Impact of Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria


October 17, 2019

By Desmond Madudihe


Oil producing states
Map of Niger Delta region (Source:

 There are two major rivers in Nigeria, river Niger and river Benue. Both rivers meet at confluence town of Lokoja and flow southwards towards southern region in Nigeria, where they empty into Atlantic Ocean. The southern region where the rivers enter into Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria is the Niger Delta region. It covers an area of about 70,000 sq. kilometres in southern Nigeria. The population of the Niger Delta was recorded to be least 25 million representing over 40 ethnic groups and 250 dialects. Nigeria is adjudged to be the largest producer of petroleum in Africa, where the Niger Delta produces around 2 million barrels a day. The states in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria are the oil producing states; and they are located in the South South, South West, and South East geopolitical zones of the country. In the South South geopolitical zone, they include all the states in this zone namely Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibiom, and Cross River states. In the South West geopolitical zone the states include 1 state, which is Ondo. Also, in the South East 2 states are among the oil producing states and they are Imo and Abia states.

The enormous exploration and exploitation of oil resources in the Niger Delta region give vent to oil spills, which constitute negative impact of oil production. An oil spill is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystems, due to human activity, and is a form of pollution (Wikipedia). In as much as oil pollution is usually referred to marine oil spills which are associated with the release of crude oil into the ocean or coastal waters, sometimes spills occur on land. All these are caused by human activities. The activities involve but not limited to release of crude oil from petroleum tankers, offshore platform, drilling rigs and oil wells. At times, spills may come from refined products such as diesel, gasoline, kerosene and their by-products. Also, corrosion of pipelines and tankers, and act of sabotage exacerbate oil spillage in Niger Delta region. All these give rise to disastrous consequences which affect the environmental, economic, and socio-political systems adversely. The region is a tale of poverty, squalor, underdevelopment in the midst of plenty due to environmental degradation which affected the people’s means of livelihood (Ajodo-Adebanjoko, 2017).

As observed above, the largest production of oil in Africa is carried out in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Hence, this has resulted to huge spills of oil resources over the years. And over a 50 year period, over 7000 oil spillages have been recorded with associated environmental, economic and health hazards in the host communities. In the study carried out, Nwagbo (2017) stated that along the various effects oil pollution had on the Niger Delta’s vegetation and agricultural land, oil pollution has also impacted the health of the local residents. The health hazards caused by ingestion, contact, and inhalation of constituents of spilled crude oil include acute renal failure, hepatoxicity and hemotoxicity, infertility and cancer, especially through severe exposure (ibid).

Generally, the negative impacts created by oil production in the Niger Delta region can be outlined thus:

  • Imminent fire and flare hazards that can cause respiratory distress, loss of lives and properties.
  • Contamination of drinking water supplies and marine ecosystem with its adverse effects on aquatic life and fishing industry.
  • Contamination of the vegetation and agricultural land, thereby depriving the residents of their farmlands and means of livelihood.
  • Air pollution due to release of some substances like benzene, toluene, and poly-aromatic hydrocarbons into the air which the residents inhale with their attendant health hazards.
  • Imminent acid rain, flooding, and soil erosion, etc.

The negligence by governments to fully address the hydra-headed and ugly incident of oil pollution in the Niger Delta has resulted to tension, youth restiveness and agitation, abduction and militancy. Thus, insecurity of lives and properties has become the order of the day in this region. The agitators and host communities cite injustice, negligence and inequitable distribution of the proceeds from oil production perpetrated against them as reasons for their incessant attacks. For this people resource control is the best option for peace to reign; and they resorted to bombing of oil installations or facilities to register their grievances. And failure of successive governments in Nigeria to find a lasting peace in the region has made the fall-outs even worst. Efforts were made by governments to solve the problem. For instance, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) as a federal government agency was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000 and was aimed at developing the oil-rich Niger Delta. President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of Niger Delta Ministry in 2008, and making the NDDC a parastatal under the ministry. Among other core mandates, the NDDC was mandated to train and educate the youths of the Niger Delta region, to curb hostilities and militancy, while developing key infrastructure to provide diversification and productivity and to alleviate poverty.

However, all government efforts failed to yield the desired results. In the words of Ajodo-Adebanjoko (2017) all efforts to resolve conflict in the region failed until 2009 when amnesty was declared by Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration and some form of uneasy peace prevailed. The amnesty was aimed at disarming and reintegrating the militants into the society. This period of peace was short-lived, and after about seven years militancy in the region re-occurred making it imperative once again for government to find a lasting solution. But prior to this, in the year 2015, the NDDC commenced a three months twin certification programme for the training of the youths of the Niger Delta, then after two months into the project worth billions of naira, it was abandoned by NDDC and its contractors. And by 2017 the contracts were yet to be completed.

Also, while this conflict in the region lasted, various governments had employed force through organised military operations or assaults as a means of resolving the crisis, including the recent one, the “Operation Crocodile Smile.” The armed military operations against the militants over the years have caused untold damages in terms of huge losses incurred by both the federal forces and the militants in particular, and the country Nigeria, in general. With this some opinions abhor or are averse to matching force for force in the provision of solution towards the Niger Delta crisis. What then will bring lasting peace to this volatile region of the country? This remains a very big question that requires urgent answer.

Cleaning up of the Niger Delta:

According to United Nations it will take 30 years to cleanup oil spills in the Niger Delta. And a major report says that the oil spills caused by Shell and other oil companies in the Niger Delta over half a century will gulp 1 billion dollars ($1bn) to cleanup. This will be to reverse the damage done to the ecosystem of the region, and its biodiversity adjudged to be one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on earth. Sequel to these recommendations the Nigeria government swung into action by commissioning the report in 2011, and launching a $1billion cleanup and restoration programme in 2017. By 2019 the Nigerian government directed the Nigerian Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to take over the oil wells in Ogoniland from Shell, and ensure smooth re-entry. This action engendered protests from NGOs and Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People. As a take-off fee the federal government released $180 million through the NNPC for the 21 selected companies. This translates to 18% of the total amount required to cleanup the Niger Delta region as proposed.

The federal government has done well by the disbursement of this fund. Will the contractors execute the project conscientiously and deliver on the job? Or will they abandon the project halfway as was done in the time past, as we previously observed? Time will definitely tell.

From the foregoing, we have observed that the federal government has made various efforts to restore sanity in the crisis ridden Niger Delta region. The establishment of NDDC, Niger Delta Ministry,  the granting of amnesty, and the cleanup exercise, are all laudable efforts by the government to secure enduring peace in the region. Nevertheless, studies have shown that crisis in the Niger Delta is fueled or escalated and sustained by the following:

  • Failure of 13% derivation principle and amnesty to cause development in the region, which then engenders call for resource control or fiscal federalism.
  • Amnesty programme was puzzled with corruption cases.
  • Failure of government to undertake wide or thorough consultations with stakeholders and leaders of the region, before making proposal of conflict resolution plan.

A more positive and practical approach towards conflict resolution in the region will then be a non-violent, collective and democratic approach. Consequently, a Collective Non-violent Conflict Management (CNCM) was proposed as an alternative approach to conflict resolution, by Ajodo-Adebanjoko (2017).

And also justice, equity, accountability, and project monitoring are necessary for a sustainable peace making programme in this region. This will help in checking misappropriation of fund and corruption during project implementation in the Niger Delta.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of government to provide adequate infrastructures to the residents of Niger Delta. The infrastructures are schools, hospitals, water, road, electricity, telecommunication, industries, sport facilities, training/vocation centres, etc. No doubt, the federal government through its agency, the NDDC has performed these tasks over the years. Yet the conflict rages on due to lack of sustainable development and inequitable distribution of these amenities in a region characterized by multiple ethnic groups with diverse cultures and yearnings. Thus NDDC should create a comprehensive and updated spatial data base, by capturing and storing information relating to the infrastructures allude to in a Geographic Information System (GIS) with its analytical capability and information display mechanism. With these geographical referenced data, planning, distribution, monitoring can be made at local, village and state or regional levels; and quick decisions are made using this tool also.

A GIS is capable of detecting the status of amenities, providers of the amenities and their inspection timelines.  The information about status ensures where and when to carry out maintenance and replacement services, and who are involved in the particular exercise in an area.

With a GIS the distribution pattern of infrastructures in an area can be displayed and seen quickly at once, and locations devoid of the required amenities could be detected easily. So, it helps to determine where to locate or develop the next infrastructure to ensure equitable distribution.  The Spatial Decision Support capabilities of the system will assist government/NDDC and planners in finding out the expected and best possible locations for any infrastructure using a Multi Criteria Evaluation modules and several other parameters that are related to health; population density, number of health centres required and its optimum location, number of disease infected persons etc. (Aweh et al, 2012). When the stakeholders are made to see in real time the display of the distribution pattern of an infrastructure in an area in a GIS, which at the same time showcases area without the infrastructure, based on justice and fair play they will not grumble or agitate when a decision is made in favour of those without the amenity. Hence, this can be used as a conflict resolution strategy.

In conclusion, while concerted effort should be made towards adopting the Collective Non-violent Conflict Management (CNCM) approach as enunciated by Ajodo-Adebanjoko (2017) the government and NDDC must complement it with  intelligent data management system which utilizes geographic referenced data, like the GIS, to collect, store, analyse, and display  relevant parameters for the purpose of making smart decisions in the development, and distribution of infrastructures to contain or check conflict, and  to ensure enduring peace in the Niger Delta region.



  1. Ajodo-Adebanjoko, A. (2017): “Towards ending conflict and insecurity in the Niger Delta region: A collective non-violent approach.” A report from African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes.
  2. Aweh, D. S.; Olatunde, M. B.; Alasah, I. and Olatunde, F.O.  (2012): “GIS and remote sensing-based infrastructural planning, distribution and development: A tool for peace and conflict management in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria.” in Enukora, L. O.; Akwo, J. S. and Terdo, F. (ed.) The Environment, Resources and Development in Nigeria. Institute of Certified Geographers of Nigeria. pp.149-160.
  3. Map of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
  4. Nwagbo, G. (2017): Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta. Submitted as course work for PH240, Stanford University.
  5. Wikipedia: “Environmental issues in the Niger Delta.”
  6. Wikipedia: “Niger Delta Development Commission.”
  7. Wikipedia: “Oil Spill.”

Copyright © 2019, Desmond Madudihe

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1 thought on “<span class="hpt_headertitle">Impact of Oil Pollution in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria</span>”

  1. We noted in this article that NDDC was established by government to develop the oil-rich Niger Delta, and to educate the youths of the region to curb hostilities and militancy. Since its inception in the year 2000 huge amount of funds have been sunk into the project, but yet the desired lasting peace remains elusive, owing to poor handling and corruption leading to abandonment of contracts. However, as part of his anti-corruption stance, President Buhari has ordered the forensic audit of NDDC operations since 2001, that is, from 2001 to 2019, saying that projects executed not reflective of funds allocated. (Daily Independent, Oct. 18, 2019, p.11). With this development those sabotaging government efforts will be fished out.

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