Opinion: Community Engagement: Unlocking the Real Wealth of the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is an important economic driver for the Nigerian economy. The oil from the Delta region continues to maintain Nigeria as the largest African producer. The issues that plague the Niger Delta and the resulting militancy have focused on causing grief for the nation’s cash flow. The promises made to initiate the remediation and restoration programs currently lacks detail.

I have advocated that community engagement is essential for any restoration program to be successful. There are a number of reasons for this, but most of all because I believe that the communities are the real wealth of the Delta region. In theory, any problem can be solved with a technical solution. But the problems of the Niger Delta require something more.

There have been concerns expressed about foreign companies entering the region with their own workers to carry out a clean-up process and ignore the local Nigerian population. That a foreign company will come in, take over and do whatever they like however they like. However, I believe this would be a foolish path to take. Not only because local employment is being dangled as a way to quell local concerns and anger, but also because it would overlook considerable assets to the project. There is a depth of local knowledge and skills within the communities that are invaluable to a successful clean-up operation. There is know-how; experience with the terrain; knowledge of unreported events; unique or adapted skills; and much more. All of this not only makes the remediation process more effective, but more efficient.

But this project needs to be collaborative. The communities of the Niger Delta must be open and willing to accept external help, knowledge and management. The fundamental role of a foreign company coming into the region is to provide guidance, expertise, technology, equipment, world’s best practice and leadership to help see the project through successfully. This cannot once again be seen as simply an amnesty opportunity.

By working hard together the communities stand to benefit immensely. To implement this project will require the development of long overdue infrastructure such as roads, water treatment facilities, localised (and reliable) power supplies, manufacturing, construction, housing, and the development of sustainable agriculture. This is on top of the clean-up processes themselves.

Overall, the remediation and restoration of the Niger Delta is a project that has many complexities. Too often it is simplified by solely focusing on the value of oil in the region. It is the undervalued communities that are the true wealth of this project, but only if they want to be.

Can community engagement be strategized in ways that can effectively salvage the Niger Delta Region?

What are your thoughts?


Submitted by Antonio Pantalone