Demography and Conflicts in the Niger Delta

Nigeria is one of the major African countries, for geographical extension and population.

Holds huge natural resources, open spaces for commerce, a coast decidedly favorable for navigation and a healthy and diverse environment, potentially. It ‘a regional power second only to South Africa in the African continent, and may be, therefore, a surprise for the development of the region, if not of the continent, as it was in Brazil in the last ten years.

Despite the extremely favorable conditions, there are serious problems that undermine the growth potential of Nigeria and its people, including the persistent conflicts, especially in the area of the Niger Delta, armed clashes between various religious and ethnic factions inside the country, the depletion of resources by the Nigerian foreign companies, with very little relapse for the population.

How is possible to manage an area, such as the Niger Delta, where the rates of reproduction are among the highest in the world, but where resources for the population are very scarce? The main focus points of this area are:

  • the oil and its extraction in the Niger Delta;
  • the huge demographics tolls in Nigeria;
  • the actual conflicts within the country, their bases and wishes.

Nigeria, thanks to its 153 million of inhabitants, is a regional power second only to South Africa in the African continent, and is one of the crucial political hubs for continental events, not only with regard to the economy or the population. It has approximately one quarter of the inhabitants of West Africa, and is 8th in the ranking of the World’s most populous states. Moreover, despite less than 25% of Nigerians is urbanized, more than 24 cities are over 100,000 citizens.

Nigeria is a Federal State, divided in 36 regional states, and the divisions (religious and ethnic) are deep.

There are about 250 ethnic groups within Nigeria: among these, the dominant ethnic group, expecially in the North, is the Hausa-Fulani, most of whom are of Islamic faith, although in recent decades, within this ethnic group in northern Nigeria, is having great success the bori cult, which is a ritual form of Islam marginal, and therefore opposed by the orthodox Muslims, thanks to the fact that the places of worship are held by divorced women.

The religoius specification is fundamental in the analysis of the population of Nigeria, as the tensions between the various factions have not been dormant over the years, but rather gave rise to frequent violent clashes.
On 8 June 2011, five people have been killed after explosions at some police stations: the attack was attributed to the Islamic sect Boko Haram, also accused of violence against Christians in the city of Jos between 24 and 26 December 2010, which caused the death of 86 people.

This year the sect Boko Haram has killed dozens of civilians, policemen, politicians and representatives of Christian churches and other Islamic sects, but it would be simplistic to stigmatize such violence as “religious,” given the economic condition of the Nigerian people, certainly more affected by it than the religious conflicts, even if they are consistent.

Other major ethnic groups in the North are the Nupe and Tiv, while the Yoruba is predominant in the South-West. More than half of the Yoruba are Christians, and among them is very popular the movement “Cherubim and Seraphim” (Serafu / Kerabu), which since 1925 has crossed the whole of Nigeria is not Islamic.
Approximately one quarter of the Yoruba is Muslim, with the remainder following traditional animist religions, the Igbo, the biggest ethnic group in the South-East.

Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has well exemplified the political instability in Africa: only between 1979 and 1983 was led by a civilian government, while the rest of the time was ruled by military regimes more or less unstable. As well as Burkina Faso and Ghana, Nigeria has suffered no less than 6 military coups, and even if nowadays this country has been able to create a certain climate of consensus as regards structural reforms, it is also true that domestic violence did not cease, nor the less persisted instances of states of the South for a progressive secession.

Since the Second Republic (1979-1983), elected state governments, social movements and community based organisations in the region have been mobilised, demanding  larger portion of the federally collected oil revenues that accrue to the region on the basis of derivation.

Nigeria has earned over $400 billion as oil revenues since the early ‘70s, but despite these huge foreign exchange earnings, the economy under performs, and the great majority of the people have not been able to derive much benefits. Many scholars argue that the contemporary distribution of the population is directly related to the impact of the slave trade, both internationally and domestic.

The International Commission of Jurists, in 1996, wrote that the rabid fear of political subjugation by one ethnic group or by an alliance of two of the major ethnic groups is how many Nigerians characterise the political climate in which they have been attempting self rule since their very first parliament, even before independence. Moreover, they were wondering which were these ethnic groups that “see themselves as locked in conflict over the control and share of the country’s main source of revenue, presently oil?

Some rural people migrate seasonally to the big cities to look for a job in the dry season. This “short term” migration  is usually conducted by young males, and not only integrates the agricultural income of households, but in the dry season migration also reduces the load on the stocks of wheat.
Sometimes seems to be a kind of “culture of migration”, in which international migration is associated with personal success, material or social, while the fact of being in the place of birth is seen as a kind of failure. As soon as the social network grows, this process is rooted cultural and migration becomes the norm, especially among young people.
Despite the great attention paid to immigration from sub-Saharan African populations in Europe, only 3% of Africans live in a country other than their own, and less than 1% live in Europe.

However, 43% of the remittances arrive in Nigeria from Europe, 40% from North America and only 15% from other African regions.

Among the countries for which promises to increase the world’s population, Nigeria is supporting an increase of at least 4 million people a year until the middle of the twenty-first century, sharing with India (16 million), China (9 million) , Pakistan (4 million), Bangladesh (3 million), and Indonesia (2 million).

For some countries we can identify the times and stages of economic conducive population.

We call “demographic window” the pressure of the younger generation can be a problem for development: this is the case of Nigeria, where the high value of the TFR [Total Fertility Rate] in 2000-2005 led to observe a population aged 0-14 of about 50% of the total population, even higher than the proportion of the population aged 15-49. “The TFR refers to the number of live births a woman would have if she were subject to the current age-specific fertility rates throughout her reproductive years (15-49 years)” (National Population Commission of Nigeria [NPCN], 2008, p. 51).

The rapid population growth can be tackled only with an efficient plan of political development in terms of human capital, and probably also through sustained international aid.

The National Population Commission of Nigeria has also found that fertility in the country has remained at a high level over the last 17 years from 5.9 births per woman in the 1991, to 5.7 births in the 2008, and the women who have no formal education and women in the lowest wealth quintile ratio on average are having seven children, while women with higher than a secondary education are having three children and women in the highest wealth quintile are having four children.

According to data from the Department of UN economic and social issues, the Nigerian population in 1990 was 97 million, then later moved to 124 million in 2000. Nigeria today has 155 million of people [Source:], and it is estimated that growth will reach the number of 257 million in 2030 and 390 billion in 2050 [Source:], which would move the ranking of Nigeria in the most populous countries in the world held by the eighth today, to the fourth.

On April 16 2011 Goodluck Jonathan, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP, in power since 1999) interim head of state since May 2010, has been elected president with nearly 60% of votes. Following the victory, Buhari, his main challenger, has denounced the election frauds, and violent clashes erupted in the north, causing 40,000 deaths and more than 800 displaced people.  The problem of the dependence of African economies from the industrialized countries is fundamentally an issue of vulnerability, primarily economic, but surely that is reflected on all other factors: it, in fact, depend on the internal political development, education, cost of living , domestic and foreign policy.

The logic of economic exploitation that was the basis of colonial systems had aggravated the weight of the backwardness of the people, relying on market demands of the colonizing countries to replace the crops in the colonies. The Nigerian economy is largely based on agriculture, which occupies 70% of the workforce, followed by the mining and extraction, especially oil: Nigeria, in fact, has an extraction capacity of 2.1 million barrels of crude per day.

Even in Nigeria, where there’s an economy based on mining gold, copper, diamonds and oil, the dominant role of a limited number of export products has made the entire economy extremely vulnerable to international demand.

In addition, the geography of the Niger Delta region prevents structural and effective infrastructure for a significant improvement of communications, for example, rather than transport, making it even more difficult connection between the zones, if only within the coastal states, facing the Gulf of Guinea: this implies that the transports is still entrusted to caravans of trucks on rough roads, and unconnected, with a considerable waste of time, energy and safety.

Obi and Siri Aas, in “Oil and Insurgency in the Niger Delta” (2010, p. 3), argue that “the Niger Delta is a vast coastal plain in the southernmost part of nigeria, where one of West Africa’s longest rivers empties into the Altantic Ocean between the Bights of Benin and Biafra, in the Gulf of Guinea. Estimated to cover about 75.000 square kilometres, it is the largest wetland in africa and one of the largest in the world, supporting a wide range of biodiversity.. its population is estimated in 31 million people”.

This huge area includes 9 of the 36 states of the Nigerian Federal State, and they are Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers.

Yenagoa is the capital of Bayelsa State, one of the the coastal states, where occur so most of the kidnappings and bombings: large geographical distances do nothing but worsen the control of central government on the internal security.

Something different in intensity and confrontation, but present in Nigerian politics, is represented by the MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) that severely damaged a pipeline in the South in the last months. Between September and December 2010, MEND has kidnapped more than 50 workers in the oil sector.

The MEND is a paramilitary movement composed of natives of the Niger Delta area, and its political objective is fighting against the exploitation of the natural resources of the region with exclusive benefits for foreign companies.

All the foreign oil companies working in the Niger Delta are, of course, allowed by the government, and they pay to have the right to extract oil, but much of this money paid to the federal government end up in corruption and very little investment are built up by a development point of view for the region, health or education.

As said, the purpose of MEND is not only to sabotage the foreign oil companies, and to receive the ransom money, but also to bring the attention of foreign media on the environmental, social and economic situation of this area.

The Niger Delta Region has been particularly attractive to major international oil companies, including Shell, Chevron, Mobil, Elf, Agip and Texaco, among others, which have been involved in joint ventures with the Federal Government in connection with oil exploration, exploitation and production. Links between their operations and human deprivation in some areas of the Niger Delta has local raised expectations that the oil companies should contribute to physical and human development in affecting communities. Is also important to understand how, since 2006, these conflicts are related to political and historical contradictions within the country, who have contributed to the enrichment of foreign oil and mining companies on the one hand, and on the other have impoverished the local population, polluted air and water, and removed power to its inhabitants.

Nigerian authorities have tried to solve the conflict problem also by an institutional point of view, building up the “Ondo State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), in 2001: established by law on October 29 2011 as an interventionist agency to cater for the development of the oil-producing areas of this coastal state.

As we have seen, Nigeria is a perfect example for the direct relationship between population and conflict, especially the area of the Niger Delta. Population growth rates are impressive for every European country, but they are very high also compared to other African countries.

This year’s riots in the countries of North Africa, and more generally across the southern shore of Meditarraneo, are certainly the enactment of the population want to overthrow the authoritarian regimes in their countries, but at the same time mark the classic example of an excessive rate of population growth in recent years, compared to the structural problems, social, and domestic employment. In the same way, the conflicts in the Niger Delta region, labeled by the federal government and the international community as ethnic or religious clashes, are more and more social problems in Nigeria. And given the population growth rates, in 10-15 years if no measures will be taken as substantial reforms for Demography and Social Development, the situation might become unmanageable, not only for the governments of the federation, but throughout the West-African region affected by this phenomenon.

It is not easy to find a starting point for this vicious circle of cause and effect (which we also call the domino effect, given the potential gravity), which includes a general underdevelopment of the country, population rates of 2, 3 times the natural rate playback (2.1 children per couple), resulting in problems for nutrition, education and health, and, finally, employment.

A starting point for improving the situation could be a substantial increase in general and the policy of birth control, extended, above all, to the school levels, although much is already being done thanks to international aid and NGOs.

Nevertheless, try to lower rates of reproduction is not the unique solution for all the problems; stop conflicts within the region, be they religious or inter-ethnics, requires state intervention to reform the employment, especially for young people, the defense of the country’s own resources, and special attention to women’s work.

The complexity that is facing Nigeria, in terms of ethnic differences, often artificial or contrived, even if it may seems a cliché, is a serious problem for the political and social stability, with obvious repercussions on the economy, development, and therefore, the welfare of the Nigerian population.

Fundamental rights of the people and workers are being eroded day by day from this spiral to which pieces are made of, but which is objectively difficult to be stopped.

But, being the personal rights and trade unions are also recognized by the Nigerian Constitution, “..we recommend that the Nigerian government take positive steps towards respecting its obligations under regional and international instruments which guarantee economic, social and cultural rights..” (ICJ, 1996, p. 135).

Obi and Aas Rustad argue that Nigeria’s ability to resolve the violent conflict in the Niger Delta will require considerable investment in human capacity and institutional strengthening given the level, density and variety of skills and competencies as well as organisational structures and strenghts demanded by the frequently advocated comprehensive response around which a broad consesus seems to have developed.

Without peace, there will be no human development in the Niger Delta; the conflicts have intensified to the point where the balance could tip toward the war itself, which will be even more difficult to control.


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