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April 06, 2022

Nigeria’s New Petroleum Industry Act Could Entrench Injustices in Oil host Communities

PIB blog

Shell Oil’s oil and gas terminal on Bonny Island in southern Nigeria’s Niger Delta (Photo by Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP)

Written By: Dr Phillip Nelson and Dr Modesta Tochi Alozie (Research Fellows, University of Warwick)

After nearly two decades of legal limbo, the Nigerian government has finally signed the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) into law. In Nigeria, the petroleum sector contributes significantly to the country’s economic growth and development. There are laws empowering the federal government to control and distribute the revenues generated from oil extraction. Many people in the Niger delta, the region where Nigeria’s oil exploration takes place, believe that the current fiscal framework guiding the distribution of oil revenues does not favour them. Concerns over the environmental harms of oil exploration also run deep within the Niger delta. The oil communities have been protesting against these legal frameworks and environmental harm, with many calling for resource and pollution control. Many commentators agree on the need for transformative reforms in the oil sector. The PIA, among other things, aims to address some of the grievances within the oil host communities.

The PIA aims to improve the governance of the Nigerian oil industry by ensuring accountability and transparency, while repositioning Nigeria for gas-based industrialisation as the world moves away from oil. The bill aims to address the massive lack of development in the Niger delta by requiring oil operators to contribute 3 per cent of their operating expenses toward a host community trust fund which is to be utilised for the socio-economic development of the Niger delta.

Yet, the PIA has not escaped criticism. It allocates 3 per cent of operating costs for community development, rather than the 10 per cent the local communities asked for. This minimal commitment has generated scepticisms about the willingness of the federal government to integrate local demands into oil policies and laws. However, what is less widely discussed, is the other ways in which the PIA risks entrenching existing injustices.

Chapter 3 section 257 (2) of the Host Community Section of the PIA states that:

“Where in any year, an act of vandalism, sabotage or other civil unrest occurs that causes damage to petroleum and designated facilities or disrupts production activities within the host communities, the community shall forfeit its entitlement to the extent of the costs of repairs of the damage that resulted from the activity with respect to the provisions of this Act within that financial year: Provided the interruption is not caused by technical or natural cause.”

This blog highlights three avenues through which this approach taken in the PIA may entrench injustices in oil host communities if it is not implemented carefully. First, this section prescribes collective punishment that can be ineffective and morally hazardous. Second, that it could constrain citizenship and activism, and finally that the process of establishing the causes of oil spills may be flawed.

1. Collective punishments are morally hazardous and can be ineffective.

When an entire community is forced to forfeit their entitlements for acts of vandalism, sabotage (pipeline vandalization) or unrest, they are being collectively punished for acts that may be caused by only a very small number, or even a single individual. Herein lies our first concern with the clause above: punishing innocent parties for the actions of others is unjustifiable. Collective punishments exacted during the course of conflict have been generally outlawed since the Hague Regulations of 1899. The Geneva conventions also prohibit collective punishments, and many individual states have specifically outlawed such punishments in their military regulations. In the case of Nigeria, if oil extraction were hampered by civil unrest, punishing the community rather than establishing individual responsibility would violate international conventions. Additionally, collective punishments can incentivise otherwise well-behaved, individuals to dissent – if you are going to be punished anyway, why not take part, or take what you can get from the situation? Furthermore, historically the Niger delta communities have had a very terrible relationship with the federal government and collective punishments could entrench community hatred towards the federal government.

2. Constrains on citizenship

The requirement that the oil communities forfeit their host community funds if civil unrest impacts oil production has significant implications for citizenship and activism. Historically in the Niger delta, protests and activism have been used to challenge unjust laws and policies as well as other harmful impacts of oil exploration, such as environmental degradation. However, the federal government has often repressed protests in the oil communities and described them as undermining peace and security even when they have been peaceful. Based on this history, we argue that this section could provide a window of opportunity for the federal government to characterise any act of local resistance to the oil industry as civil unrest. Concern that any protests, even when legitimate, could result in withholding host community funds can discourage all anti-government protests, effectively stripping citizens of their rights.

3. The process of establishing the cause of oil spills is deeply flawed

Finally, the above section of the PIA states that local communities will continue to receive host community funds only when interruption to oil production is caused by ‘technical or natural causes’. The issue here is that the process of establishing the cause of oil spills has been a key source of controversy in the Niger delta. When an oil spill occurs, a ‘Joint Investigation Visit’ (JIV) is carried out by representatives of the oil companies, regulatory agencies, and community representatives to establish the cause of the spill. While in theory, there are measures in place to ensure transparency and accountability within the JIV process, reports of corrupt practices, unreliability, undue influence of the oil companies, and complaints about the limited participation of the local communities are widely documented. In many cases, oil companies have used their undue influence to misattribute the cause of oil spills to sabotage which absolves them of paying compensation to the oil communities. On the other hand, local communities argue that while sabotage and vandalization is a big problem in the region, the JIV process greatly underreports the amount of oil spills caused by operational failure and corrosion. Since the process of establishing the cause of oil spills is flawed, the causality of oil spills is necessarily in doubt. We argue that this provision is likely to provide further incentive for the inaccuracies in the JIV process to continue since the cause of the oil spill will determine the allocation of development funds.

Taken together, while the PIA can provide a significant fillip to the governance of the petroleum sector, we see three main issues with Chapter 3, Section 257 (2) of the Host Community Section of the PIA. This Clause provides for collective punishment, which has specifically been outlawed in many circumstances, and it remains morally hazardous and ineffective. The Clause can also discourage host communities from engaging in peaceful protest, which is their civil right. And it can incentivise further inaccuracies within the JIV processes. With these concerns in mind, we recommend to the Federal Government of Nigeria to use needs assessments to fully explore the reasons why some individuals and groups object to the extraction by vandalising oil pipelines, and to consider using development funds to mitigate these. Lastly, we recommend, improving the legitimacy and integrity of the JIV process by making the process fair, transparent and increasing the meaningful participation of local communities. Without addressing these issues, the PIA will potentially leave the oil communities at the mercy of the powerful oil companies.

Author Bios

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Warwick, UK. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Her research interests are in oil politics, climate change and digital humanitarianism.

Phillip Nelson is a postdoctoral researcher, most recently employed at the University of Warwick. He holds an MA in Economics and International Relations from the University of St Andrews and an MSocSci in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University, Sweden. He was awarded his PhD in international relations from the University of Essex in 2019 for his thesis on individual and group motivations for participation in civil conflict, and has so far published work in the journal of Defence and Peace Economics.

February 17, 2022

Language is a Tool for Youth Exclusion in the Niger Delta

Niger delta oil

An illegal refinery in Rivers State, Nigeria.Pius Etomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Written By: Dr Modesta Alozie

Like many young people in the Niger delta region of Nigeria, Timi[1] felt great optimism about the future in 2009. This was the year the federal government announced the Presidential Amnesty Programme for young people in the violence-hit region in the southern region of the country. Youths who had been involved in the Niger delta violence were paid under this programme to drop their arms, with the additional promise of employment and regional development.

The violence erupted after years of the oil-producing communities complaining of developmental neglect and environmental degradation, while the Nigerian government and oil companies make profits from oil exploration.

The Niger delta is one of the most oil-rich regions in the world. Most of Nigeria’s wealth comes from the sale of the oil produced here. But despite this oil wealth, the Niger delta lacks real transformation. A clear indicator of this stunted development is the lack of good roads and reliable electricity in the region, including in its major cities.

Many youths in the Niger delta are also unemployed. And rising levels of pollution from recurrent oil spills is putting local livelihoods and health in further danger.

Then there is the big issue of oil revenue distribution. Many people in the delta believe that the national oil revenue distribution arrangement mostly benefits the ethnic majorities. This is because Nigeria distributes oil revenue according to population size. As such, regions with larger populations are allocated more resources.

As a result of these concerns, youths in the Niger delta began in 2003 to violently resist the oil industry, challenging their exclusion and demanding the development of their region.

Given this background, many have urged the government to create development agencies and programmes like the Presidential Amnesty Programme to integrate the region’s young people into the national development agenda.

My research finds, however, that the development agencies in the Niger delta are having limited success in including youths in the benefits of oil.

Language as a tool of exclusion

In this study, I interviewed 84 youths in the Niger delta. I also interviewed 19 development agency representatives from the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

My findings show that institutional representatives use language to exclude young people from sharing in the benefits of oil.

I asked the youths to explain how they perceive their involvement in the Niger delta violence. I also asked institutional representatives to explain how they view youth violence. In analysing these interviews, I paid deep attention to the use of language.

Language and domination are intimately related. By using harmful language permitted by society, we can marginalise vulnerable groups, while enabling more powerful groups to maintain their power. Interestingly, those who bear the brunt of discriminatory language sometimes accept the negative language, and are complicit in their own oppression.

This phenomena is described by the French sociologist Bourdieu, as ‘symbolic violence.’ It’s a situation whereby dominant language accepted to be true by society is used to discriminate and exclude a group of people who accept but also resist that language.

There are three ways in which these dominant beliefs and ways of speaking about youths enable their exclusion while simultaneously allowing institutional representatives to maintain their power within the development agencies.

First, many institutional representatives believe that older people are wiser, and therefore more suitable for leadership. Young people on the other hand are often portrayed as lacking wisdom and leadership capabilities. In some instances, young people have come to internalise and accept this misconception.

However, some youths challenged this idea. One respondent pointed out that many past military heads of states in Nigeria led the country in their youth. They pointed to the example of Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, who first ruled Nigeria under the military government at the age of 41.

Still, this language used to describe young people deterred them from occupying leadership positions within the development agencies. As a result, more older people occupy higher positions of power within the agencies.

Also, in most interviews, institutional representatives perceived youths as lazy and responsible for their own unemployment. For example, an institutional representative said:

If you give them a job they don’t want to work, they are just lazy.

Portraying young people as lazy distracts from other causes of unemployment in the region, including graft. This language of ‘laziness’ also effectively functions to constrain the accountability of development agencies for failing to create jobs and improve lives.

This negative language of laziness helps perpetuate the economic domination of older people because it presents them as hardworking people who are deserving of their wealth.

Finally, institutional representatives also perceived young people as criminals with destructive tendencies. This negative portrayal casts doubts on young people’s credibility, and it puts them at a disadvantage when contesting for public office. It also means that older people are recognised as morally superior and worthy of public service. Language like this clears the way for the older generation to continue to hold on to power and decision making, while excluding young people. One respondent’s comment serves as an example:

You may not understand what I am saying because you are young. There will be a problem in the communities, sometimes they bring it to us and we have to decide what to do. You have to know about the people, their history, even the culture … Young people, many of them don’t know the culture.

Language matters

These seemingly natural ways of speaking about Niger delta youths dictate who is valued and who participates in the decision-making processes within development agencies in the region.

This harmful use of language puts young people at a disadvantage because it assumes that the older elites are better than the youths. And it justifies the economic, political and social domination of the elites in the oil development process.

The study findings raise questions about whether distributive interventions alone can enable the equitable participation of youths in the oil development process.

Distributive agencies remain crucial channels for achieving a more equitable distribution of oil profits. But without confronting the cultural and social barriers that limit young people’s participation in the oil development agencies and programmes, young people like Timi will continue to be left behind.

Author Bio:

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations University of Warwick, UK. She also teaches the Politics of Globalisation at Warwick. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Her research interests are in oil politics, climate change and digital humanitarianism.

[1] This is not the real name.

February 26, 2021

Let us Talk about Young Men and their Participation in the Niger Delta Violence

Niger delta

Pollution in the Niger Delta (courtesy: Stakeholder Development Network SDN)

Written by Dr Modesta Alozie

Anjo limped as he walks towards me for an interview, I wondered what had happened to his leg. He had been shot in 2003 in Bayelsa during a violent clash between the military and the local youths, many of whom were men. For months, local youths sabotaged oil pipelines in the region and kidnapped oil company staff for ransom, which led the federal government to send in the military to repress dissidents. Although the National Youth Policy (2019) says the age range of youth in Nigeria as 18-29 years, it is not unusual in the Niger delta to find people as old as 45 years old identify as youths. This is because youth, in this context, is mainly a site of marginalisation and contestation rather than an age category.

The violence was not only happening in Bayelsa but across the other eight states of the Niger delta where Nigeria’s oil production takes place, with a huge consequence for the development of the region. Thousands of people have died and thousands have been displaced. Properties have been destroyed, and between 2007-2008, Nigeria’s oil production decreased by 40%. In a country where 88% of the government earning comes from oil, the economic effect of this violence cannot be understated. Peace was eventually restored in 2009 after the government introduced the Amnesty Programme which promised monthly stipends to the youths if they dropped their arms. But sporadic violence still occurs.

Because Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, the violence in the Niger delta has huge implications for global oil supply. As such, there is serious interest from academics as well as the media to explain this violence. Economists like Paul Collier tell us that what fuels this violence is greed by young men, and in the media, these young men have been labelled as criminals. Blaming young men for this violence leads to the stigmatisation of young people in the society and obscures the role of the state as well as the oil companies in creating the inequalities that fuel this violence in the first place.

In my doctoral research, I sought to explain this violence from the perspectives of these young men. I spoke with these young men and observed their social environment to understand how their identity as men influence their violent behaviour. Many of the youths I spoke to blame the government and the oil companies, who are in a joint business arrangement with the federal government, for this violence. When Nigeria’s oil revenue surged in the 1970s, the federal government introduced new economic and political structures to monopolise control over oil proceeds. First, a Federation Account was created into which all oil revenues are channelled to be shared subsequently across all the states in the country. Then, the Derivation Principle which regulates the proportion of internally generated revenue to be retained by any state was slashed from 50% to 3% in the 1980s. At the moment, the oil communities retain 13% of the oil profits generated within their region as specified by the Derivation Principle and population size is considered the most important criteria for sharing the revenue collected by the federal government. As such, the majority ethnic groups, especially the Hausa Northerners, have received the largest chunk of the oil proceeds due to their large number. The oil communities see this as distributive injustice. There is a perception amongst the oil communities that their ethnic minority status makes it difficult for them to negotiate a better revenue-sharing arrangement at the federal government level.

Corrupt practices by local politicians and harmful corporate practices by the oil companies further compound the problems of the oil communities. A large chunk of the funds which could have been invested in development projects, such as employment creation is diverted into private pockets, and so the level of unemployment in the region is very high. For decades, oil spills have occurred frequently in the Niger delta often without remediation and compensation to the oil communities. Between 1976-2001, 7000 oil spill incidents occurred in the Niger delta and every year, 240,000 barrels of oil are spilt in the Niger region. This is the highest rate of oil spills recorded anywhere in the world leading the BBC to name the Niger delta ‘the world oil pollution capital’.

Oil spills in the Niger delta occur mainly from operational failures or pipeline vandalisation by youths. By law, the local communities are supposed to be compensated by the oil firms when an oil spill happens due to operational failures. However, compensation rarely happens because the Joint Investigation process (JIV) which is used to determine the cause of an oil spill is seriously flawed. The oil companies provide the equipment and finances required for the JIV, which leaves little room for accountability and transparency in the process. As such, the oil communities believe that most oil spill data from the JIV is unreliable.

In many instances when local residents have gone to the court to challenge the outcome of the JIV, they have been unsuccessful, although a recent court case in which four local farmers won an oil spill case against Shell in a Dutch court brings some glimmer of hope. Because rural livelihood in the Niger Delta is predominantly fishing and farming, local people have watched their future drain away with oil and concern for health continues to rise. It is within this context of exclusion and pollution that young men like Anjo are challenging the oil companies and the institutional structures which they believe do not serve them.

My research found that while women also experience the economic exclusion resulting from oil exploration, men are disproportionately affected by the social consequences of this economic exclusion. Also, some traditional ideas of manhood encourage violent behaviour amongst Ijaw men. Egbesu, the Ijaw god of war commands young men to rise as men and protect their communities against any external danger and injustice. This cultural context normalises violence to a certain extent and many young men who are socialised in this context see the enactment violence as merely a habitualised way of being a male member of the Ijaw community.

Young men in the Niger Delta are expected to provide for their households as well as to marry, but in the Niger Delta, marriage is a long and elaborate process requiring large sums of cash. Without getting married, many young men remain in limbo as junior men and they are not able to participate meaningfully in local community life. Many young men I spoke to saw marriage and the provider role as essential to who they are as men. They explain how unemployment undermines their ability to perform these roles as well as how violence enables them to meet these social roles.

During my interview with Anjo, he explained that before joining violent militancy, he had no money to pay his children’s school fees and to feed his family as a man, which led to regular insults from his wife. After joining one of the well-known militant gangs in the region, Anjo’s economic situation improved significantly. He and his peers were paid hugely by the oil companies to protect oil territories. Consequently, Anjo received enough money to provide for both his immediate as well as extended family.

Many Ijaw men I spoke to justified violence as a normal way of being a good man in the Ijaw community and in a context characterised by injustice. The dependence on Ijaw men’s strength for community protection shifts the responsibility of resistance against military repression and exclusion on young men, who then use violence to resist an equally violent state.

While many unemployed men struggled to become providers and to marry, I observed in the night clubs and in wedding ceremonies that violent men lived a different life. In the clubs, women wanted them for their cash, and in the wedding ceremonies they were invited as ‘Chairmen’, an honourable Nigerian title almost exclusively reserved for older rich men. In this context of exclusion, violence offered young men an opportunity to insert themselves into the mainstream social and economic life, albeit through the back door.

Since young men are the main perpetrators and victims of this violence, addressing this violence and achieving inclusive development in the Niger delta requires that intervention strategies meet the diverse needs of young men (and women) many of whom live at the margins of the oil communities. Finally, it is time to move towards a society where men are humanised and manhood is not linked with violence.

Author Bio

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations University of Warwick, UK. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Before joining Warwick, Modesta worked as a research consultant at the Urban Institute University of Sheffield in the LO-ACT low carbon project. Her research has focused on climate change and analysing the complex impacts of oil extraction in Nigeria from an intersectional perspective. Recently, her research has expanded geographically beyond Nigeria to include South Sudan focusing on the experiences of internally displaced people in these two contexts.


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