Nigeria: Oil Wealth Flows, Hunger Persists

This post was commissioned as part of a Pulitzer Center/Global Voices Online series on Food Insecurity. These reports draw on multimedia reporting featured on the Pulitzer Gateway to Food Insecurity and bloggers discussing the issues worldwide. Share your own story on food insecurity here.

As the BP oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and its aftermath continue to make headlines, the catastrophe has also brought a little global media attention to the oil-related woes in another country—Nigeria.

Africa's most populous country, Nigeria is among the 10 biggest exporters of oil globally and the largest oil producer in Africa. Since oil was discovered off Nigeria's coast in the 1970s, it has become a major source of wealth. Oil accounts for 90 percent of Nigeria's exports and over 80 percent of government revenue.

Niger Delta Oil Disaster

Niger Delta Oil Disaster, Photo by Socialist Youth League of Norway on Flickr (CC-BY-ND)

But these oil riches have not been accompanied by economic prosperity nor food security for the majority of the country's population. Earlier this year, preparations took place in northern Nigeria for anticipated food shortages, due to severe water shortages, plummeting livestock prices and rising grain costs. On his blog, Nigerian Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, a sustainable development professional, elaborates on those impacted by these types of shortages.

“Nigeria, a former agrarian nation, abandoned agriculture in the early 1980s when the government refocused the economy on oil exploration… Sadly, the bulk of this revenue is stolen by politicians and their cronies. The consequence is that today, according to the agriculture ministry, 91 million Nigerians representing 65 percent of the country's population are food insecure.”

Nigeria had a strong agricultural base before the oil boom, but throughout the years its big farms and plantations have been neglected. Journalist David Hecht, who wrote a series on the hunger crisis in Nigeria supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, says that about 90 percent of Nigeria's agricultural output today comes from inefficient small farms. Most farmers have little or no access to modern technology like fertilizers and irrigation. As a result, Nigeria has become one of the world's biggest importers of food staples, particularly rice and wheat. Even with these imports though, more than a quarter of Nigerians younger than 5 suffer from malnutrition.

The country's oil industry, which is primarily located in the Niger Delta, has also become a source of conflict, corruption and human rights abuses. An Amnesty International report released last year examined these consequences, as well as the environmental fallout from the industry.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion earlier this year has also drawn attention to the environmental damage caused by oil spills, including spills in the Niger Delta. Some media report that more oil is spilled in the Niger Delta every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico. These spills cause pollution that severely affects surrounding communities by decreasing fish stocks and contaminating water supplies and arable land.

A post on the blog Niger Delta Unrest chronicles a protest last year against the lack of action by Shell and the Nigerian government following a large offshore spill. People from the affected community in Bodo spoke of their grievances:

“They detailed how there was widespread hunger and thirst in the community: all the fish had been killed, the water contaminated, access to the creeks blocked and the ground-soil polluted and crops poisoned. One woman presented a meager basket of cassava meant to feed her family for a week. It was only enough for one person. Another woman pushed forward and said her eight year old son had died of hunger… A higher up in the Youth Council, the same one who had been interpreting, told of his frustrations and how he felt control slipping out of his hands. He said it was getting impossible to calm the youth in the town and that he was sure some of them would slip into militancy and armed action. ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’ he said.”

Randal Maurice Jelks, blogging on The Black Bottom Blog in the United States, says that people in Nigeria and the Gulf coast of Louisiana have more in common than many would think:

“For years, the state of Louisiana has permitted oil companies to have the loosest of regulation–a wink and a nod instead of enforced laws. As result many African Americans, like the Ogoni people of Nigeria, who live in the Gulf region have been most affected by what is called Cancer Alley. The pollutants from chemical and oil production have poisoned both their lands and bodies for years, like the Ogoni people these Black and poor people were ignored. The Louisiana state government like the Nigerian government left the oil companies to their own devices–laissez faire.”

An analysis in the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard by Peter Osadalor says that the World Bank coined the term “Nigerian Paradox” specifically to describe the extreme underdevelopment and poverty in a country brimming with resources and potential. Bloggers have proposed various solutions to this paradox, from stricter regulation of oil companies to better leadership to decreasing reliance on imported crops.

Hecht, in his article series, says that even though Nigeria faces a serious food security threat, the country has enough fertile land to feed itself and much of the region if its oil wealth is invested more wisely. Afolabi Taiwo Okunola, in a post submitted for a youth essay competition on the Youngstars Foundation's blog, comes to a similar conclusion, saying that refocusing on agriculture is key:

“If the Nigerian government can be dedicated and devoted to the course of agricultural, many problems like inadequate supply of food, high expenses of the food supply will become outdated. The level of unemployment among Nigerian graduates will reduce because many graduates will be gainfully employed. In this vein, agricultural produce will increase because mechanized farming will be used and Nigerian exporting earnings will increase…The quest for power, gross looting of the national treasury by the greedy politicians will reduce to a certain extent because many people will realize that it is not only oil that can give a nation money but that agriculture too is important in that aspect. Therefore, the wicked struggle, killing and wanton destruction of lives and property in order to get to the position of authority in Nigeria will reduce. In a very short time, Nigeria will become a citadel in which other countries will have to come and learn from.”

Thanks to Eremipagamo Amabebe for help finding Nigerian blogs.

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