NIGER DELTA: Five Decades of Industrial Rape PART 1 |by McDike Dimpka

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 30-Oct-2017

The story of the Niger Delta is hardly sweet to tell. And this sad story (maybe stories), has been told over and over again, by different story tellers and only one thing spurs the telling and retelling of this story: to get the authorities to pay attention to the effects of the industrial activities on the people and the ecosystem, as well as improving the lives of those inhabiting the area. This is the simplest of demands, and rightly so, that has ironically kept the region a battle ground for three unequal gladiators: the government, the oil companies and the people who decide to speak out in whichever way they chose to.

After fifty years of ‘unsuccessful oil exploration’ in Nigeria, (fifty years!) Shell D’Arcy finally struck black gold in a bush in Oloibiri, a community in modern day Bayelsa State. Crude oil was discovered in marketable quantities right there in Oloibiri, on 15 June 1956. While that discovery promised a great future for the oil company and the Nigerian authorities, it would turn out to seemingly be the worst thing that ever happened to the serene and swampy dwellers of the delta. What made it so?

To the Nigerian authorities and government parastatals, oil was a great source of revenue. Since many institutions and individuals, in fact, the whole world needed oil, to be a producer of it was to be among the richest countries in the world. That singular finding was enough to make the authorities break into a dance like a traditional African whose wife gives birth to male triplets after ten years of barrenness. To the oil firms, well, it could only mean one thing. Of course, the only other reason for doing business besides making money is to make more money. To the people living in the Niger Delta, it simply meant an instant transformation of the region into one of the best places on the face of the earth. According to Professor Andrew Efemini, “the resources generated from the region… are designed by nature to transform the swamps into beautiful cities. They are designed to create hanging buildings, skyscrapers, overflow bridges, floating buildings on the seas. That’s what nature gave them”. However, this would remain a dream as the region was turned into a home of vices thereafter. The people struggled to catch crumbs that would fall from the government and companies coffers. The place became inhabitable for even soil microbes. All because the companies would extract and spill the oil carelessly, without paying heed to environmental effects. They would give the government their share and give to some ‘smart’ locals and disappear. There was no regulation because the oil companies would simply spray money and more money on the dancing government who didn’t know they had a job of regulation to do.

The big work of regulation and compensation was not done properly by the government, as Efemini further points out:

Nigeria moved those resources to create mansions in Abuja, Ikoyi, and other places and left the place in swamps, left the people in misery. Living in creeks! So we raped the environment as naturally designed to be. The capital of Holland is like Niger Delta. But they used the resources and ran them. If you go there, you will no longer see the swamps because they have changed the environment.

Everything has turned sour, so long as the people are concerned as, since then, the region has instead harvested a basket of multi-faceted problems: environmental degradation, high rise in violence, boundary disagreements and readjustments; oil thefts and fatal accidents, loss of the ecosystem and dangerous depletion of food/water resources, underdevelopment. Each and more of these problems have layers of many others. The same people who have all the resources of crude oil and natural gas are living in squalor, breathing polluted air, drinking polluted water, farming on polluted soil. So, you mention’ Niger Delta’ and the accompanying word is ‘pollution’

      
A once rich land now laid to waste through years of contamination     

     
A once rich land now laid to waste through years of contamination      

       

      
A once rich land now laid to waste through years of contamination

The docility and indifference of those who ran Nigeria created a reaction from the people and in the cause of handling it as ‘government’, lives have been lost. The story therefore, is never complete without the mention of blood. There are still the ones whose deaths are not known. Those who have no other source of livelihood than their waters and die of waterborne diseases; those who get cancers from the toxic things they ingest directly and indirectly.

    

THE ORIGINAL NIGER DELTA

The Niger Delta is a wetland with four ecological zones: coastal barrier islands, mangrove swamp forests, freshwater swamps, and lowland rainforests, according to Wikipedia. The region is a floodplain and as such, has good land that can support a wide range of plant life. A cluster of thick green forests, made up of different kinds of trees and shrubs, both in the swamps and upland, make a great dwelling place for many land and arboreal animals. As for the marine life, one already knows how much life water supports. The delta has different sizes of water bodies that are salt water, fresh water, or brackish. All these influenced the major occupations of the people: farming and fishing. Trading was easy, using the waterways and creeks for transportation around the region, which promised a great opportunity for international trade routes, besides slave trade. According to Wikipedia:

This incredibly well-endowed ecosystem contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, in addition to supporting abundant flora and fauna, arable terrain that can sustain a wide variety of crops, lumber or agricultural trees, and more species of freshwater fish than any ecosystem in West Africa

Other relevant articles:
OGONI CLEAN UP: A Chat With Dr. Peter Medee |by McDike Dimpka
Niger Delta Struggle: A Chat With Kaine Agary |by McDike Dimpka

This was the situation of the region before 1956. This was how beautiful the Niger Delta was before Shell D’Arcy was given exploration licence in 1937. This was how talented the place was before the Oloibiri ‘miracle’. The natural environment was taken for granted. The economic importance to the government and inhabitants was never considered or remembered. Now, it is a case of repair, with the same resources that would have been used for transformation. Maybe, the initial attempt and failure of the Nigerian Bitumen Corporation, a German company that first began to sniff about for oil in 1908 but was disturbed by WW1, was a warning to Nigeria that this oil would not be ‘useful’. Maybe it was a sign that Nigeria would not be able to handle the complexities (which they made more complex actually) of oil business. But (un)fortunately:

Oil prospecting efforts resumed in 1937, when Shell D’Arcy (the forerunner of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria) was awarded the sole concessionary rights covering the whole territory of Nigeria. Their activities were also interrupted by the Second World War, but resumed 1947. Concerted efforts after several years and an investment of over N30 million, led to the first commercial discovery in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. 
This discovery, opened up the Oil industry in 1961, bringing in Mobil, Agip, Safrap (now Elf), Tenneco and Amoseas (Texaco and Chevron respectively) to join the exploration efforts both in the onshore and areas of Nigeria. This development was enhanced by the extension of the concessionary rights previously a monopoly of Shell, to the newcomers. The objective of the government in doing this, was to the pace of exploration and production of Petroleum. Even now more companies, both foreign and indigenous have won concessionary rights and are producing. Actual oil production and export from the Oloibiri field in present day Bayelsa State commenced in 1958 with an initial production rate of 5,100 barrels of crude oil per day. Subsequently, the quantity doubled the following year and progressively as more players came onto the oil scene, the production rose to 2.0 million barrels per day in 1972 and a peaking at 2.4 million barrels per day in 1979. Nigeria thereafter, attained the status of a major oil producer, ranking 7th in the world in 1972, and has since grown to become the sixth largest oil producing country in the world. (NNPC).

In the end, the oil story ends on when the oil business provided a ‘national cake’ that has turned everyone into a practising or potential politician, leaving every other responsibility moribund.

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To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King
“In the end, the people of the Niger Delta will remember not the acts of their enemies, but the silence of their fellow Nigerian brethren.”

What is happening in the Niger Delta is unconscionable; this is an act of Vandals, this is ecological terrorism, a systemic pillage of this rich land. But this is not the real crime. 
The real crime is the collective silence of us the Nigerian people. We often refer to this in conversation as “the Niger Delta problem” yet, we collectively as Nigerians, live off the spoils of this pillage and by our silence in effect condone this very wicked act of vandalism; that is the real crime here.


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