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Niger Delta Oil Crisis


Nigeria possesses one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon deposits and is one of the top oil-producing countries in the world. Aka confirms that Nigeria is an important member of OPEC owing to its vast crude oil reserves (229). As such, Oil has continued to play a significant role in the country’s development and the country largely depends on its oil revenues for sustenance.

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However, Nigeria is plagued by corruption and mismanagement which has resulted in a lowered standard of living for the country’s populace despite the vast natural resources bestowed on the country. This rampant corruption and waste has resulted in the oil-producing region of the Niger Delta being a site of major conflict.

There have been various arguments advanced as to the source of the Niger Delta crisis and how they can be mitigated or contained all together. This paper will argue that the perceived injustices against the oil producing communities as well as poor government have resulted in the Niger crisis.

To reinforce these claims, this paper will undertake a concise yet informative research into the matter and draw upon a number of authoritative sources to buttress the claims made. Actions that can be taken to mitigate the Niger Crisis shall also be outlined with their limitations stated as well.

The Niger Crisis

The Niger Delta region is the geographical area where most of Nigeria’s oil is extracted from. This region has for the past few decades been dogged by crisis which undoubtedly trace their root to the huge oil reserves that the region boasts of. The Niger Delta region is incessantly involved in resistance against the federal government as well as the multinational oil companies who are responsible for mining of the oil.

While greed for the oil resources has been proposed to be the cause of the conflict, Ikelegbe declares that “to assume that greed underpins conflicts is dangerously simplistic” (213). As such, there are various other factors at play other than the greed of the ruling class or every the rebel groups.

Other politically inclined factors such as economic desperation, corruption, ethnic differences among others play a crucial role in the Niger crisis. Ikelegbe theorizes that this conflict in resource rich Nigeria is as a result of a contest over power and wealth by state actors as well as underlying social conditions by the Niger region inhabitants

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Causes of the Niger Crisis

The military rule that has characterized Nigeria’s government for the most of its post independence years has played a role in the advent and continuity of the Niger Delta crisis. This is because the military rule of Nigeria was characterized by a government that was repressive and corrupt with the military rulers enriching themselves with little regard for the county’s citizens. Oronto reveals that there was a rise in ethnic militias and communal vigilante during the reign of Sani Abacha who ruled from 1993 to 1998 (5).

During this military rulers stint, Nigeria is said to have experienced severe political repression most notable of which was the execution of the renowned playwright, Ken Saro-Wiwa. State repression during military rule was also common and at times, state sanctioned destruction of local communities which lived in the oil producing areas was carried out by state security forces (Ojakorotu 8).

Arguably one of the major causes of the crisis is the perception by the Niger Delta community that they are being exploited; sentiments which have led to frustration and outbreaks of violence by the community which is increasingly resistant to the oil industry. As a matter of fact, most of the oil production in Nigeria takes place in areas that are populated by minority ethnic groups such as the Ijaw, Ogoni and Urhobo.

The marginalization of the minority ethnic groups who are the natives of the Niger Delta has played a role in the escalation of the Niger Crisis. This is especially since the minority groups who “own” the oil rich land live in poverty despite being surrounded by wealth. Oronto et al note that these ethnic oil producing communities such as the Warri seek to control what they deem to be “their oil” (6). Since the federal government is reluctant to yield control of the oil to such communities, disputes erupt between the two parties.

The emergence of a black market for crude and refined oil has also been responsible for the escalation of crisis in the Niger delta. As has been noted, most of the communities in the oil producing regions live in utter poverty and to alleviate their conditions, they steal oil. To obtain this oil, pipelines are vandalized and crude oil siphoned off by the poor residents who then proceed to sell it in the black market.

The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) estimates that around 100,000 of oil are stolen on a daily basis by armed militia who sell it at the black market at an estimated value of USD 2.8 million (Ikelegbe 209).

The economic motivation for engaging in such activities is therefore obvious for through these dealings, the locals are not only able to sustain themselves and their families, but they are also able to buy smuggled arms therefore strengthening themselves. This profiting from violence by militia and rebels has resulted in the prevalence of violence despite numerous attempts by the military to vanquish the armed groups.

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Politics plays a critical role in the Niger region since politics is equivocally synonymous with power in all regions of the world. As a result of the benefits, both personal and communal, which are accrued from gaining political power, there is intense competition for political offices by various ethnic groups (Globalsecurity).

This has resulted in Nigerian elections being marred by incidents of violence, riggings and in some instances assassinations as each competing group aggressively tries to hold public office. Ikein documents that tension between political parties and candidates during election campaigns leads to violence as party supporters clash (171). An even more disturbing revelation is that most of this violence is as a result of state governments funding vigilante groups.

Armed militias who are made up of members of the oil producing communities have also accentuated the Niger crisis. GlobalSecurity states that these military groups are mostly formed by aggrieved youths who take up arms in an attempt to extract compensation from both the government and the oil companies.

These military groups engage in hostage taking for ransom and vandalize oil plants. GlobalSecurity reveals that the violence by the military groups is not entirely restricted to the oil industry but that it sometimes involves rival gangs which fight over benefits that the government and oil companies give to the local community.

The Niger Delta region is plagued by rampant pollution as a result of the oil extraction process. Oil companies are guilty of environmentally destructive activities such as gas flaring which result in air pollution. Wasley reveals that Niger Delta is among the most polluted regions in the world due to the oil spills that have been taking place though the decades of oil extraction.

This is a thought that is corroborated by Okonmah who notes that oil pollution has literally threatened the very existence of the communities which reside in the oil-producing areas (43). To make matters worse, there are no well designed policies and rules to deter the oil companies from polluting the environment. The government also lacks the will to act on the pollution issue and “statutory regulation of oil industry activities in Nigeria provides little or no protection for victims of oil pollution” (Okonmah 43).

This fact is reinforced by Shinsato who asserts that in most cases where transnational corporations are involved, the host country lacks means or the will to enforce strict standards on the transnational corporations (186). This is the reality with Nigeria where the oil companies have engaged in activities such as gas flaring.

While the government has made attempts to reduce this practice by imposing fines to the offending companies, most companies prefer to pay the fines which are a mere fraction of what the companies would use in engaging in environmental friendly means of disposing of the oil wastes.

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Solutions to the Niger Problem

The problem with Nigeria is mostly as a result of not involving the people in the government. This is a sentiment that is echoed by the Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi who is quoted as saying that “the people need to be involved in the process of government” (Ebiri). The democratic process has played a significant role in involving people in the process of government and the emergence of a democratically elected civilian government in 1999 had a huge bearing on the Niger conflict.

While Military dictatorships sought to stifle all dissent thought use of excessive force, the democratically elected government at the least listens to legitimate dissent and in some cases acts upon it. This shift in government policy has had a positive impact on the Niger region as the elected civilian government offers some room for the mobilization of communities and interest groups to demand for resources that they are certainly entitled to (Ojakorotu 7)

Putting a lid on corruption is fundamental to solving the Niger crisis. This is because most of the problems that have been highlighted in this essay result from the rampant corruption that the Nigerian government is infamous for. Shell Petroleum Development Company reveals that it is one of the Nigeria’s largest tax payers but as a result of corruption, the oil revenues do not benefit the people of Nigeria (Shell).

However, the company states that through transparency agencies, the government is being forced into accountability for example through revealing the revenue attained and how it is distributed to the various states. With such plans in place, it can be hoped that the oil wealth can at last have a positive impact on the people of Nigeria.

The role of foreign powers in dealing with the Niger crisis cannot be understated. As with most African countries, Nigeria lacks the capacity or at least the will to engage in sustainable development for its entire people.

This is the main cause of the Niger crisis and as such, development can solve the problem. Aka suggests that while the United States is doing something to help Nigeria alleviate its current crisis, the US is not doing enough despite it having the power to do this (259).

The international community welcomed the change from military rule to civilian rule by Nigerian in 1999. This resulted in a support for the Nigerian government so as to ensure the success of the civilian rule which has been less repressive to the people and also resulted in increase development.

Setbacks to proposed Solutions

From the solutions proposed in this paper, it is evident that the role of the government is crucial to any lasting end to the Niger crisis. This is because it is only the government that has the resources necessary to deal with the militia as well as provide for the basic needs and social amenities whose lack has caused anger and resentment among the locals.

However, this solution assumes that the government is willing to undertake these benevolent steps for the sake of peace and prosperity for the Nigerian people. Aka notes that the Nigerian government is infamous for its “aloof and uncaring” nature. As such, it does seem a little farfetched to expect this government to change and start acting in the best interest of the people in the near future (238).

Nigeria continues to be economically dependent on Western powers. This is as a result of the financial aid which is offered to the country. Keller notes that developing countries such as Nigeria devote a significant portion of their annual GDP to debt servicing and repayment therefore reducing the amount of money that the countries could use to alleviate poverty (50).

This is a fact that is reinforced by Aka who points out that foreign powers such as the US are unwilling to write off the debts that Nigeria owes them but rather insist on rescheduling the same which results in Nigeria spending billions paying off the debts and the interest accrued (260).

This paper has suggested that powerful multinational corporate such Shell plays a positive role in the Nigerian society and therefore pacifying the Niger crisis. Ojakorotu et al reveals that the roles of this powerful corporate is not always benevolent and that they have been linked by independent human rights organization of orchestrating spates of killings and inter-communal feuds among the surrounding communities.

In addition to this, these companies are responsible for the destruction of the ecosystem which the local community rely on for a livelihood. With this in mind, the good that such corporations bring to the society pales in comparison and it can therefore be proposed that the large multinational oil companies are responsible for the Niger crisis.


For all its ill, Nigeria must be commended for containing the Niger crisis and not letting it explode to the levels that other resource rich African states such as Sierra Leone, Angola and Zaire (DRC) let their crisis escalate to.

In this states, the conflicts resulted in the rulers going to such extents as hiring mercenaries from foreign nations to offer security assistance in exchange for access to resource rich parts of the country (Ikelegbe 210). However, a long lasting solution must be arrived at for Nigeria to enjoy prosperity that can come about as a result of its oil reserves.

The issue of human rights has been seen to be intertwined with the Niger Delta crisis. This is especially since human rights abuses in Nigeria have mostly been perpetrated by the government. Foreign interests such as the United States which is a major consumer of Nigerian oil has had a say on the country’s policies.

Aka affirms that the U.S. policies towards Africa have been “increasingly driven by a concern for democracy, accountability, and human rights” (226). This supposed commitment to democracy and human rights has not been empty as has been witnessed by various diplomatic actions or international condemnation against the government in cases where human right abuses or high level corruption cases have been revealed.


This paper has argued that perceived injustices against the oil producing communities as well as poor government have resulted in the Niger crisis. The years of oil development and revenue have failed to translate to impressive economic growth and development for the people of Nigeria. Instead, Nigeria has been faced by poverty for the majority, environmental degradation and vast wealth by the oil barons and the political elite.

This paper has demonstrated that the Niger crisis springs from the fact that the oil-producing states have benefited the least from the enormous wealth that oil has provided to the country. At the same time, while the living conditions for the average Nigerian continue to be appalling, the ruling class lives in luxury. These perceived injustices over the sharing of oil resources have further fueled the conflict.

However, there have been positive steps taken both by the government and the multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria. This have alleviated the Niger crisis and addressed some of the problems which cause the Crisis. However, the issues have not been addressed in a satisfactory manner. Until these situations are effectively addressed, the Niger Crisis promises to be a lasting problem for the Nigerian government.

Works Cited

Aka, Philip C. “The ‘Dividend of Democracy’ Analyzing U.S. Support for Nigerian Democratization.” Boston College Third World Law Journal 2nd ser. 22 (2002): 225-80. Boston College.

Ebiri, Kelvin. “Leaders must involve People in Development Process, says Amaechi.” The Guardian. Port Harcourt, 26 Oct. 2010: 3.

Global Security. Nigeria- Niger Delta. 2006. Web..

Ikelegbe, Augustine. “The Economy of Conflict in the Oil Rich Niger Delta Region of Nigeria.”Nordic Journal of African Studies 14.2 (2005): 208.

Ikein, Augustina. Oil, democracy, and the promise of true federalism in Nigeria. University Press of America, 2008. Print.

Keller, J. “Africa in transition: facing the challenges of globalization. (For better or worse? Courting Africa).” Harvard International Review, 29.2, 2007.

Ojakorotu, Victor. “Militancy and Oil Violence in the Niger Delta.” Journal of Energy Security, 2009.

Okonmah, Patrick D. “Right to a Clean Environment: the Case for the People of Oil-producing Communities in the Nigerian Delta.” Journal of African Law 41.01 (1997): 43-67. Cambridge Journals. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Shell. “Improving Lives in the Niger Delta.” Static shell. 2010. Web.

Shinsato, Alison L. “Increasing the Accountability of Transactional Corporations for Environmental Harms: The Petroleum Industry in Nigeria.” Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights 4.1 (2005).

Wasley, Andrew. “Shell Should Clean up ‘oil Exploited’ Niger Delta, Says Report.” Ecologist, Web.

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