Environmental Governance and Institutional Arrangements in Niger Delta Oil Spills


Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria (in the late 1950s), the country has experienced many episodes of oil spills. Between 1976 and 1996, there were more than 4,800 oil spills in the Niger Delta (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). These oil spills accounted for the loss of more than 1,800,000 barrels of oil (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). In 1998, Nigeria experienced the worst oil spill after an oil-producing company spilled more than 40,000 barrels of oil on the country’s coastline (Egwu 2012). Most of the damages caused by these oil spills occurred in the Niger Delta (this region is the epicenter of the country’s oil industry) (Vallero & Letcher 2012). As expected, these oil spills have hurt the environment. Pollution of water bodies, destruction of natural habitats, and the loss of mangrove forests are a few examples of the environmental effects of oil spills in Nigeria (Vallero & Letcher 2012). Badejo & Nwilo (2012) warns that poor management of such spills may lead to the annihilation of the country’s ecosystem. This is especially true for the Niger Delta region. Badejo & Nwilo (2012) and Chambers (1995) further argue that life in this region has become unbearable for local communities who continue to endure most of the negative impact of the oil spills. Although many researchers say the high numbers of unemployed youth in Nigeria sabotage distribution lines and cause these oil spills (Radojevic & Bashkin 1999), Aroh & Ubong (2010) believe the causes of the oil spills are complex and unclear. Uchegbu (1998) points out that no country has found any long-term solution to curb oil spills (holistically). This problem stems from the difficulty in separating oil spills from exploration and exploitation activities around the world. Nonetheless, at the center of discussions regarding how to contain an oil spill is the role played by institutional arrangements to mitigate such disasters. Here, it is critical to understand that institutional arrangements refer to the policies, systems, and processes that the Nigerian government uses to manage oil spills in the country (UNDP 2013). The United Nations Development Programme adopts the same definition to evaluate how governments legislate and plan for the management of economic and development plans (UNDP 2013). Using the same framework, this paper proposes research to evaluate the role of these arrangements in preventing oil spills in Nigeria.

Research Aim

  • To evaluate the role of institutional arrangements in preventing oil spills in Nigeria

Research Objectives

  • To identify and describe the institutional arrangements for oil spill hazard prevention and management in Nigeria
  • To evaluate the effectiveness and consequences of institutional arrangements for oil spill hazard prevention and management in Nigeria
  • To identify alternative approaches and potential reforms to improve the prevention and management systems of oil spills in Nigeria

Theoretical Underpinning

The global economic appetite for oil and the quest by developing, and developed, nations to expand their economies have exerted a lot of pressure on oil-producing countries to increase their oil supplies (Gee & Payne-Sturges 2004). The environment has absorbed most of this pressure through environmental degradation. The need to formulate and enforce workable policies, systems and processes is therefore important in managing this problem. This need is particularly important for Nigeria because six decades after the discovery of oil, the country still lags behind other oil-producing countries in adopting the best technology, policies, systems, and processes for managing oil spills (Frynas 1999). However, the Nigerian government has made spirited attempts to manage oil exploration and exploitation activities. They exist in the policy and institutional frameworks outlined below

Policy Frameworks

According to the Nigerian Federal Environmental Protection Agency, Nigeria applies several environmental laws to the oil sector, including “Endangered Species Decree Cap 108 LFN 1990, Harmful Waste Cap 165 LFN 1990, and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for the Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971” (Badejo & Nwilo 2012, p. 4). These legislative instruments directly govern the safe disposal of petroleum waste and oil spillage. For example, the Petroleum Regulations Act of 1967 prohibits people and companies from disposing or discharging oil into water bodies (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). The Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulation Act of 1969 also governs how oil companies discharge oil by requiring them to adopt the safest technologies of oil exploration, production, and distribution (that would protect inland waters from oil spillage). Similarly, the Navigable Waters Act of 1968 prohibits companies from discharging oil into terrestrial waters (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). Existing laws also govern oil spillage from mechanical faults through the Petroleum Refining Regulations Act of 1974. This act outlines the construction and operation standards for oil refineries and oil storage tanks to minimize the possibility of oil spills. Comprehensively, these regulations provide a policy framework that seeks to prevent the possible causes of oil spills in Nigeria. Institutional arrangements support these acts.

Institutional Arrangements

As described in this paper, it is critical to understand that institutional arrangements refer to the policies, systems, and processes that the Nigerian government uses to manage oil spills in the Niger Delta. These arrangements involve several state agencies that formulate and enforce these governance frameworks. The Nigerian Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) is the main legislative body that formulates and enforces oil spill management laws (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). The National Environmental Policy (NEP) is among its most instrumental tools for undertaking this duty. The NEP plays an active role in providing a comprehensive framework for managing Nigeria’s environmental and natural resources. Some of its key objectives include providing guidance about oil spill management, to oil companies and other stakeholders in the energy sector, and improving the coordination of different agencies in achieving the same purpose (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). The communication of national environmental policies to all oil companies in Nigeria is also a key role of the NEP (Moffat & Linden 1995). To complement the role of the NEP and prevent oil spillage in Nigeria, the Nigerian government established Clean Nigeria Associates (a group of 11 oil-producing companies in the West African country). The government is also part of the group). Established in 1981, this group has developed the capacity to manage oil spills (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). A government decree of 1982 (Environmental Impact Assessment) mainly supports the activities of Clean Nigeria Associates. Broadly, the purpose of the organization is to promote the protection of the country’s environmental heritage by involving all stakeholders (mostly oil companies) to support this goal (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). An effective strategy pursued by this agency is the maintenance of a speedy response to oil spills by supporting the development of a rapid response system among its members (Ariweriokuma 2011). Besides this goal, the agency also helps oil companies to manage third-tier oil spills by providing training services and funding research on the same (at the request of the members) (Manby 1999). Lastly, Clean Nigeria Associate helps its members by providing waste management services to clean oil spills whenever they occur (Ariweriokuma 2011). This body has changed how oil-producing companies do business in Nigeria by requiring them to conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA) before they get a license to operate (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). EIA policies state that oil companies cannot pursue any project without considering how they would affect the environment. The requirement to conduct environmental impact assessments has yielded mixed results in Nigeria (Ariweriokuma 2011). On one hand, the policy has made it mandatory for oil companies to consider environmental issues before they undertake any activity that would affect the environment, but on the other hand, there is little evidence to suggest that practical considerations of environmental concerns occur (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). Therefore, EIAs seem to exist only on paper. Nonetheless, the regulatory institutions, described above, serve different purposes in the oil sector. The intended study would explore the roles, limitations, and efficacies of these institutions in managing oil spills in Nigeria.

Effectiveness of Policy and Institutional Arrangements

Already this proposal shows that Nigeria has formulated different laws to govern the exploration, exploitation, and distribution of oil. However, multinational oil corporations have ignored most of these laws because of poor enforcement. For example, while the law requires oil companies to ensure their pipelines meet safety standards, few oil pipelines pass the integrity test (Ajayi & Ikporukpo 2005). The poor implementation of such laws explains why 50% of oil spills in the West African country emerge from the corrosion of oil pipelines (Frynas 2000). Interestingly, many oil companies create the impression that human sabotage accounts for the majority of the oil spills (Frynas 2000). Adding to this problem, Fingas (2011) says most technological advancements in oil exploration and exploitation have outpaced these laws. Coupled with corruption, these problems largely impede the effectiveness of environmental governance and institutional arrangements, introduced by the Nigerian government, to manage oil spills.


  • Common Pool Resource Theory (CPR): The CPR theory is relevant to the understanding of institutional management of oil spills because it explains how institutions can foster collective action to improve natural resource exploitation. From a policy standpoint, the CPR theory helps to identify and analyze policy frameworks that make institutions successful (Ornitz & Champ 2002). In assessing the requirements for successful institutional interventions, in resource management, the CPR theory also helps to identify systems, policies, and values that institutions need to exploit to manage oil spills. The CPR theory exists from the understanding that most users and the controllers of resource systems could collaborate and protect the environment from the adverse effects of oil spills. This theory assumes that resource systems can be improved using readily available information (Breton 2009). Here, governments may use tools like technological innovations, policy improvements (and the likes) to achieve this goal (Ornitz & Champ 2002). The same theory assumes a predictable flow of units and a small spatial extent for resource systems (Breton 2009). An important lesson that most people can learn from this theory is the potential to diminish the value of common resources through mismanagement or inappropriate/ineffective institutional arrangements (Cheremisinoff & Davletshin 2010).
  • Institutional theory: The institutional theory plays a significant role in understanding institutional interventions in the governance of oil spills in Nigeria because it explains the role of institutional legitimacy for economic activities (Tuler, S & Webler 2008). The institutional theory extends the role of institutions beyond the formulation of policies and systems to the development of acceptable social and cultural systems. As such, this theory postulates that many institutions not only guide how people should use natural resources but also provide legitimacy for organizational activities when doing so (Tuler, S & Webler 2008). Through this framework, the institutional theory provides a framework for understanding how oil spill management affects the organizational legitimacy of oil companies. This framework helps to understand pressing problems regarding why many oil companies continue with their oil exploration activities after flouting existing legislation surrounding the management of oil spills.

Alternative Solutions

The lack of proper coordination among governmental and non-governmental agencies in Nigeria (to curb oil spill management) has led some researchers to suggest increased collaboration among governmental and non-governmental agencies (Badejo & Nwilo 2012). Other researchers propose an increase in government funding to improve the quality of research and response to oil spills (Picou & Marshall 2002). Specifically, these researchers propose the improvement of oil spill models (Picou & Marshall 2002). Most of them have proposed the strategic environmental management model as an alternative framework for guiding oil spill management in Nigeria. Although the proposed study will explore the likely impacts, limitations, and barriers of this model, it is important to say many countries have used the strategic environmental management model to inform future economic activities (Goldstein 2002). The concept advocates for the uncovering of profit opportunities, through the adoption of environmental management techniques (sustainable development) (Egwu 2012).

The strategic environmental management concept applies to oil exploration and exploitation activities because observers have accused the Nigerian government and oil producers of ignoring the environmental impact of oil exploration and exploitation activities (Goldstein 2002; Coppola 2011). By adopting the strategic environmental management concept, a new framework of operations emerges in this sector. This framework outlines a solution touted by many environmentalists regarding the dangers of embracing end-of-pipe strategies for managing environmental disasters, such as oil spills (Mcentire 2007; Okut-Uma 1999).

Research Framework/Methodology

Research Design

The research design for the proposed paper will be the social institutionalism approach. This design would evaluate the emergence, development, and consequences of public and private institutional policies on the efficiency of oil spill management, from a social and institutional approach (Tallberg 2006). This design pays close attention to the initiatives of public and private institutions, such as Clean Nigeria Associates and the National Environmental Policy (NEP), in meeting social and economic goals (Tallberg 2006). From a theoretical standpoint, this research design incorporates the macro-theoretical concepts of institutional governance (systems and policies) and combines them with middle-range theoretical approaches to understanding institutional efficiencies (Tallberg 2006). The ideas that inform policies and systemic frameworks for oil spill management would be the linking point of the analytical framework. Overall, this research design forms part of an emerging analytical framework in social sciences that encompasses an interdisciplinary approach for understanding institutional arrangements and their effects on natural sciences, like oil spill management research (Brinton & Nee 2001).

Data Collection

The data collection method would gather information from interviews, and observation. The research would use interviews to gather the views of planners, managers, and responders in oil spill disasters (stakeholders involved in response planning and implementation). The interviews would be virtual and non-virtual, depending on the accessibility of the respondents. The observation technique would gather data regarding the efficacy of environmental governance techniques and institutional arrangements in Nigeria, by observing how the government managed past oil spills.


Based on the nature of the data collection techniques discussed above, industry experts constitute the largest group of respondents for the proposed study. The experts would come from institutions that engage in oil spill management, (government agencies included). These groups of experts would provide a comprehensive approach to addressing the research question because they cover environmental, governmental, and energy sectors. There would be minimal bias in searching for representatives in these sectors. The only criterion for the respondents to participate in the research would be extensive knowledge of the subject areas. Based on the logistical requirements for conducting interviews, the proposed study intends to recruit about ten respondents from each agency cluster (environmental, governmental, and energy). In sum, there will be 30 respondents in the study.

Data Analysis

Since the proposed study intends to apply natural science methods to a social and institutional problem, the data analysis process would adopt four basic steps of data analysis. The first step would involve the development of a computerized matrix for analyzing data through a factor analysis process. This process would lead to the development of factor solutions for understanding the social perspectives of the research problem. The second step involves the analysis of interview transcripts. This process should help to interpret the statistical output of the interview findings and come up with a reliable narrative that explains the social perspective described in the interview. The third process involves the development of a social narrative after combining the results of the first and second steps. The last step involves seeking clarity from the respondents regarding the social narratives that resemble their views. Based on their responses, the researcher would revise the narratives to reflect the authentic opinions of the respondents. Through an assessment of the above process, it is critical to mention that the factor analysis method mainly informs the data analysis process. Typically, this process involves the study of a few variables that inform a larger underlying phenomenon (Tuler & Webler 2008). Indeed, different people have unique influences on social and scientific perspectives. Therefore, if one person has a strong influence on one perspective, he would likely have a low influence on other perspectives. The factor analysis method would help to ascertain the degree of influence that a person has on one perspective (factor loading scores). A loading score of +1.00 would imply a significant similarity with a perspective. A score of “0” implies the lack of similarity between a person’s view and a perspective. Lastly, a score of -1.00 implies an opposite view of a given perspective.


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