On the 19th – 21st of February 2023, We the People engaged representatives of oil producing and
impacted communities in the Niger Delta in a training workshop. The Workshop aimed at
strengthening the capacity of oil producing members to engage the Nigeria’s new Petroleum Industry
Act, identify the gaps and challenges associated with the hurried divestment of oil companies, and
address the threats of climate change that are increasingly becoming manifest in the Niger Delta. The
workshop aimed to increase the awareness of community members on these key critical issues, and
increase their agency for holding oil companies and the government accountable.
Since the extraction of crude oil began in the Niger Delta in 1956, the over 30 million people who live
in the region have not received significant benefits from the resources pumped from beneath their
lands, rivers and creeks. Rather, the extraction of oil and gas has engendered poverty, conflict,
repression and underdevelopment. The Nigerian government and its subnational affiliates have mostly
failed to lift the people out of poverty and underdevelopment with hydrocarbon revenues.
Mismanagement, corruption, elite capture, oil company complicity and pollution have made
communities in the Niger Delta among the least developed in the country.
Pollution from crude oil and gas extraction has mainly rendered the traditional sources of livelihood
of the Niger Delta people unproductive without providing any alternatives. For example, companies
operating in the region have opted to routinely flare gas as standard practice since the 1950s. The
flaring of associated gas continues not because there are no alternative practices for managing gas
from extraction in a less dangerous way, but because oil companies and the Nigerian government
allow it continue. Flared gas is known to cause various illnesses including heart diseases, distortions
to the epidermis, lung complications, and other illnesses of the respiratory system. It also poisons
rivers and creeks, causes acid rain, and reduces crop yields.
The Niger Delta also suffers deprivation on account of oil spills. Crude oil extraction has meant that
over 7 thousand kilometers of pipes are buried under or placed openly on the lands, creeks and rivers
of the Niger Delta. Some of these pipes have been there for 6 decades. Routinely they rupture,
releasing oil that contaminate farms and rivers, leaving a trail of destroyed ecosystems, wildlife,
aquatic life and livelihoods. When spills occur, aquatic life species die off. Mangroves that are the
breeding spots of aquatic life wither and die and the rivers no longer sustain life. Conservative
estimates reckon that more than 2 billion litres of crude oil have been spilled in the Niger Delta over
the last 50 years.
The Niger Delta and its people are at a decisive moment and faced with far reaching challenges that
need immediate responding to. In 2021, the National Assembly passed a Petroleum Industry Act
which criminalizes oil producing communities, and provides very little benefits. The region and its
peoples need to evolve strategies to engage the Act. Recently, the region has been faced with oil
company divestments. After over 6 decades of oil extraction with devastating environmental, health
and livelihood impacts, the major oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and those most complicit
in abuses are divesting from onshore oil fields. They are leaving the lot of their environmental and
health mess for the people to handle. To make things worse, the region is also confronted with
massive flooding. Since 2012, the floods have become annual occurrences that inundate vast areas of
the region, destroying lives and livelihoods.
The workshop, which was held at Eket in Akwa Ibom State, drew the participation of 36 leading
community activists and organizations that are currently engaged in active campaigns to hold oil
companies and the government accountable. Beyond training, the workshop also provided an
opportunity for the activists to create a Niger Delta Environmental and Climate Justice Network. This
network will craft strategies for driving sustained campaigns in the region, and creating visibility for
the environmental and climate justice quests of oil-producing and impacted communities.