A SURVEY by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has revealed substantial infrastructural deficits, poverty and exploitation in the Niger Delta region.
Addressing media managers and leaders from the region in Lagos State recently during the presentation of a survey report on Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Use of Public Funds in Nigeria with a Focus on the Niger Delta, SERAP faulted many oil firm’s activities causing hardship for people in the region.
Olubunmi Afinowi, an environmentalist, doctorate holder and lecturer at the University of Lagos, led the research and presented the survey’s findings.
She said the report examined the economic activities conducted in the region through an empirical study, including the economic, social and environmental effects of such activities.
The study focused on the activities of oil and gas companies in the region, specifically the upstream sector, where crude oil exploration and production occur.
It looked into how the Nigerian government responds to the social, economic and environmental injustices, remediation and reparation by the oil companies operating in the region.
Besides, it interrogated the level of transparency and accountability by the government, its agencies, and oil companies.
The report highlighted some of the region’s challenges, including unemployment, lack of healthcare facilities, access to water and hygiene, insufficient roads and transportation infrastructure, and lack of healthcare facilities.
According to the report, as of 2021, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the nation had 1.7 million barrels/day production. The country’s crude oil and natural gas reserves were about 36.9 billion barrels and 203.1 trillion cubic feet, making the nation a leading producer and exporter of oil and gas in Africa.
“The oil and gas sector accounts for about nine per cent of Nigeria’s GDP and about 90 per cent of its export value. In 2019, earnings from the sector contributed to about 65 per cent of the government revenue.”
The region comprises Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Abia, and Imo States.
The states have 185 local government areas, over 800 oil-producing communities and about 900 oil-producing wells, said the survey.
The study found that the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) had about 14,800 projects at various stages – 5,034 ongoing, 5,575 completed, 2,443 newly awarded, and 669 recently commissioned.
Of these projects, 1,412 are in Bayelsa, 3,516 in Rivers, and 2,967 in Delta State.
Participants in the study comprised ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), civil society organisations (CSOs), oil and gas firms and community members.
Eighty-six per cent of participants from oil and gas companies said the living conditions of the communities were deplorable, and 85 per cent of CSOs held the same opinion. Sixty-six per cent of participants from MDAs held the view that oil exploration activities had negatively impacted the communities.
“Most participants from the host communities lamented the absence of infrastructure within their communities. As noted in this survey, the most available infrastructure were schools and primary health care centres, while the most lacking were electricity, safe running water and other infrastructures.”
The report called for a decentralised governance system entailing participation from all stakeholders, ranging from community members to pressure groups, CSOs, oil and gas companies and relevant MDAs.
It urged the government to mandate oil firms to submit and make public an independent sustainable development assessment of their activities with other annual reports.
It also suggested that the government enforce civil and criminal liability for any party that fails to fulfil its obligations or is complicit in corrupt practices while handling community development projects.
The report said the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative reports (NEITI) required oil companies to make statutory provisions for social expenditure to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), and non-mandatory contributions, which take the form of contributions towards community developments in their host communities.
“According to NEITI, in 2020, oil companies made a total contribution of US407.13 million. The mandatory contribution amounted to US367.15 million (90.18 per cent), while the non-mandatory contributions totalled US39.98 million (9.82 per cent).”
The ICIR reports that many participants, especially the Niger Delta leaders, questioned how the government utilises the funds.
Niger Delta challenges as survey shows
The region is vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change due to geographical and social vulnerabilities. There is also a high susceptibility to coastal inundation and erosion, salination of fresh water, river flooding, storm surges, and species migration, among others, the survey shows.
It adds that these impacts will likely exacerbate existing socio-economic and environmental challenges and create new ones.
“There is also the challenge of insecurity due to agitations for better living conditions, long-term neglect and disregard of the region by the government and the international oil companies.
“These agitations led to the springing up of various interest groups, some of which had to resort to various forms of violence to drive home their demand.”
Region’s leaders frown at challenges
The Ebenanowean of the Ogulagha Kingdom in Delta State, Joseph Timiyan (Rtd Capt.), said SERAP “is known for anticorruption and transparency work.”
Represented by Lanry Adenika, the monarch said Niger Delta had been known for its outspokenness. He noted that the region’s stance on speaking out always made it easy for its people to point out corruption.
“When they see what they don’t like, they will point it out to correct things. The people do not like the rot, so they point it out.”
He advised SERAP to look beyond the Niger Delta for corruption, which he said was rife in all parts of the nation.
He also challenged the institution to be objective always.
River State Governor Siminalayi Fubara aligned with the Delta monarch’s position and said the costs of executing projects in the region were more than in other parts of the country.
Represented by the Commissioner for Finance, Isaac Kamalu, he objected to some of the survey’s findings but said it was a good step towards addressing the Niger Delta challenges.
He called for more intervention in the region and challenged the Federal Government to not wait for the people to continue suffering until the area’s oil resources were drained.