Sustainable Environmental Management in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria: Effects of Hydrocarbon Pollution on Local Economy
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This study closely examined how oil exploration has caused environmental degradation
and untold hardship to the local communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Nigeria is known to be the sixth largest producer of crude oil among the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the largest in the African continent. The
crude oil that puts Nigeria in this position is being produced in the Niger Delta region of
the country. Nigeria’s economy is based on crude oil exports.
Despite this enormous wealth coming from the Niger Delta, there is pervasive poverty
and despicable environmental damage as a result of crude oil mining activities going on
in this region. Suffice it to say that, there is total neglect of the region in terms of
infrastructural development and economic empowerment of its local populace by the
government and oil companies operating in the region. This has led to youth restiveness
and hostage taking in the area.
A sound methodological research approach was developed and utilized in this study.
Both primary and secondary data were collected from questionnaires, structured
interviews, personal observations, relevant literature, documentation from government
agencies and oil companies. These data were analyzed, and they synthesized the
discussions contained in this study.
This study is all about charting a new course in the way the oil companies operating in
the Niger Delta region carry out their activities in order to ensure the environmental
sustainability of the region, and improve the economy of the rural communities in the
region at the same time. It identifies the constraints to effective implementation of
Nigeria’s environmental laws and policies especially the Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) as it concerns oil prospecting, which has hitherto contributed in
hindering her environmental sustainability. It also unveils the critical issues concerning
the deplorable state of the economy of the local populace of the region.
After identifying the various problems contributing to the environmental woes, and the
poor economic growth of the region, this research proffers recommendations that should
be conscientiously and vigorously implemented to reverse the trend. Although, the oil
companies have made some efforts towards providing the necessary infrastructures needed in the region, they need to do more in the area of capacity building, and use of
green technologies to ensure healthy environment of their host communities. The
government on her part should strengthen the various Ministries and Agencies vested
with the responsibility of protecting the Nigerian environment, by providing them with
the necessary incentives for maximum efficiency. This study therefore emphasizes a
concerted approach from all the stakeholders in the Niger Delta region for the successful
implementation of the recommendations herein to ensure the sustainable development of
the region, and Nigeria in general.
The Framework of the Study
This Chapter deals with the general framework of the study. It gives an insight into the
main motivation/statement of the problem for this study, the research objectives, the study
expectations, the methodological approaches employed and then the problems
encountered during the data collection. This chapter also contains the outline of the study
and a general literature review of some other related studies carried out on oil-related
issues in the Niger Delta region.
1.0 Statement of the Problem
This study has become very imperative due to the environmental degradation occasioned
by hydrocarbon production in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. There has been series of
conflicts between the indigenous people of the region and the major Oil Companies
operating therein over the years. The region claims that the activities of the Oil
Companies instead of improving have impoverished its people by causing a serious
decline in their marine and agricultural resources, which constitute their economic main
Because of environmental pollution, there is drastic decline in the region’s biodiversity
and ecological resources, which are the main sources of their income and the people’s
mode of survival (Ashton et al., 1999). Also, there is an aspect of the health hazards
posed to the inhabitants as a result of oil pollution of the environment, and hence there
are environmental challenges as well as socio- economic problems created by adverse
effects of oil mining, which has culminated into low agricultural productivity and poor
farm yields sufficient enough to threaten the food security of the Niger Delta (Ashton et
This study intends to investigate fully the effects of hydrocarbon exploitation on – the
environment of the Niger Delta region; on the general well being of the local
communities in the region; and on the economic growth of the indigenous people of the
Niger Delta over the years. It would then recommend ways of improvement that can lead
to environmental sustainability and subsequent sustainable development of the region.
1.1 Aims and Objectives of this Research
The sole objective of this study is to discover laudable ways of achieving overall
sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. This would mean achieving
environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social equity which are the
three pillars of sustainable development.
The main objectives of the study are to:
· Assess the present environmental state of Nigeria and that of the Niger Delta
· Identify principles of environmental sustainability applicable to the Niger Delta
· Elaborate these principles in scientific, technological and socio-economic terms;
· Consider current and future priorities for environmental sustainability in the
· Assess existing political, socio-economic, ethical, cultural and legal frameworks
for environmental decision making in Nigeria;
· Assess Nigeria progress in environmental sustainability and the attainment of the
MDGs target of 2015;
· Assess the various action plans for the sustainable development of the region by
governments and their levels of implementation.
1.2 Study Expectations
It is hoped that this study on completion would provide a ready guide to policy makers
and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta region to make informed decisions in relation to
implementing action plans geared towards the sustainable development of the region.
It would also help in updating existing policies and interventions aimed at empowering
the local communities of the region economically.
The study would recommend strategies that could be adopted by the decision-makers and
stakeholders in mitigating pollution of water bodies and agricultural lands, which
contribute immensely to the economic well-being of the local people.
1.3 Methodological Approach Used in the Study
The significance of this research lies in the different approaches adopted in the
investigation of environmental sustainability in the Niger Delta region, with particular
reference to the effects of hydrocarbon pollution on the economy of the local
communities. The following methods were adopted in this study: literature review,
surveys and field observations.
Relevant literature reports from Journals, textbooks, relevant government agencies (Niger
Delta Development Commission, Federal Ministry of Environment, State Ministries of
Environment), documents from the Health Safety and Environment Departments of Oil
Companies operating in the Niger Delta region, reports from Non-governmental and
community based organizations, Newspaper reports and internet websites were reviewed
and used in this research. There are many literatures dealing with the issue of oil
exploration and environmental pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. However,
most of the literatures published have focused on the issues from social, economic,
equity, minority and human right issues. Some of the available literatures dealt with the
political and resource control issues in the region. Dr. Kaniye Ebeku wrote one of the
most recent literatures that talked about the indigenous people of the Niger Delta and oil
exploration in the context of International Law. His book brought the issues of equity,
resource rights, and rights of the indigenous people and the underdevelopment of the
Niger Delta region to international discourse. The information from the above sources
accounts for the secondary data employed in this research.
The surveys employed in this study were in the forms of questionnaires, interviews and
field observations which form the primary sources of information for this work. The
questionnaire was prepared in collaboration with Frau Andrea Tönjes from the Chair of
Environmental Issues in the Social Sciences, Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus,
Germany (BTU). The questionnaire, which has both closed and open-ended questions
covered all aspects of the research (see Appendix), and was divided into four parts, which
i) Demographic data
ii) The local economy
iii) Environmental Sustainability, and
iv) Developmental activities
Before the questionnaires were finally distributed, a pre-test was carried out amongst
some BTU students, and final adjustments were made on the questionnaires. This pre-test
was to ensure the reliability, validity and correctness of the questions contained in the
The Niger Delta region is made up of several communities, but for the purpose of this
research, only five communities were selected. These five communities were chosen on
the strength that the major Oil Companies operating in Nigeria have their major
operations in these communities. These chosen communities feel the major impacts of oil
explorations (both positive and negative) in the Niger Delta region more than others.
A total of 250 questionnaires were randomly distributed to respondents who reside in
these communities. The questionnaires were self-administered, to make sure that the
study cut across the different age groups. Out of the number that was distributed, 215
completed questionnaires were returned representing 86 per cent of the total number
distributed (see Appendix for a sample of the questionnaire).
Interviews formed part of the methods used in gathering data for this study as mentioned
earlier. Structured interviews were used to gain an in-depth knowledge from some
management staff of some Oil Companies operating in the Niger Delta region, on issues
of environmental sustainability, infrastructural development and economic well-being of
the region. Their answers to the interview questions were used as a check to the feedback
from the communities through the questionnaires administered and vice versa (see
appendix for the structured interview questions).
In the course of distributing the questionnaires to the various communities, I was able to
see for myself some of the devastations caused by oil operations in these communities.
One could easily notice the gas flare pits, oil films on the river waters, some dead
mangrove trees, and what used to be farmlands covered by crude oil patches. Some of the
communities have the crude oil and refined petroleum products pipelines passing through them shown on the surface. All these observations were recorded in form of photographs
for this study.
1.4 Problems Encountered during Data Collection
Some parts of the Niger Delta region where the questionnaires were distributed have very
bad terrain, for easy access into these areas the local boats were used as the only means of
transportation. Having access to the Chiefs and Heads of the local communities also
posed a great challenge; this was due to the tight schedules of most of them and the
While official data sources exist in Nigeria, the bureaucratic bottlenecks involved in
having access to them is enormous. To be able to have access to Oil Company
information, one need to get an official written permission from the Department of
Petroleum Resources (DPR), this is the official government agency that regulates the
activities of the Oil Companies. Another problem encountered during the data collection
was confusing discrepancies between the various sources, to the extent that official
databases are rendered unusable by structural inconsistencies and systematic compilation
errors that threaten data reliability and validity. The author encountered the above
problems in the course of this study. These problems were subsequently overcome and
did not have any adverse effect on the reliability of the data used in this study.
1.5 The Outline of the Dissertation
This present study will try to cover the areas that were neglected by previous studies
especially the aspects of environmental degradation caused by oil operations in the Niger
Delta region, its environmental sustainability, sustainable development and the impact of
oil exploitation on the economy of the indigenous (local) people.
This study is arranged into Nine Chapters. Chapter one contains the framework of the
study – describes the statement of the problems, aims and objectives of the study, the
study expectations, the methodological approaches employed in the study, and the
general literature review. Chapter Two gives a brief description of the country called
Nigeria in which the study area – the Niger Delta region is situated, it also contains the
description of the demography of the study area (The Niger Delta region). Chapter three
treated issues concerning Environmental Sustainability and Sustainable Development in
the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole – some economic reform strategies designed by the Nigerian government to eradicate poverty in the region were also discussed in this
chapter. Chapter Four looks at the environmental degradation of the study area – oil
spillage and gas flaring, while Chapter Five dealt with the local economy of the Niger
Delta region and its economic sustainability potentials.
Chapter Six describes the developmental activities and social services available in the
Niger Delta region. Chapter Seven dealt with the issues of environmental regulation and
enforcement aimed at achieving environmental sustainability in Nigeria – Environmental
Impact Assessment Practice in Nigeria. Chapter Eight discussed Environmental Policy
issues in Nigeria – Environmental Standards, Compliance and Monitoring, while the
Recommendations and conclusions of this work were presented in Chapter Nine.
1.6 General Literature Review
As it is known, Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing country within the Organisation
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the seventh largest oil producing country
in the world. Hence, the global importance of Nigeria’s oil cannot be over-emphasised.
Apart from its global importance, oil revenue is the main source of Nigeria’s annual
foreign exchange earnings and contributes about 95 per cent of the country’s annual
It is a well-known fact that Nigeria’s oil deposits are naturally located in the Niger Delta
region of the country inhabited by indigenous people. Oil exploitation in Nigeria started
over 50 years ago. Constitutional and statutory provisions vest the ownership of oil in the
Nigerian State. Moreover, by the Land Use Act of 1979, the ownership of all land
comprised in the territory of a state of the federation is vested in the state in trust for all
Nigerians. In essence, by the Land Use Act all the lands in Nigeria have been
nationalised. The Niger Delta indigenous people allege that by a combination of these
and other legal provisions they are excluded from participation in the exploitation of oil
found in their region, notwithstanding adverse environmental and socio-economic
impacts of oil operations (Ebeku, 2005).
There are enormous literatures on Nigerian oil, oil operations in Nigeria’s Niger Delta
and Nigerian oil industry. This is due to the strategic importance of oil in the Nigerian
economy as well as the importance of oil in world politics. Most of the literatures
published centred around environmental and human right issues as it is related to oil exploitation in Nigeria and socio-economic problems of oil exploitation. For the purpose
of this study, some of these literatures are reviewed herewith.
The first major book published on Nigerian oil was in 1969 by Schatzl. It was published
13 years after the discovery of oil in Nigeria (Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956). The
book focused essentially on the economic exploitation of oil and gas in Nigeria by the
multinational oil companies especially Shell-BP Development Company of Nigeria
Limited. The book highlighted the importance of oil in the Nigerian economy and its
importance as a major source of energy in Nigeria. This book did not discuss the
environmental and social impacts of oil operations on the indigenous people of the Niger
In 1970, Scott Pearson wrote a book titled ‘Petroleum and the Nigerian Economy’. The
central concern of this book was on the impact of oil on the Nigeria economy, just like
Schatzl’s book. This book is merely on the economic analysis of the role of oil in the
Nigerian economy. It also discussed the politics of oil in Nigeria. It did not make any
mention of the environmental pollution associated with oil production, and the economic
empowerment of the Niger Delta communities.
In 1996, Deborah Robinson took the socio-anthropological approach and studied the
impact of oil on the Ogoni community of the Niger Delta. The study was a case study of
the social and political impacts of oil production on the community. The study pointed
out that gas flaring because of the oil operations adversely affected the community’s
environment, but environmental issues were not central in her study.
Then in 1990, Ikein studied the impact of oil on a developing country, with special
emphasis on Nigeria. His work adopted a socio-economic and anthropological approach,
but it was not exclusively devoted to the study of oil operations in the Niger Delta rather,
on the impact of extractive economies around the world. With specific regard to the
Niger Delta, the author was concerned with the social and economic impacts of oil on the
region and its local populations. The author only made a passing reference on
environmental issues arising from oil exploitation in the Niger Delta.
Ebeku (2005) and Etikerentse (1985), wrote on ‘oil and the Niger Delta People in
International Law’ and the ‘Nigerian Petroleum (Oil) industry’ respectively from a legal
perspective. Ebeku’s book was very passionate about the total neglect of the Niger Delta
by the Nigerian State in terms of infrastructural development and inequity in the
distribution of the oil wealth that is coming from the region. In his book, he pointed out
the main causes of the youth unrest and militia actions in the Niger Delta as inequality in
oil wealth distribution, environmental degradation and human right abuses, and then
pointed out how the Oil Companies and the International Community can come in as to
help in the sustainable development of the region.
Nevertheless, in 1998, Okorodudu-Fabara wrote a book that centred on environmental
issues in Nigeria, including oil-related environmental problems. However, Okorodudu-
Fubara study dealt with the legal study of environmental issues in Nigeria, but it did not
mention environmental issues concerning the Niger Delta region. The main thrust of the
study was the treatment of legal measures for the protection of the three environmental
media, viz.: air, land and water.
This present study would contribute extensively in the area of environmental
sustainability and eventual sustainable development of the Niger Delta region and
Nigeria in general.