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It is a very densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate. The delta is an oil-rich region, and has been the centre of international controversy over devastating pollution and ecocide, kleptocracy (notably by the Abacha regime), and human rights violations in which Royal Dutch Shell has been implicated.
The Niger Delta, as now defined officially by the Nigerian government, extends over about 70,000 km² and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria's land mass. Historically and cartographically, it consists of present day Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. In 2000, however, Obasanjo's regime included Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River State, Edo, Imo and Ondo States in the region. Some 31 million people of more than 40 ethnic groups including the Bini, Efik, Esan, Ibibio, Igbo, Annang, Oron, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Yoruba, Isoko, Urhobo, Ukwuani, and Kalabari, are among the inhabitants in the Niger Delta, speaking about 250 different dialects.
The Niger Delta, and the "South South Zone", which includes Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa State, Cross River State, Delta State, Edo State and Rivers State are two different entities. While the Niger Delta is the oil-producing region the Nigerian South South is a geo-political zone.
During the colonial period, the core Niger Delta was a part of eastern region of Nigeria, which came into being in 1951 (one of the three regions, and later one of the four regions). This region included the people from colonial Calabar and Ogoja divisions, which are the present Ogoja, Annang, Ibibio, Oron, the Efik people, the Ijaw, and the Igbo people, as the majority and the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon) as the ruling political party in the region. NCNC later became National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, after western Cameroon decided to separate from Nigeria. The ruling party of eastern Nigeria did not seek to preclude the separation and even encouraged it. The then Eastern Region had the third, the fourth and the fifth largest ethnic groups in the country (Igbo, Ibibio and Ijaw) after Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. Instead of using the opportunity of being the Region that had the three largest ethnic groups in the country out of the five largest, the Region engaged in infighting and self-destruction and claiming of Ibibio and Ijaw along with other ethnic groups in the Region as minorities instead of uniting to use their position as the Region with the third, fourth and fifth largest ethnic population in the country to advance their development.
In 1953, the old eastern region had a major crisis due to the expulsion of professor Eyo Ita from office by the majority Igbo tribe of the old eastern region. Eyo Ita from Calabar was one of the pioneer nationalists for Nigerian independence. He was an Efik man. The minorities in the region, the Ibibio, Annang, Efik, Ijaw and Ogoja, demanded a state of their own, the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) state. The struggle for the creation of COR state continued and was a major issue on the status of minorities in Nigeria during debates in Europe for Nigerian independence.
In 1961, another major crisis occurred in then eastern region of Nigeria when the leadership of the region allowed the present Southwestern Cameroon to separate from Nigeria (Akwa Ibom and Cross River) through a plebiscite while the leadership of the then Northern Region did what they had to do to keep Northwestern Cameroon in Nigeria that is the present day Adamawa and Taraba States. Without the 1961 plebiscite, Nigeria would not have the current problem with Cameroon about Bakassi as Bakassi would have been an interior part of Nigerian (Akwa Ibom and Cross River) territory.
A second phase of the struggle saw the declaration of an Independent Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Adaka Boro during Ironsi's administration, just before the Nigerian Civil War.
During the Nigerian civil war, Southeastern State of Nigeria was created (also known as Southeastern Nigeria or Coastal Southeastern Nigeria), which had the colonial Calabar division, and colonial Ogoja division. Rivers State was also created. Southeastern state and River state became two states for the minorities of the old eastern region, and the majority Igbo of the old eastern region had a state called East Central state. Southeastern state was renamed Cross River state and was later split into Cross River state and Akwa Ibom state. Rivers state was later divided into Rivers state and Bayelsa state.
Phase three saw the request for justice and the end of marginalization of the area by the Nigerian government with Ken Saro Wiwa as the lead figure for this phase of the struggle. The indigents cried for lack of developments even though the Nigerian oil money is from the area. They also complained about environmental pollution and destruction of their land and rivers by oil companies. Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders were killed by the Nigerian Federal Government under Sani Abacha.
Unfortunately, the struggle got out of control, and the present phase, the phase four, has become militant.
Western Niger Delta consists of the western section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Delta, and the southernmost parts of Edo, and Ondo States. The western (or Northern) Niger Delta is an heterogeneous society with several ethnic groups including the Urhobo, Igbo, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ijaw (or Ezon) and Ukwuani groups in Delta State, along with Yoruba (Ilaje) in Ondo State. Their livelihoods are primarily based on fishing and farming. History has it that the Western Niger was controlled by chiefs of the five primary ethnic groups the Itsekiri, Isoko, Ukwuani, Ijaw and Urhobo with whom the British government had to sign separate "Treaties of Protection" in their formation of "Protectorates" that later became southern Nigeria.
Central Niger Delta consists of the central section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Bayelsa and Rivers States. The Central Niger Delta region has the Ijaw (including the Nembe-Brass, Ogbia, Kalabari people, Ibani of Opobo & Bonny, Okrika, and Andoni clans). The Ogoni and other groups which consist of Igbo (Ogba, Egbema, Ekpeye, Ndoni, Etche, Ikwerre) and Ndoki in Rivers State.
Eastern Niger Delta Section consists of the Eastern (or Atlantic) section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. The Eastern Niger Delta region has the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron, Ogoja (including Ekoi and Bekwara) people, who are all related with a common language and ancestor.
The Niger Delta people sustained heavy suffering and deaths during the Nigerian Civil War also known as the Biafran War with Nigeria as the entire Niger Delta became major war fronts as the Nigerian Army fought and pushed the Biafran soldiers out of the Niger Delta into the Biafra territory leading to the end of the war. Over one million Niger Deltans died during the war with present Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa State, Cross River State, Delta State, and Rivers State of which Akwa Ibom State, Delta State and Bayelsa State sustained most of the casualties. Initial lost of lives occurred when the Biafran soldiers invaded the Niger Delta at the start of the war where many Niger Delta community leaders were eliminated as the region was mainly on the side of the Federal Government. Many children and adults died due to starvation, diseases and as casualties of war.
Nigeria has become West Africa's biggest producer of petroleum. Some 2 million barrels (320,000 m3) a day are extracted in the Niger Delta. It is estimated that 38 billion barrels of crude oil still reside under the delta as of early 2012. The first oil operations in the region began in the 1950s and were undertaken by multinational corporations, which provided Nigeria with necessary technological and financial resources to extract oil. Since 1975, the region has accounted for more than 75% of Nigeria's export earnings. Together oil and natural gas extraction comprise "97 per cent of Nigeria's foreign exchange revenues". Much of the natural gas extracted in oil wells in the Delta is immediately burned, or flared, into the air at a rate of approximately 70 million m³per day. This is equivalent to 41% of African natural gas consumption, and forms the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. In 2003, about 99% of excess gas was flared in the Niger Delta, although this value has fallen to 11% in 2010. (See also gas flaring volumes). The biggest gas flaring company is the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, a joint venture that is majority owned by the Nigerian government. In Nigeria, "...despite regulations introduced 20 years ago to outlaw the practice, most associated gas is flared, causing local pollution and contributing to climate change." The environmental devastation associated with the industry and the lack of distribution of oil wealth have been the source and/or key aggravating factors of numerous environmental movements and inter-ethnic conflicts in the region, including recent guerrilla activity by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
In September 2012 Eland Oil & Gas purchased a 45% interest in OML 40, with its partner Starcrest Energy Nigeria Limited, from the Shell Group. They intend to recommission the existing infrastructure and restart existing wells to re-commence production at an initial gross rate of 2,500 bopd with a target to grow gross production to 50,000 bopd within four years.
Oil revenue allocation has been the subject of much contention well before Nigeria gained its independence. Allocations have varied from as much as 50%, owing to the First Republic's high degree of regional autonomy, and as low as 10% during the military dictatorships. This is the table below.
|Year||Federal||State*||Local||Special Projects||Derivation Formula**|
* State allocations are based on 5 criteria: equality (equal shares per state), population, social development, land mass, and revenue generation.
**The derivation formula refers to the percentage of the revenue oil-producing states retain from taxes on oil and other natural resources produced in the state. World Bank Report
The effects of oil in the fragile Niger Delta communities and environment have been enormous. Local indigenous people have seen little if any improvement in their standard of living while suffering serious damage to their natural environment. According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000.
When long-held concerns about loss of control over resources to the oil companies were voiced by the Ijaw people in the Kaiama Declaration in 1998, the Nigerian government sent troops to occupy the Bayelsa and Delta states. Soldiers opened fire with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas, killing at least three protesters and arresting twenty-five more.
Since then, local indigenous activity against commercial oil refineries and pipelines in the region have increased in frequency and militancy. Recently foreign employees of Shell, the primary corporation operating in the region, were taken hostage by outraged local people. Such activities have also resulted in greater governmental intervention in the area, and the mobilisation of the Nigerian army and State Security Service into the region, resulting in violence and human rights abuses.
In April, 2006, a bomb exploded near an oil refinery in the Niger Delta region, a warning against Chinese expansion in the region. MEND stated: "We wish to warn the Chinese government and its oil companies to steer well clear of the Niger Delta. The Chinese government, by investing in stolen crude, places its citizens in our line of fire."
Government and private initiatives to develop the Niger Delta region have been introduced recently. These include the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), a government initiative, and the Development Initiative (DEVIN), a community development non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta. Uz and Uz Transnational, a company with strong commitment to the Niger Delta, has introduced ways of developing the poor in the Niger Delta, especially in Rivers State.
In September 2008, MEND released a statement proclaiming that their militants had launched an "oil war" throughout the Niger Delta against both, pipelines and oil-production facilities, and the Nigerian soldiers that protect them. Both MEND and the Nigerian Government claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on one another.
In August 2009, The Nigerian Government granted Amnesty to the militants which saw the militants surrendering their weapons in exchange for a presidential pardon, rehabilitation programme and education.
The documentary film Sweet Crude, which premiered April 2009 at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, tells the story of Nigeria's Niger Delta.
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