The Implementation Deficit in the Niger Delta

Subject: Environment
Pages: 30
Words: 10674
Reading time:
42 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction: Environment and development in the Niger Delta

“The Niger Delta has an enormously rich natural endowment in the form of land, water, forests, and fauna. These assets, however, have been subjected to extreme degradation due to oil prospecting. For many people, this loss has been a direct route into poverty, as natural resources have traditionally been primary sources of sustenance”

This literature review examines existing literature under three areas, namely: Niger Delta oil; Institutional arrangements, and Deficits in the Niger Delta. The aim is to analyze the Deficits of oil-related regulations in the Niger Delta and the existing gaps in the current literature on the emerging socio-environmental deprivations of the region in the context of oil exploitation. Deficits here refer to the deficiency in enforcing oil-related laws on the government’s part and compliance on the part of oil companies involved. National and international oil-related regulations are supposed to govern all oil-related activities such as oil explorations, production, drilling, refining, and storage. This chapter will also explain how this proposed new research will contribute to the area of study.

Niger Delta Oil

The Niger Delta has the largest deposits of oil in Nigeria and covers approximately 7.5% of the total Nigerian landmass, encompassing an area of 112,000 km2. The region comprises 9 oil-producing states (Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers) (Figure1) situated in the south-south and south-east geo-political zones of the country and is home to about 35 million people (Ibaba, 2012, Lange, 2004, NDES, 1999 ).

Political Map of the Niger Delta Area
Figure 1. Political Map of the Niger Delta Area

Akwa –Ibom, Rivers, and Delta states are currently the largest oil-producing states in Nigeria (Ikelegbe, 2005). From Table 1, it is evident from the quantity of spilled oil in the last decade that these states have suffered the most from oil exploration compared to the other oil-producing states like Edo, Ondo, and Imo state. Before delving into the details surrounding the impact of these oil-drilling activities, it is, first important to understand the oil drilling activities

Process of Extracting Crude Oil

Historically, the first commercial quantity of crude oil was discovered in 1956 in Oloibiri, present-day Bayelsa state (Omofonmwan and Odia, 2009). Since the first oil production drill site, over 1,500 oil wells have been developed in approximately 160 oil fields. Nearly 7,000 kilometers of pipelines and flowlines and 275 flow stations are operated by more than 13 oil companies (UNDP, 2006). Studies have shown that all stages of oil operations including explorations, productions, transportation, and storage result in the destruction of the natural environment and the livelihood of the indigenes whose survival depend on swamps and land such as displacing farmlands to the installation of oil infrastructure or oil spills (Osuoka, 2003, Aghalino and Eyinla, 2009, Dung et al., 2008, Ibaba, 2012, Wattenberg et al., 2015, Nwilo and Badejo, 2005). Therefore, it is necessary to develop and implement safe practices for the separation and purification of crude oil to protect and sustain the natural ecosystem and biodiversity (Wattenberg et al., 2015), considering oil operations and associated impacts are increasing every day (Nwilo and Badejo, 2005, Kadafa, 2012).

The extraction of crude oil requires the deployment of various specialized techniques. These techniques produce petroleum waste from drilling fluids, which chemically contaminate land and water when discharged into the environment. O’Rourke and Connolly, (2003) suggest that these techniques physically alter the environment, affect the population of migratory species and impose health and safety risks on communities. After the extraction, the crude oil undergoes the purification process and is separated to yield the final products, such as Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), petrol, diesel, etc. These products are then collected and transported to various depots for storage.

Before the Environmental Crisis

The coastal area of the Niger delta houses more than eighty percent of the oil operations. Before the discovery and exploration of oil, this area was characterized by natural fresh and healthy water. In fact, Between the 1800s and 1900s, when the protectorates of northern and southern Nigeria were amalgamated and before the discovery and production of oil in commercial quantities (Abel-Smith and Titmuss, 1956), the Niger delta was referred to as the ‘food basket’ (Ibe, 1996). Agriculture, including farming and fishing, was the dominant livelihood of the indigenous people (Ibe, 1996). Being a region with high-quality agricultural lands, vast forests, extensive freshwater swamps, and an immense labor force with over 36% of its population aged 30-69; it would be expected to be one of the most developed parts of Nigeria (NDDC). Paradoxically, despite the abundance of these resources, the region is distinguished by high levels of deprivation and underdevelopment See (Obi, 2014, UNDP, 2006, Babalola, 2014).

Nature of the Environmental Crisis

Since oil exploration began, the Niger delta has continuously been characterized by environmental and ecological degradation. This is due to the indiscriminate manner in which the development has taken place and the lack of concern for the environment by the multinationals involved (Allen 2006; Allen 2011; Edo 2012; Nwilo and Badejo 2005). According to Opukri and Ibada, (2008), the oil activities in the area have resulted in situations where individuals are unable to actualize their interests or aspirations. For example, fishing (a main economic activity in the region) is declining because oil has caused the death of aquatic life by minimizing oxygen levels in the water (Allen 2006). Oil-based ecological disasters have also killed microorganisms in the soil, thereby affecting agriculture (Nwilo and Badejo 2005). Michael Watts in his book “Curse of the black gold” (Watts and Kashi 2008) shows confrontational images of Sludge Rivers and mounds of waste in polluted water bodies. These communities also have shorelines eroded because of the high volume of deep-sea operations. It is difficult to acquire precise oil spill data, but studies have continually shown a controversy in the data provided.

The total area used for oil operations is less than 5% of the Delta region. However, the associated adverse effects remain very prominent in terms of their negative impact on water pollution and land degradation (UNDP, 2006, NOSDRA, 2012). Incidents of pollution also have a long legacy of destroying the mangrove forest in the area. Oil exploitation has depleted biodiversity; these can be seen in ramp sites and flow stations and terminals (Kadafa 2012). Other activities include the legal and illegal logging brought on by increased accessibility to forests. Nwilo and Badejo, (2005) and Kadafa, (2012) report on the extent of land degradation, contamination of water bodies, forest destruction, and biodiversity loss. Other studies indicate a reduction in resource potential caused by induced fire (Osuji and Ukale, 2005, Aghalino and Eyinla, 2009, Oteh and Eze, 2012); these fire outbreaks also lead to deforestation and the destruction of farmlands. Substantial oil production has also polluted the Niger delta by way of gas flaring and constant oil spill incidents (Adebayo and Dada, 2008, Allen, 2006, Ibaba, 2012, Nubia., 2008, Nwilo and Badejo, 2005).

Showing the Number of spills in the Niger Delta Between 1979 and 2005
Table 1: Showing the Number of spills in the Niger Delta Between 1979 and 2005

The UNDP (2006), reports that a total of 6817 oil spills occurred between 1976 and 2001 with a loss of approximately three million barrels of oil into the environment. Approximately twenty-five percent of the petroleum products were spilled in swamps and onshore and sixty-nine offshore. According to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), about 1.89 million barrels of crude oil were spilled into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996 out of a total of 2.4 million barrels spilled countrywide. The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) has since 1989 reported an average of 221 spills per year in its areas of operation, involving about 7,350 barrels, with this figure increasing yearly since the date of the first report (SPDC, 2012). In recent times, however, spills within the Niger Delta have been mostly attributed to sabotage, vandalism, and oil theft commonly referred to as bunkering. According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), about 2,400 oil spill incidents reported between 2006 and 2010 were the result of sabotage and bunkering (NOSDRA, 2012). Sabotage and bunkering are usually carried out in the Niger delta’s extensive mangrove forests, brackish swamp forests, and rain forests. The Niger Delta mangrove forest is estimated to cover approximately 9000km2 of land, making it the largest wetland in Africa and the third-largest mangrove in the world. The region is known for its richness in biodiversity as well as its natural resources.

Other sources of degradation reported in the area result from gas flaring (Ishisone, 2004, Dung et al., 2008, Hassan and Kouhy, 2013).

co2 emissions from Nigerian gas flaring
Table 2: co2 emissions from Nigerian gas flaring, 1940-2010

From the table above, it is evident that in the past decade there has been an average CO2 emission of 45 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in the Niger delta. Oil operations produce about ninety-five associated waste gases. Waste gases are hazardous emissions of gaseous products of hydrogen and aerosol particles of unburned fuels. They are composed of mainly carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and air toxins such as methane and benzene. (Hassan and Kouhy, 2013). From an ecological perspective, the most hazardous components include methane, nitrogen, and sulfur oxides (Howarth et al., 2011). These pollutants contain suspected and known carcinogens such as benzene and have serious health effects. Gas flaring is common practice in the Niger delta by multinationals and it involves the burning of natural gas and petroleum hydrocarbons (Ishisone, 2004) in a flare of stacks. (WorldBank, 2004) suggest that Nigeria tops the list of the countries responsible for 75% of gas flaring emissions in the world. These emissions alter vegetation and disrupt the fertility of the soil. The most evident effect of gas flaring is in climate change affecting the ozone layer of the region, which in turn is responsible for the acid rain earlier mentioned. For the past few decades, these ecologically damaging activities have accelerated the deterioration of the environment and in turn imposed socio-economic constraints which have a major influence on levels of poverty, social conflicts, and underdevelopment.

Comprehensively, according to the IMF (2012) and Akpofure (2000), the major contributors to environmental degradation are ‘oil pollution from spills, oil well blow-outs, gas flaring, oil ballast discharges, and improper disposal of drilling mud from petroleum prospecting’. These practices can modify the ecosystem by causing damage to aquatic life, decreasing fishery resources, and decreasing farm yields (Allen, 2011). The social effects of degradation appear below

Social Effects of Degradation

The Niger Delta region is home to over 35 million people, most of who depend on their environment as the principal or sole source of livelihood, either through fishing, agriculture, or the gathering of forest products. The multidimensional effects of degradation experienced in the Niger delta directly link to the alarming rates of unemployment. (Okoh and Egbon, 1999) suggest that with the destruction of sources of income from other productive activities, farmers and fishermen become unemployed. According to NBS (2009), poverty (people living on less than a dollar a day) has risen across the nine states from an average of 5.4% in 1980 to over 20.19% in 2004. The diagram below shows the poverty levels in each state.

Nigerian states

Unemployment decisively increased the opportunities for violence and sabotage of oil infrastructure (Opukri and Ibaba, 2008, O’Rourke and Connolly, 2003). Idealistic youths take arms and join military groups (Obi, 2014, Kew and Phillips, 2013, O’Rourke and Connolly, 2003). These studies suggest that instead of a way of life of economic stagnation, unemployment, and malnutrition, the youths engage in illegal activities for mainly financial and political gain, such as hostage taking. Other studies suggest that compared to farming or fishing, the youth of this region are capable of acquiring wealth from these illegal activities. The emerging effects of these social constraints affect sustainability in every capacity. (Aluko, 2004) and (Cotula) (2006) emphasize that the development of oil-producing communities needs to be sustainable. The literature cited views lack of social amenities such as employment, schools, hospitals, and good roads as problems that require collaborative efforts of the government and people. Paradoxically, oil revenue generated from the region cannot be linked to development in the region. The quality of life experienced in the Niger Delta is a contraction of the vast array of resources of the region.


Different factors contribute to the existing situation of the Niger Delta. The literature identifies gaps about the deficits and implementation of oil-related legislation and policies, however, limited information exists on the role of institutions that govern and enforce these laws. It is also instructive to understand the role of civil society in achieving compliance with oil-related legislation. Despite existing environmental oil-related policies, degradation, poverty, and underdevelopment of the region frequently continue to be a critical feature of oil operations particularly in the Niger Delta (Ibaba, 2012, Watts, 2004, Allen, 2006). The current indigent state of the environment and its impact on the indigenous people living in the Niger delta is a source of both public concern and political debate, demanding new research to shed light on causes, impact, current arrangements, and potential future responses. A thorough understanding of institutions, institutional arrangements, oil companies, environmental policies, and practices set to govern oil pollution is required. In a bid to ensure that natural resources enhance economic development and facilitate environmental sustainability, states must design and implement institutional frameworks to streamline compliance and ensure sustainability (Mehlum et al., 2006, Edo, 2012). This scenario is not widespread in Africa despite its abundance of natural resources. In the oil regions of the African continent, this obligation is by no means commensurate with the scale of the resource extraction impact.

Institutional Arrangements

In the context of this study, institutional arrangements refer to policy measures taken by environmental authorities to stop the ecological degradation in the Niger delta. This review focuses on these arrangements because they embody government efforts to manage the ecological crisis. Furthermore, it would be difficult to understand the institutional implementation issues surrounding the Niger Delta crisis if we do not understand the institutional arrangements issues first (Shaw 1984). Institutional arrangements are designed to protect local communities and the environment from the negative effects of oil exploration. They also seek to balance these interests with those of private companies and other sectors, which have a commercial interest in oil drilling activities (Shaw 1984). Institutional arrangements are conceived from existing environmental laws. The Nigerian government has domesticated some of these laws by ratifying them or enacting them into its national laws. To carry out its functions, the government depends on different institutions.


Edo (2012) observes that enforcing environmental laws should be an elaborate process, which should have enough relevant authorities to monitor compliance. This observation stems from studies that show that the lack of adequate numbers of authorities could undermine compliance standards (Cleaver 2001). Indeed, as Edo (2012) observes, compliance standards are bound to suffer from institutional failures if the subjects of the compliance laws could successfully challenge the authorities mandated to enforce the laws in the first place. Environmental agencies could solve many compliance issues, such as inadequate access to company records and documents, by allowing authorities to scrutinize confidential company records (Cleaver 2001). For example, if an oil company could prevent an environmental agency from accessing its company books, it would be difficult for the agency to know if the company complies with existing environmental laws. It is also important to ensure that these environmental agencies can take legal action against companies that violate the laws (Cleaver 2001). At the same time, an institutional framework should outline the roles and duties of each environmental agency in the compliance process (Cleaver 2001). Without such a framework, it would be difficult for oil companies to know which environmental agency is responsible for making sure they comply with each of the various environmental laws. Based on the instrumental roles played by institutions in managing the ecological crisis in the Niger Delta, it is pertinent to understand the roles and characteristics of institutions/agencies in the Niger Delta region.

Federal Ministry of Environment

The Federal Ministry of Environment operates at the national level. It is the ministerial body mandated to legislate and supervise the implementation of environmental laws in the Niger Delta region and other parts of the country (Ngoran 2011). Resource management and supervision of key agencies are fundamental duties of the ministry (Ngoran 2011).

National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA)

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) is the main federally appointed agency mandated to manage oil spills in the Niger Delta (Ngoran 2011). It was founded in 2006 to implement the government’s National Oil spill Contingency plan, which is the government’s blueprint to manage oil spills through spill containment, environmental recovery, and environmental restoration. This body undertakes its duties in line with international standards for oil spill management and as stipulated by the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness (Ngoran 2011). So far, it has intensified efforts to improve compliance with existing laws and regulations governing oil management in Nigeria. It has also been championing the use of environmentally friendly drilling equipment that would not have a high carbon footprint (Wantchekon 2002).

Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)

In 2000, the Nigerian government created the Niger Delta Development Commission to minimize oil spill incidents in the region (especially those that occur from vandalism) (Ngoran 2011). The agency has since promoted pre-emptive measures to control oil spills in the region (Wantchekon 2002). For example, through its inception, the country made the first complete assessment of the delta, instead of efforts to improve the physical and socio-economic development of the region (Ngoran 2011). The purpose of this assessment was to prepare plans to improve the physical development of the region. Other functions of the Niger Delta Development Commission include identifying factors that impede the development of the region, assessing and reporting economic activities undertaken by oil companies in the delta, managing ecological and environmental problems arising in the delta, and liaising with oil companies in the region to reduce incidents of pollution and exploitation in the delta (Ngoran 2011). Most of the commission’s roles concern oil exploration and production. They are part of the commission’s plan to manage all forms of pollution in the delta region. Comparatively, while NOSDRA mainly focuses on preventing ecological crises that come from oil spills, NDDC focuses on mitigating ecological crises that emerge from vandalism. Beneath these two organizations, different states have industry-specific environmental agencies (Ngoran 2011). The following diagram depicts this fact.

State and industry-specific environmental agencies


Wantchekon (2002) observes that, as part of policing environmental management in the Niger Delta region, the Nigerian government has to have the right laws and regulations in place. The Nigerian Federal Environmental Protection Agency was created to oversee many petroleum-related laws and regulations that govern the activities of industry players in the oil industry. Some of these laws include the endangered Species Decree Cap 108 LFN 1990, Mineral Oil (Safety) Regulations, 1963, and the harmful Waste Cap 165 LFN 1990 (Ngoran 2011). Besides these laws, existing conventions support their implementation. They include the Convention on the Prevention of Marine pollution Damage, 1972, and the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage, 1971” (Ngoran 2011).

One of the most important laws in the context of this study is the Oil Pollution Act. Experts, such as Cleaver (2001) and Wantchekon (2002) attribute Nigeria’s dismal response to oil spills to the poor implementation of this Act. The Act outlines specific measures, which government bodies and oil corporations should take when oil spills occur (Ngoran 2011). For example, it outlines how health authorities and environmental agencies should evacuate communities. Similarly, it explains the role of oil stakeholders in cleaning such spills. Therefore, the Act covers different aspects of oil spill management, such as oil spill prevention, mitigation, and clean-up. The government introduced it to reduce the number of oil spills in the Niger Delta region (Wantchekon 2002). A critical part of this legislation was to make sure that the state has enough financial resources to manage oil spills and compensate local communities affected by such incidents (Smith 2004). For example, the legislation complemented environmental financial resource management plans. There were also provisions to make sure that the federal government has adequate technical expertise for managing oil spills when they occur. This recommendation aligns with auxiliary measures to make sure that industry players have prevention and preparedness plans for oil spill management (Ngoran 2011). Tankers and inland oil facilities are also included in this legislation because the law requires them to develop individual response plans for oil spill management (Ngoran 2011). Collectively, the 1990 Oil Pollution Act should enhance the national response to oil spill disasters (Ngoran 2011).

The Environmental Impact Assessment Decree

The Nigerian government introduced the Environmental Impact Assessment Decree to promote ecological sustainability in Nigeria (Ngoran 2011). The Nigerian government introduced the decree to control the activities of commercial enterprises in the country by subjecting them to an environmental assessment before it allows them to do business. Therefore, any project that has an environmental impact is subject to this legislation. In line with this requirement, the Environmental Impact Assessment Decree should undertake a short-term, long-term, and cumulative environmental impact assessment of oil company activities in the Niger Delta region (Ngoran 2011). The main purpose of this process is to mitigate the impact of their activities on the environment. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency often oversees the activities of this institution. It operationalizes this law by giving businesses an environmental compliance license to carry on with business. Companies that fail the environmental assessment process do not get this license and are prohibited from operating.

How Environmental Agencies/Institutions Operationalize Environmental laws

Whenever countries formulate new laws, they should have a plan for implementation (Ngoran 2011). The implementation process often outlines a set of actions overseen by the government to make sure that all concerned companies comply with prevailing regulatory policies (Edo 2012). In the context of the Niger delta case study, the Nigerian government introduced new environmental laws and created new institutions to stop acts of environmental degradation and threats to public health (Edo 2012). The government intended to enforce environmental laws through the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) (Edo 2012). This unit is part of the country’s Ministry of Environment. The National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) is another body that should make sure that oil companies (and all existing stakeholders in the environmental management sector) adhere to the above-mentioned laws and regulations (Edo 2012). NESREA differs from FEPA because its functions mainly concentrate on the implementation of laws (Edo 2012).

To ensure that all oil companies comply with environmental laws, Edo (2012) says the government could inspect their production processes or negotiate with them to change environmentally unfriendly practices. Edo (2012) adds that, for the Nigerian government to realize the goal of sustainable development, it should always ensure that western oil companies adhere to existing environmental management laws. However, a common misconception promotes the belief that enforcing environmental laws would automatically lead to the discontinuation of environmental degradation plans (Cleaver 2001). It is a misconception because implementation is instrumental in realizing the goals of a specific legal provision (Edo 2012). However, Edo (2012) says that the quest for profit is often stronger than the quest to conserve the environment. Theoretically, the Nigerian legal structure envisions this challenge and makes sure that all oil companies follow environmental laws by subjecting them to different compliance units and outlining the standards government would use to measure compliance levels (Edo 2012). The government also specifies the metrics that would be used to evaluate their technological inputs and carry out an environmental impact assessment (Aluko 2004). It also describes the requirements for self-monitoring and record-keeping by stating different company performance criteria that are subject to environmental regulations (Cleaver 2001). Lastly, it describes what infringement of these regulations entails (Aluko 2004).

Although these institutions are fully-fledged, they have made limited strides in fulfilling their mandate (Frynas 2000). In fact, according to Edo (2012), they have perpetrated a “sacred cow” culture in the Nigerian oil sector, so that the companies they should supervise pollute the environment and contribute to ecological degradation with impunity. Frynas (2000) argues that the ties between foreign capital and Nigerian businesses compromise the integrity of environmental agencies in the country (a deeper assessment of this view will be highlighted in later sections of this paper). Nonetheless, the Nigerian government has shown its intention to review the operational standards that govern the activities of oil companies in the Niger Delta region (Ngoran 2011). This political will has only thrived on the backdrop of pressure from civil society groups (Frynas 2000). However, nothing much has yet changed, as the government has failed to show the political will to translate its intention (or existing laws) into action (Ngoran 2011). According to Edo (2012), the explanation for this institutional failure lies in the advantage that foreign businesses have over the Nigerian government and their constant threats to withdraw funding or minimize their business engagements with the Nigerian government (Frynas 2000). In this way, western powers often blackmail the Nigerian government into accepting a culture of mediocrity, especially in terms of enforcing environmental laws to control the activities of western-based oil companies (Edo 2012). It is not surprising that the same companies pay huge fines when they commit environmental offenses in other parts of the world, but do not seem to bother what they pay Nigeria for similar offenses (Edo 2012). This is why Green Net (2015) observes that:

“The cost of spilling oil in Nigeria may be a stain on the company’s reputation, but not on its profit margins. The recent oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico cost British Petroleum (BP) a total of $40bn, but in Nigeria for an oil spill of the same magnitude or more, the affected individuals and families will get bags of rice, beans, and blankets and bread” (p. 4).

A deeper analysis of the reasons for institutional failures will appear in later sections of this report because it is important to understand the role of existing partnerships between state and civil actors as a requirement to comprehend the institutional failures in environmental management in Niger delta.

Political Modernisation: Collaboration between State and Civil Actors

This review has already shown that several state-appointed agencies manage oil spills in the Niger Delta. They include the “Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Federal Ministry of Environment, the State Ministries of Environment and the National Maritime Authority” (Ngoran 2011, p. 22). These agencies have made tremendous strides in improving public-private partnerships in the Niger Delta region to minimize the incidents and severity of oil disasters. Such partnerships have resulted in the creation of new organizations such as the Clean Nigeria Associates (Ngoran 2011), a partnership between 11 international oil companies (drilling for oil in Nigeria), and the federally appointed environmental management agencies. Among other functions, Clean Nigeria Associates strives to minimize pollution caused by liquid hydrocarbons (Ngoran 2011). The Niger Delta Environment Survey is another institutional body created from a partnership between the government and oil companies in Nigeria. It emerged from a strong partnership between Shell Corporation, the Nigerian government, and all members of the Oil Producers Trade Section (Ngoran 2011). Partnerships between the Nigerian government and oil corporations have unique goals. However, their primary goal is to provide a complete description of the ecological zones most affected by oil-based economic activities (Cleaver 2001). Secondary roles include providing comprehensive reviews of the state of the environment, evaluating the relationship between the environment and people’s livelihoods, and providing a comprehensive review of the relationship between land use and the environment, to create a baseline for future planning and development (Ngoran 2011). Lastly, such partnerships aim to provide an indicative plan for developing affected areas that have suffered from oil drilling activities. They also work towards providing a master plan for managing these ecological zones (Ngoran 2011).

Legislative Gaps

This paper has already shown that many oil companies have destroyed the ecological system in the Niger delta. Their activities have caused several social uprisings in the region (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Shell Corporation has endured the worst of the crisis. Indeed, for a long time, local Ogoni people opposed the company’s drilling activities in their native land because of its ecological impact (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). They attacked the company’s employees and burnt some of their equipment. Shell Corporation later sought the assistance of the Federal Government of Nigeria to quell the crisis (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). In response, the government sent a contingent of army officers who used deadly force against these locals, forcing them to stop their protests (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Such conflicts are usually borne out of legislative and institutional failures in managing the ecological crisis in the Niger delta. Indeed, there is a serious implementation problem in Nigeria because existing environmental laws never lead to the apprehension of company executives; nor did they minimize the ecological effects of oil drilling in the Niger Delta. Furthermore, some of the agencies entrusted to implement these laws did not know about their provisions (Ngoran 2011). On the flip side, agencies that know and understand these laws lack the resources to implement them. Increased partnerships between the federal government and oil companies have also created a “closed group of elites” who are insensitive to the plight of local communities who continue to suffer the adverse effects of pollution and ecological degradation in their communities. This injustice happens when the government does not punish oil companies for contributing to environmental degradation. Ngoran (2011) says the existing industry governance framework has stripped local communities of any constitutional or statutory rights that they would use to stop the further ecological degradation by oil companies. The government rarely consults local communities when it plans to license oil-drilling activities in selected areas (Ngoran 2011). These institutional and governance weaknesses have created an increased number of badly designed and poorly maintained oil facilities that are partially responsible for the high number of oil spills in the Niger delta and inadequate responses when incidents occur (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Such ineffectiveness occurs because of poor legislation or the failure of government inspectors to supervise the activities of oil companies. The government has played a role in abating this problem because it has made insufficient investments in the sector. This problem has created a bigger issue, the lack of critical infrastructure improvements to minimize the impact of oil spills (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). The Niger delta ecological system has suffered under these institutional and legislative weaknesses.

According to Collier (2002), corruption in Nigeria is also responsible for the government’s legislative failure to “punish” oil companies for environmental degradation. Similarly, corruption has impeded efforts by local communities and organizations to obtain proper compensation from oil companies that continue to cause environmental degradation. This is why Ngoran (2011, p. 27) says, “The law provision that deals with compensation presents a lot of loopholes. This section of the law has been bastardized and relegated to the background as corruption has been the order of the day.” For example, wealthy oil companies are often given small fines for large-scale environmental destruction offenses. Sometimes, a simple clean-up process would set the oil companies free. The ineffectiveness of the law in dispensing justice to local communities means that there is a lot of work that the government needs to do to improve the judicial framework because court officials are prone to bribery and slow dispensation of justice. Furthermore, Collier (2002) argues key national oil corporations, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, lack autonomy because political interests affect their decisions. They are unable to make timely decisions to minimize oil spills or other ecological disasters (Collier 2002). For example, they are often slow in deciding the right response action to take in the event of an oil spill. Such incompetency increases the oil spill periods (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010).

The above-mentioned problems persist in Nigeria, despite the requirements for state-appointed environmental agencies to abide by internationally recognized laws of environmental management (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Ngoran (2011) believes that the limited technical capacity of these institutions to enforce these laws is the biggest undoing of the Nigerian government because it has failed to provide the right institutional environment for these agencies to undertake their duties. Furthermore, although the oil industry is very lucrative and contributes a big percentage to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P.), the main agencies mandated to manage oil development in the country remain grossly underfunded (Collier 2002). When these factors combine with the shallow rule of law in the country, oil spill incidents continue to increase.

Historical and socio-political factors that have stunted local development have further compounded environmental neglect and degradation in the Niger Delta region (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). For example, high rates of unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy have contributed to environmental neglect in the region. For example, Lagos has a poverty rate of 48%, while states in the Niger delta have poverty rates of more than 70% (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Infrastructure underdevelopment has not helped the situation either. However, this is to the undoing of the federal government. Nonetheless, poverty levels in the Niger delta are lower than in other impoverished regions of Nigeria, such as Northern Nigeria. Unlike these regions, the gap between the rich and the poor is more apparent in the Niger Delta (Ngoran 2011). Ferguson (2008) takes a closer look at this argument, suggesting that we should not generalize poverty in Africa because most of the notable cases of poverty in the continent take place in a contextual sense. Therefore, he notes that poverty is more of an inequality issue, as opposed to a social or economic one (Ferguson 2008). He adds that social relationships have a huge role to play in increasing inequality. Using this argument, he disagrees with the idea of perceiving Africa as a collection of people who live on one continent (Ferguson 2008). He believes that this idea breeds a greater social injustice of perceiving poverty as a naturalized characteristic of the continent (Ferguson 2008). This belief system has further created a bigger perception that Africa is a section in a larger global ranking system, as opposed to a place. Particularly, people have often seen the continent as being at the bottom tier of the global rankings of development, especially because people have compared it to other developing parts of the world, such as South America and the Middle East (Prebisch 1950). This has in turn shifted the global attention from how Africa functions and instead bundled it as a section of a global ranking system (Ferguson 2008). Some of the details highlighted in this paper depart from this view and explore the role of the institutional environment in explaining some of the perennial problems in Africa, such as poverty and poor governance (Ferguson 2008). However, to explain the high levels of poverty in resource-abundant countries, it is important to explore the theoretical background of the matter and its relationship with institutional failures and poor governance structures.

Institutional and Governance Theories

This paper has already shown that Nigeria has many ecological and social welfare management problems arising from the poor management of oil-based activities at the Niger delta. This is ironic because resource-rich countries such as Nigeria are supposed to have high human development indices. Researchers have drawn the link between resource abundance countries and their poor social and economic development through different theories such as the resource abundance theory.

Resource Abundance Theory

Many researchers have used different theories to explain why resource-rich countries do not benefit from their resources (Mähler 2010; The Fraser Institute 2015). One such theory is the natural resource curse abundance theory. Some researchers refer to it as the “paradox of plenty” (Mähler 2010). They argue that most countries with abundant natural resources tend to have lower levels of economic growth than those that do not (Mähler 2010). The curse of natural resources is a modern theory that emerged from empirical studies conducted in the 1990s, when notable scholars such as Richard Auty (cited in Mähler 2010), started investigating the reasons why resource-rich countries could not use their abundant natural resources for their social, political and economic growth. They used this theory to explain why resource-abundant countries have slower exogenous growth compared to countries that do not have similar resources (The Fraser Institute 2015). Researchers such as Sachs and Warner (2001), have found evidence of a direct correlation between the abundance of natural resources and poor socio-economic development. This relationship is important to this study because positive socioeconomic development in the Niger region is dependent on the environment (The Fraser Institute 2015). Thus, poor implementation of environmental laws affects the livelihood of the Niger delta people and, overall, the economic and social development of the West African country (The Fraser Institute 2015). Most of the researchers who advance this view have used evidence from petroleum-producing countries to explain this hypothesis (Mähler 2010; The Fraser Institute 2015). Mähler (2010) says oil-producing countries witnessed a 1.3% reduction in their gross national product per capita between 1965 and 1998 (Mähler 2010). At the same time, the rest of the world reported an increase of 2.2% (Mähler 2010).

Researchers have drawn comparisons between the natural abundance resource theory and the poor economic growth in countries that receive foreign aid (Mehlum & Torvik 2006; Rodriguez & Jeffrey 1999). This resource curse ordinarily happens when there is a steady supply of natural resources, without a supportive innovative culture. From these studies, researchers developed the endogenous growth theory that endogenous growth stems from the efficiency of institutional policies and education levels in the society (The Fraser Institute 2015). The same researchers believe that capital and labor do not have significant inputs on endogenous growth as the above-mentioned factors (The Fraser Institute 2015). Data from global economic institutions such as the World Bank helped to complete these research studies (The Fraser Institute 2015). The data showed that natural resource was among the top 20 indicators of economic performance, with most studies showing a negative effect on economic performance (The Fraser Institute 2015). Other indicators of economic performance included education levels, economic liberalization levels, and institutional efficiencies (among other factors).

Many researchers have hypothesized different reasons for the inverse relationship between natural resource abundance and economic growth (Mehlum & Torvik 2006; Rodriguez & Jeffrey 1999). Their views mainly center on the decline of other sectors when countries discover the economic potential of their main natural resources (Sachs & Warner 1997). In such circumstances, these countries suffer from the volatility of revenues and exchange rate fluctuations because market movements and state weaknesses such as corruption and poor governance affect their main economic sectors (Sachs & Warner 1997). The natural resource theory may not apply universally to all countries that possess abundant natural resources, but it applies to many of them that do.

The natural resource curse theory explains the ecological degradation and impoverishment that has occurred in Nigeria, 50 years after the discovery of oil. Many would think that after five decades of oil production, the country should be enjoying the fruits of sustainable development. However, poverty levels remain relatively high, with national statistics showing that more than half of the population lives on less than $1 a day (Mähler 2010). Sachs and Warner (1997) affirm the inverse relationship between resource abundance and economic growth through a set of studies that they did between 1970 and 1990. The researchers accounted for other factors that could impact economic development, such as “GDP, openness policy, investment rates, human capital accumulation rates, changes in the external terms of trade, government expenditure ratios, terms of trade volatility, and the efficiency of government institutions” (Sachs & Warner 1997, p. 26). Even after using alternative measures of natural resource supply systems, both authors arrived at the same conclusion (Sachs & Warner 1997). These results are consistent with the view of other researchers who argue that the key determinant of exogenous growth, in most countries, is the trade-off between manufacturing activities and resource-driven economic projects (Bulte & Deacon 2005). This statement means that there should be a balance between economic growth and sustainable development. However, these researchers caution us from assuming that exogenous growth amounts to an improvement in the welfare of local communities (Moore 2008; Sachs 2005). Instead, they propose that the government needs to undertake a different set of policy interventions to make sure that the rate of growth signifies a similar rate of welfare improvement.

Sachs (2005) presents an interesting understanding of the relationship between natural resource abundance and ineffective governance systems, which yield poverty and low levels of institutional effectiveness. He argues that geography explains this relationship. Many researchers including Moore (2008) argue the poverty problem in Africa and its relatively high levels of unemployment stem from its tropical climate. They further draw a larger comparison of the relationship between natural resource abundance and underdevelopment in the continent, observing that underdevelopment and diseases innately characterize many tropical regions of the world (Ferguson 2008). Sachs (2005) has taken a near racist understanding of this view, arguing that Africa is a historic part of the world that is still stuck in the “first stage” of development. However, he believes there is hope in the continent if local governments understand the importance of a “green revolution” (Sachs 2005). The ongoing events in the Niger delta suggest that the Nigerian government has still not understood the importance of a “green revolution.” Without endorsing the depiction of Africa’s problems by Sachs (2005), it is plausible to explore his argument that by being a tropical continent, Africa is bound to suffer from underdevelopment and diseases (Rodrik & Francesco 2003). Using this analogy alone, Sachs (2005) understates the importance of the institutional environment in promoting or stifling economic growth. In other words, Sachs (2005) promotes the idea that most institutions are not important in understanding some of the social, political, or economic problems plaguing Africa. In the context of this paper, his arguments mean that the Niger delta deficit is not an institutional governance problem but part of a wider global calamity of tropical countries. Naturally, when Sachs (2005) presents such an argument, we would expect that he would propose “migration” as a possible alternative for people from tropical areas to enjoy the benefits of economic growth. However, he does not propose such a strategy. Some researchers believe that such a proposition would not be “sellable” because Africans are not openly welcome in developed countries and white-dominated regions (Ferguson 2008). This view undermines his argument because it implies that most people who live in tropical areas are bound to live in poverty, but economic success stories from South America and other tropical areas show that its inhabitants could still be successful by living in the tropical areas. Therefore, we have to deduce how the institutional environment explains some of the ecological, social, and economic problems facing Africa.

Institutional Theory

Proponents of the institutional theory developed it to explain the form and structure of government operations (Scott 1987). Through a derivative framework of the open systems theory, which stipulates that most organizations are subject to input and outputs influences from their surroundings, the institutional theory argues that most institutions are not merely entities that produce goods and services, but part of the social and cultural structure of societies (Scott 1987). In this regard, the institutional theory takes the social approach of understanding corporate governance. This approach assumes that most institutions are not only working to compete for limited resources because they also strive for legitimacy in the social scene (Suchman 1995). This explains one approach to understanding socio-economic problems. By understanding the institutional environment, we could similarly understand the gist of a society’s social and economic problems. Institutions often subscribe to different beliefs and practices (Suchman 1995). For example, corruption characterizes the implementation deficit in the Niger Delta region because it is part of the Nigerian social system. Furthermore, it affects different socially organized practices that influence different functional areas of oil development in the Niger Delta region (Scott 2001). In a comprehensive overview of the institutional theory, Scott (2001) defines the main tenets forming the framework of this theory. According to the diagram below, the institutional theory has three main tenets – actors, institutional governance structures, and social institutions, models, and menus (Scott 2001).

Societal Institutions

Societal institutions, models, and menus make up the highest level of the institutional theory. This is where players propose and formally enact them to provide an institutional context for identifying what is acceptable and legitimate in the institutional environment (Scott 2001). This level of institutional theory affects the structures and functions of other levels of the theoretical framework. At the second level of the model (institutional governance structures), organizations merge, based on the similarity of their characteristics and customer pools (Scott 2001). This classification also occurs based on the similarity of actors that define their performance. Such actors may include funders, contractors, or even partners (Scott 2001). The organizational level of analysis is important for an understanding of this theoretical framework because organizations have different cultures, functions, and sizes (Hartley & Bennington 2002). The last stage of the institutional theory framework refers to different actors in the institutional environment. They may include groups, organizations, or individuals. All these actors have one common characteristic – institutional norms and characteristics that influence them (Scott 2001). Collectively, these norms merge and create a common institutional environment where players share the same beliefs, norms, and practices (isomorphism) (North 1990).

Proponents of the institutional theory argue that the institutional environment could affect political, economic, and social growth better than the influences of market forces (North 1990). Technical expertise for improving organizational processes usually finds its legitimacy in the institutional environment (Babson Education 2015). Later, such innovations reach a new level whereby failing to adopt them looks like the exception as opposed to the norm (North 1990). Within this institutional framework, organizations often adopt new structures without confirming whether they would improve their efficiency (Babson Education 2015). Therefore, implementation failures would often occur in the institutional environment.

The institutional theory has received tremendous support from many branches of academia. However, the greatest support has come from researchers such as Rowan, Tolbert, and Zucker (cited in Babson Education 2015). To affirm the practicality of the institutional theory, Rowan (cited in Babson Education 2015) examined the administrative growth of three California-based institutions of higher learning. The scholar found out that consistency in the institutional environment promotes innovation structures in the institution (Babson Education 2015). The scholar also found out that a disjointed institutional environment leads to a tentative diffusion of innovation (Babson Education 2015). Tolbert and Zucker (cited in Babson Education 2015) built on Rowan’s findings by explaining the pragmatism of the institutional theory after sampling its effects on government institutions (civil service). Their study spanned from 1880 to 1935 and affirmed the findings of Rowan (Edo 2012). The researchers also found that organizational pressures often lead to the quick adoption of institutional structures (Edo 2012). On the other hand, low coercive pressures lead to the poor adoption of new organizational structures (Edo 2012). However, organizations that quickly adopt these new structures have stronger organizational legitimacy compared with those that do not. The above-mentioned studies also confirmed a new hypothesis, that many early adopters of new organizational structures did so in the quest to improve their efficiencies (Babson Education 2015). However, late adopters often embraced the new structures to maintain their legitimacy.

The Rentier State Theory

As highlighted above, many researchers have proposed different theories to explain why resource-rich countries fail to improve the welfare of their citizens through environmental protection (Edo 2012). However, an alternative explanation is the rentier state theory, which seeks to explain the weak nature of the enforcement of environmental rules and laws. Early scholars such as Mahdavy (1970), introduced the theory, applying it to countries that rely on a constant stream of revenue (usually from one sector) to sustain their economic performance. They used this to explain the “natural resource curse problem” by arguing that resource-abundant countries often fail to attain their true economic potential because they fail to develop other economic sectors and rely on receiving revenue from only one mainstream sector (Brunnschweiler 2008). This view comes from widespread ideologies within such countries that promote the view that having natural resources is sheer luck. It also promotes a misguided belief that receiving revenues from the sale of such resources is sustainable because oil is a finite resource and proper performance of the sector requires vigilance (Brunnschweiler 2008). Most of these countries do not benefit from these resources because they sit back and wait for the revenues to stream in (Papyrakis & Rever 2004). Innovation dies in such situations and if poorly managed (as the case in Nigeria), conflict, greed, and mismanagement could creep in. Such vulnerabilities occur because of the heavy reliance on “economic rent.” Brunnschweiler (2008) notes that if one economic sector accounts for more than 30% of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the potential for economic failure is high. Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Nigeria’s GDP (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010) and about 95% of exports (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Frynas (2000) agrees that the revenue generated by the Nigerian government mainly comes from taxes (mostly collected from oil companies) and rent (received from the sale of oil) and not from productive activities (Frynas 2000). Consequently, it suffers from economic stagnation.

Deficits in the Niger delta

Poor Governance

This paper shows that the oil development problem in the Niger delta stems from perennial institutional failures by state actors and independent environmental agencies (Mehlum & Torvik 2006; Rodriguez & Jeffrey 1999). While some weaknesses stem from ignorance of existing laws and the lack of resources to implement them, the problem lies deeper, in the country’s political and democratic history (Ross 2006). There has been perennial state neglect of the oil development agenda because corruption, poor governance, and greed have marred the Nigerian political history (Lewis 2014). Constant changes from military to civilian rule have worsened the situation because military rulers have not been transparent in their business deals. Furthermore, their level of accountability is low, compared to civilian governments. Autocratic leadership and the fight to control petrodollars have blinded most regimes from the need to understand the importance of sustainable development in the wake of oil windfalls because powerful people have used oil money to corrupt people who would have otherwise protected the environment (Lewis 2014). Indeed, experts observe that Nigeria has received more than $500 billion in oil revenue; however, the government has used most of this money to fan corruption, poor governance, and political gimmicks (Ngoran 2011). In turn, these failures have yielded corruption, violence, and ineptitude (concerning institutional management structures in the region) (Ross 2006). For example, the Abacha regime was responsible for some of the worst forms of institutional neglect and corruption in the Niger Delta (Ngoran 2011). The regime ruled Nigeria from 1993 to 1998. Watts (2004) says the authoritarian ruler amassed more than $6 billion in four years. This happened through gross mismanagement and embezzlement of public property (through institutional mismanagement and corruption). Watts (2004) draws a link between these poor governance practices and the abundance of natural resources in Nigeria. He notes that:

“The oil-impedes democracy claim is both valid and statistically robust. In other words, oil does hurt democracy. There is at least tentative support for three causal mechanisms that link oil and authoritarianism: a rentier effect, a repressive effect, and a modernization effect” (p. 50).

Ross (2001) also supports this view by clarifying that the regressive effect impedes democracy by stifling independent voices of reason. The modernization effect also impedes democracy because poor countries like Nigeria have a poor probability of sustaining democracy. Lipset’s thesis proposes this view (Ross 2001).

Explaining Nigeria’s Ecological Destruction

This paper borrows from the works of Foucault (2001) to explain the governance problems in Nigeria that have led to poor implementation of environmental laws and ecological destruction in the Niger Delta. He presents a broad view of governance in the modern political realm of its conception (Lewis 2014). Foucault’s (2001) governance view stems from the use of different spatial levels of governance to understand the role of different state authorities and agencies involved in environmental management (Lewis 2014). This view created a paradigm shift regarding how we perceive the concept of government and sovereignty. Foucault (2001) argued that many state agencies are not working towards promoting the “common good,” but rather, creating a means to an end to the main stakeholders (convenience is more important than the common good).

In line with this argument, Lewis (2014) observes that “Economic malaise, weak governance, and communal polarization speak to a profound social dilemma at the heart of Nigeria’s political economy” (p. 94). Lewis (2014) defines a social dilemma as a situation where public officers or institutions put their interests first, at the expense of the communal interest. Such situations are often common when people find difficulties in resolving a conflict between personal and communal interests (Lewis 2014). This analogy is instrumental in understanding the Niger Delta situation and Nigeria’s economic stagnation, despite its abundance of natural resources. In particular, the institutions mandated to ensure that the country benefits from its natural resources have been unable to create adequate wealth for everybody. Furthermore, elitist divisions and political instability have made it difficult for these institutions to work properly. Internal discord and uncertainty have not helped the situation either because decades of political shifts between military and civilian rule have pushed the environmental and economic sustainability agenda to the periphery of the country’s concerns (Lewis 2014). Stated differently, the country has been more preoccupied with finding political stability as opposed to environmental sustainability. This is why Nigeria has had a poor environmental record in the face of wide-scale oil drilling activities. This also explains the sheer contempt that many local communities hold towards oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010; Lewis 2014).

Nigerian institutions are also part of the problem because they have succumbed to the country’s political discord by sponsoring some of the activities that lead to the discord in the first place (Lewis 2014). For example, these institutions are sponsors of ethnic and sectarian divisions in the country by funding militia groups to create violence and promote sectarian agendas (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). These have created a bigger problem of legal ignorance in the country because technocrats have reduced many conflicts that characterize the oil industry to ethnic and religious divisions (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010) rather than constitutional violations. This problem has created implementation challenges because there are adequate laws to govern oil exploration and drilling activities, which are underutilized because of poor implementation and the lack of political will (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010).

Implementation Problems

The main interest groups involved in implementing most of Nigeria’s environmental laws and oil management regulations are the oil companies, state governments, the federal government, and the local communities (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Different factors have caused disconnect among these independent groups, creating disharmony and confusion (Edo 2012). A prime reason for this is the failure of the Nigerian Federal Government to be objective about its management of oil-related issues. In particular, there is a deep-seated belief that the Niger Delta problem is a product of criminal activities among people in the region. For example, in 1999, the country’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote a letter to the governor of Bayelsa state protesting the violence in the region and the continued pilfering of state and corporate resources (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). This letter led to military action during the same period and the eventual demise of some host communities in the Niger delta, such as the Odi village (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Furthermore, it made it difficult for the federal government to distinguish between the criminals and those that could potentially help in promoting peace within the region (the state governor was consulting with some of these stakeholders). The federal government considered everybody a criminal, including the governor and his government officials (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Such attitudes make it difficult for the federal government to implement existing legislation protecting the environment and the host communities in the Niger Delta from environmental degradation and pollution. Furthermore, in such hostile environments, local institutions find it difficult to undertake their duties objectively. This situation partly explains why the federal government does not understand the plight of people living in the Niger Delta.

Besides the federal government, oil companies are also impeding efforts by local institutions to carry out their mandate because they hold deep-seated beliefs about the host communities being enemies of progress in their localities (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Most of these companies believe that local communities are opposed to oil drilling in their native lands (Ngoran 2011). For example, in a television interview, the head of Shell Corporation in Nigeria said it was willing to clean its mess in the Niger delta, but negative local attitudes (to their activities) made it difficult for the company to do so because local communities are hostile to company employees (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). This statement is a tacit admission that the company’s activities have had a negative ecological impact in the Niger delta. Nevertheless, it raises fundamental questions regarding why such companies have always been resistant to accept this fact. Western governments (where most of the prospecting oil companies come from) also view the Niger Delta situation in the same way (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010). Therefore, as opposed to seeing the problem as an environmental and corporate ethics issue, they see it as a security matter. Oviasuyi and Uwadiae (2010) say this argument may explain why the American government offered to train some Nigerian troops on how to undertake military operations in the Niger Delta region. This situation is further compounded by the belief among local communities that the Nigerian government is colluding with western-based corporations to exploit their resources (Robinson & Thierry 2006). They believe these exploitative tendencies have led to the destruction of their environment and livelihoods. The Niger Delta is among the most ecologically diverse wetlands in this world, supporting the lives of millions of people) (Ngoran 2011). For example, the region is rich in flora and sauna. Furthermore, its waterways support a lucrative fishing industry.

Many researchers have investigated the failure of legislators to consider the input of local communities in formulating laws that govern oil drilling processes and exploitation activities in the Niger delta (Bulte & Deacon 2005). They have cited this failure as a primary reason for the poor implementation of the laws (Bulte & Deacon 2005). Oil companies have constantly exploited the lack of community knowledge of environmental laws to continue their practices (further ecological degradation). This is why the government has hanged many community leaders who have opposed the activities of oil multinationals in the Niger Delta. For example, notable community leaders in the Niger Delta who have stood up to the oil companies and the Nigerian government, such as Isaac Adaka Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa, have lost their lives this way (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010; Ngoran 2011). Such developments have made it difficult for local communities to respect the sanctity of the law, which should protect their interests in the first place. Oviasuyi and Uwadiae (2010) observe that:

“Inhabitants of the region, which include, elders, women, children, and youths have resorted to various forms of resistance due to their continued neglect, deprivation, and dehumanization. These have resulted in demonstrations and protests, petition writing, legal actions, hostage-taking, kidnapping, armed uprising, and community mobilization, pipeline damage and vandalism have assumed new and alarming dimensions” (p. 117).


This paper has affirmed the existence of many environmental laws and institutions mandated to manage environmental issues across the Niger Delta region. However, they have achieved minimal success in fulfilling their mandate. Widespread pollution and ecological destruction continue to characterize the region. This paper focused to fill this research gap by investigating the implementation deficit in the Niger Delta region. The failure of a clear understanding of the roles of environmental agencies partly explains the implementation problems in Nigeria. An “unholy” partnership between the government and multinational oil companies has further worsened the issue by decreasing the government’s sensitivity to the country’s environmental plight. This union may be understandable because researchers have shown that the business brought by these companies to fund its budget and finance other economic activities (Oviasuyi & Uwadiae 2010; Ngoran 2011). However, the continued insensitivity to the plight of the locals is unsustainable because the environment continues to suffer at the hands of inept agencies and corrupt state officials who are willing to frustrate the environmental agenda for monetary gain. In this paper, most researchers have said that some of the implementation problems highlighted in this paper stem from the judiciary’s weakness to intervene in oil spill disasters. Consequently, the legal and institutional framework of oil development in Nigeria needs further strengthening to improve the capability of local institutions in managing environmental problems. This step will also be instrumental in improving environmental management standards and supporting existing institutions in implementing laws and regulations. This will also improve different facets of environmental management, including oil spill pollution and biodiversity conservation. However, making these changes would require more effort from stakeholders because it involves transcending capacity building as well. In particular, there is a great need for the stakeholders to secure political support, to improve the country’s response to oil disasters. This support would also be instrumental in managing the activities of oil companies, which have often exploited legislative loopholes, and poor political will to manage environmental crises. Here, it is pertinent to understand that these legislative changes are long-term and require the involvement of all stakeholders. Another critical long-term strategy that could complement this process is improving awareness among local communities about the activities of oil drilling companies and their ecological effects. The main goal of this process would be to promote behavioral change for purposes of promoting sustainable development. These programs could target different cadres of people in the society, including children, village elders, professionals, local politicians, and even judicial officers (as highlighted in earlier sections of this paper).

Nevertheless, the implementation deficit problem in the Niger Delta affirms Foucault’s (2001) view that modern-day governance frameworks do not promote the “common good,” but work towards conveniently, fulfilling the needs of those that are governing. In this context, the “common good” would be protecting the environment and promoting environmental sustainability in the Niger Delta through constant regulation of the activities of oil companies. This step would also involve penalizing oil companies (through fines, imprisonment of officers, or otherwise) for causing ecological destruction. However, institutional failures have undermined the realization of these common goals because the Nigerian government’s actions are those of convenience or merely meant to appease those that they have the interest to protect. For example, the government should create a convenient environment for oil companies to carry out their duties in the delta. However, without taking a broader understanding of the issues surrounding the grievances of locals in the region, the government constantly resorted to intimidating locals perceived as interfering with the activities of the oil companies. Whenever they have to answer to cases where the activities of these companies have resulted in lost livelihoods or the destruction of ecological systems, the government has always resorted to using short-term “fire-fighting” measures such as compensating victims, while failing to solve the main problem. This is a classical representation of Foucault’s (2001) view of governance. Collectively, these issues show the implementation deficit in Nigeria by highlighting why institutions have achieved minimal success.


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