Why collaboration could help the Niger Delta overcome its difficulties

Nigeria is a country that has amassed major oil wealth, but also suffers from extreme poverty. The Niger Delta, the country’s main oil producing region is one of the areas experiencing chronic underdevelopment and environmental degradation.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil exporter and suffers from what’s known as the natural resource curse – a broad term that describes how resource rich countries tend to experience less economic growth. Countries rich in resources like oil are also fertile territory for corruption. Increased national corruption in turn leads to poor development.

This is certainly true in the Niger Delta where money meant for development has been wasted. As a result the situation for local communities has worsened due to a lack of proper healthcare, clean water and jobs.

But government isn’t the only contributor to development. Oil companies are also key players through their corporate social responsibility schemes. This sees firms do the “right thing” through voluntary ethical behaviour in a range of social issues like health, education and the environment. This is particularly important in the area given that oil companies have contributed significantly to environmental devastation in the region.

But corporate social responsibility schemes have only a limited impact given that they help a small number of people. And spending more money wouldn’t help either. What’s needed is a collaborative approach involving a voluntary partnership between the state, an international development agency, business sector and civil society.

Corporate social investment in the Niger Delta

To explore the impact of corporate social investment initiatives I have done research looking at the practices of one of the largest oil companies in the Niger Delta: the Shell Petroleum Development Company. Its corporate social responsibility encompasses three distinct areas; business and agriculture, education and health.

Through a study of Shell’s website, I aimed to evaluate how successfully these schemes combat the Niger Delta’s problems, principally, by seeing how many people each scheme helped. I also wanted to understand the consequences that these policies have on Niger Delta society and the Nigerian government’s development agenda.

The study found that Shell has implemented some useful development initiatives, particularly within health. For example, the company has rolled out malaria and immunisation programmes, treating more than 114 000 people. Shell has also invested in 27 Niger Delta health facilities.

Nigeria has widespread health challenges. For example, it has the second highest HIV level in the world. The situation is worsened by a lack of hospitals or medication for patients.

Increased investment in medical support as well as education are two of the key interventions required.

Shell has also invested in education through various primary, secondary and university scholarships which support an estimated 6,600 students a year.

But its projects affect only a few people. In education, for example, Shell only has a small impact given that primary and secondary enrolment stands at over 25 million in the region.

Shell’s various primary, secondary and university scholarships support an estimated 6600 students a year. Reuters

Would it help if Shell, and other companies like it, spent more? Not really. The reasons for this are:

  • Fragmentation: there’s the potential for tensions over who schemes reach first. This could further fuel militancy in the Niger Delta.

  • Economic stagnation: the region has an extremely high youth unemployment. This means that Shell’s business schemes – such as helping young adults to set up and grow their business – - – won’t flourish because the majority of citizens lack access to a basic income or secure livelihood.

  • Governance: corporate social responsibility cannot be expected – and was never designed – to tackle the whole of the Niger Delta’s socio-economic underdevelopment or counter the country’s political and economic problems.

But there is a possible solution.

The solution

The Niger Delta’s numerous challenges could be solved by use of a Quad Sector Development Partnership. Such a voluntary partnership would bring together the state, an international development agency, business sector and civil society. The aim would be to deliver a range of development goals.

The Niger Delta development agency could be reorganised around such a partnership. And the United Nations Development Programme could be given the important managerial, financial and development role.

The UNDP has operated many development projects across the world – about 5000 in 2016 alone. It has also formed successful development partnerships with governments before. For example, it worked with the government of Nicaragua to combat the lack of electricity in rural areas of the country by introducing renewable hydropower. It also led the Chad-Cameroon project which set out to promote development.

A partnership like this could help Nigeria as the UN agency could jointly control the money allocated to development, preventing any financial mismanagement.

Collaboration is key

A specific set of development objectives for the Niger Delta would need to be chosen. These could be based around specific themes like health and education.

The development goals would be jointly coordinated by the UN and Nigeria. Active community engagement would also be essential. This could happen through formal consultation meetings to allow local people to voice and raise concerns about development priorities in their area.

Development contracts would need to be given to Nigerian construction firms to help stimulate the local economy.

There would also need to be an agreed time-frame with dedicated objectives at each stage.

This type of partnership would only work if there was long-term political commitment from all of Nigeria’s politicians.

Though a bold plan it could – combined with other interventions to reduce violence – combat corruption as well as promote socio-economic development in the Niger Delta.

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