by Saatah Nubari
I have postponed writing this for a long time—for four months to be precise—and each time I walk past an Egret that is close to losing its beautiful white colour, and gradually turning black, my conscience pricks me.
The issue of environmental pollution (air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, etc) that has plagued the Niger Delta since the beginning of oil exploration is one that has turned a lot of voices hoarse, which is good, when compared to the many unfortunate others who have been hung and their already hoarse voices permanently silenced (extra)judicially by the government. Let me add that all these atrocious environmental happenings, that the overtly accommodating Niger Delta people have had to endure for decades from the government and its conniving multi national oil corporations most especially Shell, have been for 13%. Just 13%.
“One of the worst gas flares in the Niger Delta is at a former Shell facility at Oben, on the border of Delta and Edo states. They have been roaring and crackling non-stop for over 30 years, since Shell first lit them.” This is the opening sentence of world renowned environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, in his book, To Cook a Continent. The devastation of the Niger Delta environment goes from coast to rivers to streams to groundwater to rainwater to land, and to air, and varies from location to location. The full extent of this is yet to be studied and made public, which brings me to the next statement of fact. That Ogoni, today, is been touted as the most environmentally devastated habitat on the continent, is only true because we are yet to study or embark on an EIA for the hundreds of communities in the Niger Delta that have played host to oil exploration activities. Bear in mind that oil exploration in Ogoni ceased in 1993, whereas oil exploration have continued in numerous other communities till date. I am certain that, the day we decide to implement an EIA on all host communities in the Niger Delta, the entire world will be in shock of the magnitude of devastation caused by oil exploration here.
In 2017, Anna Bruederle and Roland Hodler, both scholars from Switzerland did a research on the impact of oil spills on infant mortality, and Nigeria was used as a case study. I have viewed the very few oil related studies that have been done on the Niger Delta or with the Niger Delta as a case study, and each time it leaves me sadder than I was. The UNEP report on Ogoniland was one of those reports, and deep down I knew there were worse things yet to be known about the Niger Delta people in relation to oil exploration activities.
The research document, which I was sent a copy by Roland, shows that, in 2012 alone, 16,000 Niger Delta children died in their first month of being born. 16,000 children who have no idea what oil is, died in their first month due to the effects of oil spills that occurred prior to their conception.
Now that is not all.
The report went further to add that had there been no oil spill within the 10km radius of where these children were conceived, 11,000 of them would have survived their first month, that is 70%.
That is not even all.
The researchers feel they might have underestimated the figures due to our poor record of oil spills, as their results depended a lot on the details gotten from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor. The report also states that the spills left a lot of Niger Delta children stunted. All these for 13%?
Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics in 2017 released data on crude oil production, and it revealed that Nigeria has earned N118.4 Trillion from oil, or have sold 32.7 billion barrels of crude oil since our independence in 1960. Assuming this N118.4 Trillion was not affected by the different Joint Venture agreements between Nigeria and the numerous oil companies, the Niger Delta, which has been a source of every single kobo of that amount, have earned just N15 Trillion in general. That is 13%, N15 Trillion.
UNEP’s report on Ogoniland which is almost eight years old, and which nothing tangible is being done about, discloses that there are communities in Ogoni that drink groundwater polluted with hydrocarbons—most especially Benzene—900 times above WHO guidelines. Benzene is a widely known cancer causing agent, and if it is contained in the groundwater that the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta drink, then it is most definitely contained in the groundwater of the Ijaws, the Efiks, the Urobhos, the Itsekiris and other oil producing ethnic nationalities that now unfortunately inhabit the Niger Delta. Yet, yet, there exist no large scale water treatment health facility in any of these places. There is no cancer treatment or research health facility in the Niger Delta capable of treating the people from this region for diseases and illnesses not caused by them, but caused by their own government in collaboration with foreign oil companies, who would not be able to operate the way they operate in the Niger Delta, in their various countries outside the continent.
Today the Niger Delta which from all indication is single-handedly responsible for the economic and geographical extensive of Nigeria, has the highest rate of unemployment in the country; has the highest Misery Index in the country; is one of the most restive and violent places to live in in the country. The Niger Delta is the worst place to practice agriculture in the country today because the land is so badly polluted that harvests are meager and poisonous to our health. Today the aquatic life in the Niger Delta has reduced drastically, and where aquatic life does exist, they have been badly affected by spills and hydrocarbons that eating them is as harmful as even breathing. Today the Niger Delta is the most infrastructurally disadvantaged region in this country in comparison with the resources it has contributed to the development and continued existence of this country. Today the air the people of Rivers State breathe every single day is pitch-black from oil related activities and so are our lungs and that of our children who have miraculously survived the first month of their lives. The air in the Niger delta is poisonous, and so is the water and land. And all these are for a 13% derivation which is very much incapable of making meaningful impact on the Niger Delta and her people due to its terrain and other factors.
But in all these, the Nigerian government somehow does not feel interested in the plight of the Niger Delta people. An example, out of many others, is the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which was split into four parts just because members of the National Assembly not from the Niger Delta did not feel it was necessary to set aside something as small as 10% for Host Communities who bear the brunt of oil exploration activities.
As the entire world makes plans to get rid of their dependence on oil, the people of the Niger Delta are left dangling on the edge of this survival cliff, so close to falling off. The 13% derivation as is currently practiced is not acceptable and should not be allowed to last any longer. The Niger Delta people will either be allowed to harness her resources—taking 87% and paying 13% tax to the Nigerian government—and make the government backed, and foreign oil companies financed damaged life of the people inhabiting the region more bearable, or oil exploration will have to cease to ensure our survival. By the end of 2018, going by research data, the Niger Delta would have lost 100,000 of her children in their first month of birth, since 2012, and would have had many more stunted and impaired surviving children. All due to the effects of oil exploration where 13% is what we get. The present arrangement cannot continue, as a mater of urgency.
- Saatah Nubari is an Activist and Data Analyst from the Niger Delta. He’s on Twitter @Saatah.