CONFERENCE: THE IX INTERECOFORUM (International Forum on Sustainable Development)
THEME: Water for Sustainable Development
DATE: 19th & 20th March 2020
VENUE: Marbella, Spain
ORGANISATION: HOPE FOR NIGER DELTA CAMPAIGN (HNDC), ROTTERDAM,
TITLE: HNDC & THE CLAMOUR FOR SUSTAINABLE NIGER DELTA REGION
PRESENTED BY: COMRADE SUNNY OFEHE
The Hope for the Niger Delta Campaign( HNDC) was founded on 4th August 2005 by Comrade Sunny Ofehe a Nigerian born environmental and civil rights activist.
The Hope for the Niger Delta Campaign membership is drawn from different ethnic groups in Nigeria and the Diaspora, working on a volunteer bases.
The HNDC is a Netherlands-based non-governmental and non- profit civil organization who’s primary concern is the restoration of hope to the people of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria through a systematic sequence of mass enlightenment and sensitization campaigns aimed at better understanding of indigenes right and privileges.
The HNDC probes and queries and attempts to take a critical and unbiased view of the problems facing all stake holders in the Niger-Delta region, with a view to presenting fair and balanced criticism and commendation as often as the need may arise and proffering tangible and credible solution to same and by so doing forestalling the ever present threat of violence in the region.
The Hope for the Niger Delta Campaign rigorously is in pursuit of equal opportunity, freedom of expression and association, and good governance for all spectrums of Nigerians, it aims to interpret government policies and trends and assess their immediate and remote impact on the lives of the Niger-Deltans and Nigerians as a whole.
“All great things are simple and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy and Hope -Sir Winston Churchill”
Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) envisions a society where the environmental, economic and social rights of Niger Delta people and Nigeria at large are protected.
Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) is committed to empowering Niger Delta people at home and in the Diaspora and beyond to effectively address the environmental, economic and social issues that affect them.
The overall goal of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) is to promote a sustainable society while addressing issues of Niger Delta region Injustices relating to environmental, economic and social rights of the people. The primary goal of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) is to promote a sustainable society while addressing the socio-economic issues of the Niger Delta region.
The Niger Delta Region:
Niger Delta extends over an area of about 70,000 square kilometers and accounts for 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass. It covers a coastline of 560 km, about two-thirds of the entire coast line of Nigeria. The Niger Delta is the world’s third largest wetland, coming after Holland and Mississippi.
The Niger Delta region traverses nine out of the 36 States making up the Federal republic of Nigeria. These are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States. The estimated population of the region is about 26million comprising over forty different ethnic groups speaking 250 different dialects across about 3000 communities.
The pre-dominant occupation in the area are farming and fishing. Except for the oil sector, the industrial base is virtually none existent; the further one goes into the wetland. The people are mainly engaged in farming and fishing activities.
Since oil was first struck in 1958, making Nigeria the largest producer of crude oil and gas in Africa and the 8th largest OPEC exporter of crude oil in the world, the area has grown to become the main source of foreign exchange earnings for the whole country.
Over the period 1975 to date, more than 90 per cent of the nation’s export earnings have, on the average, been generated from the region’s oil resources. Yet, the Niger Delta remains the least developed area of the country’s social both in physical, socio-economic terms.
The People & the Region:
The history of the Niger Delta up to the present day is characterized by the dynamics of external exploitation coupled with blatant disregard for the basic rights and needs of this resource rich community. The long term neglect of the area by governments and oil companies in supporting critical human development infrastructure, including, the provision of basic social services, has aggravated this situation in the region.
Severe economic deprivation and social exclusion stood in sharp contrast to the enormous oil wealth of the area, creating a paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. As a result of the persistently low volume and abysmal quality of developmental investments by public and private entities, the area has remained grossly under-developed relative to the rest of the country.
Lacking Access to Clean Drinking Water:
According to the World Bank report (1995), GDP per capita in the region is below the national average of US$280 despite the high population growth rate combined with severe habitable land constraints. Similarly, health indicators are low and they lag far behind the country average.
There are disproportionately high fatality rates from water-borne diseases, malnutrition, and poor sanitation among others. The quantity and quality of housing and infrastructure are deficient in most of the regions. Only about 20 to 24 per cent of rural communities and less than 60 per cent of urban communities in the region have access to safe drinking water. Transportation is often difficult and expensive. Less than 20 per cent of the Niger Delta is accessible by good roads, even in the dry season.
Corporate Social Responsibility:
The corporate social responsibility and the operating standards of the oil companies and businesses in the area have perpetually been seen as generally below accepted international standards.
For example, oil companies have carried out oil exploration and exploitation for over sixty years without proper environmental impact assessments and most times, these were performed post factum; a situation that would be absolutely untenable in developed countries that are home to most of the major oil companies.
The Niger Delta is perhaps the only oil province in the entire world where the inhabitants are compelled to cope with environmental oil spills resulting from crude oil exploitation. Even when attempts are made to address the spillage, local communities are hardly truly involved. In the past, critical analysis have identified the Federal, State and Local Governments to be in complicity with the oil companies therefore providing implicit protection to the oil companies’ lack of social responsibility.
In general, the benefits of the exploration and exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta and its attendant assault on the environment to the region has been less obvious. Beginning in the 1950s, petroleum production operations has caused devastating pollution to the Niger Delta because of uninterrupted gas flaring and oil spillage.
These operations have essentially caused degradation to the environment within an extremely fragile eco-system and destroyed the traditional livelihoods of the Niger Delta. Pollution has affected the atmosphere, soil fertility, waterways and mangroves, wildlife, plant life, aqua-life and, has resulted in acid rain.
Fishing and agriculture are no longer productive enough to feed the area and in some cases food need to be imported. The population is prone to respiratory problems and partial deafness.
The Rise of Youth Restiveness & Militancy:
Frustrated expectations, widespread indignation and unprecedented restiveness that followed have contributed to a heightening of tension between the local communities and oil companies on the one hand, and, with the State and Federal Governments on the other. The result has been a general deterioration of both political and social cohesion.
Not surprisingly, this state of affairs has consistently led to outbreaks of civil unrest as an expression of the discontent of the communities over the abuse and disregard of their human rights.
The tension in the Niger Delta has a fairly long trajectory. The first decade of oil activities was largely a period of complacency. The era (1960s) was pervaded by a general illusion that development would trickle down automatically with oil sector activities. The low level of education and widespread ignorance largely fuelled this situation. The 1970s witnessed passive resistance.
Although questions started to be raised, there was the general belief that existing institutional mechanisms were adequate to address them. The companies generally responded with what was regarded as mere ‘tokenism’ – scholarship programmes, medical trips and other palliatives.
With improved education, increasing population and greater exposure, the 1980s witnessed an era of increased mobilization and awareness. The tempo of the clamour for transparent and equitable formula to the Niger Delta equation heightened. It was very clear that except the clamour was heeded, it was just a question of time when the patient of the people was going to thin out.
By the turn of 1990s, the patience had not only thinned but exploded into strident agitations and protests of unprecedented bellicose proportions that shook the very foundations of the Nigerian nation.
The New Era & Bleek Outlook:
The dawn of the new millennium has only restored some hope with the fledging democracy and the inauguration of the Government intervention agency called Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Similarly, banks and oil service companies have followed the example of oil companies in their neglect of social responsibility. The private sector in this area is seen to be more concerned with shareholders than with stakeholders. It goes without too, that any solution to the Niger Delta predicament needs to posited in terms of redressing the current imbalance of interests.
For example, the process for tax assessment and taxation of oil companies require critical review with a view to ensuring more clarity and transparency. So also is the data on production which tends to be mostly in the exclusive domain of the oil companies and thus difficult to assess the basis of taxes paid.
In Western Europe for instance, it is actually the prospect of taxation that keeps the big businesses accountable, causing them to produce, assessable data. To date, there have been no mechanisms in place to ensure accountable expenditure and transparency of the use of Government and oil company development funds within the communities and, the general understanding is that the benefits of funded projects hardly reach the communities for which they are intended.
These are all essential considerations in the equation of the Niger Delta and cannot be underplayed in finding a real solution to Niger Delta development. As long as matters of human rights, fairness and equity (both vertical and horizontal) continue to remain the blunt edges in the nature of activities in the area, attempts at resolving the Niger Delta debacle will be feeble and dishonest.
The Way Forward In the Region:
For real success to be achieved in the development of the region there will have to be a change in behaviour and approach among all actors. There is also the need for a stronger consideration for preventive development, corporate responsibility and horizontal equity.
In other words, rather than ‘tokenism’, ‘incrementalism’ or any other variant of the fire fighting – crises management approach that has hallmarked the traditional response to the human development issues in the Niger Delta area, it will be important to take a longer term perspective in planning interventions and approaches. This is the only basis for sustainable strategy that will stem the worsening social, economic, political and environmental trends. Improving living standards and the quality of life of men and women is an imperative for the future of the region and, indeed, for the country as whole.
A new and more strategic approach to regional growth aligns business objectives with those of broad human development by encouraging partnerships for sustainable development among communities, industry, donors, and NGOs. Such partnerships not only add value to social investments, but also multiply them by drawing on a wide variety of financial and human resources.
This is the urgent imperative for sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Unfortunately however, this has been the most remarkably absent in the past attempts at developing the region.
Past Development Efforts & Lesson Learnt:
The special circumstances and development needs of the Niger Delta area within the Nigerian State has always being recognized. Under the Nigeria Independent Constitution of 1960, the area was recognized for special development initiative and attention.
This ‘Contract with Nigerian State’ recognized a special right of the area to oil and gas resources ownership and as much as some 50% of royalty deriving from oil and gas exploitation was paid to the oil producing region up to and until the advent of military rule in 1966.
Since then, the ‘royalty’ clause has been replaced with ‘derivation’ principle. And, what followed has been a progressive reduction in the payment of what was to go to the oil producing areas from 50% through 32% until it was eroded to paltry 1.5%. In 1992, this figure was doubled to 3%, following widespread agitation and increasing local and international attention to the Niger Delta situation.
Such monies previously paid to and managed by the oil and gas producing areas were then managed by the Federal Government through special instrumentalities of development agencies created by it. Some of these agencies include the Niger Delta Basin Development Board (NDBDB) established in 1965 and, the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992.
From the outset, these institutions were beset by a number of problems including those of legitimacy and transparency. Allegations of high level corruption were prevalent and there was very little to justify the huge resource allocations received in terms of actual delivery. As such they were unable to deliver an effective program.
The oil producing States and the people were unable to exercise any significant political influence over the military government at the Federal level in their attempt to redress the situation. The tunes were dictated by those who played the piper. Consequently, there has been a series of agitations and sometimes violent acts to protest what was perceived as suppression and denial of their rights to development. Demand and clamor for autonomy by ethnic nationalities and for resource control are a culmination of these.
The Role of The Mulitinational Oil Companies:
The oil companies have also not been spared the brunt of these agitations. In response to persistent, often violent demands to plough their huge profits back into the area, they have had to step up their community development and social responsibilities over the years. Most of them are now engaged in the provision of social and physical infrastructural facilities in the various communities where they are active.
However, rather than assuage the tempers of the communities and stem the wave of agitations and disruption of activities, it has led to increased demand from other communities who are not unwilling to adopt any measure to press and secure these demands.
For the oil companies, it is a very complex, no-win situation. They are not best suited to provide these services effectively. Nor are they seen as neutral and genuine development support providers. They are perceived as repaying a long overdue debt, an obligation they are not seen to be doing enough to sufficiently redeem.
The Role Donor Agencies & International NGOs:
Donor agencies and International NGOs providing aid resources in different aspects of socio-economic development have also been part of the development experience in the Niger Delta. Though these agencies are generally welcomed and their support generously appreciated, a major context of their assistance is the general socio-political situation. In reaction to the then subsisting military dictatorship in Nigeria and the incessant wave of restiveness in the Delta region, most donors left the country.
Those that still maintained limited presence in the country scaled down their operational presence, often to the total exclusion of the region, for fear of being caught up in the violent protests. It is worthy of note that United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) not only maintained the scope and tempo of its activities, it also inspired networking with all stakeholders across the entire delta region.
A review of past efforts to develop the Niger Delta surfaced some lessons about the region:
There is a positive correlation between the context and flow of development assistance. Donor resources, and indeed development in general, avails only within an atmosphere of peace and stability. On the other hand, when development takes place, there is also an enhanced peace dividend. Hence, peace and development are mutually reinforcing. Equally, their absence is mutually debilitating.
Where there are different actors and stakeholders, each adds unique value to overall development effort. Recognition of the comparative advantage (strengths and limitations) of different actors and stakeholders is therefore essential to optimal and effective interventions.
It is counter productive for any single stakeholder to expect or attempt to satisfy the needs of the people. Participation and coordination is key and effective participatory and people-centered development is imperative.
Strident agitation and protests drawing attention to the plight of the Niger Delta has continued to evoke positive attention both within and outside the country. While there is still some way to go, there is need to capitalize on the current situation and translate it into immediate dividends upon which future gains can be built. Only a multi-pronged approach could make the development of the region relevant to the needs and aspirations of the people. In this regard, dialogue is imperative.
Global Appeal For the Niger Delta People:
In conclusion, the people are the best architects of their own development. They are also the best pilots. It is the conscious initiative of the benefiting partners, not chance or imposition, which holds the greatest prospects for efficacy and sustainability. The people must therefore own, lead and manage their own development.
The political case has been made. It is high time the business phase for sustainable development is thrust to the foreground.
I therefore appeal to my audience here today at the Annual International Environmental Forum (INTERECOFORUM) and members of the international community to support our global effort to ensure a sustainable environment and economically stable Niger Delta region.
As we celebrate the World’s Water Day today, I want to appeal to you all to support us in providing clean water project for the people of the Niger Delta people. No effort and contribution today will be considered to small. “Little drop of water they say can make a mighty ocean”
Thank you and God bless you all!!!!
Comrade Sunny Ofehe
- Founder/Executive Director
Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, (HNDC)
- Former Governorship Aspirant (2019)
Delta State (Niger Delta State)