Category Archives: Environmental Damage

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #4 Social Contract Failure in Nigeria

This is the final case study of four, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, that demonstrates one of many explanations for conflict. Social theory in a nutshell: We follow laws and pay taxes and do what the government says in exchange for protections, services, and good leadership by the government. When the government doesn’t follow through on its end of the deal, citizens don’t follow through on theirs. See more below on how this impacts the Niger Delta oil conflict.

Social Contract Failure Hypothesis (Stewart, 2002): This explanation for conflict derives from the view that social stability is based on a hypothetical social contract between the people and the government. People accept state authority so long as the state delivers services and provides reasonable economic conditions (e.g. employment and incomes). With economic stagnation or decline, and worsening state services, the social contract breaks down and violence results. Hence, high and rising levels of poverty and a decline in state services would be expected to cause conflict. In many African countries, social contract failure takes the form of neo-patrimonalism, which means power comes from a single leader. Corruption, often organized along kinship ties to control networks and resources, destabilizes the state and causes conflict.

The incidence of conflict is higher among countries with low per capita incomes, life expectancy, and economic growth. However, many statistical studies of the association between vertical income distribution and conflict produce differing results. It has been suggested that funding programs from the International Monetary Fund—usually associated with cuts in government services—cause conflicts, but neither statistical nor case study evidence supports this, perhaps because countries on the verge of conflict do not generally qualify for such programs.

My Relatively Quick Summary of the Ongoing Niger Delta Oil Conflict: When oil was discovered shortly before Nigerian independence in 1960, it was heralded as key to the new nation’s economic future. Nigerians living in the fertile fishing and agricultural southern region of the Niger Delta, the epicenter of oil operations and home to ¼ of the country’s population, waited decades for the newfound oil wealth to trickle down and improve their quality of life. Instead, they became slowly aggrieved by oil companies’ widespread environmental degradation in the form of oil spills on farmlands and fishing waters and gas flares that pollute the air. Oil companies also failed to fulfill the contractual promise of employment that had initially been introduced to get local support for oil extraction and the federal government (FG) did little to secure those local jobs. There was little to no improvement in community infrastructure in the form of schools, hospitals, or electricity for the average Niger Deltan, despite the government’s campaigns advertising oil as the key to a more prosperous future. The federal government entered into a joint venture with foreign oil companies such as Chevron and Shell, so oil profits went largely into the national coffer and very little revenue trickled down to benefit oil-producing southern states. This continued poverty is seen as an example of the resource curse or the paradox of plenty, in which natural resources do not lead to economic development for democratically-weak states. Niger Deltans, largely of the Ijaw and Ogoni tribes, continued to be politically marginalized while power over oil decisions and profits remained in the hands of the non-oil holding majority ethnic groups such as the Yoruba and the Igbos. So, although the issues being debated have to do with poverty and fair revenue sharing by the government, the conflict is also informed by long-standing ethnic questions of self-determination.

By the early 1990s, many Niger Deltans had concluded that the government and oil companies would not fulfill their promises of employment, infrastructure, or better living conditions. In response, a prominent Ogoni writer and intellectual named Ken Saro-Wiwa founded the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1992, and his peaceful movement came to be the face of the indigenous resistance against oil operations. They issued the Ogoni Bill of Rights, staged non-violent marches, and began to liaison with international non-profits to garner global attention to their environmental and human rights cause. In 1993, however, General Sani Abacha came to power in a violent military coup and promptly targeted the Ogonis for their oil reform efforts. The Niger Delta became a militarized zone in which soldiers and private security forces committed torture, killing, rapes and pogroms as a means of stifling the movement. Under Abacha in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa was falsely accused of inciting the murder of four chiefs and sentenced to death in a specially convened court widely criticized by human rights observers. He was secretly executed with eight others, known as the Ogoni Nine, in November of that year. The peaceful oil reform movement still exists today among various groups functioning under the umbrella of MOSOP, but it does not have the vigor it enjoyed under Saro-Wiwa.

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Ken Saro-Wiwa.

After 2000, the Niger Delta saw an alarming rise in domestic terrorism against the government and oil companies in the name of oil justice. The U.S. Department of State has identified the region as a “breeding ground” for ethnic militants engaged in kidnapping and ransom for profit, with victims initially being foreign oil workers but today including wealthy Nigerians outside the oil industry. Militants also engage in widespread oil bunkering, or stealing of oil, to sell it on the black market, arms dealing, and destruction of oil infrastructure through explosions. The most notorious among these militant groups are the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV). Although it is often the average farmer or fisherman most endangered by militant activities, the groups claim to be ideologically committed to targeting the key companies operating there: Shell, Agip and Eni. These companies enjoy the staunch support of the military and federal security forces such as the Joint Task Force.

Companies see the militancy as a threat to their business operations while the state, with one of the highest rates of measurable corruption in the world, sees it as a threat to the national economy since 80% of national revenue comes from oil. Indeed, militants have succeeded in diminishing nation oil revenues by 25%, causing a shut in of 600,000 barrels per day. Insurgency is one of several factors that impact Nigeria’s below-capacity oil production. Nigerian oil production is of great concern to Western countries such as the U.S., which gets 5% of its total oil from the country. Since September 11th, Nigeria’s high-quality “sweet crude” has served as a great strategic alternative to more expensive oil from the Middle East.

 

Within the last decade, the government’s peace talks with militant groups have failed. MEND had a voluntary ceasefire with the government in 2006. MEND resumed attacks the following year though when its most prominent leader, Henry Okah, was arrested in Angola. The security situation became so volatile that it threatened a collapse of the oil industry, so President Yar-Ardua offered an amnesty program in 2009. In exchange for turning in their guns as part of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR), fighters received university education, vocational training, and stipends. However, there are allegations of corruption and fraud within the Amnesty Office that oversees the program, charges that too few fighters were included, and a view that the very problems of environmental damage and unemployment that undergird militancy remain unsolved. These same issues currently plague the Niger Delta to perpetuate this on-going, low-level conflict.

Four Cases of Conflict Over Resources: #1 Rwanda

In reviewing some cases of conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, I was reminded that I could not name a single one in which some form of natural resource, e.g. land, precious metals or other tradable commodities, did not undergird the fighting. I was fascinated anew in rereading about the histories of four conflicts in particular and will be making various posts that describe these in a nutshell. This is the first, and it will cover the issue of land scarcity in the Rwandan Genocide.  The other four cases to follow—Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Niger Delta—are about overabundance rather than scarcity. For a great narrative about land scarcity’s role in the 1994 genocide, you can also read Chapter 10, “Malthus in Africa,” of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse.” This title refers to the Malthusian dilemma in which human population tends to exceed the capacity for food production to feed that population.

The cases demonstrate four possible hypotheses about what might cause, sustain, and give form to civil conflicts in Africa. No conflict is ever driven by a single factor and conflict is always the interaction of many factors. Note that these conflicts arose in the era after the Cold War of comparably informal warfare and thus were quite different from most previous conflicts in the 20th century. As opposed to traditional wars, these are examples of “new” or “hybrid” conflicts because they A) involve many non-state actors, B) were based on identity more than ideology, C) used fear to garner political control, and D) were financed through predation rather than taxes. Modern conflicts in developing countries, particularly in Africa, can often be partially explained along these lines.

Rwanda and the “Green War” ExplanationThis points to environmental degradation and scarcity as a source of poverty and cause of conflict. For example, rising population pressure and falling agricultural productivity may lead to land disputes. Lack of water may provoke conflict, e.g. Sudan. Environmental stress like that in 1990s Rwanda tends to make people prone to violence as they seek alternatives to desperate situations. In the Rwandan context, lack of access to farming land—necessary to food production and even securing marriage for young men—helped impel the violence (in combination with other historical and geographic factors).

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My Relatively Quick Summary of the Rwandan Genocide:  The mountainous country of Rwanda in Central Africa was controlled first by Germany and then after WWI by Belgium until its independence in 1962. Belgian rulers systematically favored the minority Tutsis over the majority Hutu groups, which sowed the seeds of ethnic tensions that were a significant factor in later conflicts for Rwanda. A 1959 Hutu revolution forced 300,000 Tutsis to flee and Hutus officially took over when they ousted the last Tutsi monarch in 1961. Ethnically motivated violence ensued in the following decades, including after the installment of a moderate Hutu, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, as head of state. He ruled through his party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD), for the next two decades as he ossified his power in elections in which he was the sole candidate. During this time, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis refugees were living in Uganda and attempting to re-enter the country through the forces of their Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). From 1990-1993, PRF fighters attempted a takeover of the capital of Kigali until Habyarima agreed to the creation of a transition government that would include the Tutsis, an agreement inflaming Hutu extremists.  In this context, the Rwandan Genocide was a single three-month phase of the larger Rwanda Civil War (1990-1994).

Environmental conditions were ripe for conflict by the spring of 1994. Rwanda was a landlocked and impoverished country that relied, as it does today, on agriculture. Fluctuating world prices for coffee on the world market in the 1980s began a sustained economic crisis that peaked in 1990 with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) structural adjustment program for the national economy. The average Rwandan farmer was earning less for their crops in one of the most population dense countries in Africa. There was not enough farmland or resources to sustain working-age Rwandans, including large swathes of unemployed and unpropertied men, and land disputes arose along ethnic lines. Conditions of environmental stress and poverty were extreme.

The single incident that inflamed the genocide occurred in April of 1994, when the plane carrying Habyarimana and the Burundian president was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, killing all occupants. Some blame the RPF and others the Hutu extremists for the assassination. Quickly thereafter on the same day, the Presidential Guard, the Rwandan armed forces (RAF), and Hutu militias–the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi—began indiscriminately slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Kigali. The Rwandan media, specifically government-sponsored radio programs, played a pivotal role in spreading the rallying crying for violence across the rest of the country. Radio broadcasters called for the killing of Tutsi “cockroaches” and encouraged all Hutus to take up arms. This was particularly dangerous in a population-dense environment in which neighbors lived so closely together. Pressure among Hutus to engage in killings quickly spread in clusters within tight-knit communities.

An estimated 850,000 Tutsis were individually killed by hand in a 90-day period, which exceeds the per-day killing rate of any other genocide in world history. Around ¾ of the Tutsi population was killed, along with 1/3 of the Batwa Pygmy population, while ¼ of Hutus engaged in violence. Family members were forced to kill their own family members and join the violence. Génocidaires systematically targeted Tutsi and moderate Hutu women for sexual violence as a weapon of war with the goal of sexual mutilation and spreading AIDs. The sexual violence was so extensive that it became the first event in which rape as a weapon of war would later be prosecuted as an official war crime by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.

The End of the Genocide: The genocide came to an end in July 1994 when the Tutsi-led RPF finally took military control of Kigali and the rest of the country and installed a coalition government. Over 2 million Tutsis were refugees across the border in what is now DRC (then called Zaire) and many returned. Only after the killing ended did the international community respond, and the Rwandan Genocide is often cited as the worst example of global apathy in the face of a clear humanitarian crisis. There were some UN and European peacekeepers on the ground but their mandate did not permit them to use force against the Hutu extremists and there is evidence that some humanitarian zones they created were used a gateway for génocidaires to escape the country. Because of the logistical challenges of prosecuting thousands of violence participants, the RPF established community justice courts called Gacaca courts, a form of transitional justice meant to aid communal healing, closure, and forgiveness on a grassroots level after a collective trauma.

Today, Rwanda is perhaps the greatest example of a country that chose to rebuild positively after mass violence and is an example of constructive change. It has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world, outlawed reference to tribe or ethnicity (even in casual conversation) to avoid discrimination, hosts a monthly community service day nationwide, was the first country in the world to ban plastic bags as a green initiative, and hosts the most expensive building on the continent. It is a land of surprises today.

An interview on oil politics in the Niger Delta

A few years ago, I was asked for an interview for a narrative non-fiction book, The Places We’ve Been: Field Reports from Travelers Under 35. I recently realized that I hadn’t yet shared it here, so the unedited transcript is below. The interview is part of my commitment to making understandings about Africa more accessible to those outside academia. Everyone should have an opportunity to increase their knowledge about a complex region so vital to our understanding of history, economics, and world politics.

The Impact of Oil – Niger Delta, Nigeria

THE IMPACT OF OIL

Niger Delta, Nigeria

An interview with Laine Strutton, interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Law & Society at New York University

OFF TO THE DELTA: I first arrived in Nigeria with nothing more than an out-of-date guidebook and my backpack. I was halfway through my PhD when I began to focus on this country, and I decided to write my dissertation on the Niger Delta oil conflict. During several months of my own field research there, I waded through toxic rivers and shared a canoe with crocodile.

EFFECTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT: Since oil was first commercially drilled in the delta in 1958, there has been virtually no oversight of its environmental impact by oil companies or the government, and spills are an immense problem. After the BP and Deep Water Horizon accident of 2010, I heard several claims that the same quantity of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico in just that one spill has slowly been released dozens of times in the Niger Delta. Unfortunately, most people don’t pay as much attention to the spills in Nigeria because they occur slowly over time, due to eroding pipelines and tampering, as opposed to the singular, dramatic, large-scale accidents that you hear about in the media. While offshore spills from oil rigs are certainly concerning for the local communities of this region, onshore leaking and exploding pipelines are just as problematic because they poison the rivers from which community members fish and the land that they farm. If you wade in the many rivers in the Niger Delta you can see the oil floating on the top of the water and dead fish washed up on the riverbanks. There are few sources of clean water in the Delta, so thousands of women end up using polluted river water to cook for their families, wash dishes, and bathe their children. Communities are also breathing in toxic gas flares that have been burning for years.

HEALTH: It is extremely difficult to study the health impacts of environmental damage. Logistically, the Niger Delta has few roads and most rural community members travel by canoe, which would be challenging for a team of health researchers with equipment. Such researchers would rarely have access to electricity and would need to bring along most of their own food and water. Secondly, it is not an easy region for outsiders, particularly foreigners, because there are serious problems with robbery, kidnappings for ransom, and more. Even if these challenges were overcome, so many other factors there would make it problematic to identify environmental damage as the sole cause of certain health problems. For example, the Niger Delta has an extremely high infant mortality rate. Although that could be due to, for example, babies and pregnant women consuming oil-polluted water, the water could also be harmful in other ways—a lack of indoor plumbing in homes or waste seepage into shared water. On further speculation, the infant mortality rate could result from nutrition issues, lack of prenatal and postnatal care, unidentified genetic birth defects, or anything else. So, any study certainly could yield a correlation between oil spills and health problems, but proving causality would be complicated because there would be so many other variables to take into consideration.

DIVIDED RESPONSIBILITY: I would say that the average Niger Deltan community member would identify the foreign oil companies, the largest one being Shell, as the main culprit of conflict and pollution. They see the oil company vehicles on the roads, they may have passed the guarded compounds where companies house their employees, and they see the logos on oil equipment. The companies are clearly outsiders, so an “us versus them” mentality easily arises. However, in my longer discussions with both individuals and groups, the issue of government accountability also came up. For example, one could argue whether the nature of capitalism does not require companies to be morally accountable in the same way that democracy requires governments to be morally accountable. The primary function of corporations is to make profit, but the primary function of governments is, simply put, to stop bad things from happening to their citizens. But, Niger Deltans know that the federal government, in conjunction with foreign oil companies, is enjoying immense oil profits—yet the people themselves live without electricity, clean water, reliable roads, access to hospitals, and funded schools. They wonder among themselves, “Where is all the money from oil going?” People are frustrated and angry that government representatives, or others who they call “Big Men,” are not engaged in economic development at the local level. They feel that such development is particularly important because of how oil activities have negatively impacted their traditional forms of livelihood. There is a sense that the government and oil companies together should offer some type of compensation for the environmental destruction that now hinders local economies.

WOMEN AND MOBILIZATION: I became interested in women’s resistance to the Niger Delta oil industry because it seems to have emerged quite suddenly, although women’s protests in West Africa are certainly not new. After Nigeria’s transition to democracy there was a spat of female-led marches and sit- ins against oil companies in the Rivers and Delta State, starting in 2002. The biggest protest occurred at Chevron’s Escravos oil terminal for ten days that July. For the first time on such a massive scale, some 600 Itsekiri women of the Niger Delta staged an anti-oil occupation of the extraction site. They made claims against Chevron and the government, alleging illegal appropriation of property, broken economic- development contracts, and environmental damage caused by oil spills and gas flares. It received a lot of media coverage because during the occupation the women exposed their bare bodies to shame male officials with the “curse of nakedness.” Behind the curse, there is a belief that the breasts of a mother are sacred and that showing them to a man in protest is like saying, “Look, I gave you life from these breasts so you must listen to me.” In some places in West Africa they say that seeing the bare chest of a mother can make a man go crazy or blind. An employee who was there during the Escravos takeover also said that women had left symbolic branches and leaves on the oil equipment to curse the company. This occupation immediately inspired additional takeovers, which involved over a thousand women at six different sites. Away from the oil terminals, female vendors in the region responded to the call for anti-oil action by closing their market stalls and cutting off urban food supplies near extraction sites. Male workers joined in the occupations with their own labor stoppages and women forced out unionized workers who had refused to strike. It is significant to note that men sometimes liked to bring women into marches because soldiers and police are less likely to use force if women are involved. There is a strong cultural taboo against using public violence against women, especially older ones, so women may march in front of men to act as a buffer.

WHAT WOMEN WANT: These protesting women had communal and sometimes nonspecific demands. First and foremost, they wanted jobs for their husbands and sons. Aside from that, most told me that they wanted the companies or government to provide electricity, water, and roads, as well as build schools and hospitals. To a lesser extent, they also were asking for the company to clean up the environment so that they could continue fishing and farming (although by some scientific assessments the Niger Delta ecosystem may not fully recover in our lifetimes). The more ardent protesters, specifically the Ogonis who followed Saro-Wiwa, said that if companies can’t do these things then they should leave Nigeria altogether.

THE CHIEFS: There are chiefs of varying levels of power in the Niger Delta, from a low clan chief to the kingdom chief, and they are powerful enough that I could not enter a village without paying a visit to at least the local chief if not also those above him. In the first community I visited, a local taxi driver called ahead to tell the chief I was coming. I then had to show up with kai kai, or locally distilled liquor, as my offering. I sat in the chief’s living room as he and his men asked me questions about why I wanted to walk through his community and what my financial stake was there. After explaining that I just wanted to gather field data, he poured a capful of kai kai over the threshold of his front door and sang incantations to the spirit in the local language, Ogoni. This means he prayed to the ancestors for my safety during my time there. Then we drank the kai kai together, meaning that I had his permission to be there. He sent out word to community members that it was all right with him that they talk to me. I then had to repeat this kai kai ceremony at several other higher chief’s palaces until the king said that I didn’t need to see anyone higher than him. This was all very important to gaining access because as such a clear outsider, community members would have been very suspicious of me talking with them.

A COMPLEX REALITY: Something that’s interesting is that my conversations in the field about oil protests indicated that local chiefs had a heavy hand in instigating these demonstrations. In rural areas, the law of a chief is far more powerful than that of the government, and as my interviewees said, “Chief’s law goes.” In many instances the chief sent a town crier through the community announcing the day and location of the march. A protest may serve the chief’s interest as much as the community members’ because he may be rewarded by the company or the government for ending the demonstration and for keeping the peace. Also, if the company or the state offers concessions, such as funding for social amenities, those funds are going to be controlled by the chief. In this sense, whether the women or other protesters succeed or fail, the chief may benefit. Since these leaders hold so much power in daily life, it isn’t necessarily surprising that those same power dynamics would be reproduced in the social movement. So essentially, I went to Nigeria looking for a story of increased political and rights activity among the women, but what I found was far more complex.

Dissertation on Niger Delta women and the oil movement published

My dissertation is available online. If you are unable to access it because you are outside the academic network, please feel free to contact me for a copy. I am an avid supporter of open, author-permitted access to publications.

ABSTRACT:

Since the discovery of oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, there has been an ongoing low-level conflict among foreign oil companies, the federal government, and rural community members in southern Nigeria. Armed insurgents and small cadres of male protesters have resisted oil activities, demanding environmental cleanup, employment, and local compensation for extractive operations. In 2002, however, large groups of women began engaging in peaceful protests against oil companies and the state, making the same demands as men. Current work describes these women as coming together autonomously to assert their rights in the face of corporation exploitation.  This project challenges such accounts and investigates how common perceptions of law and politics inform women’s role in the oil reform movement.

Employing constructivist grounded theory, this dissertation argues that women’s protests were largely a product of local elite male politicking among oil companies and federal and state governments. The first finding is that local chiefs, acting as brokers engaging in “positional arbitrage,” urge women to protest because it reinforces their own traditional rule.  In this sense, women have not implemented new tactics in the movement but instead are the new tactics. Secondly, Niger Delta women see law as innately good but identify individuals as the corrupting force that thwarts law’s potential for positive change. Women also perceive a binary between local and state law, thus allowing chiefs to act as gatekeepers between women and the state. As a qualitative case study, the project uses in-depth interviews, direct observations, and archival documentation to analyze a series of all-female demonstrations that occurred around oil extraction sites in Rivers State from 2002-2012. Ultimately, these findings welcome a more critical look at social movements by identifying ways in which apparent episodes of resistance may actually be reconfigurations of existing power arrangements.

Methodology:

 

 

grounded theory

For a link to my final dissertation, please see:

http://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1666393541.html?FMT=ABS

Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Energy in Africa

It’s home to millions of people who lack even one lamp, but also a frontier of great change and innovation. How much do you know about sub-Saharan Africa’s energy potential?

Source: Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Energy in Africa

Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Oil Spills — National Geographic

See how much you don’t know about oil spills and oil spill technology with this quiz from National Geographic.

Source: Quiz: What You Don’t Know About Oil Spills — National Geographic

Paradise lost? Photography and oil in Nigeria

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Source: Paradise lost? Photography and oil in Nigeria

Shell, villagers agree to $83.5 million for huge oil spilll | The Japan Times

Shell, villagers agree to $83.5 million for huge oil spilll | The Japan Times.

Over 15,600 Ogoni farmers and fishermen whose lives were devastated by two large Shell oil spills in 2008 are celebrating the $83.5 million settlement they will receive from Shell as compensation. The settlement, split among individuals and the community as a whole, avoids Shell having to defend a potentially embarrassing London high court case which was due to start shortly. It is thought to be the largest payout to any African community following environmental damage and the first time that compensation for an oil spill has been paid directly to affected individuals rather than to local chiefs.

In the past, compensation from companies has been paid to chiefs, with the understanding that he would use it for community projects.  However, there is little to no oversight after the compensation is paid out, leaving room for chiefs to skim off the top.  In fact, chiefs have had an incentive to actually encourage collective action against oil companies, since resistance measures could cause companies to pay out financial compensation that chiefs would then control. Conversely, during protests the chief will go to a private negotiation with company officials to “settle peace,” as Nigerians call it.  The company may pay the chief what they term “community compensation” to settle the matter, with both parties understanding that the chief is being paid to send the protesters home.  Whether collective action succeeds as it did in this most recent case, or whether is fails when chiefs put an end to it, the chiefs benefit. Hopefully, pay outs directly to community members like Shell is now doing will help ensure compensation goes where it should, into the pockets of local citizens.

Ikebere protesters

Niger Delta pollution: Fisherman at risk amidst the oil

From Will Ross at the BBC on May 30, 2013:

A “pristine paradise” – these are not words you often hear to describe the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. But you get to appreciate the area’s natural beauty whilst wading across lily covered creeks and trekking deep into the forest, accompanied by birdsong.

Welcome to the Niger Delta before the oil. “I’m on the plank now so walk right behind me,” a guide said as we squelched across a muddy swamp trying not to sink in too deep. After walking for about an hour and a half from the village of Kalaba in Bayelsa state, I caught the first glimpse of an expansive tranquil lake through the trees. On the shore are shelters made of wooden poles draped in material. Every two years several families set up a camp at Lake Masi where they fish for just three months.

Fishermen empty bucket of fish

“After preparing the nylon and woven basket nets we go into the lake and drive the fish into one area,” Woloko Inebisa told me. “By fishing every two years we allow the fish to grow large. If we fished every year there would only be very small fish here,” the 78 year old told me as two men in dug out canoes adjusted the nets inside a section of the lake that had been fenced off with cane reeds.

Smoke drifted across the camp as women dried the fish over home made grills above smouldering fires. “I will use this money to pay my children’s school fees, to buy books for them, to buy their school uniforms and to do everything for them,” said mother-of-three Ovie Joe. When these families return to their villages they will continue to grow crops but will have raised some capital from the fishing season. “We have water for drinking and plenty of fish. But I’m not just here to feed my stomach – I’ll save up money for when I go back to the village,” Mr Inebisa said.

Just a few kilometres away near Taylor Creek is a very different picture. An oil spill from June 2012 has left the ground covered in a dark sludge and the trees are all blackened by fire.

Niger Delta fisherman carries net laden with fish out of a creek

Environmentalists believe local contractors often pay youths to set fire to the area where the spill has occurred. This can reduce the spread of the oil but has other detrimental effects on the environment. Despite extensive flooding late last year the oil has not dispersed and there are still signs of the rainbow sheen on the surface.

Your ears also tell you all is not well – there is hardly any birdsong as the pollution has sucked the life out of the area. “When I walked here the crude oil was spilling out so fast I couldn’t even get near the spill point itself,” said Samuel Oburo, a youth leader from Kalaba.

Running through this area is an underground pipeline belonging to Nigeria AGIP Oil Company – which is partly owned by the Italian oil giant, Eni.

Map of Nigeria

It says numerous leaks near Taylor Creek were all caused by people breaking into the pipe – sabotage.

On 23 March Eni issued a statement announcing the closure of all its activities in the area because the theft of oil, known as bunkering, was so rife. “The decision was made due to the intensified bunkering, consisting in the sabotage of pipelines and the theft of crude oil, which has recently reached unsustainable levels regarding both personal safety and damage to the environment,” the statement read. People in the village suggest corroded pipes as a possible trigger of the spill and they doubt it was caused by sabotage.

The breaking of pipes and theft of the oil is so rampant in the Niger Delta that experts believe several interest groups are involved. “There is a high level conspiracy between the security forces, the community and oil workers to steal the oil,” says environmental campaigner Erabanabari Kobah. “That is why people are not prosecuted and convicted even though the crime is happening at an alarming rate,” he says.

There is very little transparency when it comes to the awarding of contracts to clean up any oil spills.

Jeti Matikmo, fisherman carrying a pole on his shoulder with bundles of fish

This has led to increased incidents of sabotage as some believe the more oil spills there are the more money there is to share around. The pollution is having a terrible impact on the environment. “There is oil here. We are suffering,” said Jeti Matikmo, carrying a pole on his shoulder on which bundles of fish were tied. “Many of our crops are not growing well because of the oil spill and we are not killing fish in the ponds anymore. So we have to trek for more than two hours to where it is clean and where there is no oil.”

Back at Lake Masi a crowd gathered as two men waded ashore dragging an enormous woven basket behind them. It was heavy with fish. “There’s nothing like pollution here. Although if the oil prospecting companies come they may find oil and all that could change,” said Mr Inebisa. “If this pond is polluted, hunger is the answer,” he said adding that in his entire life he had not gained a single coin from the oil of the Niger Delta.

Reports | National Reports | Africa | Nigeria | Human Development Reports (HDR) | United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Reports | National Reports | Africa | Nigeria | Human Development Reports (HDR) | United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).