The Niger Delta is the third-largest wetland in the world. It is on the bight of the Niger River; a densely populated region, sometimes calls the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. From 1885 until 1893, the area was known as the British River Protectorate before it expanded and became the Niger coast Protectorate. A fact that must be stated is that in Nigeria there is a political definition of the Niger Delta Region, which differs from the geographical definition. What it means is that politically, Niger Delta, are states that produce oil, which is the major revenue generator for Nigeria. Niger Delta, as now defined by the Nigerian government extends over 70,000km sq. and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass.
Brief History of Niger Delta
Historically, geographically and cartographically, the Niger Delta consists of present day Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States, who produce oil. But in 2000 the Obasanjo led administration included Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Imo, Abia and Ondo States in the region. What it also means is that there are Niger Delta states which do not produce oil and as such are not considered as members of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). So, states that share a boundary with the River Niger, like Anambra, Kogi and the rest are Niger Delta States geographically.
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South-South Geopolitical Zone
Another connotation that has been linked with the Niger Delta is the geopolitical zoning of states in Nigeria. States in the South-South Zone includes Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers; so while the Niger Delta connotes oil producing region, the South-South zone is a geopolitical region. Again, historically, during the colonial period, the core Niger Delta was part of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, which came into being in 1951. The region has encountered several travails in her period of existence. The genesis of the struggle was in 1953 when the old Eastern Region had a major crisis due to the expulsion of Professor Eyo Ita from the office by the majority Ibo tribe. Professor Ita was from a minority ethnic group, Efik. What this triggered was the demand by the minority in the region, the Ibibios, the Annangs, the Efik, the Ijaws and the Ogojas for their own State, the Calabar-Ogoja rivers forming the COR states. In 1961 the leadership of the then Eastern region of Nigeria, through a plebiscite(a popular demand by means of vote, to make important changes) separated South-Western Cameroun from Nigeria, while their Northern region counterpart did all it took to keep North-Western Cameroun in Nigeria, which consist of the present day Adamawa and Taraba States. It is thus one of those actions that created the boundary disputes between Nigeria and Cameroun, over the Bakassi Peninsula, which would have been part of Nigeria in Cross River Territory.
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Niger Delta Struggles
Another evidence of the struggle in the Niger Delta region was the declaration of the independent Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Adaka Boro during the Francis Aguyi Ironsi regime. The Nigerian Civil War of 1967 had its own fair share of impact in the region; the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, in a bid to weaken the Eastern Region threat and eventual session, broke the regional system in Nigeria to create states. Nigeria moved from four regions to twelve states. What this also meant was that the oil region was carved out of the eastern region. Calabar and Ogoja made up the South Eastern State of Nigeria, which was also known as the Coastal South Eastern Nigeria. Rivers State was also created. The South-Eastern State was later renamed Cross River State and later split into Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. Rivers State was also divided into Rivers and Bayelsa States.
The height of the struggle in Niger-Delta came around 1996. In a bid to becoming life President, Late General Sani Abacha made all political parties formed under his administration to adopt him as the sole presidential candidate. A dynamic young man by name Daniel Kanu, assembled youths from all over the federation to a one million man march under the umbrella. “Youths earnestly ask for Abacha”. Young men from the Niger Delta States were also taken to Abuja for a rally. In a dramatic twist, these youths who have seen vast level of under-development in their region, who have had to paddle canoes across far distances, seen oil spill cause ecological damage to their communities, saw a magnificent Abuja a sharp contrast to their region. Many of them thought that Abuja was not part of Nigeria until they were told that the resources that developed Abuja came from their region. This thus became the origin of militancy in the region under different umbrellas. The youths resolved to fight the government that has left them this impoverished. The struggle intensified until the YarAdua administration brought a lasting solution to the region in the form of amnesty.
There is peace in the Niger Delta now, and development is fast coming to the region. Much as we cannot exhaust all issues concerning the Niger Delta.
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Did you know that
1. Nigeria has become Africa’s largest producer of crude oil?
2. Since 1975, the Niger Delta region has accounted for more than 75% of Nigeria’s export earnings?
3. Oil and natural gas extraction comprise 97% of Nigeria’s export earning? Did you that in August 2009 the Nigerian government granted amnesty to the militants in the region which saw them surrender their weapons in exchange for a presidential pardon?
4. It was on June 5, 2000 that the Obasanjo administration established the Niger Delta Development Commission to look into the plight of the region?
5. The Niger Delta Development Commission has its headquarter in Port Harcourt Rivers State?
6. It was on September 2008 that Niger Delta Ministry was formed?
That is Niger Delta at a glance.
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