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.
· 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.