Tag Archives: poverty

Niger Delta pollution: Fisherman at risk amidst the oil

From Will Ross at the BBC on May 30, 2013:

A “pristine paradise” – these are not words you often hear to describe the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. But you get to appreciate the area’s natural beauty whilst wading across lily covered creeks and trekking deep into the forest, accompanied by birdsong.

Welcome to the Niger Delta before the oil. “I’m on the plank now so walk right behind me,” a guide said as we squelched across a muddy swamp trying not to sink in too deep. After walking for about an hour and a half from the village of Kalaba in Bayelsa state, I caught the first glimpse of an expansive tranquil lake through the trees. On the shore are shelters made of wooden poles draped in material. Every two years several families set up a camp at Lake Masi where they fish for just three months.

Fishermen empty bucket of fish

“After preparing the nylon and woven basket nets we go into the lake and drive the fish into one area,” Woloko Inebisa told me. “By fishing every two years we allow the fish to grow large. If we fished every year there would only be very small fish here,” the 78 year old told me as two men in dug out canoes adjusted the nets inside a section of the lake that had been fenced off with cane reeds.

Smoke drifted across the camp as women dried the fish over home made grills above smouldering fires. “I will use this money to pay my children’s school fees, to buy books for them, to buy their school uniforms and to do everything for them,” said mother-of-three Ovie Joe. When these families return to their villages they will continue to grow crops but will have raised some capital from the fishing season. “We have water for drinking and plenty of fish. But I’m not just here to feed my stomach – I’ll save up money for when I go back to the village,” Mr Inebisa said.

Just a few kilometres away near Taylor Creek is a very different picture. An oil spill from June 2012 has left the ground covered in a dark sludge and the trees are all blackened by fire.

Niger Delta fisherman carries net laden with fish out of a creek

Environmentalists believe local contractors often pay youths to set fire to the area where the spill has occurred. This can reduce the spread of the oil but has other detrimental effects on the environment. Despite extensive flooding late last year the oil has not dispersed and there are still signs of the rainbow sheen on the surface.

Your ears also tell you all is not well – there is hardly any birdsong as the pollution has sucked the life out of the area. “When I walked here the crude oil was spilling out so fast I couldn’t even get near the spill point itself,” said Samuel Oburo, a youth leader from Kalaba.

Running through this area is an underground pipeline belonging to Nigeria AGIP Oil Company – which is partly owned by the Italian oil giant, Eni.

Map of Nigeria

It says numerous leaks near Taylor Creek were all caused by people breaking into the pipe – sabotage.

On 23 March Eni issued a statement announcing the closure of all its activities in the area because the theft of oil, known as bunkering, was so rife. “The decision was made due to the intensified bunkering, consisting in the sabotage of pipelines and the theft of crude oil, which has recently reached unsustainable levels regarding both personal safety and damage to the environment,” the statement read. People in the village suggest corroded pipes as a possible trigger of the spill and they doubt it was caused by sabotage.

The breaking of pipes and theft of the oil is so rampant in the Niger Delta that experts believe several interest groups are involved. “There is a high level conspiracy between the security forces, the community and oil workers to steal the oil,” says environmental campaigner Erabanabari Kobah. “That is why people are not prosecuted and convicted even though the crime is happening at an alarming rate,” he says.

There is very little transparency when it comes to the awarding of contracts to clean up any oil spills.

Jeti Matikmo, fisherman carrying a pole on his shoulder with bundles of fish

This has led to increased incidents of sabotage as some believe the more oil spills there are the more money there is to share around. The pollution is having a terrible impact on the environment. “There is oil here. We are suffering,” said Jeti Matikmo, carrying a pole on his shoulder on which bundles of fish were tied. “Many of our crops are not growing well because of the oil spill and we are not killing fish in the ponds anymore. So we have to trek for more than two hours to where it is clean and where there is no oil.”

Back at Lake Masi a crowd gathered as two men waded ashore dragging an enormous woven basket behind them. It was heavy with fish. “There’s nothing like pollution here. Although if the oil prospecting companies come they may find oil and all that could change,” said Mr Inebisa. “If this pond is polluted, hunger is the answer,” he said adding that in his entire life he had not gained a single coin from the oil of the Niger Delta.

Remarks on social services in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

A newborn in the Niger Delta

 

An NGO researcher just conducted an interview with me regarding the state of service delivery, i.e. social and government services, in the Niger Delta. Below are a few of the transcribed questions and answers.

 

1. How would you describe the current state of service delivery[1] for most communities in the Niger Delta? 

Service delivery is non-existent in most areas, and sporadic or haphazard in the remaining ones.  I think that part of the reason communities so often look to oil companies to offer social services and build basic infrastructure is that the state has been so wholly unable to do any of these things since independence.  It is as if communities have given up on their own government ever acting as a government should, which requires providing basic services to its population. As is common in countries with rampant corruption, projects often begin but then are abandoned because funds disappeared or there was a change in management of that project. In the Niger Delta there are half-finished bridges, classrooms without roofs, and empty hospitals that don’t even have electricity. Additionally, a lack of human capital and maintenance of services mean that as soon as any project is finished, it will only be a matter of time until it is useless because no one can perform maintenance.  It seems that almost as soon as a road is finished, poor construction materials mean that it needs to be fixed again but there is mechanism in which to have that road repaired. This lack of maintenance is an issue that only capacity-building can address.

2. Whose responsibility do you believe it is to improve service delivery in the region, e.g. government agencies like MNDA or the NDDC, or oil companies operating in the region?

It is responsibility of government agencies to improve social services.  The basis of democracy is that citizens pay taxes to their government, vote for their leaders, and then those leaders use those taxes in a responsible manner to provide necessary collective goods that improve everyone’s lives.  Because the Nigerian government can rely on oil profits rather than taxes, and corruption makes elections less meaningful, there is no accountability of state actors towards the citizenry. Part of this government duty is to monitor the behavior of private economic actors like oil companies. Although I believe staunchly in corporate responsibility, it is impossible for a corporation to fully monitor itself; by definition monitoring must come from an outside party, like a government agency.

3. What impact do you think the current state of service delivery has on peace and conflict in the Niger Delta region? 

Lack of service delivery has increased rates of poverty and negatively impacted quality of life, which gives people “nothing to lose” when it comes to engaging in violence.  It also creates a dynamic in which too many people are competing for scant social services and resources, leading to increased tensions. Poverty and lack of services drives rural dwellers into cities like Port Harcourt and Yenagoa, where they may come into conflict with residents already living there, be forced into crime out of necessity, and and don’t have kinship or community networks that would otherwise mitigate their propensity for violence.

 4. Do you think that improved service delivery would increase security in the region?

Yes. Mostly obviously, it would remove violence caused by need, in other words, conflicts over obtaining basic goods.  Additionally, it would remove the incentive for rural Nigerians to move to new areas in search of such services, thus minimizing the conflict that occurs among internally displaces populations and between new urban dwellers and older ones.


[1] “Service delivery” means the quality and availability of essential services, such as health care, primary education,  and basic infrastructure such as reliable access to water, electricity, and road networks.

Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

Reports | National Reports | Africa | Nigeria | Human Development Reports (HDR) | United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Reports | National Reports | Africa | Nigeria | Human Development Reports (HDR) | United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Falling birth rates across the world, some more than others

I am currently in Italy analyzing the field data I gathered last year in the Niger Delta.  The transition has clearly been challenging, as I am re-adjusting to being a place with clear rules, and where I can spend more time being professionally productive and less time “surviving,” e.g. finding potable water, clean food, sources of electricity, etc.  However, one of the more startling thoughts I had my first week here occurred to me when I was roaming through the streets of Florence among a sea of silver-haired adults. I realized that I was only seeing perhaps one baby per day during my daily commute, and almost all of them were with mothers who had clearly immigrated to Italy from another country.  I asked myself, “Where are all the babies?”

In subsequent research, I have learned that Italy has the second lowest birth rate in Western Europe this year, at 1.4 children per woman. The CIA World Factbook, a reliable statistical source, says:

A rate of two children per woman is considered the replacement rate for a population, resulting in relative stability in terms of total numbers. Rates above two children indicate populations growing in size and whose median age is declining. Higher rates may also indicate difficulties for families, in some situations, to feed and educate their children and for women to enter the labor force. Rates below two children indicate populations decreasing in size and growing older. Global fertility rates are in general decline and this trend is most pronounced in industrialized countries, especially Western Europe, where populations are projected to decline dramatically over the next 50 years.

In stark contrast, Nigeria has a birth rate of 5. 38 children per woman, almost four times that of Italy. Nigeria has the 13th highest birth rate in the world, in country that is already the most populous in Africa. This average probably would show a stark contrast between low rates in major cities and high ones in villages. As an anecdote,  the women I interviewed in rural areas typically said they had 6-9 living children.   Just from my observations, I recall that between 1/4 and 1/3 of rural Niger Deltan women I’d see would be carrying a pekin (baby) in a wrapper on their back. No wonder I noticed the missing babies here in Italy.

Italy’s low birth rate is coupled with a low mortality rate and longer expected life spans. The life expectancy in Italy is almost 82 years. Conversely, in Nigeria it is just over 51 years. Italians get 60% more life than Nigerians! Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a youth bulge and has been for decades; it is one of the driving explanations for ongoing violent conflicts in the region.  Europe, Asia and Russia do not even have replacement birthrates. While African governments struggle with feeding, educating and housing booming populations, Europeans and Asians are worried about who will pay into the social security necessary to care for aging populations.

The stress of the youth bulge: Lots of young people without older ones to help ensure stability.

Sociologists and economists hypothesize that the poor financial state Italy, Spain, and the U.S. are the reason for plummeting birth rates in those countries, but I will add a caveat.  In modern industrialized countries, I will buy the argument that people have less babies during times of economic strain, because in those societies children are financial burdens.  However, birth rates in developing African countries remain high because children there are not just burdens, they are also viewed as labor for rural families.  In agricultural areas, it makes just as much sense for families to actually produce more children during times of economic hardship, under the belief that they children’s labor will overall produce more resources than the children will consume. This is the reason that I don’t buy the historical argument I have read that the American birth rate in the U.S. went down during the Great Depression because of economic conditions; at that time, as is true in rural Africa today, children could create capital through their labor. The relationship between birth rates and the economy is not so clear to me.

Have any thoughts on this?

Italy’s population

Nigeria’s population

Guinness Commercial Represents Modern Nigeria

Watching cable in Port Harcourt, I used to see this commercial often, and it still fascinates me. There are many scenes familiar to Nigerians—congested go-slows (traffic jams), the broken down bus, and the city-dwelling relative coming home to his rural family bearing gifts. The two most salient themes for me are those of urbanization and masculinity. The male breadwinner of the family moves into the city to try to make his fortune, earning the respect of his family, thus urbanization creates not only potential financial capital but social capital as well. Femi buys his younger brother a bus ticket when he sees him as “man enough” to make it in the city. The men are constructing their masculinity by through earning money. I heard that Guinness made this commercial in the Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages as well, possibly changing the man’s name from Femi (a Yoruba name) to a Hausa or Igbo name for the ad to have more resonance among respective ethnic groups. I think Guinness really did its marketing research with this one:

Job Creation is Not Enough to Stop Militancy

Fighters in a boat

Fighters in a boat (Photo credit: IRSN)

Perhaps in response to the recent WSJ article, a blog reader recently emailed to ask my opinion on the assertion that job creation stops militancy. There are two trains of thought, one is that oil companies should make the jobs as payment to Nigerians for use of land and the other is that the jobs should come from local and non-oil sources in order to contribute to a diversified and stable economy.  I will start with the first. In my opinion, it is not correct when people say that job creation in the oil-related sector stops violence.  Job creation lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but even once they are employed with foreign firms Nigerians are underpaid and have the lowest positions and rarely move up. Then they become disgruntled employees (as opposed to just disgruntled unemployed men). The reason that they are underpaid and have the worst positions is because they often don’t have the formal education, job skills, or work culture to function well at foreign oil companies. I would amend this idea to say that the creation of well-paid local jobs would stop the violence, but those jobs will never ever be well-paid when Chinese, Indian, and Russians workers are imported to Nigeria to work for the same amount, and be seen as better employees than local Nigerians.

As to job creation in non-oil sectors, yes, that would lower violence but that is really a larger issue of overall economic development in Nigeria. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the Niger Delta insurgency, since violence is inversely proportional to economic development generally. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta (surely hovering around 50%) will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta.