The fossil fuel age is coming to an end.

The Niger Delta is turning into the most polluted place on the planet.

Civil society leaders call for economic, social and political change.

Concerning headlines

a) Ex-Niger Delta militants are threatening to shut down oil pipelines, government houses, and the National Assembly, over plans by National Security Adviser to end the Amnesty Program.

b) Speaking at an event to mark the 2022 World Environmental Day in Nigeria, a lawmaker regretted that the development had rendered the entire region unhealthy for its inhabitants, just as she lamented that the people had become so hopeless to the extent that “they have been made to accept it as a way of life”. 

c) Oil market volatility caused by the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic pushes Nigeria into its worst recession in 30 years.

d) Overshadowed by the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, the Niger Delta crisis has received little attention by the federal government over the past several years.

e) The Niger Delta has accounted for 21 piracy attacks in the first quarter of 2022, mostly in Nigerian waters, and over 90% of global kidnappings in 2021.

f) Intellectuals reaffirm the conviction that emergencies cannot and should not constitute a form of governance, which is important to reform public policies for the benefit of the population and in accordance with African priorities. “In short, it is imperative to affirm the value of each human being regardless of their status, in addition to any logic of obtaining profit, dominance or seizing power”, they write, to further make it clear: "The second wave of our political independence will depend on political creativity, as well as our ability to take charge of our common destiny. Once again, several isolated efforts are already bearing fruit. They deserve to be heard, debated, and widely encouraged."

g) One of world’s most polluted spots gets worse as $1 billion cleanup drags on. Mismanagement, waste and lack of transparency are making the cleanup in the Niger Delta’s Ogoniland anything but exemplary, UN reports indicate.

Historical framing

Nigeria, officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin to the west, with Chad and Cameroon to the east and Niger to the north. Its coast lies to the south, in the Gulf of Guinea, in the Atlantic Ocean.

For a long time, home to countless kingdoms and empires, the modern state of Nigeria has its origins in the British colonization of the region, from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, arising from the combination of two neighbouring British protectorates: the South Protectorate and the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria. The British have created administrative and legal structures, retaining traditional leadership. The country became independent in 1960 but plunged into civil war several years later. Since then, the nation's leadership has alternated with democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships.

Nigeria is often referred to as the "Giant of Africa" because of its large population and economy. With about 174 million inhabitants, it is the most populous country on the continent and the seventh most populous country in the world. The African nation is inhabited by more than 500 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, the Igbos and the Yorubas. The country is divided in half between Christians, who mostly live in the south and central regions, and Muslims, mostly concentrated in the north. A minority of the population practices traditional and local religions, such as the Igbo and Yoruba religions.

Nigerian oil reserves have played an important role in the country's growing wealth and influence. Nigeria is considered an emerging market by the World Bank and is listed among the so-called "Next Eleven" economies.


Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than either

— Perry Anderson

Oil, more than any other commodity, illustrates both the importance and the mystification of natural resources in the modern world

Fernando Coronil


Politics, Corruption, Social Inequality The Niger Delta is composed of 9 states (Abia, Akwa-Ibow, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, Ondo, Edo, Cross River) and a population of about 32 million inhabitants, very heterogeneous both ethnically and religiously. The region is divided into 40 ethnic groups, the Ijaw ethnic group being the largest ethnic group, although there are others such as Itsekiri, Urhobo, Ibibio-Efik and Igbo subgroups. Nigeria at the regional level is the second largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for about 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 18% of the region's population. Nigeria is thus the region's largest oil exporter.

Since Nigeria's independence in 1960, the country has failed to create an economically sustainable development method. At the time of its independence, Nigeria still managed to achieve some development and attempted to diversify its economy, also with the incentives given to promote foreign investment in the country. However, its economy was mainly dependent on agriculture, and the relationship of dependence on exports of natural resources remained. Until independence, the country was dependent on exports of agricultural products such as cocoa, peanut or palm oil; after the 1970s, the economic dependence was registered on oil exports.

The huge amount of revenues generated by the elxport of oil, which allowed the country to become dependent on those same revenues, was considered a blessing but also a curse. While, on one hand, the revenue has contributed to an increase in Nigerian wealth and to the emergence of enormous potential for economic growth and long-term sustainable development, on the other hand, mismanagement of this income has contributed to underdevelopment and to the institutional corruption that has definitively settled in the country. Favoring a small group of the population at the expense of the detriment of the majority and exacerbated ethnic divisions were some of the consequences of poor use of national income.

Religious and ethnic diversity, national dependence on profits from oil exploration, mismanagement and distribution of oil revenues, and environmental pollution have caused discontent among some of the population with, in addition to the federal state, the activities of the oil multinationals in the country.

The discontent and feeling of alienation from the state in relation to its population is due to the close relationship between the state and the oil multinationals, clearly visible in the measures taken in relation to the conflict in the Niger Delta. (Proof of this is the existence of a state police force at the oil facilities prepared to react if there is any contentious action by the local population.)

On an economic level, the boom in revenues that the country has suffered from the exploitation and export of oil, combined with the placing of agriculture and domestic industry in the background, has led Nigeria to be considered a resource-cursed country.

Such wealth, coupled with a country without social and political stability, gives space to both the development of corrupt elites and not very transparent processes with the multinational oil companies that exploit these resources, as well as an explosion of internal conflicts.

Since the last half of the 1990s, this context acquired was militarized, namely in the adoption of military strategies of forced occupation, overturning of flow stations, abduction of workers, oil bunkering, among others.

The Nigerian State is thus represented as a Peripheral State, which feeds the industry of Western countries with its oil and which has become dependent on the export of this same resource.

Environmental concerns In addition to these issues, there is the environmental problem in which the oil multinationals operating in the country have played an important role: the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta region.

Pollution of land and water, together with a largely agricultural population, has thus created a sense of alienation within the community. Together with ethnic domination and the use of oil revenues to fuel a corrupt government system that benefited dominant political interests, the Niger Delta region, though resource-rich, has not had a positive impact through its revenues at a central government level.

Effects of oil spill: health risk, damage to the ecosystem, health hazard to the aquatic animals, risk of food insecurity, loss of aquatic plants, depletion of fish population, danger to the wildlife in general, air pollution that leads to other illness, acid rain, poverty.

About 40 million liters of oil are spilled every year across the Niger Delta turning it into the most polluted place on the planet.

Communities are facing an environmental catastrophe. Air, land and water have all been contaminated, with shocking effects on residents’ health and livelihoods. Vast areas of the state’s waterways and mangrove swamps – one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa – have been destroyed or put at risk. Farmland has been cloaked in oil, contaminating crops, and exposing people to high levels of radioactivity as well as heavy metals such as chromium, lead and mercury.


Amnesty Nigeria reports

a) Niger Delta: Shell’s manifestly false claims about oil pollution exposed, again  

b) 20 years after Ken Saro-Wiwa execution, oil pollution still blights Niger Delta. Shell complicit in the arbitrary executions of Ogoni Nine as writ served in Dutch court

c) Rise in Cult Related killings in Rivers state

d) Amnesty International calls on Buhari, Ayade to free Agba Jalingo  

e) 10 years after UNEP report, Ogoniland remains heavily contaminated – Report  

f) Community in Nigeria drinking polluted water

g) Amnesty activists uncover serious negligence by oil giants Shell and Eni 

h) Investigate ‘shocking’ link between oil spills and baby deaths 

i) Hundreds of oil spills continue to blight Niger Delta 

j) ‘Just move them’: Forced evictions in Port Harcourt, Nigeria 

k) Further information: Thousands forcibly evicted in Port Harcourt 

l) Shell must own up, pay up, and clean up the Niger Delta (Joint Civil Society Statement) 

m) Landmark ruling forces Shell to face up to its abuses in Nigeria

n) Forced evictions: All this was houses 

o) 60,000 forcibly evicted in Port Harcourt

Bunkering activities Oil bunkering holds a positive meaning in a general sense, but in the rich oil fields of the Niger Delta in West Africa the term often implies a criminal practice embedded in political, social and economic controversies. As a practice to gain financially, to adjust what is perceived to be governmental discrimination, and to finance a range of opposition and criminal activities in the Delta region, illegal oil bunkering grew to proportions that elicited a coercive government response in order to protect a vital national asset of the Nigerian state. A practice involving the Nigerian state, regional communities in the Niger River delta, and multinational oil companies, illegal oil bunkering holds local, regional and international repercussions. Due to the almost seamless transition between the vast delta and the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, illegal bunkering complicates the deteriorating offshore situation in the Gulf of Guinea and collectively they elicit security responses from the Nigerian government. Threatening the vital Nigerian oil industry, military deployments, new acquisitions of maritime vessels and even cooperation between state agencies and private security companies comprise the Nigerian reaction to counter the practice and impact of illegal oil bunkering.

Conflict crisis The conflict in the Niger Delta is also the result of the marginalization of the region, political repression, the population’s search for social equity and justice, historical factors, external players (oil multinationals) and local politics.

Several groups have already attacked pipelines. The Niger Delta Avengers stole oil with the aim of impacting Nigerian economic growth and federal government revenues, having threatened, on several occasions, with secession. Radically improved firepower and combat training allowed another group – the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta – to face both Shell's military guards and elite government units. In 2016 a tenuous ceasefire was reached. But before, militants had already managed to reduce crude oil production from 2.2 million barrels/day, to about half. The flows have recovered. 

However, security threats continue – with banditry, abductions, and sabotage of oil infrastructure. Today it is the Reformed Delta Avengers that bring the militants together. In parallel, an economy is developed based on oil theft and illegal refining. It is a way of life. These oil pirates see themselves as a kind of Robin Hood – they take from the rich to give to those who have nothing. Even if they also contribute to environmental degradation, they are much less hated than oil companies.

In the war for oil, we find the resentment of a forgotten region, cursed by its resources, trapped between a government whose priority is the development of the North and not of the South of Nigeria; and local liberation movements that have long sold their ideals to the petrodollars. A phenomenon rooted deep in generations and decades, condemned to perpetuate itself, and which the world prefers to ignore.

Sociological framework

The controlled flow and the demarcation of capital movements in regions from which specific resources are extracted made possible the formation of ‘economic enclaves’ and modified the old relationship between people and things. The concentration of activities related to the extraction of valuable resources around these enclaves has, in turn, converted them into privileged spaces for war and death. The war itself is fueled by the growth in sales of the extracted products

— Achille Mbembe


Colonialism With an interest in human rights in the Niger Delta, and replying to the urgency to address climate change and global geopolitical reorganization we aim to address smuggling ideologies in Nigeria and clandestine economies; neoliberal risks in neocolonialism; governmentality, oil and power in the Niger Delta (oil complex effect); economy of violence and governable spaces (spaces of chieftainship, indigeneity and nationalism).

Nigeria suffers from some of the characteristics of postcolonial states in Africa, stating that they are in some way reflective of its colonial heritage.

Nigeria is an oil state suffering from the curse of resources, which is evident if we look at the oil economy as an income economy based on the exploitation of natural resources. The Gulf States of Guinea, even before the oil booms, were among the least prepared to use oil revenues, since they were characterized by fragile and unstable economies, a very low tax base and poor budget management, a very weak institutional framework, and the behaviors of elites characterized by authoritarianism, lack of accountability, and intense competition between factions for state revenues.

In dialogue with Frantz Fanon in "The Wretched of the Earth", Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Achille Mbembe and other African thinkers we reflect on how the violence that presided over the establishment of the colonial world provoked the destruction of the indigenous social forms, demolished without restriction the systems of references of the economy and the forms of appearance producing severe trauma. 

Exploding the colonial world is then a very clear, very understandable image of action that can be taken up by the individuals who constitute the colonized people.

Fanon spoke of the colonial world. We speak about neocolonialism and the global response to Black Lives Matter.

Judith Butler considers that non-violence results from assuming the other as we do ourselves. Frantz Fanon argues that blacks not even "the other" they were, they were nothing. Butler's perspective is provocative, but in practice, it implies the destruction of the individual.

Achille Mbembe gives Fanon's violence metaphorical thinking and symbolic value, but Fanon's violence is muscular.

Decolonial theorizations allow us to identify how new/old forms of colonialism – such as extractive capitalism, the reorganization of territories, digital surveillance, modernity as a universalized mode of governance, criminalization of Indigenous peoples as a weapon of neoliberal expansion, and the extraction of Native and Afro-descendent knowledge – all depend on prior civilizational projects, in which the Global South has long been constructed as a region of plunder, discovery, raw resources, taming, classification, and racist adventure; continually perpetuating the dramatic social and economic inequalities that delimit sovereignty and local and national autonomy.

Neocolonialism Neocolonial dependence on foreign revenues weakens a State, as it forces governments to form alliances with external players at the detriment of society. Institutions in Nigeria should be strengthened to make democracy thrive in the country. However, being a country plunged in corruption, although there is an attempt to improve this situation, the great threat to the failure of the war against corruption is the pressure of the elite and political intrigue. Since it is the corruption which allows, feeds and guarantees power for it to go far beyond economic advantages.

Regarding the conflict in the Niger Delta, even though the protest went from a peaceful environmental protest to a low-intensity conflict, and consequent militarization of the region, the federal government's solution to offer amnesty to the militants does not deal with issues of substance nor responds to the population's complaints.

As for the amnesty granted by the federal government to the military, it could be an attempt to disarm the militants in a misleading way, since what is intended is to create a favorable environment for the oil multinationals to operate, trying to reduce armed violence, but not creating any response to the development of the region. To avoid a relapse into militarization and rearmament, the Nigerian state should develop a package of credible measures for former militants responding to the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta region.

Pantheras aims to reflect on Nigeria in relation to one of its greatest natural resources – oil. These dimensions are: a) economic, with the abandonment of agriculture to the detriment of the oil industry; b) political, with the dispute over control of revenues generated by the oil industry; c) social, in the accentuation of the tensions in the Niger Delta region (explosions, hijacking, insecurity, kidnaps, violence, crime), with a major contribution to the negative environmental impact of oil exploration, largely caused by those who practice it: the oil multinationals; d) environmental catastrophe caused by the bunkering business. 

Feedback loops The actual crisis is rooted in indigenous societies, British colonialism, modern society, unashamed capitalism, and conflicting international powers.

The entangled Niger Delta (status quo) has been spreading insecurity and corruption across Nigeria and beyond.

The region has long (since the 50’s) been handling a crisis over resource control (oil) where all the players are fully armed and reactively ready to fight. It calls for external mediation, but the stakes might be too high for such intervention while human rights get shadowed by economic international interests.

Unfortunately, the moral disposition of most oil companies and consumers around the world in relation to the atrocities in the Niger Delta is not changing and the predatory practice that has penalized the region is increasingly forgotten.

Elections 2023 Since the 2019 elections, violence, criminality and other forms of insecurity have worsened in Nigeria. In the north, terrorism destroys lives and livelihoods, while banditry has become an even deadlier threat. Since the last polls, there have been more deaths from banditry than terrorism. Crime is also widespread in much of the south, and kidnapping for ransom and armed robberies have surged countrywide. The military is overstretched, and the police need deep institutional reform. 

70% of Nigerians reported an interest in leaving the country in 2021, compared to 35% in 2019. For many Nigerians, the 2023 polls present an important opportunity for a change in trajectory. Economically, fluctuations in oil prices and output, and the payment of oil subsidies, have led to a revenue crisis. The government has allocated around 90% of revenue to servicing debt while turning to further domestic and international borrowing to meet other public expenditures. This continuous borrowing raises concerns about Nigeria’s debt sustainability. High unemployment (35%) and high inflation (15.6%) are equally concerning, and mean Nigerians face the dual challenge of lower incomes and higher expenses.

In 2022, amid soaring energy costs in a global energy crisis dramatically escalated by the Russia-Ukraine war, Nigeria's oil output reached its lowest in thirty years, as a consequence of crude theft and underinvestment. In July Nigeria slipped behind Angola as Africa's largest exporter.

The elections take place against a backdrop of complex economic, political and security challenges. And the outcome of the polls will have far-reaching implications not only for Nigeria but the whole region, which faces political instability in the wake of several recent West African coups.

Modern and traditional ecosystems

Oil companies: Shell (Shell is arguably one of the biggest oil and gas companies in Nigeria and the world at large); Exxon Mobil; Chevron; Total; Nigeria AGIP oil company NAOC; Addax Nigeria; Nigeria National Petroleum Commission NNPC (The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is a federal government of Nigeria entity that regulates oil and gas companies in Nigeria.); Equinor; Nexen; Petrobras.

Bunkering business: Oil bunkering (locally known as KPO FIRE) is the process of hacking into pipelines, then refining it or selling it on a parallel market. High unemployment in the Niger Delta has made illegal crude refining an attractive business. It involves illegal tapping of crude from a maze of pipelines owned by oil majors and burning it at high temperature in makeshift tanks. 

The hazardous process adds another layer of pollution in a region that has endured oil spills for decades and destroyed farmlands, creeks and lagoons.

Some environmental groups are pushing the government to fund small refineries, which are cheaper and simple to run, hoping to create jobs and ending illegal refining of oil.

Nigeria Police Force: Principal law enforcement and the lead security agency in Nigeria.

Nigerian Armed Forces (NAF): Combined military forces of Nigeria. It consists of three uniformed service branches: the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, and Nigerian Air Force.

Anti-Cultism Force: Special national armed forces operating against Cultism.

Joint Task Force (JTF): Set up by the Nigerian government to combat kidnappings by armed groups in Delta State and militia groups, including reported land and air strikes by the JTF on militia camps and communities across the Warri South and South-west local government areas

Cultism: Confraternities are secret-society youth groups within higher education that have recently been involved in illegal and violent activities. The exact death toll of confraternity activities is unclear.

Cultism is a consequence of corruption in the society, broken homes, inborn trait of being sadist, not persecuting those who are caught in cultist activities and influence from parents who belong to secret cults. Cultism originates: breakdown of law and order; violence and social instability; disruption of academic activities; disorientation of societal values; premature death of youths who are cult members/innocent victims; drug addiction and related health problems.

Militants: Nigeria adopted an amnesty policy – a globally recognized tool for conflict resolution and peace-building – to protect the sector and the economy from collapse. The unconditional presidential amnesty program for militants operating in the Niger Delta was signed in 2009.

Nevertheless, the Niger Delta militants threaten renewed hostilities since the government refuses to address the issues bordering on overall development of the entire Niger Delta region.  The only solution to the crisis on ground is for the President to listen to the calls and agitations of the Niger Delta People. Earlier this year, nine militant groups under the aegis of Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) have decided to declare war on oil facilities, blowing up all major oil pipelines and also attacking all oil vessels entering Nigerian waters.

Activists: There are several environmental and human rights activists in the region although their activity is highly risky. Example: In 1995 nine Nigerian environmental activists accused of murder were executed by the government. Residents often take to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality and to demand action after recent oil spills.

NGO: There are several NGO working in the region to manage and implement funds for development. Unfortunately, most funds are consumed by corruption and never reach the communities nor their needs.

Businessmen: Warri and Port Harcourt are two oil hubs and have an influx of businessmen.

Expats: The expats in the region work for short periods (but they don’t settle due to the insecurity) on the energy (gas and oil) sector.

Indigenous liberation movements: Delta minority groups include Andoni, Brass, Dioubu, Etche, Ijaw, Kalibari, Nembe, Ogoni and Okrika.

The Ogoni, who live in the north-eastern fringes of the Delta, began a campaign calling for the cleanup of environmental damage, greater revenue from oil production and political autonomy. Their Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) issued an Ogoni Bill of Rights, which demanded immediate compensation for ecological damage from Shell and self-determination for Ogoniland. MOSOP was originally an umbrella organization that united traditional chiefs and intellectuals, such as writer, entrepreneur and former cabinet minister of Rivers State Ken Saro-Wiwa. It came under severe pressure from the military government, and its leaders were detained and harassed. Besides MOSOP, there are several groups operating in the region: the most notable is The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist Western African state that unilaterally declared its independence from Nigeria in May 1967. 

Religion: In Nigeria, there are three main religions recognized by the people: Christianity, Islam and the Indigenous religion. These religions have differences that have brought about unrest as the tolerance level has gotten to a point of polarity. The various unrests have led to national insecurity of the country.

Why do we need to act urgently?

The drama of the Niger Delta is not new and, unfortunately, the tragedy has long been widespread knowledge of international audiences.

a) The region is constantly mutating, and recently a government program of rehabilitation of the region has renewed hope and generated new conflicts between the community. Earlier this year Nine militant groups under the aegis of Reformed Niger Delta Avengers (RNDA) has decided to declare war on oil facilities and to blow up all major oil pipelines and to also attack all oil vessels entering Nigerian waters.

b) The pandemic installed a more challenging environment. And, due to the fluctuation in oil prices, Nigeria faces its biggest recession in the history.

c) Babies in Nigeria face double the risk of dying before they reach a month old if mothers lived near the scene of an oil spill before conceiving.

d) End SARS is a decentralized social movement, and series of mass protests, against police brutality in Nigeria. The slogan calls for the disbanding of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuses. The End SARS mass protests generated hope for change in the population.

c) International oil companies refuse to reply to the requests of the population.

d) Amnesty Nigeria asks for urgent action.

e) External mediation of the conflict is welcome.

f) For many Nigerians, the 2023 polls present an important opportunity for a change in trajectory. The upcoming 2023 elections will have repercussions not only for Nigeria but the whole region, which faces political instability in the wake of several recent West African coups.

g) Cultism has never been so expressive.

h) In 2022 70% of Nigerians reported an interest in leaving the country.

i) If the connections we made earlier this year (scouting March 2022) have no follow up in early 2023 the momentum and access will be lost.

Selected reportage on the Niger Delta

More Than 100 People Killed in Nigerian Oil Refinery Explosion

Huge blast at illegal oil refinery in Nigeria kills scores of people, including children – CNN

How onslaught against oil thieves spiked Kpofire business in Niger Delta- The Guardian

Niger Delta leaders demand republic for region

Nigeria: The Curse of Black Gold – Arte Reportage

VICE returns to the Niger Delta, (the heart of Nigeria's oil production, to see the battle raging for control of oil) – Vice/HBO

Niger Delta Avengers Threaten Fresh Hostilities (Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, Former Militant Leader) –Plus TV Africa

Piracy in Nigeria | People & Power –Aljazeera 


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"Delta Force", Glenn Ellis, 1995

“Niger Delta Militants”, Ross Kemp Extreme World, 2016

"Oil Sabotage on The Niger Delta and its Effects on the Community" [6 July 2016]

"Sweet Crude", Sandy Cioffi. 2009

"The Liquid Black Gold" 1 & 2, Ikenna E. Aniekwe, 2008

“Gangs and Oil”, Vice on HBO, 2012

“Boko Haram and Unnatural Selection", Vice on HBO, 2016

"Piracy in Nigeria" - People & Power, Aljazeera [2016]

"Nigeria: The Curse of Black Gold", Arte reportage [2020]

"VICE returns to the Niger Delta, (the heart of Nigeria's oil production, to see the battle raging for control of oil)", Vice/HBO

"Niger Delta Avengers Threaten Fresh Hostilities" (Mujahid Asari-Dokubo, former militant leader), Plus TV Africa [2021]

"Greed, Betrayal and the Battle for Nigeria's Oil Money", The Ken Saro-Wiwa Story, NewAfrica

"An Honest Explanation of the Nigerian Civil War - The Biafran Story", NewAfrica

"Challenge In Nigeria", 1948, The Travel Film Archive

"Nigeria, 1960's" - Film 44813, Huntley Film Archives