Home Opinion Halima Imam: A people, blessed and cursed by oil

Halima Imam: A people, blessed and cursed by oil

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By Halima Imam

Nigeria has the second largest oil reserve in Africa and is the twelfth largest producer of oil worldwide. About two million barrels of oil was extracted from the Niger Delta on a daily basis as far back as the 1970s. It was estimated that around thirty eight million barrels of crude oil still resides under the water. The Nigerian government relies heavily on oil, such  that an estimated ninety per cent of its gross earnings is gotten from oil production. Oil and gas make up seventy five per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange revenue. Nigeria gained about $6.9billion dollars in oil revenue in the year 2016.

The history of oil exploration in Nigeria dates as far back as 1908, but the first two early exploratory companies had been unsuccessful. Then came Shell BP in 1923. They started exploring for oil in 1937 and in 1956, Shell BP found a commercially available quantity of crude oil in Oloibiri. At first it was all happiness and cheer, but soon the people of the Niger Delta will came to realize that this blessing has come along with a curse.

The region has some of the biggest oil fields in the world. A land flowing with “black gold”, yet a place ravaged by poverty, hunger and a myriad of environmental problems and pollution that has built up slowly but steadily for over fifty years. A report said the European Union experienced ten incidences of oil spillage in forty years, Nigerian had seen nine thousand three hundred and forty three cases within just ten years. The huge environmental degradation from gas flaring, dredging, oil spillage and the reclamation of land due to oil and gas extraction costs about $7.58million every year.

It is estimated that about 1.89 million barrels of oil was spilled between 1976 and 1999 and 2.4 million barrels spilled in four thousand eight hundred and thirty five incidents. A report by the United Nations Development Programme said that a total of six thousand eight hundred and seventeen oil spills had occurred from 1976 to 2001 and from 2.4 million, it moved to three million barrels of oil and about seventy per cent was never recovered.

The NNPC puts the quantity of oil jettisoned into the environment yearly at two thousand three hundred cubic metres with an average of three hundred spills yearly. On the ground in the Niger Delta, a recent documentary showed a careless leakage from petroleum pipelines, thereby affecting the environment negatively. Plants cannot thrive and the physical environment is seen to be extremely black and filled with oil. A recent report says that forty million litres of crude oil is spilled annually, and yet, no one is truly held accountable. The number keeps going up and livelihood takes a downward trend.

The Niger Delta is a region with rich mangroves and a lot of water. The people were mostly fishermen and women before oil was discovered. A fisherman from Ogoni said recently the waterways used to be filled with fish and life was simple and enjoyable, but now, most of them suffered both mental and economic challenges. Most people from the region cannot even eat fishes that were washed ashore and since the water is black and filled with oil, they cannot even drink water from their borehole, because it smells like petrol. People are forced to drink contaminated water from wells.

The people of the Niger Delta have been impoverished by the pollution, corruption and insecurities – all tied to oil exploration. Life expectancy in Nigeria is 51.2, but this has reduced to 40 for the people of this region. The villages there lack basic social amenities, have poor sanitation, lack proper healthcare and the cities are overflowing with slums. Many have said that the excess money that is gotten from the black gold of the region is what keeps the people extremely poor. It provides the corrupt politicians and civil servants something to scramble for, as they neglected the affairs of the state and their duty to the people.

Multinational companies are in the centre of the problem of the Niger Delta. Fifty years of Shell doing “business” with all the governments in power, they have been actively part of the process and system that impoverishes rather than improves the Nigerian economy. The actors of the oil theft system are big players of an international tax haven that helps Nigerian elites make billions of naira disappear without a single trace. Some reports say the United Kingdom and the United States of America, are at the heart of that system. One that makes sure the people of the Niger Delta stay impoverished.

The spills in the Niger Delta contaminates the surface and ground water, air, contaminates crops with hydrocarbons such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and benxo (a) pyrene, and a naturally occurring radioactive material. There are always traces of metals in some food crops. Oil spillage leads to more than fifty eight per cent reduction in many household food security, a thirty five per cent reduction in ascorbic acid content in vegetables, and a forty per cent crude protein cassava content. Studies indicate that contact with crude oil could be hemotoxic and hepatotoxic, and could lead to cancer and infertility. There is also a high chance of childhood malnutrition.

Disease prevalence in the region is sobering, with 87 per cent malaria in adults, 44 per cent in children, 24 per cent typhoid prevalence in adults and 13.5 in children. Diarrheal disease stands at 11 per cent in adults, 30 per cent in children, with cholera and cholera having high prevalence rate too. Most of which are caused by contaminated water consumption.

The people of the Niger Delta cannot engage in sustainable farming, their fishing nets continually destroyed by crude oil. The children cannot get a proper education and women suffer from high infertility. Everyone in the region is not spared and the major polluters and those in power only want what comes to them.

On a daily basis, the people of the Niger Delta have to live with a truth, one in which their most prized possession had brought about a deep economic and social divide. One of beauty and ugliness, riches and rags, mansions and slums all in one region. Government officials, politicians, civil servants, traditional rulers and community elders enriching themselves at the expense of many. A set feeding off of the other.

Imam is Founder of Climate Action Team
Twitter: @sadee_eemam