SUSTAINABLE WAYS OF HARNESSING THE MINERAL RESOURCES OF THE NIGER DELTA
BY: DIENYE PEPPLE
“I cannot dig I cannot beg” Luke 16 : 3
Niger Delta people have in many quarters been branded as lazy simply because they are not attracted to occupations like carpentry, tailoring, mechanic, subsistence farming etc. Many skills acquisition programs planned for them have produced little or no results. So what is wrong with not liking these occupations? Is there nothing else for the man who cannot dig and is too ashamed to beg to do?
Since the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1958, the socio political economy of the Niger Delta has not been the same again. Oil exploration and exploitation activities in the region have taken its toll on the economy, environment, value system and peace / security of the Region. It has touched every fabric of the region. The impact has been more unfavorable than favorable to the majority of the people in the region. Issues of environmental degradation, inequity, marginalization, loss of economic livelihoods and opportunities have been inadequately attended to for a very long time. These have led to unrests, militancy, kidnapping, sea piracy, pipe line vandalisation and other vices and economic sabotage of various forms. Simply put, it can be concluded that the methods so far adopted by the Nigerian state for harnessing the oil and gas resources of the Niger Delta are not in consonance with the tenets of sustainable development.
Sustainable Development of The Niger Delta
The most accepted definition of sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition highlights the concept of needs and the concept of limitations. There are always competing needs but at the core of sustainable development is an approach to development that looks to balance these different and often competing needs. There is also the concept of environmental, social and economic limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization.
The primary need of the Federal Government is to earn money (as much as possible) from the sale of crude oil and gas, while the need of the Niger Delta People is to safe guide their environment and get a reasonable share of the proceeds of their natural resources. The conflict here lies in the fact that it seems like any share gained by the Niger Delta People is a share lost by the Federal Government. This ought not to be so. We are one nation with a common destiny. The growth of any part of the nation should be seen as growth for the nation. Secondly, before oil the main occupation of the Niger Delta People was fishing, farming, hunting, building canoes and other crafts etc. Oil exploration activities have adversely affected the fishery potentials of the region through water pollution and have jeopardized the ability of the people to continue with their artisanal occupations. The technology and legal frameworks employed in oil exploration, tacitly exclude the Niger Delta People from participating in oil and gas business. These have contributed immensely to the unrest in the region and led to the establishment of illegal refineries popularly known as “Kpo Fire” refinery.
Resource Control Vs Resource Management
Reacting to the predicament they have found themselves, the Niger Delta people started demanding for resource control. When their verbal demands fell on deaf ears, the youths took up arms and resorted to militancy. This was followed by sabotaging oil and gas facilities and kidnapping of foreigners working in this industry. The Federal Government responded initially with a military operation but later with an amnesty programme that served as a palliative for some time and kept militancy at bay for a few years. However, it has again resurfaced in the name of Niger Delta Avengers. The activities of this group have caused the Nation the loss of over seven billion dollars (about N2 trillion) since the beginning of the year according to the NNPC Group Managing Director, Alhaji Maikanti Baru. At some point the Federal government was producing at about 40% of its oil production capacity.
After considering and seeing the futility of a military action the Federal Government has agreed to negotiate with the people of the Niger Delta. A recent list of demands submitted to the Federal Government by the Niger Delta Stakeholders highlighted the following:
- The need to fast-track interventions on some of the regional infrastructure,
- Presidential Amnesty programme,
- Law and justice issues
- The effect of increased military presence in the Niger Delta.
- The plight of Internally Displaced Persons: Some level of support for those who were displaced as a result of the activities of the militants in the region.
- The Ogoni Clean-up and Environmental Remediation,
- The issue of Maritime University, Okerenkoko,
- Security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure
- The issues of the relocation of administrative and operational headquarters of oil companies to the region,
- Power supply,
- Inclusive participation in oil industry and ownership. Allocation of oil blocs to indigenes
- The welfare of the people.
- Water supply
- Proper funding of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Negotiations between the Federal Government and the Niger Delta Stakeholders progressed but only time will tell what its outcomes will be. However, one can clearly state from the theoretical point of view that the success of the discussions and outcomes of the negotiations will depend on how well they address the sustainable development issues of needs and limitations. The Niger Delta people need to have a reasonable share of the resources coming from their land for their development. However, they are limited by political, environmental, technological and socio economic factors. What will address this and ensure the sustainable harnessing of the oil and gas resources of the people will be resource management and not necessarily resource control. Moreover it does not seem plausible that the Federal Government of Nigeria will easily relinquish control of the mineral resources of the Niger Delta to the people, neither will it be easy for the Niger Delta people to wrest it from them by force. Even if the Federal Government should grant all the demands of the Niger Delta Stakeholders a large majority of the people will not be able to draw down the benefits.
It is long overdue for the Niger Delta People to begin to focus more on resource management. The greatest beneficiaries of the oil and gas exploration activities in Nigeria are the people managing it. Exploration activities are managed through joint ventures between the Federal government and the international oil Companies IOCs, with the IOCs implementing. The implementer is for all intents and purposes the manager of the resource. Niger Delta elites should build partnerships that will enable them establish oil and gas companies while the youths should train themselves to work in the companies. Besides exploration, they should consider refineries, fertilizer plants, LPG plants, petrochemical industries etc. There is so much that can be done around the oil and gas industry that can bring a big boom to the people of the area but they have to be spear headed by the people of the area.
Several attempts have been made to equip Niger Delta Youths with artisanal skills but these have produced little or no results because these skills are simply not appealing to them. People have called them lazy, unserious and irrational because of this but I think differently. This is because the same youths are attracted to pipeline welding, fitting, instrumentation, automation, scaffolding etc. These are skills used in the oil and gas industry. The point is that they have their preferences and so need to be trained and engaged in their areas of preference. This will only be possible if the Niger Delta elites invest in ownership of oil and gas companies and engage the youths in these companies. This is what I mean by resource management.
Other Mineral Resources of the Niger Delta
Other mineral resources of the Niger Delta include glass sand, clay, marble, lignite (traces) limestone, gypsum (partially investigated), uranium (partially investigated), manganese, lead/zinc (traces) uranium (traces), salt, iron ore, dolomite, phosphate, bitumen and kaolin.
All of these are either unexploited or grossly under exploited.
Today there is an outcry all over Nigeria to diversify the economy to agriculture. There is no doubt that this is the way to go for Nigeria, but for the Niger Delta there are other questions to answer. The questions of comparative advantage, cost of land preparation, availability of arable land, climate etc. The Niger Delta cannot compete favourably with other regions in agriculture. No wonder God gave her oil and gas. Asking the youths of the Niger Delta to go into agriculture is neither here nor there. Firstly the capital needed to invest in profitable agriculture is not within the reach of these youths. Land acquisition and preparation will pose serious problems to them. The only agriculture that is within their reach is subsistence agriculture, from which many of them are running away.
The conclusion of the matter is that the Niger Delta elites and youths should take responsibility for the development of the region through resource management. The elites should position themselves to own Oil and Gas exploration and exploitation companies. The youths should position themselves to work in these companies. Negotiations with the Federal Government should be directed at giving the Niger Delta Oil and Gas Companies access to the relevant raw materials (oil blocks, crude oil, associated gas etc.) genuine supply of these products to Niger Delta investors will eliminate the need to steal or sabotage them.