Nembe Oil Spill and the Crocodile Tears

President Muhammadu Buhari: Urged to distance himself from the murky politics of oil industry players

By Godfrey Sheyi-Ukachi


“We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get an alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment.” – Mrs Sharon Ikeazor, Minister of State for Environment (25/11/21)

“It has been noted with irony that the principal ‘industry’ of many underdeveloped countries is administration… The salary given to the elected politicians is higher than that given to a British Member of Parliament…”-Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa


One of the major ways to halt or reduce to the barest minimum the destructive incidents of sabotage of oil installations is the path laid out by Minister Sharon Ikeazor. Recently, the JIV report under the aegis of statutory agencies, the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), attributed the Nembe oil spill to sabotage.

Despite the widespread allegations of sabotage of the OML 29 Wellhead 1 Platform by militants (JIV report or not), this author does not care a tinker’s cuss if Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation are, in any way, censured over the Nembe oil spill. However, the same people that shouted hosanna yesterday would be the same that would mouth crucify him tomorrow. They would be the ones that would accuse Buhari of the ethnic agenda.  The labyrinth of battles among oil industry players in the Niger Delta in which militants are allegedly procured and prodded to settle scores leaves an objective observer with a lot of conjectures and doubts over the actual motive for the obvious sabotage. Hence all concerned parties, especially the state government should exercise utmost caution and circumspection.

Governor Diri of Bayelsa State: Sabotage of oil installations is a recurring decimal in the Niger-Delta

President Muhammadu Buhari should not be dragged into the cut-throat competition between the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and major indigenous oil firms on the one hand and the amorphous Niger-Delta politics on the other. Buhari should also not be moved by politicians shedding crocodile tears. Do they really care for the poor? If they did, how many of them lead a spartan life like Buhari? How many of them have taken their cue from Aiteo/NNPC Joint Venture by distributing massive palliatives to the affected communities? Where were these politicians when the foreign oil companies, for decades, devastated the landscape of the Niger Delta, short-changed the public exchequer by making it nearly impossible to know in details their operations while they wired humongous profit from Nigeria to their home countries?

Crude oil from the Niger Delta constitutes 90 per cent of the nation’s foreign earnings and 80 per cent of the total earnings. Without petroleum products, there is no life in Nigeria


The Niger Delta is a beleaguered region of Nigeria. Of all oil-bearing regions in the world, she is the most backward. Her people eat oil-polluted food, drink oil-polluted water and inhale oil-polluted air. Their major occupations are fishing and farming. But decades of oil pollution means that the marine animals, which are their major source of protein, are infested with hydrocarbons. Regular oil spillage destroys the animals and impacts heavily on the ecosystem.

Benedict Peters: Distributed palliatives massively to the affected communities

Oil is not a substitute for manure or fertilizer. Regular oil spills have therefore rendered most of the farmlands unproductive or in the worst cases barren. Worse, these spills take months- sometimes years- before they are cleared. They destroy farm crops and engender avoidable famine and destitution. Of course, before the advent of the Buhari administration, the multi-national companies, aided and abetted by the federal might, paid no compensation whatsoever to the poor farmers. Instead, they engaged in divide and rule and wired their profit to their home countries.

Despite the concrete evidence of sabotage of the OML 29 Wellhead 1 Platform by militants, this author does not care if the JV partners are censured over the Nembe oil spill

By nature, the terrain of the Niger Delta is susceptible to flood and erosion. Pollution from oil exploration (acid rains, for instance) compounds the problem such that the people are denied perpetually access to safe drinking water. But the worst of Nigeria’s injustice to the oil-bearing communities is the perpetual gas flaring. In early June this year, a construction worker in the Niger Delta complained of a breathing problem, occasioned by the gas being flared into the atmosphere. What then is the fate of those born and bred in the area in the last 63 years of exploration activities and gas flaring?

A visit to the drilling sites will outrage you and confirm Nigeria’s inhumanity to the people of the Niger Delta. The sites have state-of-the-art facilities yet a stone throw from them are host communities living in abject poverty and want, cut off from the rest of the nation and civilization. No schools, hospitals, electricity, pipe-borne water, tarred roads, etc.

Buhari should not be dragged into the cut-throat competition between the IOCs and major indigenous oil firms. He should not be moved by politicians shedding crocodile tears.

Four centuries of slavery and a century of colonialism built the great metropolis of Europe and North America but left holes in the landscape of Africa. In the same vein, sixty years of oil exploitation and exploration built the megacities across Nigeria but left pollution in the Niger Delta.

Crude oil from the Niger Delta constitutes about 90 per cent of the nation’s foreign earnings and close to 80 per cent of the total earnings. Without petroleum products, there is no life in Nigeria. In fact, shut down the oil wells today and the nation comes to a standstill.

It is the oil from the Niger Delta that built the National Stadium and National Theatre in Lagos, among other edifices. It is the black gold from the South-South that constructed the Kaduna, Maiduguri and Sokoto Airports, among other monuments. The Federal Universities of Technology in Owerri, Akure and Universities of Agriculture in Makurdi and Abeokuta were erected by the money that came from the Niger-Delta region. Without oil, there will be no salaries and allowances for members of the executive, legislature and judiciary. Without the petro-dollar, Nigerian politicians will go stony broke!

Yes, we know, but it can bear repetition that the Abuja International Airport, Abuja National Stadium, National Assembly Complex, National Hospital, among other pillars that make the federal capital what it is today came into being from the proceeds of crude oil in the Niger-Delta. In short, the Niger Delta is the blood that runs in the veins of Nigeria.

This injustice is the story of youth militancy – sabotage, breaking of pipelines, illegal bunkering -allegedly responsible for the recent spill in Nembe and in some other parts of the Niger Delta. Nigeria has suffered the Niger Delta for too long a time. From the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in 1961 to the Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) in 1976, from the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992 to the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000, it is all movement without motion, deceit, half-hearted measures, rigmarole and contempt for a people blessed by nature but weakened by other major ethnic tribes in Nigeria.

The standard of living of people of the Niger Delta ought to be higher than other regions in Nigeria by virtue of their contribution to the national coffers. So, let the talks, summits and bureaucratic bottlenecks end. Let us dry up the crocodile tears over Nembe. Let us cut down significantly the cost of governance and free up resources to develop the Niger Delta. Let the bulldozers move into the oil-bearing communities to erect state-of-the-art social facilities comparable to other oil-bearing regions of the world. Let the militants lay down their arms and stop illegal bunkering and sabotage of the oil wells, which pollute the flora and fauna of the Niger Delta. Let the gas flaring stop; let oil exploration and exploitation international best practices be observed in the Niger Delta by all the oil companies. Corporate rivalry among oil industry players should no longer be taken too far…


*Godfrey Sheyi-Ukachi sent this piece from Owerri, Imo State