About the Niger Delta
The region derives its name from being situated at the mouth of the River Niger. Before the creation of the Nigerian state, economic activities of the Niger Delta in pre-colonial days entailed mainly export of salt and fish to the hinterland. In the 18th century, when the slave trade was at its peak, the region was West Africa’s largest slave exporting area, and this was enhanced by its proximity to the sea. Slave traders, however, diverted to palm oil trade in the 19th century when the slave trade declined.
The main ethic groups of the region are the Ijaws (the largest ethnic group), the Itsekiris, Yorobas, Efiks, Ibibios and other smaller groups. Within Akwa Ibom State it is the Ibibios who make up the majority of the population. The Niger Delta includes the states of Abia, Imo, Delta, Edo, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Ondo. Diverse animals and plant species, which are native to the area, are now threatened with extinction due mainly to very serious ecological damage caused by over fifty years of crude oil exploration and extractions. Other consequences of this include negative impacts on the fertility and life span of inhabitants in such a manner that life expectancy is falling and the birth of abnormal babies and plants has increased. Malnutrition is a major problem especially among children. Water-related diseases and waste disposal practices constitute serious problems throughout the area. Studies of the six major causes of death in Nigeria (measles, malaria, pneumonia, tetanus, dysentery and tuberculosis) indicate that the coastal area constitutes a zone of disproportionately high mortality proneness to these diseases. HIV/AIDS is also a significant problem with the UN estimating that there are 930,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in Nigeria.
Life in the Delta
The major traditional occupations include farming and fishing, while secondary occupations include industries like gin distillation, textile weaving, and boat carving. Tertiary occupations include trade and commerce, and transportation. Since 1968, when oil exploration became the major production activity in the area, both the Nigerian government and the oil companies have been dodging their responsibility of developing the region. The impacts of the oil industry have led to the Niger Delta becoming the most underdeveloped region in Nigeria. The Nigerian state and the oil companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron continuously use diplomatic overtures to evade taking responsibility for this state of disrepair. On the one hand the Nigerian government has been consistent in making diplomatic calls and appeals to the oil companies to develop the region and ensure good relations with the people. On the other hand the companies welcome the calls but argue that since they pay huge grants to the federal government, the onus lies on government to take responsibility for the upkeep and development of the Niger Delta region. It is against this background of internal colonialism that current resource control and minority agitations in the Delta have become increasingly virulent and violent, with repeatedly bloody repercussions. The current wave of kidnappings and instability in the Delta puts security in the region on a par with Chechnya and Colombia.
Other great organisations working in the Niger Delta
Centre for Human Rights and Development
Stakeholder Democracy Network