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 Is oil discovery a curse to Nigerian host communities?

Is oil discovery a curse to Nigerian host communities?


With a maximum crude oil production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day, Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and the 13th largest oil-producing nation in the world. Oil accounts for about 65% of government revenue.

In the course of its five decades of oil exploration, it has made tens of billions of dollars from crude oil sales. But despite the huge revenue, the host communities reek of poverty and several other economic and humanitarian problems, which include regular occurrences of black soot, water and plant degradation, unemployment/underemployment, gas flaring, and oil spill from pipelines.

Most of these are recurring issues they have suffered for years without a lasting solution. The health and economic implications of these plights constitute a serious burden on residents, especially children and the elderly.

The Menace of Black Soot

Black soot, which is gradually becoming a permanent menace in many Niger Delta communities, has been linked to the increase in adverse respiratory, skin, and reproductive disorders. A 2019 report showed that these black soot-related health conditions were responsible for an estimated 25,000 deaths in the area.

In the past few months, the condition has become much escalated, and pictures gathered from the area are devastatingly worrisome. Unfortunately, pleas to the federal and state governments seem to have fallen on deaf ears as residents daily groan in discomfort and pain.

There has been rising concern among residents of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, and its environs over the noticeable blanket of black soot across the skyline.

The development, according to the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV) findings, is largely linked to the upsurge in what is popularly known as Kpo-fire, an illegal but thriving oil bunkering business in the Niger Delta of which Bayelsa is the epicentre. Kpo-fire is a local oil process of heating the crude in a fabricated oven to extract petroleum products while the residual is released into the environment not minding the implication on the ecosystem.

Other factors found to be responsible is the negative practice of setting ablaze crude oil sites by some contractors in the name of cleanup, and the burning of seized stolen crude by security operatives, is not environment friendly.

“Presently, as you walk with barefoot in your home, the sole of your foot becomes black, wash your clothes and hang same outside, they are stained with black particles, you wipe your face with handkerchief and it becomes black,” a Bayelsa resident, Oyinkuro Jones, noted with concern.

Some months ago, some residents in the state had earlier raised the alarm towards the twilight of the rainy season over what was described as black rain whenever there was downpour but did not take their worry serious until the soot appeared late November and the became a hazy grey. The problem is much more noticeable in the morning hours when the thick blanket of black soot covers the landscape.

Immigration Advice Service spoke with some residents in Port Harcourt, Rivers, another state in the Niger Delta, who lamented the health and environmental impact of the black soot.

“The soot has been a big problem to the environment. In my home, we don’t open our windows or doors because the place gets dirty almost immediately after we clean up,” Mildred Alerechi, a health style coach told IAS correspondent. “My nails are also dirty for no reason; the soot finds its way into my fingernails.”

There has been a persistent outcry on the sheer negligence by the government to their plights. Unfortunately, governors of the affected states as well as the federal government have not responded to people’s call to end the menace.

Another resident who spoke who spoke with IAS said: “To the best of my knowledge, no on concrete action has been taken yet; I’m sure they [the government] are aware of the root cause and can tackle the problem if they want to.”

Water and Plants Degradation

The debilitating effects of oil exploration on the ecosystem of the Niger Delta is another source of concern. According to a Wikipedia report on the Niger Delta ecosystem, “The advent of oil production has also negatively impacted the Niger Delta region due to unprecedented oil spillage which has been ongoing for the past 5 decades making the region one of the most polluted in the world.” The stinking corruption in the government agencies established to ensure the rights of Niger Delta has further contributed to the ongoing ecocide.

The NNPC 1983 report noted that “the slow poisoning of the waters of this country and the destruction of vegetation and agricultural land and good water source by oil spills which occur during petroleum operations. But since the inception of the oil industry in Nigeria, more than fifty years ago, there has been no concerned and effective effort on the part of the government, let alone the oil operators, to control environmental problems associated with the industry”

Even to date, the oil companies play the blame game on who should take the fall for the environmental consequences of the oil production. Recently, a Dutch Appeal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, found the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) culpable for the pollution of farmlands and fishponds of some farmers in the Niger Delta region.

Despite the court order that SPDC should pay compensation to farmers for the damages caused by their oil production, the oil company still insisted that the said damages were caused by sabotage and their company should not be the one to bear the brunt of the case.

It took almost a year before the oil company began a mediation process with the aggrieved farmers to settle their case out of court. Until fair compensation is paid, there is no assurance that another legal battle would not ensue on the right amount to be paid for the damages.

However, this is a state crime that the government should be on the first row of the legal battle to ensure that oil production does not affect the ecosystem and the livelihood of its citizens. Sadly, the kind of support expected from the government is disturbingly missing.

Unemployment and Other Economic Problems

Economically, most oil-producing communities are poverty-stricken, plagued with high unemployment rate, and lack basic social amenities such as potable water, electricity, hospitals, motorable roads, and a conducive learning environment in their schools.

As the communities suffer all these, paradoxically, foreign and local oil companies, politicians benefit hugely from oil proceeds. Pollution from leaking pipelines, illegal bunkering, and other unwholesome activities have rendered many fishermen and farmers jobless as their livelihood continues to be affected by oil exploration.

“The by-products are usually dispensed into the rivers and on farmlands. Let’s take Ogoni as a case study, the oil spill as stop fishing activities in that area, and its bad,” says Michael Ndukwu, a University of Port-Harcourt student noted.

Though the problem of unemployment is a general issue in the country, the case in Niger Delta is peculiar due to certain factors, which include the environmental pollution resulting from oil exploration affecting farming, fishing, and other commercial activities in the region.

While the government generate its bulk of revenues from oil proceeds, the indigenes of the region live in untold hardship.

In a report that explored the causes of unemployment and poverty in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, Dr. E. D. Simon, a researcher at the Department of Mass Communication, Centre for General Studies Unit, Cross River University of Technology, Calabar, noted that the “Oil and mineral extraction in the region promoted the looting tendency by various government in Nigeria and have linked with unusually high poverty rates, poor health care and high rate of mortality. This means in effect that sustainable development can hardly be achieved under this unfavorable and in a secured environment”.

The cost of living in the region is relatively higher compared with most other regions in the country, which makes salaries and wages of the employed residents insufficient, as they could best be described as underemployed.

While the huge cost of food importation/transportation usually increase feeding expenses among Nigerians, the burden is greater on Niger Delta residents, as they could barely source any food items locally due to the damage on farmlands and waters by oil exploration.  They therefore depend more on food items imported and transported from other parts of the country. This in turn renders them underpaid even when placed on the same salary structure as people from other regions.

Gas Flaring and Oil Spillage

The consequences of gas flaring are also one of the burdens that the people of the Niger Delta region have to endure. According to International Photography Magazine, “Nigeria flares more natural gas associated with oil extraction than any country with estimates suggesting that of the 3.5 billion cubic feet (100,000,000 m³) of associated gas (AG) produced annually, 2.5 billion cubic feet (70,000,000 m³), or about 70%, is wasted by flaring.”

The aftereffects of this do not only affect the world ecological system but also have adverse health effects on people living in nearby communities. The poisonous chemicals and carcinogenic substances released from this process affect the respiratory system. They are also one of the major causes of cancer and leukemia in the world.

Oil spill is another related impact suffered by the host communities. A report by the United Nations Development Program shows that a total of 6,817 oil spills was recorded in Nigeria between 1976 and 2001. 69% of these spills reportedly occurred off-shore, a quarter was in swamps and 6% spilled on land.”

Researchers from the University of Lagos found that three main factors are responsible for the recurring oil spill in Nigeria. About 50% of oil spillage in occur due to pipeline or truck accidents, 28% is deliberately caused by sabotage, 21% is caused during oil production operations and 1% occurs due to inadequate or nonfunctional production equipment.

The “sabotage” part perfectly describes the case in the Niger Delta, and the is perpetrated mostly by unemployed youths in the region who have resorted to illegal bunkering to source for other means of livelihood. This increases environmental pollution and reduces life expectancy of residents in the region.

“The poverty rate in those places are high, hence the reason residents of such places are involved in this illegal business,” says Alerechi . “There are barely health facilities in such places, as well as educational facilities.”

Outdated and faulty pumping equipment is one of the reasons found to be responsible for oil spill in Nigeria. However, despite the highly disastrous effect of oil spillage like the disappearance of mangrove forests, the death of aqua-life, no serious effort has been made towards the reconstruction of these outdated production facilities.

While many other oil-producing countries like UAE and Saudi use their revenues to develop their countries, oil discovery and exploration seems to be a curse to the communities in Nigeria.

There is a great concern that if no decisive and urgent action is taken, oil exploration could create an ecological disaster, which could result in a humanitarian catastrophe in Nigeria oil host communities.

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