has largely remained unexploited. The area has been estimated at about 124 trillion cubic feet which is said to be twice as much as the nation’s crude oil reserves (Okoh 2001, 390).
3. CURRENT ATTRIBUTES OF THE NIGER DELTA REGION
The World Commission on Environment and Development defined a sustainable society as “one that meets the needs of the present without compromising their own needs” (WCED 1987 In Madows 2004, 254). Sustainable development and sustainable peace is a nexus that cannot be separated. Further, “[…] peace and development are intermittently linked (Tschirgri 2003 In Neethling 2005, 38).” The United Nations Development Programme human development report of 1999 also stated that underdevelopment may not directly cause violence, but the report did assert that a poor social economy, diminished environmental conditions, as well as weak political institutions may diminish the society’s capacity to manage tension in a non-violent manner (UNDP 1999 In Neethling 2005, 38). The question at hand is whether oil exploitation and exploration is meeting the needs of the region or negatively affecting the livelihoods and restricting the possibilities of the future. In order to answer this crucial question, a few of the current attributes of this “rich region” that is now widely known for its regular crises will be examined.
Impact of oil
In a research report conducted by Aghalino (1998) on the Niger delta region, she classifies the impact of oil exploitation on the oil-mineral producing communities in three-fold: she reiterated that it firstly leads to environmental pollution; second, it destroys the ecosystems and the ways of life of the people; and third, it further impoverishes the oil-producing communities. There are more than 159 oil fields and 481 oil wells producing two million barrels of oil, all concentrated in the Niger delta region (Nna 1999 In Akiyode et al. 2008, 8). Thus, scattered around the region, oil spills on land and in water hinders farming and fishing; the indigenous occupations of the people. Furthermore, these harmful events also produce unending gas flaring which is very detrimental to the health of the inhabitants of the region.
As reported by the Niger Delta region development master plan, the adult literacy status of the Niger delta is around 78%, compared to the national average of 54%. Public sector schools that provide the main education facilities now has 82% of total pupils in the Niger delta region to cater for. However, even with the increased number, the facilities are saddled with poor funding, poor infrastructure, inadequate maintenance, low morale of instructors, poor teaching facilities, and overcrowded classrooms (NDDRP 2006, 87). These statistics seem abnormal in an area that produces the economic power of the nation, but is characterized by human capital development that has been hindered at the root.
The educational levels in the Niger delta areas are below the average national level. Only about 30% of Niger delta children are enrolled in primary school, compared to national average of 76% (Fubara 2008, 2).
The unemployment level in the Niger delta region is high, especially among the youths. Furthermore, there are few developmental industries apart from oil exploration which could employ members of the local communities. “The Niger Delta Regional Development Plan” document asserts that unemployment in the region is significant. The document, using data from 2000, said the national average unemployment rate stood at nearly 5%. However, in the Niger delta, which happens to be the main source of revenue for the country, the unemployment rate fell below the national average level (NDDRP 2006, 70). Thus, it is a paradox because the wealth of the nation comes from this region.
It is saddening that the oil rich region with one of the largest oil reserve in the whole of Africa has weak infrastructural development. This phenomenon could be summarized from the “Niger Delta Regional Development Plan” program document, which expands upon a study conducted on the region. Through this study, it was realised that about 40% of the roads in the region are in poor condition, along with the region having no functional rail network. It was also discovered that over 36% of households in the Niger delta states have no access to electricity. Further, the communities in this region suffer from the ineffective delivery of water supply (NDRDMP 2006, 82-87).
The impact of oil in the Niger delta region could be associated with the untold poverty that spread throughout the region. This is because:
over the years, oil has sustained Nigeria’s economic growth and improved the standard of living of other non-oil producing regions at the expense of the host communities whose natural resources are being exported into metropolitan countries for importation of capital in return (Emmanuel et al. 2009, 226).
The cause of the high level poverty in the region is believed to be the result of the adverse consequences of oil related activities (Thomas 2001, 14). In addition, Okoh (2005:92) recognizes that the Niger delta people are mainly fishermen with a small numbers of farmers. Thus, the oil spills in the waters and on land has negatively impacted the environment. Also, Seismic activities in search of oil exploration have often resulted in the destruction of vegetation and wild life habitat. Thus, it has been noted that “despite its vast oil resources, exploited for the good of the country, the region remains poor and the GNP per capital is below the national average of 280 dollars” (Fubara 2008, 2).
Youth and struggle
Youth unemployment, inadequate education and poverty could affect the psyche of most youth, thereby luring them to join the “struggle” without proper considerations of the militant groups’ underlining objectives. The current tactic of kidnapping and demanding of ransoms by some of the militant groups has shown that there are different reasons propelling each group. Agreeing with Collier (2001 In Berdal and Malone 2001, 10), “by playing upon a sense of grievance, the organization may therefore be able to get additional recruits more cheaply” when “even the rationale at the top of the organization is essentially greed, the actual discourse may be entirely dominated by grievance.” He also reiterated that “the willingness of young men to join a rebellion might be influenced by their other income-earning opportunities” when they face the option of poverty (Collier 2001 In Berdal and Malone 2001, 10).
CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD
The way forward towards a total end to the recurrence of violent conflict in the Niger Delta region is through responsible governance. This approach inculcates trustworthy national and state governance which must be coupled with adequate corporate social responsibility by oil companies. This is the only way to reduce conflicts and crises in the Niger delta region. Over time, the region has had a series of environmental degradation due to the impact of oil exploration and exploitation. Oil spills and gas flaring are visible occurrence in the Niger delta region. The national and state government of Nigeria pretends to be oblivious to the issue. Thus, the oil corporations continue operation unhindered.
It could be noted that:
Corporate responsibility would hardly exist if all governments were to act in the best interest of their people. All too often, governments fail or lack the capacity to provide for the essential public goods, such as health, education and protection of the environment (Kell 2008, 4).
Furthermore, A Christian Aid report talks about one of the major oil corporations, it says:
[…] claims that it has turned over a new leaf in Nigeria and strives to be ‘good neigbour’. Yet it still fails to quickly clean up oil spills that run villages and runs ‘community development’ projects that are frequently ineffective and which sometimes divide communities living around oilfields (undated, 2).
It is a good indication of progress that oil corporations are now accepting to be responsible for the environmental degradation in this region, especially when oil exploitation and exploration has been ongoing in the region for half a century. The need of adequate corporate social responsibility cannot be overemphasized. In the same Christian Aid report, it also says that:
CSR is a completely inadequate response to the sometimes devastating impact that multinational companies can have in an ever globalised world- and that is actually used to mask that impact. Those who suffer are the poor and vulnerable people and the environment in which they live (Christian Aid undated, 2).
There is need to go back to the basics in an effort to address the regular conflicts or crises in the Niger Delta region since all the peace processes involved are always meeting their waterloo. John Burton (1984 Kelman 1987:348) said the resolution of conflicts is an outcome that meets the basic needs of both parties and is responsive to their fear. The basic needs of the people in this region should be identified and addressed by the Federal Government. This evaluation should be coupled with adequate corporate responsibility (CSR) by oil corporations. These steps are necessary for the peace process.
Bio: Oluwole O. Akiyode is a Master of Art candidate of Environmental Security and Peace at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace. He is a Nigerian with a Bachelor of Biochemistry degree from the Federal University of Technology, Akure and Master of Environmental Management from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. He has several published and seminar papers on the way forward to the lingering environmental problems of his nation Nigeria.