On April 25, 2023, frontline civil society organisations, socio-cultural groups, academics, traditional rulers, and individuals drawn from the Niger Delta states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers assembled in the city of Port Harcourt for the 2nd Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) for the purpose of setting a pan Niger Delta socio-ecological agenda for the new political leadership at the national and sub national levels that would be sworn-in on May 29, 2023. The convergence discussed the state of the region after over 65 years of oil and gas exploration, and what the Niger Delta peoples must do to immediately regain its dignity and rebuild the devastated region.
The Convergence, was chaired by His Royal Majesty, Suanu Baridam, and had a Keynote titled Looking Back and Thinking Forward: Imperatives of a New Niger Delta Agenda delivered by Professor Sofiri Peterside of the University of Port Harcourt, a panel discussion of experts, and several interventions by notable persons and interest groups in the region. The gathering thoroughly examined the critical issues facing the region, as well as the opportunities, and strategies for addressing them.
The NDAC observed that the major multinational oil companies that have operated in the Niger Delta region for the last 6 decades are driving a divestment programme that has seen the companies clandestinely sell off their onshore and shallow water assets in the region, while claiming that they are doing so due to the ‘hostile operational environment and associated huge operational cost” they are exposed to in the Niger Delta region. The Convergence observed that this position is not only misleading, but is also false. Even more worrisome is the fact that the current divestment process is shrouded in secrecy and is being conducted without the knowledge or participation of the so-called ‘host communities’ whose traditional territories these companies have occupied for more than six decades. These companies are not only divesting; they are also abandoning derelict facilities and decades of problematic relationships developed with oil-bearing communities.
The startling reality is that the Niger Delta has become an ecological wasteland, considerably ravaged by the heedless pollution associated with multi-national oil companies’ activities. The Convergence notes that the contamination of soil, air, and water has resulted in the poisoning of the inhabitants of the region, which has resulted in an alarming increase in illnesses and a drop in life expectancy considerably below the national average. Oil companies are divesting in a bid to flee the climate justice imperative of their reckless actions in the last 65 years.
The NDAC also observed that while Nigeria has intensified the exploration and export of liquefied natural gas, the hazardous and poisonous practice of gas flaring continues unabated and without any clear position on when it will end. The NDAC notes with sadness that the target for ending gas flaring has consistently been moved at least 8 times in the past. At the moment, all deadlines to end the practice have been abandoned, while oil companies continue to impact the health and livelihoods of the Niger Delta people through flaring.
The Convergence equally observed that despite the accrual of significant financial resources to the region, including through the 13% derivation principle, the ecological funds, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission, etc., a combination of factors including corruption, elite capture, control by the Presidency and other forms of mismanagement have ensured that the region remains largely underdeveloped and mainly lacking in infrastructure and amenities.
Furthermore, the NDAC observed the disturbing trend of abandoned projects in the region by national and sub national entities. While this trend has been fueled by corruption and brazen mismanagement, NDAC nonetheless notes an escalating development where the craze for massive (and mostly white elephant) legacy projects by political officials has led to an unprecedented spate of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta. The NDDC alone has over 13,000 abandoned project in the region. Not only do abandoned projects deny the people much needed infrastructural benefits, it also represents an unproductive ‘lockdown’ of the people’s commonwealth.
Participants also observed that the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act (2021), especially as it relates to the Niger Delta region, does not go nearly far enough to address the concerns of the region. In fact, several provisions in the Act actually exacerbate the region’s challenges. In particular, the Convergence notes the provisions that pass the buck of responsibility for protecting oil facilities to Niger Delta communities who must now become guards of oil company properties or they lose the paltry benefits promised in the Act.
The Convergence further observed that several communities in the Niger Delta are faced with massive floods that are a direct result of climate change. Since 2012, these communities are in some cases yearly drowned in over 2 meters of flood water, causing them to lose livelihoods, exposing them to health challenges, forced displacements and untold hardship. Unfortunately, governments at all levels have failed to take any reasonable action to address this challenge.
Based on the forgoing observations, the 2nd Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence resolves as follows;
- That the Niger Delta must move beyond talks and immediately take action, including nonviolent direct action, as well as utilizing all available legal instruments to demand justice.
- An immediate and comprehensive audit of the entire Niger Delta region. This audit should cover environmental, livelihood, health, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction, and should be immediately followed by the decommissioning of decrepit facilities, remediation of impacted places, restoration of the human and ecological damages causes by extraction activities, and reparations for the irreversible and extensive damages caused by oil extraction.
- That the federal government immediately produces a framework and guide for how oil companies disengage from areas where they have operated.
- The government must compel divesting IOCs to fulfill all outstanding Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoUs) obligations to communities and their environment before handing over assets to DOCs.
- An immediate review of the PIA by the National Assembly to do the following;
- Provide a definite deadline for gas flaring by oil companies and eliminate powers to permit flaring.
- Review gas flare fines to reflect the same amount as commercial value of natural gas in the international market, while transferring flare fines to host communities.
- Eliminate the section of the PIA that places the responsibility to protect oil installations on host communities.
- That the federal and state government immediately establish frameworks to ensure that corruption is eliminated in the management of oil revenues that accrue to communities. These include the ecological fund, the 13% derivation and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. In particular, the NDAC demands the release of the forensic audit report on the activities of the NDDC and the prosecution of those that fleeced the Commission.
- That detailed plans be produced by the states and federal government to respond to new and emerging climate change threats to include strategies for supporting community resilience, controlling flooding, relocating communities, addressing health concerns and providing for the social and economic needs of affected people.
- The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence will continue as a peoples’ space for advocacy and engagement, guided by the Niger Delta Manifesto for Socio Ecological Justice.
Signed on behalf of all delegates
Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)
We The People