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The Challenges 0f Communities In The Development Of Niger Delta




Otive Igbuzor Ph.D.


October 15, 2004




Communities have roles to play in the development of society. Communities in the Niger Delta have been historically involved in efforts to develop the area. Meanwhile, the Niger Delta constitutes one of the most under developed areas in Nigeria . In this paper, we examine the challenges before communities in the Niger Delta in their attempt to bring about development to the area.


The Niger Delta in Nigeria is one of the few deltas in the world. It has been documented that there are only five major deltas in the world (Isoun, 2001). The Niger Delta has a very fragile ecosystem and is one of the most polluted and neglected areas in Nigeria . It has a vast area covering over 30,000 square kilometers and approximately 3 percent of the total land area of Nigeria (Osuntokun, 200). It is considered to be the largest delta in Africa , larger than the famous Nile Delta of Egypt, accounting for 77.4 percent of Nigeria ’s wetlands (Darah, 2001).


From 1956 –2000, about $30 trillion worth of oil has been produced from the Niger Delta calculated on the average of $20 per barrel (Darah, 2001). Successive regimes in Nigeria have contributed to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta. There are a lot of issues in the development of the Niger Delta region. These include environmental degradation/pollution, resource allocation and distribution, widespread poverty, climatic change, gas flaring, corruption, environmental laws and lack of infrastructures and social services.  In order to address these issues, there are challenges facing the communities in the Niger Delta. The challenges are multifarious but in this paper, we will address only nine  challenges.



1. Building of  Democratic Institution – Communities have been organizing in the Niger Delta for a very long time. Long years of military rule have destroyed democratic institutions in Nigeria . Mass organizations that can help to hold elected officials accountable have been emasculated. This has led to the emergence of militias and vigilante groups. There is the need to rebuild and refocus community organizations to address governance issues.  As Dimitrov has demonstrated, sound, effective, professional and culturally valid institutions are of prime importance in consolidating democracy.[i]  Government at all levels have failed to build institutions and procedures in such a way that government officials perform their duties without prompting.


2 Infrastructural Development - The state of infrastructural decay in the Niger Delta is lamentable. The Federal, State and local Governments in the Niger Delta must rise up to the challenge so that the people of this country will enjoy  democracy dividends.  Sound public policies must be formulated and implemented to solve the problems confronting the people particularly in the areas of food supply, education, health, employment, housing, electricity supply, transportation etc.  As Fayemi has pointed out, “bad economics breeds poverty, and mass poverty in turn invites military dictatorship. Dictatorship as Africa ’s recent history has abundantly demonstrated is a key cause of civil war. And where there is war, democratic politics flies out of the window”[ii]


Nigeria , which was one of the richest 50 countries in the early 1970s, has retrogressed to become one of the 25 poorest countries at the threshold of the twenty first century.[iii] It is ironic that Nigeria is the sixth largest exporter of oil and at the same time host the third largest number of poor people after China and India . Statistics show that the incidence of poverty using the rate of US $1 per day increased from 28.1 percent in 1980 to 46.3 percent in 1985 and declined to 42.7 percent in 1992 but increased again to 65.6 percent in 1996.[iv] The incidence increased to 69.2 percent in 1997.[v] If the rate of US $2 per day is used to measure the poverty level, the percentage of those living below poverty line will jump to 90.8 percent.  Nigeria fares very poorly in all development indices. The average annual percentage growth of GDP in Nigeria from 1990 –2000 was 2.4. This is very poor when compared to Ghana (4.3) and Egypt (4.6).[vi] The gross national income per capita is US $260; under five mortality rate per 1,000 live births is 153; maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births is 1,100; and life expectancy at birth is 46 years for males and 48 years for females.14


The situation of poverty in the Niger Delta is precarious and has worsened in recent times as the table below shows:

Table 1: Incidence of poverty by Geo-political zones

Geopolitical zone






North East




North West




Middle Best




South East




South West




South South




Nation wide





Source: Central bank of Nigeria , 1999

From the table, it can be seen that in 1985/5, incidence of poverty was lowest in South East followed by South South. But in 1997, the situation has completely reversed with the incidence of poverty highest in south East followed by South South.  Communities should hold government accountable for provision of infrastructures and demand their basic rights thereby contributing to poverty eradication.


3.  Free and Fair elections.- One of the principles of liberal democracy is the requirement to organize regular, free and fair elections.  This entails equality of voters, freedom of individuals to nominate candidates or stand as one, periodic revision of electoral register and laws, independent judiciary, frequent elections, freedom of campaign and conducting election according to the rules of the game.  The history of this country tells us that when civilian regimes conduct elections, there are usually problems (1964 and 1983).  The election that marked the end of the first four years and transition of the first term of civilian rule in the fourth republic to the second term was held in 2003. Although there appears to be a successful civilian to civilian transition, the 2003 election in Nigeria was marred with a lot of irregularities. According to the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 170 civil society organizations that deployed about 10,000 observers to monitor the election, the election was “significantly marred by incidents of violence, intimidation and killing of voters in many states.”[vii] The results of the election were not accepted by many of the political parties. The result of the election into the State Houses of Assembly, Federal House of Representatives, the Senate and the gubernatorial and presidential elections were challenged at the election petition tribunals. In most parts of the Niger Delta, elections were not held but bogus figures were declared. The arms that were used to rig the elections are now allegedly used for militia and robbery activities. Communities need to take more interest in protecting their votes.


4.   Politics of Integrity.- Another challenge for communities in the Niger Delta is to mobilize credible individuals to be involved in politics. It is unfortunate that many Nigerians still see politics as a dirty game for people of dubious integrity.  Politics in the Niger Delta is dominated by mediocres. This attitude must change for us to consolidate democracy in this country.  Politics is too important to be left for charlatans and people of doubtful integrity.  Politics affects all facets of life-

economy, religion, education etc.  People of impeccable integrity from the communities must be encouraged to participate in Politics.


5. Conflict Prevention and Management- Conflicts have been a recurring decimal in the Niger Delta. These conflicts have taken dangerous forms of ethnic and communal clashes leading to loss of lives and property. Military incursion into governance has increased the frequency and affected the pattern of these conflicts in the Niger Delta. At the same time, the military by its nature suppressed the outward manifestation of some of the conflict. Consequently, on return to civilian rule in 1999, the frequency and intensity of conflicts increased. It has been estimated that in the first two years of return to constitutional rule about ten thousand lives were lost to different kinds of conflict and violence.[viii] Government at all levels have failed to develop institutionalised mechanism for conflict prevention and management.  Instead, the Federal government and oil companies continue to initiate, provoke and oil the conflicts. Communities in the Niger Delta responded in many ways including fighting themselves (Itsekiri Vs Urhobo; Itsekiri Vs Ijaw; Ijaw Vs Ilaje; Ogonis Vs Adonis etc). Another form of response was kidnap of oil workers for ransom. Undoubtedly, these responses are not sustainable and cannot bring development to the communities. It is important for communities to design early warning signals so that conflicts can be prevented and/or managed. Communities must refuse to fall prey to the divisive tactics of the Federal government and oil companies. The militia response to the problems of the Niger Delta is clearly not sustainable.


6. Democratizing a Militarized Society -  It has been noted that “the prolonged nature of Military rule has constricted democratic space, entrenched authoritarianism, and nurtured militarism while economic crises and structural adjustment have battered Nigerians, and has indeed led to increasing questioning, if not challenging the legitimacy of the State.[ix] This view has been corroborated by a recent study by the Centre for Democracy and Development.  The study documented the militarization of the institutions of the family, the educational system, community relations, religion, the judiciary and the economy. The report stated that there is:

           “…….   militarization of family and kinship relations with men assuming a militaristic command attitude towards women and children, resulting in widespread domestic violence, abuse and anti-democratic tendencies within the civil society.  Adults beat children all the time, men beat women,  some were killed or maimed, while the culprits were accountable to no one..…authoritarian orientation of the civilian educational administrators and government officials who ban legitimate staff and students  Unions……Traders speak of the practice of using army officers to collect debts or settle scores, the use of hired killers to murder rivals, and the use of religious rituals and sorcery in the spiritual warfare that is thought by some to accompany trade…..Transport companies routinely hire armed escorts to protect the passengers from robbers but the armed men that the passengers usually encounter are at the countless military and police roadblocks, brazenly extracting illegal tolls from every passing driver, thereby inflating transport fares…..some communities have adopted the barracks mentality of “might is right” especially in the contest for elective political office, characterised by thuggery and violence.  Some traditional rulers run secret cults with which they intimidate people in rural areas and extort money from them as fines without due process.[x]


 We have quoted elaborately from this study to show how the Nigerian psyche has been militarised. The militarisation was given greatest effect by the State in the Niger Delta. The response given by many communities in Nigeria was influenced by this trend. But it is quite clear that the kind of response we need is to contribute to demilitarization rather than further militarisation. The communities have a great role to play in this regard.


7. Constitution Review-  The constitution is perhaps the most important document in the governance of any nation. It has been pointed out that a constitution is the foundation of the State and of a democratic order; and it contains profound statements regarding the political and economic purposes of government.[xi]  Despite the recognition of the importance of the constitution by scholars, many citizens in Nigeria have neither seen nor heard of the constitution. When a scholar in 1999 asked a Nigerian taxi driver the question “Have you ever seen the Nigerian constitution?”, his response was:

Constitution? Wetin be that? Me a never see constitution before o. Na wetin e bi? Na book or na food? Abi na di name of one new govnor? My broda, a beg make you talk the one wey poor man fit sabi.[xii]


Similarly, a survey carried out by the CFCR showed that the people have not seen or read the Nigerian constitution:

The survey showed that majority of the respondents representing 64.5 percent of the sample admitted that they were aware of the existence of the 1999 Constitution but only 55 percent had seen a copy of the constitution. Similarly, majority of respondents (61.3 percent) have not read the constitution. Many of those who admitted to have read the constitution said they did not understand it. In the same vein, majority of the respondents (81.3 percent support the need for a review of the constitution.[xiii]

Meanwhile, at the return to constitutional rule in May 1999, the new civilian regime had no choice but to operate the 1999 constitution which was handed over to it by the departing military regime. Majority of Nigerians agreed that the 1999 constitution was an imposition and defective in many areas. In response, the federal government inaugurated the technical committee on the review of the 1999 constitution in October 19, 1999 . The National Assembly also set up a joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution. But at the end of the first four years (1999-2003), nothing concrete was done on the review of the 1999 Constitution.


It is instructive to note that the 1999 Constitution was written by a Constitution Debate Co-ordinating committee appointed by the Military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar led by Justice Niki Tobi. The Tobi Committee had barely two months to consult with all Nigerians before submitting its report. We have argued elsewhere that there are two approaches to the making of constitution in Africa which we have characterized as characterised as the old and new approaches. 

In the old approach, government appoints or stage-manages the election of a constituent assembly, parliamentary committee, technical committee, special task force or select committee of conservative lawyers and politicians to write a constitution for the country. The process of the old approach ensures that there is little or no debate, no consultation with ordinary people and no referendum on the draft constitution before it is decreed or passed into law. Even if the process allows some limited debate, the result is predetermined and manipulated and not informed by the logic and content of the debate. The old approach inevitably leads to imposed or authoritarian constitution. The new approach is a process led and participatory approach that puts a lot of premium on dialogue, debate, consultation and participation. The new approach utilises diverse mechanisms such as appointment of an independent commission to direct the process, elaborate public enlightenment and civic education and in built mechanisms for making the people of the country to claim ownership and authorship of the constitution. [xiv]


From the history of constitution making in Nigeria , three distinct approaches can be delineated. First is the approach where the constitution is made in London and taken to Nigeria for implementation. This was how the 1914 amalgamation, 1922 Clifford and 1946 Richards’s constitutions were made.  The people did not participate at all in the making of these constitutions. A slight variation of this approach is limited consultation of the people as witnessed in the making of the 1951 Macpherson and 1954 Lyttleton constitutions. However, despite this consultation, the people did not have any say in the drafting or approval of the constitution. The second approach is the use of constitutional conferences. A constitutional conference is called where all the contentious issues are agreed upon after which a constitution is enacted. This was the method used in making the 1954 Lyttleton, 1960 Independence and 1963 Republican constitutions. The third approach is the setting up of constitution Drafting Committees to draft a constitution for the country, which is essentially a creation of the military. This was how the 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions were made. Therefore, one can say that the experience of constitution making in Nigeria particularly during the colonial and military rule do not tally with the theoretical notions of a constitution as a political consensus, covenant or contract.

Meanwhile, scholars are in agreement that Nigeria wants an inclusive, consultative and participatory process in which the component parts of the whole can be examined as equals and partners in the process of nation building and continued existence.[xv]  The Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform, a coalition of over 100 civil society organizations argue that the constitution making process in Nigeria should be guided by the principles of participation, inclusively, diversity, transparence, openness, autonomy, accountability and legitimacy. 

The marginalisation, oppression and underdevelopment of the Niger Delta has its roots in the Constitution of Nigeria. There is not likely to be any meaningful change in the situation of things in the Niger Delta without a fundamental reform in the constitution. Communities in the Niger Delta must therefore take constitutional reform as a topmost priority.


8. Fiscal federalism in Nigeria

In any Federal state, a formula is usually devised to share the revenue of the federation between the federal government and the governments of the component units on the one hand and among the governments of the component units on the other (Oyovbaire, 1991). A large body of literature exists on Nigeria ’s fiscal federalism, particularly with reference to revenue allocation. It has been argued that the discordance between fiscal capacity of the various levels of government and their expenditure responsibilities is a striking feature of Nigerian Federal finance. There has always been controversy on the appropriate formula that should be used to divide resources in Nigeria . Various commissions have been set up to work out acceptable and equitable revenue allocation formula for the country. The commissions include:

1.      The Phillipson commission of 1946

2.      The Chicks -Phillipson commission of 1951

3.      The Chicks commission of 1953

4.      The Raisman Commission of 1958

5.      The Binns Commission of 1964

6.      The Dina Interim Revenue Ailocation committee of 1968

7.      The Aboyade Technical Committee of 1977

8.      The Okigho Presidential Commission of 1979

9.      The T.Y Danjuma Fiscal Commission of 1988


A participant at the CFCR colloquium on Fiscal Federalism argued that the position of the various commissions tend to shift to suit particular constituencies and that their analyses are not informed by logic but preconceived self or sectional interests ratioinalised and justified by theories (CFCR Report on Fiscal Federalism Colloquium).


An analysis of fiscal federalism in postcolonial Nigeria would reveal two distinct phases: the phase before military rule and the phase after the military take over in 1966. During the first republic (1960- 1966), the revenue of the country was distributed based on derivation principle.  50 percent of the revenue from mineral resources was given    to the region from where the minerals were extracted. Another 30 percent was put in a distributable pool, which is divided among all the regions including the producing region. Only 20 percent went to the Federal Government. The military took over power in 1966, which was followed by a 30 month civil war. Most of the oil producing communities was in the Republic of Biafra that was declared by then Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. In 1969, when the Federal Military Government had successfully “liberated” the oil producing communities, it promulgated the petroleum Decree (No 51) of 1969 that vested all the lands and the resources in, under or upon the Land on the Federal Military Government. There is no doubt that the Federal Government has continued with this war strategy on the Niger Delta people till date.

The data provided in the table below shows graphically how the change occurred with the war strategy on the Niger Delta People.


Table 1: Federal - State percentage share in petroleum proceeds


Producing  State(%)

Federal Govt


Distributable  Pool(%)














45 minus off-shore proceeds

55 plus off-shore proceeds



20 minus off-shore proceeds

80 plus off-shore proceeds







1 and half

98 and half











Source: Sagay, 2001






In his analysis, Sagay argued that:

“Even a superficial political analysis of the situation will reveal that the fate of the mineral resources of the Niger Delta minorities particularly the trend from derivation to Federal Government absolutism, is itself a function of majority control of the Federal Government apparatus. In 1960, there were no petroleum resources of any significance. The main income earning exports were cocoa (Yoruba West) groundnuts, cotton and hides and skin (Hausa /Fulani) and palm oil (Ibo East). Therefore, it was convenient for these majority groups usually in control of the Federal Government to emphasize derivation, hence its strong showing in the 1960/63 constitutions. However, by 1967 and certainly by 1969, petroleum, particularly the mineral oil, was becoming the major resource in terms of total income and foreign exchange earnings in the country. It was therefore, not difficult for the majority groups in the Federal Government to reverse the basis of revenue allocation with regard to petroleum resources from derivations to Federal Government exclusive ownership. They were in control of the Federal Government and their control of the mineral resources by virtue of that fact effectively means that the resources of the Niger Delta were being transferred to the majority group in control for the Federal Government at any point in time. Again, these oppressive measures are not the results of accidents or errors. They are deliberate acts of policy implementation founded in the belief that the owners of the petroleum resources being minorities can be deprived of their resources without any consequence. This is the attitude and mentality that led a senior Federal permanent secretary in a memorandum concerning Federal expropriation of the resources of the Niger Delta to make the following Freudian Slip, some years ago: “Given however the small size and population of oil producing areas, it is not cynical to observe that even if the resentments of the oil producing states continued, they cannot threaten the stability of the country nor affect its continued development” (quoted in lyayi 2002).


We cannot but agree with the analysis and position of Professor ltse Sagay. It is important to note that even the meager allocation while implementing the war strategy against the Niger Delta people was not even given to them. This can be seen graphically from allocation to OMPADEC, which was created to develop the Niger Delta in 1992. Table two below shows the expected and actual allocation to OMPADEC from 1992 -1996.




Table 2. Allocation to OMPADEC (1992 -1996)









Expected Allocation to OMPADEC(N’m)







Actual  Allocation to OMPADEC(N’m







Allocation shortfall to OMPADEC(N’m







Source: Horsfall (2000:53)

As lyayi has analyzed, between 1992 and 1996, the commission received less than 12 percent of the funds due to it from the 3 percent derivation fund. Whereas the commission was allocated about N86.4 billion for the period, it actually received NIO.9 billion” (lyayi, 2002:5). This pattern has continued with the Niger Delta Development Commission. Communities in the Niger Delta must insist on proper fiscal federalism for Nigeria . The Niger Delta region and indeed Nigeria cannot develop without equitable distribution of resources.


9          The Struggle for Resource Control

It has been documented that the plundering of the resources of the Niger Delta people and their struggle against exploitation, environmental degradation and control of their resources dates back to the slave trade era in the sixteenth century (Okonta and Douglas, 2001). This continued into the colonial era up till date. However, the publicity and tempo of the struggle increased with the formation of the Movement for the survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP) in August, 1990. In October, 1990, the Ogoni Bill of Rights was presented to the Nigerian government and people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights among other things demanded for the right to use a fair Proportion of the economic resources in Ogoni land for its development and the right to control their environment. In October, 1999, the movement for the survival of the lzon Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEND) was formed. They presented the lzon people charter which among other things demanded for the right of the ljaw to control their natural resources. On December 11, 1998 , the ljaw Youth council was established and the famous Kaiama declaration was made. The declaration among other things asserted the right of the ljaw people to ownership and control of their fives and resources. The Kaiama declaration affirmed that:

            “All land and natural resources(including mineral resources) within the ijaw territory belong to ijaw communities and are the basis of our survivail. We cease to recognize all undemocratic decrees that rob our people/communities of the right to ownership and control of our lives and resources, which were enacted without our participation and consent. These include the Land Use Decree and the Petroleum Decree e.t.c” (kaiama Declaration, 1998).


It is important to point out that the declaration affirmed “we agreed to remain within Nigeria but to demand and work for self government and resource control for the Ijaw people” (Kaiama Declaration, 1998). Today, virtually all Niger Deltans including the political leaders have embraced the struggle for resources control. Communities must network among themselves and others outside the region for the actualization of resource control.



For there to be development of the Niger Delta, there is the need to empower communities to take control over their material assets, intellectual resources, and ideology. In addition, there is the need for enlightenment and mobilization of the orcommunities to challenge the power relations of the society as presently constituted and create new agencies and institutions that would deliver sustainable development. This requires active participation of the people in social movements. This is perhaps the only assured strategy to  reverse the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta with the attendant environmental degradation and widespread poverty.


It is crucial that communities in the Niger delta responds to the problem of underdevelopment of the region by holding elected officials accountable to build democratic institutions, provide infrastructure, eradicate poverty, democratize all institutions, produce a legitimate and just constitution and ensure control of resources.


If the communities are to achieve the above objectives, four issues are critical:


Advocacy for change by the communities with special focus on governance issues and problems




Networking with other progressive forces


Joining forces for mass action to compel the rapacious and insensitive ruling elite to put the development of the Niger Delta on the agenda.


We are confident that if the propositions in the paper are adopted, we will be on the way to the development of the Niger Delta.




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[i] Dimitrov, C. (2000) “Development of Multiple Transformations and the Importance of Building up Sound Institutions” in Factors of Success and Failure of the Democratic Process in South Eastern Europe. New York , Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS of the United Nations programme. p.31

[ii] Fayemi, K (2001) Preface in Agozino, B. and Idem, U., Nigeria : Democratising a Militarised Civil Society. London , Centre for Democracy and Development Occasional paper Series No. 5. p.8

[iii] Obadan, m. i. (2002), Main Factors in the General Deterioration of the Poverty Situation in Nigeria and Effective Exit Strategies. A paper Presented at the Interactive Participative Session of the Office of the Vice-President of Nigeria with Civil Society Organisations and Labour Unions held at Abuja from 7-8 November, 2002

[iv] Federal Office of Statistics(FOS), “Poverty Profile in Nigeria , 1980-1996

[v] Central bank of Nigeria 1999 p.95

[vi] World Development Indicators, 2002h


[vii] Transition Monitoring Group (2003), Do the Votes Count? Final Report of the 2003 General Elections in Nigeria .

[viii] Citizens’ Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR)(2002), Memoranda submitted to Presidential Committee on provisions for and Practice of Citizenship and Rights in Nigeria .

[ix] Jega, A. M. (1997), “Organising for Popular Democratic Change in Nigeria : Options and strategies for Consideration” in Strategic Planning Workshop in Democratic Development in Nigeria : Report of Proceedings. London , Centre for Democracy and Development.

[x] Agozino, B.  and Idem, U. (2001) Nigeria : Democratising a Militarised Civil Society. London , Centre for Democracy and Development Occasional paper Series No. 5.  pp11-13

[xi] Egwu, S; Adelakun, F and Igbuzor, O. (2003), National Scientific Survey on the 1999 Constitution of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria . Lagos , citizens Forum for Constitutional  (CFCR), Research Report 2003.

[xii] Ihonvbere, J. O. (2000), Towards a New Constitutionalism in Africa . London , Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) Occasional Paper Series No. 4.

Translation of Quotation: “Constitution? What is that? I have never seen a constitution before. What is it? Is it some type of book or food or the name of a new governor? My brother, please say something else that a poor person will comprehend. Abuja , Nigeria , march 18, 1999)

[xiii] Egwu, S; Adelakun, F. and Igbuzor, O. (2003) Op cit

[xiv] Igbuzor, O., “Making Democracy Work in Nigeria : The Civil Society and Constitutional Reform” in Bujra, A. and Adejumobi, S. (Eds),  Breaking Barriers, Creating New Hopes: Democracy, Civil Society and Good Governance in Africa (Trenton, NJ, USA, Africa World Press, Inc, 2002)

[xv] I-IDEA (2000) , Democracy in Nigeria : Continuing Dialogues for Nation Building . Stockholm, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance(I-IDEA).p.8


Otive Igbuzor Ph.D.

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