Managing Wickedness in the Niger Delta: New Approaches to Governance of Oil Production

Charisma Acey, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning

Project Description

photo credit CNN: Oil production in the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is comprised of nine states that are home to more than 31 million people living with the devastating environmental, social and economic consequences of the global demand for oil. The volume that flows from the region provides nearly all the foreign exchange earnings and budget revenue for Nigeria, which ranks among the ten countries that supply 60% of the world’s oil. Decades of poorly regulated oil exploration and underdevelopment of an area so critical to the national economy have given rise to a history of violent clashes and standoffs between local militants, government officials and the multinational oil companies (MNOCs). Since Shell’s discovery of oil in 1956, the balance of power in regional resource conflicts has always rested with the MNOCs.

Recent efforts by the largest oil companies in Nigeria have shifted their corporate social responsibility to reflect more bottom-up participatory approaches to development and environmental conflict management in the Niger Delta. The newest approach, the Global Memorandum of Understanding, is a model of network governance, clustering groups of communities together into representative boards that make decisions on local development projects. This model could prove to be an important tool for managing conflicts over resources and revenues in Nigeria's main oil producing region. However, the legacy of violent conflicts within and between indigenous groups, militias and the military, government and oil companies amid ongoing environmental devastation from destructive oil extraction practices, makes trust and cooperation difficult, at best.  In this context, where conflict runs deep and power is asymmetrical, developing an effective model of local governance for sustainable development is a wicked planning problem.

This paper traces the gradual shift from competition to collaboration among stakeholders through the Pan Delta movement for social and environmental justice, which has introduced new voices and values to the debate over the region's future. Qualitative content analysis of secondary data is used to apply the wicked problems framework to the problem of local governance amid the political ecology of social and natural resource conflicts and increasing expectations for public involvement in resource allocation decisions. Similar fundamental political transitions are happening in other African countries. The Niger Delta presents a model case from a region that has been under-studied in the wicked problems literature and discourse.

Publication:  "Managing wickedness in the Niger Delta: Can a new approach to multi-stakeholder governance increase voice and sustainability?" Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 154, October 2016, Pages 102–114. Available online.