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Eaux, pauvreté et crises sociales

Habib Ayeb
Thierry Ruf

Atelier 3. Crises autour de l’eau dans les plaines et les deltas

The Paradox of Water Crisis and Rural Poverty in the Niger Delta of Nigeria

The Case of Bayelsa State

Daniel A. Omoweh

Texte intégral


1This paper is primarily concerned with water crisis as both a resource and an infrastructure, and its linkage with rural poverty in Bayelsa State within the larger context of the path the Nigerian state took to the governance of natural resources, particularly the production of petroleum and the consequences for water resources. Within this framework, it critically looks into how Bayelsa State, which is 90 percent water, 10 percent land, and located in the heart of the third largest wetland in the world, has its huge water resources degraded by the forces of state-transnational capitalism. The paper analyses rural poverty not strictly on the less than US$ 1.00 threshold, but how the poor governance of water resources has constrained the social and economic activities of the people through the pollution of their environment, destruction of their biodiversity and annihilation of the traditional approaches to natural resource conservation by Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC, hereinafter as Shell], Texaco and the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC]. It examines the reactions of the people to water poverty and the attendant social crisis, noting the actors/actresses and institutions involved, the interest they represent, their strength and limitations. It also analyses the responses from the state, the oil companies, the development agencies and the civil society groups in ensuring water security and the promotion of sustainable local livelihood. Finally, it charts alternative and actionable strategies for redressing water poverty and reversing the worsening trend of rural poverty in Bayelsa State in particular, and Niger Delta generally.

2Bayelsa State is the second largest oil producer, after Delta State. It is a wetland so heavily endowed with water resources, and other natural resources. Located within latitude 5.16o and 5.00oN; and longitude 5.51o and 6.37oE, the topography of Bayelsa State is generally low-lying, with fresh water and salt water, and a typical mangrove forest. It has two major seasons – dry and rainy; and an average rainfall of 350 cm with its peak spread across June and July, and an average temperature of 78oF. The State has numerous rivers, most of which are tributaries of the River Niger, and notable among them, are Ekole Dodo, Pennington, Middletown, Sam Bartholomew, Freshtown, Sangana, Nun, Brass, St. Nicholas, Santa Babara and Rams. The main creeks are Kolo, Ikebiri and Digatoro.

3Carved out of then Rivers State in 1991, Bayelsa State is administered from Yenegoa, the state capital. It has a population of about 3 million out of which 1,500,000, representing 50 per cent live in the capital. Of the total population, 30,000 people [2 percent] are civil servants, while 60,000 people [5 percent] are self-employed in various vocations, while the bulk of the people is engaged in fishing, farming and other social and economic activities. Bayelsa State is bordered in the south by the Atlantic Ocean, northwest by Delta State, and northeast by Rivers state. It has 8 local government areas and 24 development centers. Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha was the first elected executive governor of the State since May 1999, and President Olusegun Obasanjo removed him in December 2005 more on political disagreement [regime extension] than the alleged corrupt practices. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the current governor of the Bayelsa State. The State is the home of the Ijaws – the fourth largest ethnic group in the country after the Hausa/Fulani, Yorubas and Igbos. How can Bayelsa State, a wetland so richly endowed with enormous water resources be ridden with water poverty?

Origin and nature of the paradox

4This section examines the origin and nature of the paradox of water poverty in twobut interrelated contexts: a resource and utility within the larger framework of the state’s policy towards natural resources and infrastructural development.

As a resource

5As noted, Bayelsa State is 90 percent water, and 10 percent land. Sixty percent of the water is saline, while the remaining 40 percent is fresh. Fresh water is a finite resource and the basis of sustainable development, yet its stock is constantly being reduced through the ‘relative recklessness’ with which the state and the oil companies operate in the State. Bayelsa State is criss-crossed with rivers and creeks, has large inland water bodies, and estuaries where the alternation of saline and fresh takes place. It has widespread, but limited underground water, which is high in quality because of the natural filtration process. It is a vast wetland with perennial surface water, nutrient-rich silts, swamps, marshes and islands, with aquatic ecosystems that support the growth of various species of flora and fauna. It has a rich biodiversity and the people have indigenous knowledge for natural resources conservation. It has the largest mangrove forest in Africa, which provides breeding grounds for planktons. Also, the aerial roots of the mangrove trees are raw materials for native salt production. Its vegetation supports climate change and food security; and also permits the growth of fruits, medicine, building materials, fish and frogs, reptiles, birds, aquatic invertebrates, wildlife and mammals.

6However, the sustainability of water and natural resources of the wetland is intricately tied to the quality of the water. Why? In part, because water helps maintain the sustainability of the ecosystem inclusive of its biodiversity and conservation, the fertility of land, food security, exploitation of rural resources and sustenance of local livelihoods of the people. Further, high quality water capacitates other life processes in the environment, human and industrial activities. It is not that the managers of the Nigerian state are unaware of the need for the sustainability of water in the oil-rich Niger Delta wetland; they are aware. Rather, it is politically expedient for them to continue with the policy, politics and structures instituted by the forces of colonial capitalism and the colonial state in natural resource exploitation. That explains, in part, why any consideration was hardly given to the sustainability of water, water resources and the pattern of livelihood of the people in the host oil-producing communities in Bayelsa State. The path the Nigerian state took to the exploration and production of oil permitted Shell, Texaco and the NNPC to wreck havoc on the land, water resources and other natural resources of the oil-producing areas. In essence, the ‘paradox of scarcity amid plenty’ as exemplified in the acute water poverty – both as a resource and utility, grinding rural poverty and social crisis in Bayelsa State is caused by the state.

7The origin of the poverty of water as a resource in Bayelsa State, indeed, across the Niger Delta wetlands, stems largely from the policy of colonial capitalism and colonial state towards the exploitation of natural resources inclusive of water, in Nigeria. An insight into the pre-capitalist period of the region, essentially the 17th and 18th centuries, is helpful at this juncture. It should be noted from the onset that, a pre-capitalist economy is not used in the sense of having no exploitation, as the society and its production system were not egalitarian. Rather, the access to, and ownership of, the means of production were based on age grade and position in the traditional political leadership, among other factors. So, inequality and exploitation existed, but they were not of the magnitude the people experienced during the period of colonial capitalism. In the pre-capitalist period, natural resources inclusive of water resources such as rivers, creeks and wetlands belonged to the families and communities. There were appropriate indigenous social institutions, which guaranteed the people’s access and ownership of these resources. This contrasted against having the sole ownership of water resources, among other natural resources, vested in the Crown Government in England, with the colonial state holding it in trust for Her Majesty. Further, the people relied on their traditional knowledge [based on experiences over the years] for the governance and conservation of water resources.

8The norms, approaches and institutions created for the governance water [natural] resources in the pre-capitalist period were overthrown with the advent of colonialism. The Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890 had empowered the imperial power, Britain, to exercise control and administration of the colony and its natural resources like water resources and left the colonized people with usufruct rights. The Act also denied the colonized rights to, and ownership of water resources, among other natural resources. In 1899, the Charter of the Royal Niger Company was revoked by the British government not so much on account of the excessive power exercised by the company in the colonies, but the desire by the British to take full control of these colonies. In 1900, the British formally colonized Nigeria in 1900, and instituted a colonial state to facilitate the exploitation of the colony.

9Some of the early writings on common resources by scholars like Garret Hardin had contended that, water, as a common resource, is free for all and lacked proprietary character. The British colonial policy towards water resources can be understood in this context. But, critics of Hardin like Bromley and Cernea had described his metaphor as not only socially and culturally simplistic, but historically false when located within the context of pre-colonial Africa. To Okoth-Ogendo, Hardin was ignorant of the customary laws, customs and traditions of Africa. He argued that, the real tragedy of the African commons inclusive water resources goes beyond its non-proprietary character to include the appropriation, suppression and subversion of Africa’s common resources by the colonists.

10As an ‘extractive colony’, the ultimate purpose of colonial capitalism and the state in Nigeria, was purely economic: to extract natural resources. The forces of imperialism that operated under the aegis of British rule in Nigeria, particularly those in the extractive industry, had no consideration for the sustainability of the environment of their host communities; nor were they concerned with the renewability of water resources. All was because the host resource-producing communities were regarded as minefields, and those who live there were seen as squatters. The Mineral Act of 1914 provided the comprehensive legal and political instrument with which the colonial state vested unto itself, the ultimate ownership and control of land, and other resources tied to it, which included aquifers, surface and underground water and forestry resources, all of which were held in trust for the Crown Government in Britain.

11Rather than change the colonial policy, politics and structures that facilitated the rapacious exploitation of natural resources inclusive of water, therefore, the managers of the Nigerian state continued with them in the post-colonial period. Doing so, helped consolidate their access to political power and accumulative base, given their tenuous relationship with production. The state’s policy towards the development of water and other natural resources is not participatory, but top-down. This is at a time when the campaign for democratizing the governance of resources in East, Central and Southern Africa, where resource wars are being fought, is high on the agenda for the mitigation of resource conflicts in the continent of Africa. In fact, democratizing the governance of water resources and other natural resources does not interest the custodians of the Nigerian state, partly because empowering the people to own natural resource is perceived as a reduction in the power of the state and injurious to its class interests.

12Not surprisingly, while the Mineral Act of 1963 as amended, was retained in the Laws of Nigeria, it defined the content of other specific legislations on land and water like the Land Use Act of 1978 and the Water Decree of 1993. Both pieces of legislation emphasized the ownership and control of natural resources by the state. The Land Use Decree of 1978, for instance, turned land inclusive of the swamps and marshes in the Niger Delta, where oil is being explored, produced, transported and stored into a minefield and the people who live there, as squatters in their own ancestral land. Unfortunately, the minefields in Bayelsa State are the vast water resources, inland water bodies, the islands, creeks, estuaries and silts, all of which are currently being degraded by the state and foreign oil companies.

13In particular, the Water Decree of 1993 vested the sole ownership of water, both primary and secondary water, surface and underground, lakes and inland waters on the Nigerian state, and empowered it to appropriate waters for hydropower development, and the construction of river basins. Though no hydropower generation project has been undertaken in Bayelsa State, the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority, like 20 River Basin Authorities embarked upon by the Shagari’s government failed to promote agricultural production, among other objectives they were set up to accomplish. It is all the more so, because as a natural resource, the state conceptualizes water largely as a resource to be exploited for generating public capital; or used to produce other public goods like electricity, with little or no consideration for its sustainability and renewal as a resource. This partly accounts for the worsening trend of the pollution of both surface and underground waters, and the decreasing percentage share of fresh water as a finite resource from 40 percent in the 1990s to 25 percent in 2005.

A public utility

14As a social infrastructure, the water crisis is evident in its inadequacy and scarcity, and the attendant health hazards for the rural and urban poor. It stems from the poor governance of water resources, rooted as it is, in the philosophy of infrastructural development of the Nigerian state. Historically, the provision of water as public good fell within the purview of the state, and nothing has really been done to change this policy. A greater part of the problem resides with the state’s philosophy of urban-based development, which emphasized the provision of public utilities in the cities. The colonial policy on social infrastructure left a tradition that concentrated education, hospitals, clinics and water, among others, in the cities. This is because those who served the colonial government and officials of the colonial trading companies lived in the urban centers. All was to the detriment of the urban slums and the rural areas.

15As to be expected, the Bayelsa State government [like other 35 state governments in the country] has approached the provision of portable water with great emphasis on the urban centers. This accounts, in part, for the provision of water schemes mostly within Yenagoa and few semi-urban centers like Imirringi, Kiama and Ogbia, despite the fact that, Bayelsa State is largely rural. But, even within the state capital, Yenagoa, where water consumption per head per day is estimated at 20 liters in the choice areas reserved for the State Legislature Commissioners and top government officials. Yet, it is still a far cry from the estimated 70 liters per head per day. It is even worse in the rural areas, where per capita water consumption is put at 5 liters, with very limited water schemes. This means that, the creeks, rivers and swamps still remain the main sources of water and sanitation in the state. Unfortunately, it is these water resources that are being gravely contaminated by the oil companies as iron and manganese are now found in both surface and underground waters.

16The Obasanjo’s government is only embarking on a radical posturing by joining other African governments to popularize the African Water Vision 2025, because its policy and actions in the Niger Delta, among others, undermine the rationale for the Vision. The Vision is aimed, inter alia, at promoting an equitable and sustainable use and governance of water resources for poverty alleviation, socio-economic development, regional cooperation and sustainable environment.

17From the foregoing analysis, the paradox of water crisis in Bayelsa State is statecreated and historically determined. There is really no policy shift that suggests that the crisis is being redressed. In part, because of the state’s materialist interest, which explains its sole ownership and control of water resources, among other natural resources. A clearer understanding of the state is ideal at this point.

18The state is conceptualized as a social public force, which uses the mechanism of institutional constituents to dominate the larger society. It is a social public force that guides the society along the interests of the groups that make it a reality, but not necessarily really concerned with promoting the overall well-being of the majority of the people inclusive of access to, and ownership of, natural resources like water resources. In practical terms, the state is the political leadership, whose constituents cut across the oligarchies, the bureaucracy, fronts of local and foreign private capitals, with the government of the day serving as the theatre where the struggles between and among the constituents aimed at capturing the state’s political power for advancing parochial interests, are played out in concrete terms. It is these struggles that have, in turn, shaped the nature and content of the water poverty, the degradation of the wetland, destruction of the local livelihoods and the magnitude of poverty among the people in a predominantly rural, but oil-rich Bayelsa State. That largely explains why the thinking of the state managers is that, democratizing the governance of water resources can lead to the empowerment of the people to own natural resources inclusive of water, and this is viewed by its custodians as inimical to their class interests

19Inevitably, the resultant bloody confrontations between the militant groups, the state and foreign oil companies in the Niger Delta stem largely from the state’s anti-people policy and politics in water and other natural resources like oil. Further, the protracted armed struggles in the Delta region is a precipitate of the internationalization of the underdevelopment of the oil-producing communities, especially as the Nigerian state reproduces transnational capitalist development in the oil and gas industry of which it is an intricate part.

Structure of the economy

20To begin with, Bayelsa State’s economy operates at two, but unrelated levels: ‘rural economy’ and the ‘oil-induced economy’. The two economies are literally two countries within one country, but they are not organically linked, nor are they complementary. Rather, both economies were colonial constructs. I elaborate on this.

Rural economy

21One of the strategies of incorporating the Nigerian colonial economy into the British capitalist system was to uproot the pre-colonial economy and its productive system. As part of that strategy, colonial capitalism and the colonial state annihilated all commodity currencies like salt, cowries and pepper in what constitutes today’s Bayelsa State, and replaced them with the British Pound. The Pound was not only the legal tender for the colony [until 1974, when it was replaced by the Naira] but helped insert the traditional economy into the British capitalist system. Though the economy was monetized, it was a deliberate policy of colonial capitalism and the colonial state to keep the productive forces of the local economy rudimentary and undeveloped to enable colonial capitalist accumulation flourish. The exchange of goods and services was limited. The rural economy resembled the ‘first stage’ of the Rostovian treatise on development, but it was not, as it was a colonial creation. The colonial policy that informed the creation of the rural economy is continued with in the post-colonial period by the Nigerian state. It is politically expedient for the political leadership to do so, given its tenuous relationship with production. Not surprising, the rural economy of Bayelsa State still subsists on water resources, other resources of the wetland and land, which, for the past fifty years, are being constantly degraded by the foreign oil companies and the state-owned NNPC.

22As a predominant economic activity in the rural economy, fishing is carried out at subsistent level, using very crude implements and obsolete technology as evident in the application of dragnet, subnet, driftnet, and the traditional basket called ‘akapli’. Though fish poisoning through the use of chemicals like gamalin 20, is seldom used by deviants, it is an exception rather than rule. The men dominate the occupation, while the women and children smoke the fishes. By 1956 when oil was first produced in the area, fishing was a major occupation. By 1965, when more oil wells were sunk and the operations of the oil companies had spread to other communities like Nembe and Brass, a greater part of the water resources was degraded, thereby constraining fishing activities.

23At issue, therefore, is the unsustainability of water resources and other activities tied to them. The degradation of water resources, destruction of the biodiversities and [traditional] conservation of the resources can be traced to the deliberate and conscious refusal of the state to force the oil companies and its own NNPC to comply with the ‘oil field practices’ [which entails adequate de-toxification of the wastes generated from oil exploration and production before they emptied into the creeks, rivers and swamps]. The mangrove swamp, which is a breeding ground for planktons and other aquatic organisms that support the growth of fishes, has been largely degraded through oil spillage and gas flaring. The construction of oil pipelines by the OSCs has also destroyed the natural estuaries, with negative impact on the quality of the water. The diversion of the course of flow of the rivers through dredging and pipeline construction has adversely affected the seasonal migration of fishes and mammals to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The state’s policy towards oil production has sustained the recklessness of the oil companies, which, in turn, has eroded the capacity of the traditional institutions like the ‘age grades’, ‘association of fishermen’ and ‘hunters guilds’ to enforce compliance of the members of the communities with water and other natural resource conservation rules.

24In regards to farming, second major economic activity, agriculture is still at subsistent level and even on the decline. As part of then Eastern region, the territory that constitutes present-day Bayelsa State was a major producer of palm oil and kernel: main export of Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, the prolonged gas flaring, oil spillage and other forms of pollution have decimated the wild palm trees. Not even the extension of the Nigerian Institute of Palm Oil Research, NIFOR, located in the State is spared by the degradation of the environment by the oil companies. As a result, tapping of palm trees has almost become extinct. As noted, land is not only scarce in Bayelsa State, but the continuous pollution of both surface and underground waters has accentuated rural land crisis and protracted poor harvest. Gas flaring has caused most of the palm trees to grow too tall without bearing fruits, and over the years, the heat generated from the flare has roasted palm trees located within 30kilometer radius of the epicenter of the flare site. One of the major consequences of this for food production is that, the majority of the food crops grown such as cocoyam, water yam, pepper, sugar cane, swamp rice and plantain can hardly be grown.

25Other economic activities typical of the traditional economy included the construction of hand-dug canoes, production of native salt, tapping palm trees, raffia palm trees, distillation of local gin from palm wine and petty trade. Again, the oak tree, used for making hand-dug canoes has been almost extinct. So, too, has food gathering from forestry and water resources as social safety net for the rural people, been gravely affected. Labour is still drawn from the family and the exchange of goods and services is very limited.

26In essence, it is the conscious policy of the forces of state-transnational capitalism to sustain and deepen the disruption of the development continuum of the host-producing communities in the Niger Delta. The rural economy of Bayelsa State is therefore, politically created and state-managed. Not surprisingly, the enormous water resources of the State, around which most of the economic and social activities of the people revolve, are being willfully degraded by the Shell, Texaco and the NNPC, as they explore and produce oil. An insight into the nature of the oil-induced economy and its negative impact on water resources is useful at this juncture

An oil-induced economy

27The oil-induced economy resembles the ‘Rostovian modern economy’, but it is not. It internationalizes oil exploration and production. It is disarticulated and a metropolitan transplant for the state-oil capitals to exploit. It is barred to the native of the rural economy, which is stagnating and imprisoned by cultural norms. The ‘modern economy’ has acquired notoriety for ‘culture shock’, particularly for the natives, who are regarded as timid. Its host oil-producing communities are regarded as minefields, where the ultimate interest of state-oil capitals is to extract the natural resources. It is characterized by ‘accumulation by terror’, as the state uses its military might to quash individuals and groups and institutions opposed to oil production in the Delta region. It permits the migration of oil workers with varied nationalities and socio-cultural backgrounds in and out of the economy without restriction. It presents a visibly booming business climate, as evident in the numerous helicopters flying workers to and from the oil platforms, and barges conveying heavy oil equipment to the rigs and the activities of the oil servicing companies. It posts industrial activities as can be seen from the night aerial view of Bayelsa State, showing it is lit, not by electricity, but by flare sites polluting the whole region.

28In spite of these considerable oil business activities going on in the State, they are not integrated into the local economy. The ‘modern economy’ operates as an enclave unto itself. It defines the kind of dependence and underdevelopment that the host Bayelsan economy is faced with. Its mode of production alienates the people and the local economy. In particular, the access roads constructed by the oil companies are primarily meant to link up their various oil wells and fields, but not as a social infrastructure as often misconstrued by many a commentator on the Niger Delta.

29The ‘oil-induced economy’ is not responsive to the needs of the people, nor to environmental concerns. At each stage of oil exploration, production, transportation, storage and export, the water resources are gravely polluted by the major oil companies and the small equity-based, but specialized oil servicing companies [OSCs]. The Euro-American Seismograph Services Limited, Santa Fe and Flopetrol hired by the oil majors like Shell, Agip and Texaco, operate with utmost disregard for water resources and other environmental resources, largely because they have no oil lease and, therefore, not technically accountable for the wreckage done to water and other natural resources of the host oil-producing areas. Even Shell and Texaco, which are partly responsible for the wreckage of the State found it convenient to engage in passing the buck back to the joint venture agreement, in which the state has a majority share, but the oil companies are the technical operators. Such strategy tends to present the Nigerian state, [that is, its political leadership] to its people as the major pollutant [though co-pollutant], and accountable for the pillage of its own oil-producing areas, not the least, the degradation of the water resources. The buck-passing tactic has come to deepen the disruption of oil exploration and production, and escalated the incidents of taking foreign oil workers hostage by the militant youths of the Niger Delta.

30From all appearances, the modern economy is artificial. The consequences of the artificialities of the oil-induced economy for water resources are many. Socioculturally, there have been reported cases of having girls and housewives lured to their temporary campsites by the oil workers for sex, have them impregnated, and left without any trace when their contracts ended or their projects completed. Fatherless children are forbidden by the custom and norms of the people, and from my interviews, bastards are a taboo to the water gods and goddesses, and to the gods of the land and forests, and the society. One of the implications of this for the philosophical and sociological foundations of the people, is that, they see themselves as being abandoned by their ancestors. The poor harvest, decline in the flora and fauna, and difficulty in practicing traditional health medicine are traced to the pollution of water gods and other marine deities that protect the people against the attack of evil spirits. The efforts made by the people to appease the various marine gods and deities have not yielded positive results, because of the constant assault on the water resources and water deities, among others, by the state and oil companies. A greater insight into all this will be gained in the section on the nature of state-transnational capitalism in the oil industry and the negative impact on water and rural poverty.

State-oil capital alliance, water resources and rural poverty

The politics of the joint venture agreement

31To all intents and purposes, the Nigerian state is capitalist, but has devised various mechanisms for fostering its capitalist interests in the natural resources sector, given its weak technological base. For this purpose, the state vested on itself, the sole ownership and control of land, water, forestry and other natural resources as explained. With the political ownership over natural resources, that state is able to extract surplus from this sector. Its mode of capitalism accumulation in the natural resources is essentially rent collection. The joint venture agreements [JVAs] provide the framework for the mediation of state capitalism. The JVAs show the nature of the state-capital alliance in the oil and gas industry and give an insight into the dire consequences for water resources, land and other natural resources. The foreign oil companies, for instance, are the technical operators of the JVAs, and indeed, the junior partners, with the state through its agency, NNPC, as the senior partner in terms of the percentage shares they hold in the agreement.

Table 1. Selected water-based chemicals used for drilling by Shell, Texaco and Agip in Bayelsa State and across the Niger Delta, and the consequences for water and environmental resources and human beings

Table 1. Selected water-based chemicals used for drilling by Shell, Texaco and Agip in Bayelsa State and across the Niger Delta, and the consequences for water and environmental resources and human beings

Source: Based on the author’s fieldtrips to the oil-producing areas inclusive of Bayelsa state, in 2000, 2003 and 2005.

32Technically, the JVAs are held responsible for the pollution of water resources, land and other natural resources, yet, it is the oil companies that find, win, transport and store the oil, and equally pollute the water resources. From the onset, therefore, water resources are not even imputed into public policy on natural resources and poverty reduction as a resource that should be protected, conserved and renewed in oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta. All this accounts, in part, for the poor management of the wastes generated from the water-based chemicals used in drilling oil. Some of the water-based chemicals used by the oil companies and the negative consequences for water resources, the environment and human beings are shown in table 1.

33That is not all. The oil companies have acquired notoriety for polluting the rivers and creeks where they operate across Bayelsa state, because they are minefields as explained earlier. For instance, Shell’s activities are dominant around Ekole Dodo and Nun rivers, Kolo and Nembe creeks, where the company has wrecked great havoc on the water resources. The same is true for the operations of Agip in the coastal areas of Brass, and Texaco and Agip around the Sangana area. In fact, in 1980, one of the wellheads at Finuwa, Sangana, blew out, had the entire jack-up rig razed down, and spilled for about 4 weeks before engineers were flown in from USA to stop the spillage. An estimated 3 million barrels of crude were spilled and all lost to the environment, which is wholly water and fishing as the major occupation of the people. There was no post-spillage study to evaluate the extent of damage done to fishing grounds, health and social lives of the people. Nor was any compensation paid to about 5,000 people whose socio-economic activities were adversely affected. The tidal waves also increased the scope of destruction as the oil slicks were washed to the shorelines and other rivers like Nun and Sagbama, across the hinterlands, which, in turn, polluted the farmlands. This is an indication of the relative recklessness of the subsidiaries of the oil transnational corporations in the host-oil communities in Nigeria. The Nigerian state even absolved Texaco of any negligence. Yet, there was no protest, largely because of the limited knowledge of the people of the impact of oil pollution on the environment at the time. The non-governmental organizations were not just emerging, but had not really conducted studies in the Niger Delta and involved in advocacy. Between 1980 and 2005, there was hardly a year with one form of environmental pollution or the other, but space will not permit a blow-by-blow account. Rather, one of the recent and very devastating oil spillage will suffice.

34In December 2003, the Nembe oil field, operated by Shell creek, suffered a major oil spillage where an estimated 1.5 million barrels were lost to the environment. As noted, Nembe is almost wholly water with fishing as the dominant occupation of the people. Characteristic of the state and Shell, no post-spillage study was undertaken. About 4,500 fishermen were displaced as a result of the spillage. The Association of Fishermen in Nembe and its chairman, Chief Kenemor Igbeta, through their lawyer, Oronto Douglas, sued Shell for damage. According to Mr. Douglas, Shell paid a compensation of 5 million without input from him, nor the community, wondering the basis for calculating the compensation. All explained why the community rejected the money, and the company did not seek for alternative mechanism for resolving the dispute, because of the strong backing from the state. In another study, the author had explained the Oloibiri’s experience, which had completed the full circle of capitalist exploitation and abandoned by Shell would soon become trend of the pillage across the Niger Delta by the Nigerian state and oil capitals.

35The oil companies do not only pollute water resources through oil spillages, but with the combination of other forms of recklessness such as flaring gas day and night in the past 45 years, dredging the rivers and creeks for the laying of oil pipelines, erecting tank farms, oil terminals, among others. The Sagbama River, for instance, is linked with the community’s inland water body, where the people practice traditional fishponds for fish farming and hunting. But, the Benneisebe oil pipeline built by Westminster Dredging for Shell and which connects all the company’s oil locations to its terminal at Forcados in Delta State, deepens the river thereby making it too swift for hand-dug boats to be used for water transportation, but fishing was impaired as the traditional ground for breeding fish was destroyed on the basis that it fell on Shell’s right-of-way.

36The kind of rural poverty being precipitated by the forces of state-transnational capitalism is such that, it destroys the sociological foundation of the existence of the people as evident in the death of most of the revered or totemic animals of the people like fox, which, if seen around the road, or found dead, due largely to the pollution of the environment, signaled war or spiritual attacks. Prolonged pollution of the continental shelf and the environment of coastal towns like Brass, and the natural estuaries connecting rivers to the Atlantic Ocean, and creeks generally, have been identified by the people for the disappearance of shark, which Ogbia people revered because it rescued them during boat mishap. The majority of the flora and fauna of Bayelsa state and across the wetland of the Niger Delta have equally been decimated. With prolonged pollution of the swamps, creeks and rivers, the farmlands have equally been rendered infertile, heightening the crisis of scarcity and landlessness in the hinterlands. Before the advent of the oil companies, the size of farmland per family was 40 meters by 20 meters, giving a total of 800 square meters landholding. But, this has declined over the years, and was estimated at 20 m x 10 m = 200 sqaure meters of even infertile lands. The growth of cassava is stunted as evident in the observed coiled leaves and one or two miserable tubers upon harvest. Like cassava, the productivity of cocoyam has declined since 1975. See Table 2 for details.

Table 2. Effects of oil pollution on sampled flora and fauna of the Ogbia communities, Bayelsa state

Table 2. Effects of oil pollution on sampled flora and fauna of the Ogbia communities, Bayelsa state

Source: Based on the author’s field trips February 2003 and September 2005.

37What have been the reactions of the people to the resources crisis? How have the state and oil companies responded to the reactions?

Reactions and responses to water crisis and rural poverty

Agitations and democratization of the governance of water resources

38To begin with, it is important to have an idea of the political economy of the protracted agitations in the state and across other oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta in order to determine whether they are really concerned with the democratization of the governance of natural resources inclusive of water resource and land. For, an understanding of the political underpinnings of the protests will also give greater insight into the extent to which the people, who bear the brunt of the water crisis and rural poverty, are mobilized for the struggles; the alternatives strategies they are developing for survival. The Ijaws for whom Bayelsa state was created, have mounted persistent agitations for self-determination, social justice and equity, ownership and control of natural resources, and fiscal federalism since the late 1950s. Since the late 1980s, when the negative consequences of environmental pollution by the state and oil companies have fully unfolded, the state had had and still has the highest incidents of taking oil workers hostage, especially as most of the oil locations are offshore.

39However, not much success has been recorded in terms of water security and promotion of rural development. Rather, the state and the oil companies still pollute the environmental resources thereby deepening the trend of rural poverty. There are no indications that water insecurity will be reversed, largely because of inadequate problematization of the crisis itself by the agitators. The majority of those involved in the struggles do not really understand that water crisis is state-perpetuated; indeed, a governance crisis, and that a fraction of the political elites who empathize with the agitations even lack the political will to enforce the re-distribution of rights over natural resource to the people. In part, because they are not politically oriented to embrace democratization, and that they are in opposition only to mediate their access to the state’s political power to advance their narrow political, social and economic interests, but not to halt the accentuation of water crisis. As the author has explained elsewhere, the Nigerian political elites are not oriented towards the democratization of the governance of land around which water crisis revolves. For, some of the architects, who helped re-awaken the agitation for resource control in the year 2000, notably, the governors of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo, have presented it as the political project of the governors of the south-south geopolitical zone, where about 97 percent of the country’s oil is produced. They are able to sustain the struggle, using their political positions in the interim, because resource control is not being internalized in the various communities, groups and organizations participating in the agitations across the Delta region. Worse still, democratizing the governance of natural resources is not an agenda of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, which they all belong; nor are there any political party and pressure group of the Niger Delta extraction, and in the country at large, committed to resource governance and recruiting the rural poor and peasants for right-based development and pro-poor governance of natural resources. All this portends great risk for the sustenance of the struggle, because as soon as the current crop of politicians ceases to be governors, or excluded from the state’s political power, the struggles might lose its tempo and relevance.

40In regard to rural poverty, particularly for the peoples whose predominant occupations are fishing and farming, there are no clear indications that the water crisis in Bayelsa state is abating. Coupled with the fact that, the water crisis is governance crisis and indeed, crisis of the Nigerian state, it cannot be effectively dealt with by a state government. For, there are other powers outside of Bayelsa State and even the national government like the local private capitals and foreign oil capitals that would want the status quo to remain in order to operate with utmost recklessness in the Niger Delta. Herein lies an aspect of the internationalization of the water crisis and rural poverty in the oil-rich Bayelsa state.

41What is more? Together, the natural resources, particularly land, water, oil and gas, forestry resources have characteristics, which make their governance problematic. It links the local to the national and international, raising issues that can foster poverty reduction, participation, accountability, transparency and inclusiveness at all levels of governance. In particular, water resources are slow-growing, offering various values to different people and providing long-term repository of value to the people and society. But, these resources are being easily destroyed with unsustainable exploitative policy and framework for their governance as evident the path the state took to resource exploitation. Neither can an adequate monetary value be ascribed to them; nor can appropriate financial value be given to the kind of poverty that is being precipitated following the destruction of these resources by the state and oil companies. Because the state conceives of the oil-producing areas as minefields, the operations of the state and oil companies even annihilate indigenous resource governance methods, which are better suited than the western-driven conservation policies and projects for managing bio-diversity, conservation and protected areas. Located in this context, it is difficult to promote rural development. With the swamps, creeks and rivers also biologically dead due to constant pollution, coupled with the killing of fishes and planktons, fishing, as a predominant occupation in the coastal areas of the state, has been on steady decline. The pollution in the continental shelf and oil locations in the deepwaters has destroyed the hydrological regimes of the rivers thereby blocking the renewal process of the aquatic organisms. Land scarcity and landlessness in the hinterlands, where farming is the major occupation, have compelled the rural farmers to till the swamps and the extension of the frontier has precipitated massive flooding during the raining reason. The establishment of the Niger Delta River Basin Authority [NDRBA] in 1981, among other such organizations, purportedly to harness water in the Delta region, was a monumental failure. For, it was created without putting in place appropriate mechanisms and strategies for halting gas flaring, oil spillages and other forms of environmental pollution.

42Food gathering [rural water and forestry resources like snails] among the rural Bayelsan is not barbaric, but constituted a viable poverty reduction strategy for the rural dwellers. This was the situation until the oil companies began operations in the Niger Delta. As a result, food gathering is no longer protected as a local livelihood strategy, particularly as the rural resources have, under gas flaring and oil spillages and indiscriminate dumping of untreated drilling water-based wastes on land and into the swamps, been constantly destroyed. In fact, the poor governance of water resources has become the focus of the impoverishment of the rural people. Yet, few of the local nongovernmental organizations like the Chicoco Movement, Environmental Rights Action, the Center for Democracy and Development that have been engaged in the study and advocacy for the Niger Delta region, have hardly developed programmes and projects dealing with the core issues of rural development. The members of the international community like the UK Department of International Development, United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO and USAID, which have demonstrated interests on rural development and provided minimal funding, have equally not really shown concern for the origin, nature and dynamics of rural poverty and helping the NGOs to strategize for its reversal. It is in order to examine the responses of the state and other development agencies to water crisis in the context of an infrastructure.

Politics of water schemes

43As an infrastructure, water is a public good and service. The process of getting water to the people depends on many factors: feasibility studies, sample analysis, planning, implementation and renewal, the depth of the boreholes, right facilities – ranging from the pumps and their capacity, to water treatment plants and alum, chlorine and other consumables, overhead tanks, pipes conveying the water to the end users, the right manpower/skill, staff quarters and vehicles. In addition to the Bayelsa state government, agencies of the federal government, the oil companies, and donor agencies have been involved in providing safe water in the state.

At Bayelsa state level

44To begin with, the government of Bayelsa state has made efforts to deal with water crisis in the state, as evident in its plans to refine the fresh water. Of the N209 billion received from the federation account in the period, June 1999-July 2005, about N4 billion have been spent in making drinkable water available to the people since 1999. Yet, the water crisis still persists. In part, because, at this level of government, the production and delivery of portable water have been politicized that they lacked transparency and accountability. It is a governance crisis. The Bayelsa Water Board is a statutory public corporation created to produce and supply water in urban and rural areas across the state, but the Water Board hardly performs its statutory functions. Rather, it operates a water scheme built by the Ministry of Public Utilities and Rural Development. The process of getting safe water to the people in rural and urban areas is yet to be democratized.

45The Ministry, for instance, performs both policy-making functions and the executive duties. Without consultation with the 3 major departments under the Ministry, namely, Water, Electricity and Rural Development, the executive branch awards all contracts for water schemes to Hydro Construction and Engineering Company. The tendering process is limited to the company, which provides the water pumps, overhead tanks, treatment plants and consumables, installation of transformer. After the water scheme is built, the Ministry then instructs the Water Board to operate it. One of the constraints of the Water Board is that, it is forced to operate a water scheme that it does not know the capacity of the water pumps, where they are made, the capacity of the tanks, the population it is meant to serve, no maintenance budget etc. As a result, whereas more water schemes are being built in the state, the production of water remains grossly inadequate.

Yenagoa Urban water scheme

46The Yenagoa water scheme is the oldest of all the schemes in the state, dating back to when Yenagoa was once a UAC depot in the colonial period, to when it became the headquarters of the local government. The water scheme produces 600,000 gallons in 18 hours, given constant electricity supply, which is hardly guaranteed, as the state is yet to be connected to the national grid system. Conservatively, this translates into

472.3 million liters of water every 18 hours, approximately a day. There are other water schemes within Yenagoa: the Swale water scheme. It is installed with 6 water pumps of 150 cubic meters each, totaling 900 cubic meters, and this translates into 900,000 liters of water. Therefore, daily water supply for Yenagoa is 2.3 million plus 900,000 liters, totaling 3.2 million liters of water. But, the total population of Yenagoa is 1.5 million and given the estimate of 70 liters daily need/person, this will translate into 105 million liters of water per day, against the total daily production of 3.2 million liters/day, with an average of 20 liters/person. This is just an aspect of the magnitude of water crisis in urban water supply. Even with the 20 liters/person water supply, the places fully supplied include: Ovum area, which includes Government House, House of Assembly Quarters, and Commissioners Quarters.

48Other water schemes within Yenagoa, which were still projects at the time the study was conducted, included: Etegwe water scheme, Egebgwu water scheme, Igbogini and Kpaasia water projects, with each project planned to redress the scarcity of drinkable water in the various quarters within the state. The exact capacities of these projects were yet to be decided at the time of the study - part of the politics of water crisis. But, water delivery within the state capital is still grossly inadequate with private boreholes, as the main source of water, which is not treated, in spite of the heavy presence of iron and manganese in the water, water vendors sell the 25 liters gerrican of water at an average of N 35.00. The hand-dug well and the stream are still the major source of water for the majority of the urban dwellers. The DSP Water Initiative in 1999, which the government refuted of having anything to do with the governor, but a private initiative for water distribution project, was aimed at selling water to the residents of Yenagoa and its immediate environs. It began with 10 tankers of 3,000 litres capacity. It lacked funds for maintaining the tankers and grounded most of them. It folded up in 2004.

Public and private semi-urban and rural water schemes

49These are water schemes outside of Yenagoa located in semi-urban and -rural communities. All 8 LGAs and 24 Development centers in the state have one form of public or private water scheme, but not all of them are equipped with water treatment plants. These water schemes are still in various stages of development, with some of them nearing completion, and others still being test-run, under construction and old ones being rehabilitated. One of the implications of this is that, safe drinking water is still very scarce in the rural areas. First, on the functioning public water schemes, and this includes the Kolo water scheme [producing about 3,000 liters for 8,000 people] and those of Oruma under Ogbia LGA and Odi town [producing skeletally], and those about to be completed are in the Southern Ijaw LGA [Opomowei], located in Perembiri, Amasoma, Eseomi, Otuan and Lobia. Second, there is the category of water schemes being test-run. They include the schemes located in communities under the Sagbama LGA, namely, Essozui, Ogolobiri and Tomibiri expected to produce 6,000 liters. The water scheme in Sagbama town has a water treatment plant, and produces about 5,000 liters of water.

50Third, there are schemes being rehabilitated and one of them is the Okolobiri water scheme. Fourth, there are water schemes that are still largely projects. They include: Kiama Water Project under Kiama LGA, Agbobini and Otueke water schemes under the Ogbia LGA; Peretorugbene and Anyalobiri water projects under Ekeremo LGA. The fifth category includes public-private partnership water schemes. Under this, there is the Brass water work, which is the only scheme refining the salty water, and produces about 10,000 liters of water for about 9,000 people per day. Initially, it was the project of the Rivers State Government and AGIP, because the company’s oil terminal is located in the city of Brass. However, when the state was split into two, Bayelsa and Rivers, the scheme came under the management of the Bayelsa State Water Board. Agip funds the water scheme, while the Bayelsa Water Board provides the technical staff, who operate the scheme.

51The sixth category of water schemes can be regarded as the responses of the state and oil companies to the protracted agitations of inhabitants and groups over the underdevelopment of the oil-producing communities. As agency of the state, the Niger Delta Development Community [NDDC] has been charged to provide basic social and physical infrastructures in the Niger Delta, and portable water was one of its priority projects. However, as a microcosm of the state, its projects are largely bedeviled with corrupt practices with shoddy work done. An example is the Bilogo water project, which was commissioned, but now idles away due to lack of funds to maintain it. Another example is the Ametolo Water project, Southern Ijaw LGA. Started first, by Shell, NDDC, OMPADEC and finally, UNDP. Yet, the project was not completed at the time of this study. However, Shell’s water project in Imirringi [10,000 liters of water for about 9,000 people per day], is functioning. But, it was built to calm the nerves of the agitated host communities; yet, the company still flares gas day and night for the past 40 years, thereby polluting the environment.

52Seventh and finally, there are the efforts made by the international community to redress water crisis. The UNICEF showed interest in educating the rural people on water and sanitation, collaborated with the state in providing water and sanitation programmes and projects and it is still dialoguing. The World Bank has trained personnel/built capacity for the Water Board to manage secondary water projects in the state commercially, especially in a state that is badly hit with water crisis. Started in 1998, the Bank provided the funds for the construction of the current building housing the Water Board in Yenagoa, provided computers and other technical assistance, all inherited by Alemeseyia in 1999. Yet, nothing has been done, largely because it was difficult public policy on water to implement in a state ridden with water crisis. The European Union and Shell have promised to construct water treatment plants, but they have yet to do so.

53The various water schemes itemized above represent considerable efforts towards redressing the inadequate production of safe water and its poor delivery in Bayelsa State. The reality of the situation is that, water crisis is biting harder.

Concluding remark: what should be done?

54First, the Nigerian state and its constituents should be democratized. For, in its present composition, the Nigerian state is repressive; and given its actions and politics, the state has become the major clog to the democratization of the governance of natural resources inclusive of water resources. Part of the strategy of democratizing the state is to re-orient the political class away from its narrow perception of politics as a means to wealth, to catering for the common goods for all, with the enhanced material condition of the people as its centerpiece. In fact, the essence of politics is about the empowerment of the people and improving their material condition, which can be achieved by re-distributing rights over natural resources to the people, but necessarily denying the state its power over resources.

55Second, the governance of the natural resources should be democratized. The aim of the democratization of the governance of natural resources is to empower the people to exercise their rights to own, exploit and control natural resources currently usurped by the state. It is concerned with the re-distribution of power over natural resources away from the state to the people. That way, the resultant inequity and social injustice and other confusions and ambiguities that have characterized the path the state took to the production of natural resources, which have benefited a few, while the majority of Nigerians wallow in poverty, would have been overcome. One of the advantages of the strategy for the democratization of the governance of the natural resources is that, repression, intimidation, killings, tortures and maiming that have come to characterize the state’s responses to the agitations in the oil-producing, would gradually be phased out. For, the militarization of the Delta region has, rather than reduce, heightened the siege across the Niger Delta, creating security threat for most of the foreign oil companies.

56Third, the sustainable governance of water resources should be brought to heart of Nigeria’s development policy. Unlike in the management of water resources, which may not necessarily deal with the issues of rights, ownership, transparency and accountability, governance provides larger space to redress these and other related issues. As a source of life, this means that the location of power and authority over water resources are not really secured over clearly defined rules, but are struggled over between the state, oil capital, community and community-based organizations, and the people.

57Fourth, there is the need for community-based budgeting on resource extraction and infrastructure. As part of the strategy to democratize development matters, power over the kind of development including infrastructures will reside with people, who, together, with the community-based organizations, and the state, decide the size of the water scheme, among other social services, they want and have it allocated; rather than a situation they have a substandard water project imposed on them by the state. The people are likely to protect such infrastructure, because it is seen as their own. Though the governor has launched the community budgeting initiative in June 2005, it was not convoked at community level.

58Fifth, there is the need for a Forum for the Governor and Stakeholders of Water Resources in the state. At this Forum, there will be public audit on water resources, progress made, constraints noted and resolved. This will provide a rigorous basis for the government, non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, private capitals, donor agencies to develop public-private partnership in water resources and delivery of water service and sanitation facilities.

59Sixth and finally, there is the need for a pro-poor land policy. Its basic objective should be the restoration of the peoples’ title of ownership to land and its content and the recognition of the proprietary character of common resources. This is because, a people-oriented land policy would help reverse the state’s appropriation of the people’s rights to own, empowering them to exploit and control their lands, all of which would amount to engaging the people in the development process. A pro-poor land policy would compel the Nigerian state to rethink its preferred dependence to self-reliance in the manner in which land is governed in the country.

60Without doubt, the implementation of the above prescriptions would lead to water security and promotion of rural development in Bayelsa state. But, it will be mistaken that, they will not be resisted by the state. In fact, the state is ever more aggressive towards the struggles in the Niger Delta. Rather, what is required, is the sustenance of the current tempo of struggle for the democratization of the governance of natural resources by those who are interested in reversing the underdevelopment of the oil-rich Niger Delta and Nigeria at large.



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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Selected water-based chemicals used for drilling by Shell, Texaco and Agip in Bayelsa State and across the Niger Delta, and the consequences for water and environmental resources and human beings
Légende Source: Based on the author’s fieldtrips to the oil-producing areas inclusive of Bayelsa state, in 2000, 2003 and 2005.
Fichier image/jpeg, 162k
Titre Table 2. Effects of oil pollution on sampled flora and fauna of the Ogbia communities, Bayelsa state
Légende Source: Based on the author’s field trips February 2003 and September 2005.
Fichier image/jpeg, 142k


Political expert. Research and Studies Department, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos – Nigeria

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