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Beyond Oil - Re-imagining Development in the Niger Delta

Living Without Oil - The Only Option

By Alberto Acosta* 
The Niger Delta, a habitat of great biodiversity in its mangroves and wetlands, is known as one of the most polluted places in the world. What is less known is the resistance of their communities and, the alternative proposals that emerge from that region. It may be a surprise to some, but revolutionary proposals such as the Yasuní-ITT Initiative, designed to leave oil in the ground of the Ecuadorian Amazon, actually emerged from discussions held at the beginning of the millennium in Nigeria. And since then, the idea has spread throughout the world - the protection of the Lofoten Islands in Norway, the San Andrés and Providencia Islands in Colombia, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands or the Madidi in Bolivia. It resonates in efforts to prevent the exploitation of oil, and to stop fracking in several European countries, and even in the USA. The idea s also inspires efforts to block the expansion of mining in Mexico, India and Germany. 
The voracity of capital creates runaway extractivism -a destruction that needs to be stopped urgently. If we want to avoid an even bigger environmental catastrophe than exists today, the International Energy Agency itself – the club of richest countries dependent on fossil fuel consumption - considers it essential not to extract at least 80% of all known reserves of fossil fuels including oil, gas and coal. We also know that 70-95% of CO emissions should be reduced, 2 according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unfortunately, those messages seem to fall on deaf political ears. 
In spite of these and other scientific warnings, appropriate measures are still not taken. International agreements on global environmental problems do not even challenge the "religion" of economic growth, the cornerstone of extractivism. In establishment circles, there is no questioning of world trade, which encourages multiple socio-environmental problems. The international system of financial speculation mercilessly accelerates economic flows - even forcing extractivism into futures markers, overcoming the resilience of the Earth. There is little commitment to technologies that favour mitigation and adaptation to climate change impacts for the benefit of impoverished countries. Meanwhile, highly polluting sectors, such as civil aviation and maritime transport, which account for a tenth of global emissions, are exempt from any commitment. 
Far from reflecting a civilizing "great transformation" - as conceived in the mid-twentieth century by Karl Polanyi, the projects that see greater expansion in recent decades are those that market and financialize nature. Above all, industrialised countries promote a so-called "green economy,” all too uncritically received by countries in the periphery. The market has expanded its "invisible hand" by commodifying air and water, and even on natural processes and functions such as "environmental services". Thus, to balance and compensate anthropogenic emissions, countries use profitable market mechanisms involving forests or oceans; or geoengineering, carbon capture and storage methods, among others. 
On the other hand, ecosystem processes, commoditized as "environmental services", create new patrimonial rights that are converted into titles of credit or property for which new markets must be created to facilitate their commercialization. And new technologies tend to meet these requirements. Most disturbing is the transformation of the atmosphere into a commodity designed, regulated and managed by the very same actors responsible for its pollution in the climate crisis. And moreover, government subsidies are devised to encourage this corporate scam. 
Climate privatization began many years ago in the first global neoliberal wave promoted by the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organization and complementary treaties, such as Free Trade Agreements. Likewise, progressive governments failed to counter these developments. Such governments, often drowning in their ambition for power, prisoners of extractivism and victims of their own corruption, ended up endorsing the capitalist modernization pathway. These dead ends condemn any option for a decent life for humanity and for Mother Earth. 
In short, serious environmental damage caused in the name of 'modernity, development and progress, the bastardization of concepts such as "sustainable development", the persistence of false solutions such as the "green economy", make it necessary to look no longer at alternative developments, but rather at "alternatives to development" and indeed alternatives to capitalist society. Such limitations should not lead to catastrophic conclusions. In various parts of the world, and in the Niger Delta itself, there are communities that re-imagine their lives over and over again. They have understood that they cannot follow the mantra of development and progress imposed by colonial and neo-colonial invasions, whether military or conceptual. And from these readings many communities give concrete answers honed from their own daily life in response to their demands of life. 
Breaking with the false promises of oil, people's alternatives emerge in this region of Africa, such as training, learning and re-learning programs; breeding poultry and chickens; integrated sustainable farms; community microcredit schemes; economic diversification programs; banana plantations without chemicals or transgenics; fish farms; own telecommunication and transport systems; communal farms to produce rice; use of renewable resources ... Such projects - described in this publication - are part of the Niger Delta strategic management of biodiversity. 
They are practical hands-on answers to a decent life for many communities but, in addition, they are projected into the future, because they possess a strategic horizon of action. These alternatives are based on an ethical position: an assumption that a human being must not only take care of him or herself, but of others as well. Aperson is understood to become a person by looking through the eyes of others; thus, human beings have to act with the consciousness of being interconnected with the rest of humanity and other living beings. Such a way of life involves caring directly for the environment and working for life in harmony with Mother Earth. 
This effort demands, as these pages point out, a massive awareness-raising and a willingness to promote the necessary transitions. These transitions demand both wide participation and a capacity for eliminating potential conflicts at the same time. Such transformation projects should be deployed with a strategic vision and coherent political action before the civilisational crisis of capitalism destroys the Earth, our home.
*Alberto Acosta is an Ecuadorian Economist. He was former Minister of Energy and Mines in Ecuador, former President of the Constituent Assembly, and former candidate to the Presidency of the Republic of Ecuador.

Breaking from Oil is Inevitable

by Prof. Johnson A. Ekpere*

It is with special pleasure and great delight that I introduce this unique and excellent work of experts superintendent over by a world acclaimed advocate of “protect our planet” on “Beyond Oil: Reimaging Development in the Niger Delta”. This is a study whose time has come and appropriately funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At a time when the world price of crude oil has plummeted to a low level and the highest consumers of the product are contemplating electric cars by 2030, it is only wise for oil producing countries, (Nigeria being one) to look beyond oil. It is in this context that Nigeria's policy thrust for economic diversification through agriculture and human resource development, skills acquisition and empowerment is important.

However, the predictive conversation on Re-imaging Development in the Niger Delta Beyond Oil, should and ought to be undertaken with a hindsight assessment of the Niger Delta with oil. The Niger Delta sub-region of Nigeria was known for its lush vegetation, large biological diversity (plants and animals), including genetic diversity and other abundant natural resources. The discovery of crude oil in the 1950s and commercial production and export of the commodity in 1958 was seen as a blessing because it was expected to provide the needed financial resource for national development in general and the Niger Delta in particular. However, this was not to be, due to a combination of factors. The Niger Delta produced large quantities of crude oil and the nation earned vast revenues which was envisaged would drive the economy and growth. These earnings were barely applied directly or indirectly to the development problems of the Niger Delta. Instead “with oil” the Niger Delta experienced steady pollution of its waterways, underground water, degradation and destruction of its vegetation, threat to, and loss of, its biodiversity, devastation of its agricultural land and fishing grounds and disastrous impact on the welfare and livelihood of the population, resulting in aggravated poverty. Over the years, neither the government nor the oil and gas companies have done enough to mitigate the human and environmental problems associated with crude oil production.

It is against this background, the objective realities of the technological advancement in alternatives to fossil fuel, the volatility of crude oil price on the world market and its projected impact on the national revenue base that the concept of Niger Delta Beyond Oil has become significant. Breaking from oil is inevitable to keep hope alive in the Niger Delta.

The case studies presented in this document provide an assessment of the extent to which selected intervention projects planned and implemented have addressed the problems created during crude oil production and how lessons learned could be applied to the process of breaking from oil and re-imagining development of the Niger Delta without oil. The case studies demonstrate the intentions of government to intervene in the sub-region

The modality for action was through agricultural loans/production, skill acquisition and economic diversification. The essence was to restore the dignity of the environment and quality of life of the people. The projects were small scale in nature with the option of up- scaling, which were mostly never undertaken. Even though the projects achieved some measure of success, they were all basically not sustainable for various reasons.

The suggestions emanating from the comprehensive case studies posit three strategic intervention action plans to possibly unlock the potential which the pilot projects present and could meaningfully develop the Niger Delta.

  • ·  Research

  • ·  Renewable energy and

  • ·  Sustainable biodiversity management

    The study has enunciated a large number of concepts derived from international sources and conventions which though applicable to the Niger Delta situation need to be urgently domesticated locally through adaptive research. Secondly, existing information on oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta needs to be accessed and aggregated into a Niger Delta Research and Development Centre to enable evidence based planning and action for development.

    The study suggests access to affordable clean energy as a major determinant for effective development. We agree. It is key to industrial transformation and will provide the needed linkage with people-oriented agribusiness and agro-processing, job and wealth creation in the Niger Delta. Some of the Niger Delta States have subscribed to the idea of “Green Economy” as a way out of the consequence of an inadequately regulated oil and gas sector and its negative impact. The idea of renewable energy is consistent with emerging climate change policies and international investment interest. Consequently, resort to clean and renewable energy will complement the Ogoni (and Niger Delta) clean – up effort and reduce the probability of subsequent re pollution from crude oil. Also, given the hostile and difficult riverine configuration of the Niger Delta in relation to existing power grid infrastructure, widely dispersed communities and settlements, renewable energy option is clearly more attractive.

    Most communities and settlements in the Niger Delta depend on biodiversity and natural resources for their livelihood. The study observed the severe habitat loss and fragmentation occasioned by oil and gas exploration and production, the decline in biodiversity as well as threat to sustainable livelihoods of rural communities and postulated that “Niger Delta without Oil” should invest in biodiversity conservation, effective and sustainable utilization of biodiversity and management. This will not only ensure full benefit for the present generation but enable availability for the future.

    While the suggested options for re-imagining the Niger Delta for development may seem plausible, the ensuing programme and strategy should be implemented with due consideration for human resource development, science, technology and innovation safety net to stabilize the ecosystem against future problems. It is important to recognize that the transition to a non- oil economy will present its own challenges which need to be identified, understood and appropriately addressed.

    This report provides and appropriate platform for a takeoff in the right direction.

 *Johnson A.Ekpere is a retired professor, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria and one of Africa's foremost biodiversity experts. He served as Executive Secretary, Organization of African Unity (now African Union), Scientific, Technical and Research Commission for several years. He is now an Independent Consultant in Agriculture and Rural Development.