In 2009, the Nigerian president granted amnesty to armed local groups claiming to fight for the environmental and social rights of the Niger Delta people. The amnesty deal and follow-up measures helped to reduce the much-reported armed violence and kidnappings in the region. But they didn’t lessen the price that the Niger Delta people have to pay for the oil and gas extracted from their backyard.
Oil & Gas Pollution
The amount of oil that has leaked into the Niger Delta since the first oil extraction activities in the 1960s is more than three times as much as the oil that was spilt into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. While this oil disaster made headlines around the world, news media rarely pay attention to environmental catastrophes in the Niger Delta. How much do we know, for instance, about the Bonga oil spill in December 2011 and the Finuwa gas explosion in January 2012?
Health & Livelihoods Impacts
The pollution causes health problems in the region. It has drastically reduced the food and income that people generate from fishing, farming, and forest gathering. The sums paid in compensation by the industry are grossly inadequate and rarely trickle down to the grassroots. UNEP estimates it will take about 30 years to clean up all the oil and gas pollution in the Ogoni region. And this is just one out of the many polluted areas in the Niger Delta.
Public Service Delivery
Many people have lost faith in the government’s commitment to protect people’s rights. They blame the authorities for inadequately investing the oil and gas revenues they receive in public serves. Health care and drinking water facilities are lacking in many communities. People often buy water at private boreholes or fetch it from polluted rivers and streams. The endless task of fetching water weighs heavily on the shoulders of women. It eats into their available time for generating an income.
The death toll of the inadequate health care and sanitation provisions is large. Every year, one out of every seven children below the age of five in the heart of the Niger Delta is estimated to die. The number of under-5 deaths in the three core Niger Delta states alone is over 65,000 per year – out of a total population of almost 12 million people. These deaths far outnumber the casualties of the much-reported violence and kidnappings in the region. Yet, we hardly ever hear about them in the news.
Women and girls more than anyone else carry the burden of the human rights crisis in the Niger Delta. They are hit hardest by the environmental pollution in the region. They suffer most directly from the inadequate public service delivery in their communities. And their social-economic rights are undermined by traditional marriage, inheritance, and decision making practices. But women also could be powerful catalysts for change - if only they were enabled to thrive.
It’s time to listen to women’s voices. They could help reframing the policy discourse in ways that are valuable not only for the Niger Delta, but also for other parts of Nigeria that currently are marred by violence and social unrest.