Violence and criminality undermine Niger Delta residents’ access to food, health and economic safety, according to the International Crisis Group.
“The violence takes a severe toll on human security,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior analyst with ICG’s West Africa bureau. “In some areas human development indicators have worsened since 2007.”
2008 was the Delta’s most dangerous year on record with 1,000 people dying and 300 hostages taken in first nine months, according to a December 2008 government report on the Niger Delta. Criminal gangs stepped up their attacks on the oil industry by one-third in 2008, the report said.
The ICG’s Obasi said though no recent comprehensive studies have been done on living conditions in the region, residents in several states say the humanitarian situation “has deteriorated" since the 2006 UN Development Programme (UNDP) report on humanitarian indicators.
“The violence is undermining attainment of human development goals under the government’s regional development master plan and the Millennium Development Goals,” Obasi said.
The most recent UNDP figures indicate poverty has declined more sharply in the Delta than in the rest of Nigeria.
Though the region sits on a dense network of freshwater distributaries, no inhabitants are guaranteed regular access to drinking water, aid groups say. And while the Delta produces one-fifth of the USA’s energy needs, parts of the region, such as most of Bayelsa state, are not linked to the national electricity grid.
Thousands of Delta residents were displaced in 2008 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an “unknown number” of them by the local authorities trying to combat local militia groups.
|...We produce all the wealth for this country and yet we have nothing, absolutely nothing. Living in the Delta is like living in hell...|
“Life in the Delta is very hard,” Delta youth leader John Sekibo told IRIN. “No jobs, no social amenities and there is absolutely no security. Living conditions are unimaginable. We produce all the wealth for this country and yet we have nothing, absolutely nothing. Living in the Delta is like living in hell.”
The Nigerian Red Cross’s Chika Onah told IRIN insecurity and a maze of creeks hamper the National Red Cross Society from reaching people in need.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent started supporting the Nigerian Red Cross in Cross Rivers state in 2008, and has now added Rivers state, the heart of much of the violence and recent kidnappings.
Nine states make up the Niger Delta region, including Absa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers.
In 2008 the government created a committee to develop ways to reduce violence and boost development in the Delta; the committee issued its report in December.
Recommendations included appointing a mediator to facilitate discussions between the government and militants; granting amnesty to some militant leaders whose actions were politically driven; launching a disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation campaign; and channeling 25 percent of the country’s oil revenue to the Delta up from the current 13 percent.
But President Umaru Yar’Adua in February announced the government would create a new committee to study the recommendations.
“The government is not doing enough,” ICG’s Obasi said. “The Niger Delta falls within a whole range of activities in which the government has not been able to act as decisively or as quickly as people expect.”
Nigeria’s Information Minister Dora Akunyili told IRIN: “The government is still reviewing the report of the technical committee on the Niger Delta. The [new] committee will distill the report and come out with a workable document for implementation….the government will soon announce details of the disarmament programme.” But she said the government will not put a mediator in place and said nothing of financial targets.
The government lost $23.7 billion to attacks, oil theft and sabotage in the first nine months of 2008, according to the committee report.
Information minister Akunyili said: “The priority for government now is to speed up the development of the Niger Delta…we are very optimistic that we can bring the violence in the region under control in the foreseeable future.”