Geography of the Niger Delta

Click thumbnail to view full-size

The area around this coastline is interrupted by series of estuaries that form the Niger Delta swamp at the middle where the lower Niger River system drains the waters of Rivers Niger and Benue into the Atlantic Ocean.

This delicate mangrove swamp of the Niger Delta covers a coastline of 560 km2, about two-thirds of the entire coastline of Nigeria and the wetland in this region is traversed and criss-crossed by a large number of rivers, rivulets, streams, canals and creeks.

The Niger Delta is a rich mangrove swamp in the southernmost part of Nigeria covering over 20,000km² within wetlands of 70,000km² formed primarily by sediment deposition.

It is the largest mangrove swamp and wetland in Africa, maintaining the third largest drainage basin in the continent, and is also the third largest wetland in the world after Holland and Mississippi.[1] The region has a population of around 20 million people comprising of 40 different ethnic groups.

The Niger Delta is home to extraordinary biodiversity and its Mangroves swamp is of immense importance to the people of the region and vital for their sustenance as it provides these communities with different ecosystem goods such as sea foods, fisheries, fuel wood, agricultural products and ecological services such as fertile alluvial plains and coral reefs.


[1]Ekubo, A., & Abowei, J.,“Aspects of Aquatic Pollution in Nigeria, Research Journal of Environmental and Earth”,Sciences 3(6): 673-693, 2011

The major occupation of people in the region is fishing and agriculture and the region is abundantly blessed in this respect. The region is the 3rd largest producer of palm, after Malaysia and Indonesia and the largest producer of Cassava.[1] Also, 60 percent of all fishes in the Gulf of Guinea breed in the mangroves of the Niger Delta[2].

The Niger Delta's environment comprise of four distinct ecological zones: coastal barrier islands, mangrove swamp forests, freshwater swamps, and lowland rainforests and its ecosystem contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, in addition to supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna and arable terrain that can sustain a wide variety of crops, lumber or agricultural trees, wildlife habitats and more species of freshwater fish than any other ecosystem in West Africa.


[1] Dung, E., et al., “The effects of gas flaring on crops in the Niger Delta, Nigeria”, (2008), Geo Journal 73, 297-305

[2] Zabbey, N., Impacts of extractive industries on the biodiversity of the Niger Delta Region, Nigeria”, Paper delivered at National Workshop on coastal and marine biodiversity management, 7 – 9 Sept, 2005, Pyramid Hotel, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria (www.cehrd.org).

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Statement of the Problem

The delicate nature and abundant endowment of the Niger Delta mangrove swamp and freshwater ecosystem contrasts against the background of wanton pollution and degradation of the freshwater ecosystem in the region by a variety of sources ranging from oil spills, dredging, dumping of toxic wastes, seismic activities and waste water disposal into freshwater bodies in the region.

This state of pollution which has continued for more than four decades since the commencement of oil exploration activities in the region in 1958, has contaminated virtually all the freshwater bodies in the region, including ground water, surface waters, wetlands and creeks, thereby depriving the region of drinking water and sources of livelihood (since the major occupation of

the communities in the region is fishing and agriculture)[1].

An investigation conducted by the World Bank found that hydrocarbon pollution in Ogoniland water was over sixty times U.S. limits.

The report also indicated that between 1986 and1996, approximately 2.5 million barrels-equal to 10 Exxon Valdez disasters- has been spilled into freshwater bodies in this region[2]. Furthermore, the report of an Environmental group in the region found the hydrocarbon pollution in one of the freshwater source in the region to be 360 times the limit of EU standards.[3]


[1]Eaton, J., “The Nigerian Tragedy, Environmental Regulation of Trans-national Corporations, and Human Rights to Healthy Environment”, 15 B.U. INT’L L.J. 261, 297 (1997)

[2]World Bank (2004), Supra, note 2


[3]Essential Action and Global Exchange, “Oil For Nothing: Multinational Corporations, Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta”(2000), available at <http://www.essentialaction.org/shell/Final_Report.pdf (last visited April 2008)

The problem of freshwater ecosystem degradation in the region also has wider socio-economic effects on the region as a result of the eradication of the source of livelihood (fishing and agriculture) of the people of the host communities.

This leads to endemic poverty throughout the region and the seething anger of the people towards the government and IOCs over the years has boiled over and erupted into wide-scale violence and militancy in the region leading to deaths of thousands of people, both local and expatriates annually[1].

The sum effect is that the Niger Delta has become, in the eyes of the international community and concerned stakeholders, a “Disaster Zone” in terms of freshwater ecosystem and socio-economic circumstances.[2]


[1]“Violence in the Niger River delta, home to a majority of Nigeria's oil reserves, kills about 1,000 people a year, on par with conflicts in Chechnya and Colombia, according to a Shell- funded report…..”Karl Meier, Bloomberg News Agency, June 10, 2004.

[2] UNEP 2011,“Ecosystem Management, Food and Ecological security: Identifying synergy and trade-offs”. UNEP Policy series, Issue No 4 p.12; The report indicates that there is a gradual decline of fish landings in the region from 95% in 1980 to 40% in 2003

Primary Sources


Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended)

Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), “Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria” (EGASPIN) (revised 2002)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992

Federal Environmental Protection Agency Decree No. 58, December 30, 1988,

Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA)’s Guidelines and Standards for Environmental Pollution Control in Nigeria 1991

Harmful Wastes Decree No. 42 of November 30, 1988.

National Environmental Protection (Effluent Limitation) Regulations of 1991;

National Environmental Protection (Pollution Abatement in Industries and Facilities Generating Wastes) Regulation of 1991

Oil Pipelines Act of 1973

Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations (1969) of 1969

Water Resources Decree No. 101 of August 1993

Secondary Sources


ARTICLES AND JOURNALS

Adesola O. and Adeyemo B., “Assessing Environmental Protection and Management Systems in West Africa: A Case Study of Nigeria”, Loyola University Chicago, 2006, A ThesisSubmitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Science Degree Department of Geography and Environmental Resources in the Graduate School Southern Illinois University Carbondale August 2008.


Adeyemo, A., Environmental policy failure in Nigeria and the tragedy of Under-development of the Niger Delta Region”, Inaugural Lecture Series No 63, University of Port Harcourt


Afolabi, D., “Managing Nigeria’s Environment: The Unresolved Issues”, Journal of Environmental Science and Technology 4(3): 250-263, 2011

Dung, E., et al., “The effects of gas flaring on crops in the Niger Delta, Nigeria”, (2008), Geo Journal 73, 297-305

Eaton, J., “The Nigerian Tragedy, Environmental Regulation of Trans-national Corporations, and Human Rights to Healthy Environment”, 15 B.U. INT’L L.J. 261, 297 (1997)

Ekubo, A., & Abowei, J.,“Aspects of Aquatic Pollution in Nigeria, Research Journal of Environmental and Earth”, Sciences 3(6): 673-693, 2011

Essential Action and Global Exchange, “Oil for Nothing: Multinational Corporations, Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta” (2000), available at <http://www.essentialaction.org/shell/Final_Report.pdf (last visited April 2008)

Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership 2004; Regulation of Associated Gas Flaring and Venting: A Global Overview and Lessons from International Experience, Report Number 3 - World Bank Group pg. 25


Irokalibe, I., “Water Management in Federal and Federal –Type Countries: Nigerian Perspectives”, Global Journal of Environmental Sciences, 2(1): 47-42

Isikhuemen, E., “Status, Threats and Priority for Conservation of Freshwater Swamp forest in Protected Areas in Edo State, Nigeria”, Nigerian Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment 8(1):38-46 Published March, 2012, NJAFE VOL. 8 No. 1, 2012 38


Karl Meier, Bloomberg News Agency, June 10, 2004.


Nigeria: Petroleum, Pollution And Poverty in the Niger Delta”, Amnesty International Publications, First Published in 2009 by Amnesty International, International Secretariat, Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street, London, UK

“Oil Companies Violate DPR's Environmental Laws”, Online Nigeria, August 24, 2005, available at http://nm.onlinenigeria.com/templates/?a=4880&z=12, last accesses on 12/10/2012

Tamuno, P., “Legal Response to Gas Flaring in Developed and Developing Countries: A Comparative Analysis of Nigeria, United Kingdom and Norway”, Centre for Energy, petroleum & Mineral Law and Policy, International Energy Law and Policy Research Paper Series Working Research Paper Series No: 2010/14.at pg. 26

Ukpeh, U., “Ecological Degradation and Environmental Pollution in the Niger Delta- A Direct Impact of Oil Exploration: Human Rights Issue?” Nigerian Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment 8(1):38-46

UNEP 2011, “Ecosystem Management, Food and Ecological security: Identifying synergy and trade-offs”. UNEP Policy series, Issue No 4 p.12

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Environmental Impact Assessment and Pollution in Ogoni Land, 2009, first published in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme

Uzoekwe, S., and Achudume, A.,Pollution status and effect of crude oil spillage in Ughoton stream ecosystem in Niger Delta”, Journal of Ecology and the Natural Environment Vol. 3(15), pp 469-473, 12 December, 2011

World Bank (2004),“Defining an environmental development strategy in the Niger Delta”

Zabbey, N., Impacts of extractive industries on the biodiversity of the Niger Delta Region, Nigeria”, Paper delivered at National Workshop on coastal and marine biodiversity management, 7 – 9 Sept, 2005, Pyramid Hotel, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria (www.cehrd.org).

More by this Author


2 comments

abbaelijah profile image

abbaelijah 2 years ago from Nigeria Author

humm ! that is it oh...

The poor are always the one to suffer at the end.

God will help us to change the minds of our Government to do something about it soon and very quickly.

Thanks for reading and commenting ALWAYS EXPLORING !


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

The question remains, is your government doing anything to stop the pollution?. I fully know that we as a nation could not function without oil and gas, but regulating where and how it is extracted is the utmost factor. Greed is rampant all over the world, governments caring only about today. A line must be drawn as to when and where drilling can be done. The BIG oil companies only care about profit. ' It takes a village ' Thank you for a most comprehensive report...

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working