Article written

  • on 04.08.2015
  • at 04:11 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

The Neglected Niger Delta: How Politicians Can Help Themselves (and Everyone Else) 0

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria has emerged from the 2015 election season with a population feeling both politically and materially wounded. Goodluck Jonathan’s electoral defeat produced an almost overnight change in patronage channels, while the continuing slump in oil prices has dramatically slowed the share of revenues to the states in the region.

These losses are keenly felt by those connected to the politically-fueled patronage and contracting chains that reach across Nigeria. Yet for many more, the sense is more of a loss of hope as aspirations tied to the outgoing administration remain unfulfilled.

These “soft” measures of sentiment in the region matter because there is a combination of communities and youth who are at the periphery of cartels and militias that are exploiting the black market of Nigeria’s illegal oil trade. They have choices about whether to join an entrenched illegal industry, sway towards greater militancy, or steer clear of these hazardous fields. Past experience suggests that what tips the balance in such equations can depend on very subjective evaluations of what to expect from government and how this might impact on local opportunities.

The list of key unaddressed issues in the Niger Delta has seen little significant change since 2010. Routine oil pollution from both oil theft and operational failure remains at levels that can only be matched by failed states. Economic development is massively distorted by patronage and corruption, while core services such as education, health, and infrastructure are still hugely dysfunctional. Headline issues such as gas flaring have made some progress but are still at levels that place Nigeria in a rare class of failure globally.

In the last five years, some issues saw a start on work then a complete stall – such as the HYPREP initiative to model response to oil pollution in the region by starting with a clean-up in the controversial Ogoni region. Other initiatives such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were allowed to sink even deeper into a mire of dysfunction that now includes debts measured in the billions of dollars. Some projects such as the redevelopment of the cross regional ‘east-west’ road will see completion but at a cost that will be a signpost warning on the perils of patronage contracting.

The Niger Delta and national priorities

This depressing list of inaction underlines a key fear in the region. It would be all too normal for the Niger Delta to slip down a list of political priorities to a level which fueled protests against marginalization in the 1990s. Presently this fear is held in the realm of speculation only by a vacuum. The incoming administration has so little publicly visible policy on the Niger Delta region and is sufficiently slow moving that it is still being treated as an unknown quantity. This suspension of judgement can only hold back popular and elite perceptions for a matter of months.

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by Chris Newsom

Photo Credit: Flickr/Sosialistisk Ungdom (SU)

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