It is useful to remind ourselves that the Niger Delta is a part of Nigeria called home by between 30 to 40 million Nigerians, going by projections. It is rich in biodiversity and equally rich in nature’s Re-Sources. The Niger Delta is inherently a complex web of life having the sort of diversity of culture that is bound by underlining commonalities of dignity, respect and cultural pride. Inherently.
This inherent strength has been tested over the years by what we may term extreme environmental degradation propelled by the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources. We have witnessed the rupturing of the webs of life and the pulling away of safety nets by agencies of misrule, greed and lack and care for Nature and her many children.
The Niger Delta is largely flat with an elevation that is at sea level. The land mass is largely made up of sand and silt brought down by Niger and Benue rivers system with the sands deposited on the continental shelf getting thrown back to firm the sand barriers that are now being threatened. Sea level rise, canalisation and natural soil subsidence all compound the coastal erosion and loss of land that is now commonplace.
Although we cannot avoid some recollection of some of the challenges we face as a territory, this presentation will not bemoan the crisis that has befallen our land. We will remind ourselves of the key issues with a firm focus on pointing out the strategic directions that should guide actions to restore lost grounds and hope. At the same time, we will keep in mind with current levels of despoliation we must agree that there are no easy solutions. This is what underscores the imperative of the NDDC despatching its mandate with creativity, focus and zeal.
The Niger Delta Development Master Plan prepared by the NDDC offers a list of key issues in the region. We reproduce them here:
Widespread poverty, high disease burden and high mortality rate among children
- · Poor sanitation
- · Limited employment opportunities
- · Poor transportation systems
- · Poor telecommunications
- · Poor electricity supply
- · Land scarcity
- · Poor educational and health facilities
- · Poor governance
- · Severe environmental degradation
- · Insecurity
Although the above is quite an alarming list, you all know that it merely scratches the surface when we look critically at the immense deficits that we have in virtually every indicy of human development.
1.00 Our Environment
The natural environment is one in which no modifying or transforming human activity has taken place. When man moves in and interferes one way or the other with natural systems the result is either a liveable environment or one that swallows is inhabitants.
Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) captures the interlocked problems of the Niger Delta in these words:
The majority of the Niger Delta inhabitants lack access to basic infrastructure, health and education services as well as job opportunities. High levels of pollution and destruction of traditional means of livelihood increase the vulnerability to poverty in the region. The fundamental conditions of extreme deprivation have remained unchanged for decades and drive cycles of violent conflict.
SDN went on to say that the problems are self-reinforcing.
Not surprisingly, citizens’ perception in the Niger Delta of the water they drink as unsafe has been found to be as high as 78 per cent. 66 per cent of citizens also affirmed that human waste flows back into some of the communities during rainy season.
The environmental degradation that has placed the Niger Delta firmly on the map of infamy are those related to oil spills and gas flares. The present government says that gas flaring will end in 2020. That dateline is much better than the no-dateline scenario that was presented in the moribund Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
In the present context the new PIBs will come piece-meal in four parts. However, focus is mostly business and there is scant attention to the environment or the people. It is thought that the PIB will come in four parts arranged as follows:
- The Governance and Institutional Framework for Oil and Gas Bill
- The Fiscal Reform Bill
- Licensing Rounds Bill
- Revenue Allocation and Management Bill
Although the speculated title of the PIB IV does not explicitly suggest any focus on the environment or communities, some commentators think that it is that fourth bill that may say something about the funds for communities.
2.00 Our opportunities: Between PIB Politics and the Minerals and Mining Act (2007)
The National Assembly and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources occupy key vantage points to leverage calm in the oil fields of the Niger Delta. They can make this happen by having communities take their place as true stakeholders in the management of oil revenues. This point cannot be overemphasized. It cannot wait until PIB IV before Nigerians know what is coming.
Continued resistance to this fundamental step is clearly not in the interest of Nigerians, especially when the 2007 Mineral and Mining Act has clearly stipulated benefits for communities and land owners where minerals are extracted.
The fact that our existing petroleum laws were war legislations gave birth to discontent by the reason of the very spirit that created them. Militarisation of the region is inescapable way of enforcing the anti-people oil decrees and may work to lock-in a cycle of conflict that ought to be halted.
According to Idumange, “The Petroleum Act of 1969 (as amended and other legislations), the local communities on whose lands oil is exploited, have been divested of their entitlements to their land and the oil produced from it. Indigenes of the Niger Delta hardly ever benefit from the allocation of Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPL) and are totally excluded from crude oil sales notwithstanding the fact that it is the local communities and the people that directly suffer from oil spillage, gas flaring, acid rain, and other forms of environmental degradation and pollution.”
The multiplication of military formations in the creeks cannot be the way of the hole that we appear to be digging. Modelling the PIB after the Minerals and Mining Act would create a level playing ground and eliminate the many inequities and reckless environmental degradation that occurs in the oil fields communities as if they were no man’s lands.
Extracts from Chapter 4 of the The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007
- Prohibition of mineral exploration in certain areas
(1) No person shall, in the course of exploration or mining, carry out operations, in or under any area held to be sacred or permit injury or destruction of any tree or other thing which is the object of veneration.
(2) When any question arises under this section as to whether an area is held to be sacred or a tree or thing is the object of veneration, the question shall be decided by the
Mining Cadastre Office on the recommendation of the Mineral Resources Committee of the State concerned.
(3) A licensee or lessee who causes injury or damage to any area, tree or thing mentioned in subsection (1) of this section shall pay fair and adequate compensation to the persons or communities affected by injury or damage.
- Surface rent
(1) The lessee of a Mining Lease shall pay rent, in advance without demand being made of it, at such rate per annum as shall be determined by the Minister for all lands occupied or used by it in connection with its mining operations.
(2) The Minister shall, before granting a Mining Lease on any private or any State land-
(a) cause the owner or occupier of the land to be informed of the intention of the Minister to grant the lease; and
(b) require the owner or occupier of the land to state in writing within the period specified by the Regulations made under this Act, the rate of annual surface rent which the owner desires should be paid to him by the lessee for the land occupied or used by it for or in connection with its mining operations.
(3) If within the time specified pursuant to subsection (2) of this section, the owner or occupier states the rate of the rent he desires should be paid, and the Minister is satisfied that the rent is fair and reasonable, the surface rent payable in respect of the land of the owner or occupier shall be the amount specified and the rent shall be notified to the lessee as soon as possible.
(4) The rate of the surface rent, whether fixed by the owner, occupier or by the Minister, shall be subject to revision by the Minister at intervals of five years.
(5) In fixing the surface rent payable, the Minister shall take into consideration the damage which may be done to the surface of the land by the mining or other operations of the lessee, for which compensation is payable.
- Community Development Agreement
(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the holder of a Mining Lease, Small- scale Mining Lease or Quarry Lease shall prior to the commencement of any development activity within the lease area, conclude with the host community where the operations are to be conducted an agreement referred to as a Community Development Agreement or other such agreement that will ensure the transfer of social and economic benefits to the community.
(2) The Community Development Agreement shall contain undertakings with respect to the social and economic contributions that the project will make to the sustainability of such community.
(3) The Community Development Agreement shall address all or some of the following issues when relevant to the host community-
(a) educational scholarship, apprenticeship, technical training and employment opportunities for indigenes of the communities;
(b) financial or other forms of contributory support for infrastructural development and maintenance such as education, health or other community services, roads, water and power;
(c) assistance with the creation, development and support to small scale and micro enterprises;
(d) agricultural product marketing; and
(e) methods and procedures of environment and socio-economic management and local governance enhancement.
(4) In the event of the failure of the host community and the lessee, after several at- tempts to conclude the Community Development Agreement by the time the titleholder is ready to commence development work on the lease area, the matter shall be referred to the Minister for resolution.
(5) The Community Development Agreement shall be subject to review every 5 years and shall, until reviewed by the parties, have binding effect on the parties.
- Objectives of the Community Development Agreement
The Community Development Agreement shall specify appropriate consultative and monitoring frameworks between the mineral titleholder and the host community, and the means by which the community may participate in the planning, implementation, management and monitoring of activities carried out under the Agreement.
- Environmental obligations
Every holder of a mineral title under this Act shall as far as it is reasonably practicable-
(a) minimise, manage and mitigate any environmental impact resulting from activities carried out under this Act; and
(b) rehabilitate and reclaim, where applicable, the land disturbed, excavated, ex- plored, mined or covered with tailings arising from mining operations to its natural or predetermined state or to such state as may be specified in this Act, its Regulations and other pertinent laws in force, and in accordance with established best practices.
With communities as direct stakeholders in the business, they will take more active interest in helping police petroleum infrastructure and thereby reduce the spate of third party interferences with those facilities. Besides, the communities would have a stronger voice when they point to the fact that interferences by any means, bombs or hacksaws, punish the communities and their environment most because they were condemned to live in the degraded environments whereas the international oil companies can conceivably simply pack up their suitcases and leave.
3.00 Who Owns the Resource? – Thoughts on Re-Source Democracy
The second and a very important thought in this presentation has to do with our understanding and relationship with the gifts of Nature through the concept of Re-Source Democracy. You may ask, what has this got to do with NDDC and the quest for environmental security. Everything. One of the fundamental challenges we have as a people is our loss of memory of what we had in the past and the values that sustained them, before rapacious exploitation of Nature and primitive accumulation set in.
Re-Source Democracy urges a reconnection to the source of the gifts that we enjoy as humans, keeping in mind that we are one species among many others. It requires that we do not see Nature as a theatre of exploitation, and that we should move from resource to re-sourcing with Earth, intentionally reconnecting with our natural life source.
Re-Source democracy is a clarion call to protect, defend and replenish our Re-Sources and environment for the common good. It seeks to ensure that present generations enjoy what they have without jeopardising the interests of future generations. The concept is predicated on a culture that respects life and hinges on the premise that “the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.”  We inhabit our places on the Earth by birth and by citizenship rights. The Re-Sources in the territories where we find ourselves are best protected, preserved and multiplied when we use our knowledge to suitably relate to the Re-Sources to maintain our lives, culture, sciences, spirituality, organisation, medicines and food sovereignty. Re-Source democracy requires that mankind serves as stewards over natural Re-Sources and not as predators.
We all celebrate and defend our right to life. While we do that, we must also realise that nature has a right to maintain her cycles and that our life can only be supported by nature when she is able to maintain those cycles. Our rights do not supersede and must not subvert the rights of nature.
Re-Source democracy contextualises and integrates Re-Source management in a way that uses indigenous or local knowledge as a veritable base. For example, where some people see forests merely as carbon stocks or sinks, forest dependent communities see them as places of life and culture, as places where they obtain food, medicine, building materials and other non timber forest products. Communities living in harmony with nature ensure that the available Re-Sources are replenished and not depleted at a scale that degrades them. When non-forest community people look at forests what come to mind are possibilities of commercial logging, conversion into mono-crop plantations or securing them as carbon sinks. The idea of the forest as a carbon sink excites governments seeking foreign exchange earnings from the exploitation of natural Re-Sources and this excitement can get so feverish that brute force is used to expel forest communities from their territories.
A clear understanding of our Re-Sources, their uses and intrinsic values is vital for their proper management. The same goes for a central need for our understanding of the harmful impacts of certain extractive activities including those of solid minerals, hydrocarbons and forest products. These, plus an interrogation of the meaning of progress and development help us to draw the line between what we can accept or reject in our environment.
Economic value cannot be the vital measure of Re-Source value. A clear rejection of the commodification of nature is necessary for sustainable management of our natural Re-Sources.
Re-Sources are gifts of nature and are either renewable or non-renewable. They are found on land or in the sea. They include living species and non-living things. The exploitation or use of these Re-Sources can be harmful or wrong when the majority population is not considered in the decision-making matrix. For instance, when land is appropriated for cultivation of crops for biofuel and farmers are displaced or indentured, we promote machines and the comfort of the rich over the rights of the poor to a life of dignity.
As attractive as biofuels appear to some people, severe socio-economic and other impacts on vulnerable small-scale farmers have been documented. These impacts range from land grabs to poor and unpredictable income from being absorbed into a cash crop arrangement that is totally out of their control. A case in point is that of a UK company, D1 Oils in Swaziland where farmers were co-opted as sharecroppers to cultivate jatropha with the assurance that the crop would grow on marginal land without needing much input from them. As it turned out, although jatropha was touted as a wonder crop and a hardy plant that would thrive on very little water, the farmers found that the claim did not play out in reality. They needed to water the plants regularly and in an area with water stress this turned out to be a herculean task. We do not need to state that the dreams of wealth turned into nightmares and horrors and the enterprise collapsed.
If Re-Source democracy had been in place in Swaziland, for example, the poor farmers would have been given facts and full information about what they were being drawn into. Such information would have included the uncertainties surrounding the crop and the fact that there have not been sufficient studies on jatropha as a plantation crop. The result would have been different if local farmers had willingly undertaken to grow crops native to their locality. They would have utilised crops that are resilient to local conditions and would have drawn from local traditional ecological knowledge in nurturing them.
3.01 Development Paths
The current development path of the world sees resources as objects that must be exploited. In a heavily financialised world, resources are also seen as things to be manipulated and converted into cash. Nature and its resources are thus mostly valued in terms of money and power, sometimes totally forgetting that they have intrinsic values.
Re-Source democracy recognises that a Re-Source fundamentally belongs to Nature and may be enjoyed by communities or peoples who have traditionally held the territory where the Re-Source such as a forest or grazing grass exist. It removes the obstacles erected by the politics of access and process as well as of redress. Such obstacles may vary depending on the objective of the demand or struggle. We recognise also that such struggles may be over Re-Source rights, environmental rights or the right to utilise available Re-Sources.
The alienation of humanity from nature happens in a way that is directly proportional to our proximity to desired Re-Sources. The alienation from nature does not only keep us from seeing the intrinsic value of Re-Sources, it also blinds those who see them as money-spinners to any sense of responsibility when grabbing for them. Re-Source democracy connects us to our roots, to nature and calls us to Re-Source with Earth, our source of life.
Current dominant development modes are energy intensive and require more and more Re-Sources to generate that energy to keep the machines rolling and to feed the appetite of humankind for consumption and for cash. In that process we often overlook the wellbeing of the planet itself. The result of this outlook has been ‘resource’ conflicts and wars and extreme damage of environment through reckless exploitation. The conflict and the harm are certain to intensify as the non-renewable Re-Sources run out and as habitable environment for the reproduction of renewable Re-Sources reduce.
Wars powered by greed and faulty relationships with Nature’s gifts do not end easily and it is instructive to note that nations never really win such wars and conflicts. While citizens die or lose their limbs multinational extractive companies and weapons makers/dealers simply go on enjoying their profits.
3.02 Recognition and Inaction
The dire state of affairs has not escaped mankind. However, the acknowledgement of a problem does not necessarily lead to a readiness or willingness to solve it. The notion that we have the capacity to fix whatever we break leads us to ride roughshod over nature and her Re-Sources. It is equally easier to be irresponsible in our handling of Re-Sources when we can externalise the costs and consequences to the poor and the voiceless in society.
A case in point is the fact that the world knows that climate change is propelled by dependence on fossil fuels and other actions of man and yet despite years of warnings and multilateral negotiations, nations harden positions and continue in the wrong and harmful paths. Indeed, nations insist they have a right to pollute in order to catch up with others who polluted earlier (and are still polluting) and have through polluting made achievements that the neo-polluters desire. Sadly, environmental pollution is fast becoming a badge of progress.
3.03 Environmental Defence
In Re-Source democracy citizens are real stakeholders that work and receive benefits and not tokens or acts of charity. It provides the space for ordinary people to get together to establish rules in line with traditional as well as best available knowledge to safeguard the soil, trees, crops, water and wildlife that support their livelihoods. Re-Source democracy hinges on pragmatic politics and wisdom that our relations with nature cannot be left to speculators and manipulators of market forces. It ensures the right and responsibility to participate in decisions that determine our access to, and enjoyment of Nature’s gifts.
Acts of over consumption including grabbing of Re-Sources to meet needs of corporations and the super rich are acts of violence. When we take more than we require we are eating up the ecological space of other species and of future generations. Re-Source Democracy demands that we develop the tool we need for ecological as well as cultural defence.
Our ways of life should complement and synchronise with the cycles and provisions of nature. At the same time our economic activities rely on extracting value from natural Re-Sources through direct use or through their transformation into goods and services. A basic tenet of defence of our Re-Sources is the right to prior informed consent. This includes the right to accept exploitation of Re-Sources in our communities/territories or to reject such actions. To aid such decisions communities must be fully involved in environmental and social impact studies before the commencement of and project. Although this is already required by existing Environmental Impact Act of 2004, Re-Source Democracy would ensure that communities are educated and informed of the availability and uses of this tool to ensure that harmful projects are not embarked upon in their territories.
to which we have already referred in section 2.00 above.
The Minerals Act ensures that companies or individuals do not ride roughshod over citizens’ rights as they seek to exploit available ‘resources’. The mining company cannot obtain a mining title without adequate consultation with landowners.
In cases where land is privately held and may be affected by mining operations, the Act requires that government must obtain the consent of the private owner of land before mining title would be granted. Where there is no consent the private land in question would be out of reach to the miners. This is provided for under section 100 of the Mining Act, which reads:
When an application is made for Mineral title in respect of an area which includes any private land or land occupied under a state lease or right of occupancy, the notice of the application, shall be given in the prescribed manner to the owner or occupier of the land and consent obtained before the license is granted, otherwise the license may be granted with exclusion of the private land in question.
Section 19 of the Mining Act also makes provision for the setting up of a committee to be known as Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee in each state of the Federation. Communities are to be represented on such committees and part of the functions of this committee is to advise the Local Government Areas and Communities on the implementation of programs for environmental protection.
4.00 Cleaning and Staying Clean
The third and concluding point of leverage is the offered by the imminent commencement of the clean up of Ogoni land and the Niger Delta as a whole. A clean up makes sense when there is a commitment by all to cease from polluting activities.
The NDDC Act has a broad list of functions for the commission. The function that concerns us particularly in this paper is the one which states that it is to:
Tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger-Delta area and advise the Federal Government and the member States on the prevention and control of oil spillages gas flaring and environmental pollution etc.
As stated above, the Board of NDDC has wide powers of discretion in determining what constitutes the other ecological problems besides the ones listed. This broad canvas is both an opportunity and a problem.
Strategic steps that the NDDC can take in this direction are
- Stepping up advocacy and mass education on the critical need to keep the environment clean by demanding that oil companies replace their pipelines when due, keep their facilities in top conditions, stop incessant oil spills and clean up those that inevitably occur when they do.
- Train communities on environmental monitoring and reporting – including on oil spills toxicity; and set up networks of community ecological defenders
- Establishment of centres of excellence to training youths in scientific ways of pollution cleaning and soil restoration
- Provide safe drinking water in communities, especially in areas with frequent oil spills. The UNEP report on the Assessment of Ogoni Environment, for one, clearly stated that the waters our people there depend on are all polluted with hydro carbons and in some places with benzene a known carcinogen at levels 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. It is astonishing that almost 5 years after the submission of that report our people are still drinking the waters that are known to be poisonous.
- Clean up of communities on the fence lines of refineries, including Nisisioken Ogale in Rivers State and Ubeji in Delta State.
- Sanitation, especially toilet facilities and a stoppage of open defecation.
- Clearing of water ways of invasive species such as water hyacinth and the use of the weeds in the creation of useful products – such as oils and organic fertilisers
- Support legislative advocacy and work for a similarity between the laws governing petroleum and solid minerals exploration and extraction in Nigeria. In particular, support efforts to adopt/apply the strategic link between environmental and community concerns of the Solid Minerals Act in the petroleum sector.
We have endeavoured to stress that our approach to ensuring a liveable environment stems directly from our intrinsic value of our environment and our capacity to stand as ecological defenders. We have also shown that this can best be done from a position of knowledge and readiness to use existing and new tools. There are low hanging fruits to be plucked – especially with a determined and undeterred clean up process – and available good will for the NDDC to clarify and to play its expected role. Now, as is often said, the ball is in our court.
Thank you for your attention.
These were talking points by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at World Environment Day event organised by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at Port Harcourt on 1st June 2016
John, Idumange (2011) ‘The Impact of Niger Delta Development Commission in the Eyes of the Ordinary Niger Delta People’, The Nigerian Voice (8 September), http://www.thenigerianvoice.com/news/69436/the-impact-of-niger-delta-development-commission-in-the-eyes.html Accessed 29 May 2016
Aston-Jones, Nick (1998) The Human Ecosystem of the Niger Delta- An ERA Handbook, Benin City, ERA.
NNDC. Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, p.14-15
Stakeholder Democracy Network, The Niger Delta, http://www.stakeholderdemocracy.org/niger-delta-background/ Accessed 28 May 2016
Raji, AOY and Abejide, TS, (2013) ‘An Assessment of Environmental Problems Associated with Oil Pollution and Gas Flaring in the Niger Delta Region Nigeria, C.1960s-2000. http://www.arabianjbmr.com/pdfs/OM_VOL_3_(3)/7.pdf Accessed 28 May 2016
NIDPRODEV, (2011), Niger Delta Citizen Report Card – on public services, good governance and development from 120 Niger Delta communities in three geopolitical zones, Warri, p.59-60
See Bassey, Nnimmo (2016) ‘New PIB and Forgotten Host Communities?’ at https://nnimmobassey.net/2016/04/05/new-pib-and-forgotten-host-communities/
Chapter 4 of the Solid Minerals Act 2007 is on Environmental Considerations and Rights of Host Communities.
John, Idumange (2011).
See Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action (2013): Communities and the Petroleum Industries Bill – Memorandum to the Joint Senate Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB, 2012), Abuja (18-19 July)
This section is a direct extract from chapter 1 of HOMEF (2014), Re-Source Democracy, Benin City, pp 12-17
Ayma, Evo Morales (April 22, 2009), The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. Speech made on the occasion of the declaration of the International Day of the Mother Earth in the UN General Assembly, New York.
There are several examples of displacement of forest communities. The Sengwer and the Ogiek communities in Kenya offer recent examples. In Nigeria there have been consistent complaints from forest communities like those in Iguobazuwa insisting that they were dispossessed of their forestlands without adequate compensations.
See Jatropha – Wonder Crop? Experience for Swaziland at www.foe.co.uk/Re-Source/reports/jatropha_wonder_crop.pdf
See Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action)- 18-19 July 2013: Communities and the Petroleum Industries Bill – Memorandum to the Joint Senate Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), 2012.