Speech delivered by Chief Chris O. O. Biose at the 2022 ANNUAL NATIONAL CONVENTION of the Old Boys Association of Immaculate Conception College, Benin City, hosted by Asaba Branch, with the Theme SPLENDOUR OF THE NIGER, holding at Orchid Hotels and Event Centre, Asaba, on November 19, 2022.
I wish to thank the leadership of Asaba Branch of the Old Boys Association of Immaculate Conception College, Benin City, for inviting me to speak on this special occasion of the NATIONAL CONVENTION of this famous educational institution holding here in the Delta State capital, Asaba. The College was founded in 1944 by His Lordship Bishop Patrick Joseph Kelly, S.M.A. (1894-1991) as a Catholic boarding school for boys with Rev. Andrew O’Rouke, S.M.A., as the first Principal of the college. Bishop Kelly was appointed Vicar-Apostolic of Asaba-Benin in 1943 and Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City from 1950 to 1973 and during his missionary career, he aided in construction of dozens of schools.
To the Glory of God, the ICC has produced thousands of eminent men who are making significant contributions in all fields of human endeavor and the galaxy of distinguished personalities present here today is abundant testimony to that fact. It is therefore a prodigious honour to me to be here and I feel really humbled.
My first close connection with ICC was 1981, nearly ten years after the compulsory take-over of voluntary agency schools by the military junta in 1972. In spite of general fall in standard of education occasioned by the military misadventure into management of educational institutions, ICC still retained much of its old glory.
The Edo State Government later saw reason and returned the College to its original owners, the Catholic Mission on April 30, 2004 and the Mission quickly restored the old discipline that placed the institution first among equals in Nigeria.
For the purpose of this speech, the River Niger includes all of its major tributaries, physical characteristics, hydrology, climatic factors, plant and animal life it sustains as well as the influence it has on the people who live nearby and how they adapt to it.
The human factor is important in discussing the Splendour of the River Niger because physical realities are reflected and take form in the human consciousness, where they are endowed with meaning and it is also through human action that physical realities can be modified for greater human good or what is commonly referred to as development.
The ideas that come to mind when one contemplates this topic are so extensive that it is difficult to do them justice in the 60 minutes allotted to me. As a result, I have divided my speech into twenty-one (21) micro concepts and will speak for roughly three minutes on each one.
(ii) Asaba and the River Niger
I think it is fair to say that the historical significance of Asaba stems in large part from its location at the Western bank of the River Niger. Asaba oral tradition relates that the town was founded by a man called Nnebisi, from Iteje, east of the River Niger.
The National African Company Limited (NAC), the premier British explorer, trader and imperialist organisation in the 19th century, selected Asaba as its capital. Dr. Felix Nwanze-Obi provides extensive data in his 1976 book, The British Occupation of the Niger Territories (1830-1914) about how NAC agents annexed Asaba and coerced the natives to sign an agreement with them in 1884, to govern the territory politically and economically.
Having met conditions stipulated by the British Government, the NAC changed its name to Royal Niger Company (RNC). In 1886, Her Majesty’s Government granted a Charter to the RNC, givin it unlimited power to administer the entire area known as the Niger Territories, over which it had gained trading pre-eminence over rival French companies. Having entrenched themselves as de facto as well as de jure government in the area, the colonial administrators established a Supreme Court, a high security prison, hospital, botanical and experimental gardens, military base, police constabulary, barracks, cemetery and administrative office at the capital city, Asaba, which also housed a retinue of high-ranking British officials.
That was how Asaba became the capital city of the Niger Territories until the RNC formally lost her charter on January 1, 1900, and its flag bearing ARS, JUX PAS was lowered at Asaba and Lokoja giving way to the Union Jack, the official flag of Her Majesty’s Government.
Following this event, the British Government temporarily relocated the territory’s administrative centre from Asaba to Calabar and subsequently to Lagos. However, General Murtala Mohammed’s military junta changed the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja in 1976 and this change only took effect on December 12, 1991.
(iii) Nigeria and the River Niger
The exploration of the River Niger by foreign explorers, slave traders, merchants and colonialists is inextricably related to the history of Nigeria as a political entity.
British and French explorers had penetrated the hinterland by the 1770s and had set up trading posts along the River Niger all the way from Akassa in the Delta to Lokoja.
According to historical records, the Scottish surgeon and explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806) was the first to pinpoint the River Niger’s source. The passionate explorer is reported to have exclaimed:
“I saw with infinite pleasure, the great object of my mission, the long sought majestic Niger, glittering to the morning sun.”
During his second journey to map the route of the River Niger, he drowned in Bussa in 1806, just before the rapids. Lake Kainji which was constructed in 1968 as a component of the Kainji Dam now covers the former location of Bussa.
The Lander Brothers (Richard Lemon Lander and John Lander) continued further exploration of the River Niger in 1830 and followed the lower Niger from Bussa to the sea. They were particularly fascinated by the Y-shape of the confluence of the River Niger and River Benue, which is captured in the Nigerian coat-of-arms.
Another notable occurrence in the exploring adventures of foreigners along the River Niger took place in the 1830s when Obi Ossai of Aboh jailed the Lander Brothers for entering his realm without his permission although they were ultimately released unharmed.
As noted in Paragraph (ii) of this address, the NAC established its capital at Asaba in 1884. At the Berlin Conference from 1884 to 1885, where European powers shared Africa among themselves as their possessions, Britain was able to convince the French, German and others that it had established preeminent and paramount interests in the Niger Territories, precisely as a result of the activities of the NAC (renamed RNC in 1886). The British Government took over the Niger Territories from the RNC in 1900. The Government revoked the Charter it granted to RNC to administer the Territories and paid the company the sum of BP865,000 (eight hundred and sixty-five thousand pounds) as compensation. But this was not before Nigeria had derived its name from the River Niger.
According to a British anthropologist, author, and one-time Government Anthropologist in Northern Nigeria, Charles Kingsley Meek (1960), the name Nigeria first appeared in print in an article published in the Times of London issue of January 8, 1897, written by a British female journalist, Miss Flora Shaw, who at that time, wrote about the colonies. Miss Shaw dismissed existing nomenclatures such as Royal Niger Company’s Territories or Central Sudan as misleading and inconvenient to use.
She suggested that “the agglomeration of pagan and Mohammedan states” and the collection of protectorates and colonies around the River Niger should be called Niger Area, or Nigeria.” That was how the country got a name. (“The Times, London, 8 January, 1897)
(iv) Physical Features of the River Niger
The River Niger is the most important river in West Africa and the third-longest river in Africa, trailing only the Nile and Congo.
The River Niger rises in Guinea, near the Sierra Leona border on the south-eastern edge of the Fouta Djallon highlands at 9°05′N and 10°47′W. It travels in a crescent shape and reaches its upper course near the Malian capital, Bamako, before turning south, snaking its 4,180 km route through nine sub-Saharan countries before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Guinea via a huge delta known as the Niger Delta.
A region of lakes, streams and backwaters known as the River Niger’s “internal delta” is an interesting aspect of the river’s upper course. These lakes are mostly on the left bank and are linked to the river via channels that change direction, depending on the season. When the water level rises, most of the lakes become inundated.
The River Niger reaches its lower course downstream of Jebba (Kwara State), Nigeria, running south-east over a vast and shallow valley 8 to 16 km wide.
The River Niger from Source to the Gulf of Guinea
From Lokoja downstream to Idah in Kogi State, the River Niger flows in a narrow valley surrounded by hills and flanked by 45-metre-high sandstone cliffs.
Between Idah and Onitsha, the banks are lower and the country flatter. At Onitsha, the valley narrows as the river flows through what is probably a fault in the area’s sandstone. It emerges at Aboh (Delta State), splitting into many branches before reaching the Gulf of Guinea via Africa’s largest delta.
(v) Major Tributaries, the River Niger
Without its tributaries, the River Niger would lose much of its volume and splendor. This makes them crucial.
The Bani River is River Niger’s largest tributary in Mali. It is created by the confluence of the Baoule and Bagoe rivers, 160 km east of Bamako and it joins with the River Niger close to Mopti. It is approximately 1,100 km long.
The Mekrou River, anther tributary of the River Nigeria, originates in Benin, north of Kounde and flows for 250 kilometres through the W National Park, which spans parts of Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso.
The Sokoto River which originates south of Katsina State in Funtua in northwestern Nigeria is the next. It flows north-west through Gusau in Zamfara State where the Gusau Dam creates a reservoir that supplies water to the city. It is roughly 275 kilometres long.
The Rima River joins the Sokoto River farther down; it then flows through Sokoto before turning south and passing into Birnin-Kebbi in Kebbi State.
It merges with the River Niger about 120 kilometres south of Birnin-Kebbi.
The Bakalori Dam is an important reservoir on the Sokoto River and is located about 100 kilometres upstream of Sokoto. It has a substantial impact on flood plain farming downstream.
The plains around the Sokoto River are widely cultivated. It is a source of irrigation and also an important means of transport.
The Kaduna River joins the River Niger about 110 km from Jebba, contributing about one-fourth of the river’s annual discharge below the Niger-Kaduna confluence. It begins on the Jos Plateau, 29 kilometres southwest of Jos, flows 550 kilometres through Kaduna State and its capital Kaduna, before joining the River Niger in Niger State. The majority of its path is across open savanna woodland, although its bottom half carves many canyons above its entrance into the vast River Niger floodplains.
The next and biggest is the River Benue (meaning “Mother of Water” in the Batta language). It joins the River Niger at Lokoja. It rises approximately 1,350 metres above sea level on the Adamawa Plateau in North Cameroon.
The river is approximately 1,400 kilometres long and is almost totally navigable during the summer months. As a result, it is an essential transportation route in the areas through which it flows. The size of its basin is 319,000 km2.
At the point of confluence, the Benue exceeds the Niger by volume and thereby approximately doubling the volume of River Niger’s annual discharge.
The Anambra River (Igbo: Omambala) in Anambra State is the most important feeder of the River Niger below Lokoja. It travels 210 kilometres before emptying into the Atlantic via different outlets in the Niger Delta region.
(vi) The Niger Basin
The Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote de Voire, Chad, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria are all parts of the Niger Basin. Together with its tributaries, the River Niger drains a total area of about 2,117,700 km2.
(vii) Climatic Conditions of the Niger Basin
Climate varies greatly within the Niger Basin. While sparce rainfall is a reality of life in the Sahara desert’s southern border, seasonal flooding is common in the plains of the middle and southern belts. In September and October 2022, 33 of 36 states in Nigeria experienced catastrophic flooding, killing over 600 people, displacing over 1.5 million others and destroying farmland and property worth several hundred billion Naira.
Unplanned human growth, including the obstruction of natural water routes, exacerbates the situation as does climate change. A substantial percentage of land in the Niger Delta’s riverine areas is progressively being submerged below sea level.
The delta area has over 160 inches (4,100 mm) of yearly precipitation while Timbuktu has less than 10 inches (250 mm).
Precipitation reduces significantly in the middle Niger region, and the greatest quantity of evaporation occurs here as well. It is believed that the River Niger loses almost two-thirds of the annual volume of discharge that runs past Mopti in the lake region through evaporation or seepage.
(viii) Hydrology of the River Niger
Due to climatic differences, the annual river flood does not occur at the same time in different areas of the basin due to water movement in relation to land around the River Niger.
The upper Niger has a high-water discharge season in June and a low-water season in December.
In the middle course, the white flood (so named because of the light sediment content of the river) occurs immediately after the rainy season between July and October.
A second rise – the black flood (so called because of the greater sediment content), begins in December with the arrival of floodwaters from upstream. May and June are the low-water months.
On the Benue there is only one high-water season. Because of the Benue’s more southerly location, this normally occurs from May to October – earlier than on the middle Niger.
(ix) Plant and Animal Life
The River Niger runs across all of West Africa’s vegetational zones. The Fouta Djallon plateau, where it rises, is covered in sedge vegetation made up of tiny, wire-like tufts intermingled with bare rock surfaces.
The River Niger flows primarily through savanna grassland terrain from the Fouta Djallon until well below its confluence with the Benue. The grass in the north is short and discontinuous, with thorny shrub and acacia woods.
Tall, tussocky grass is intermingled with dense woody growth in the grassland region’s south.
The river enters the high rain forest zone around Onitsha, where it blends with the mangrove swamps’ flora of the delta below Aboh. The woodland belt’s relatively mild weather attracts a wide range of birds and other creatures.
The River Niger and its tributaries are home to a diverse range of fish, the most important of which are catfish, carp and Nile perch. There are at least three varieties of crocodiles (including the dreaded Nile crocodile) and a variety of lizards.
There is a wide range of birds. Geese can be spotted in the lake region, as can herons, egrets, and storks on the river and surrounding lakes. The eye-catching crown bird can be found everywhere there is open ground in the grassland zone, while pelicans and flamingos are especially common in the upper Benue area.
White-headed plovers, crocodiles, birds, sand pipers, curlews, and green-red shanks are among the smaller riverine species.
Hippopotamuses can also be found in some regions, particularly in the “inner delta” region’s slow-moving waters and lake region. On November 19, 2014, The Guardian (International Edition), reported that “twelve children and one adult died after a hippopotamus overturned a boat near the Niger capital, Niamey.” The boat was carrying school children across the River Niger when the sad event occurred.
(x) Ecology of the Niger Delta
The Niger Delta portion of the Niger Basin deserves special mention in a discussion of the Splendour of the Niger. It is the area where the River Niger and its tributaries pour into the Atlantic Ocean.
The term ecology, according to Oxford Languages online, is “a branch of biology that deals with the relation of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.”
The Nun River is said to be a direct continuation of the River Niger. Other significant channels in the delta area include Forcados River, Brass River, Sambreiro River, Bonny River and Escravos. However, the Escravos River has displaced the River Forcados, which itself, replaced the Nun as the most traveled channel in the early twentieth century.
The three major ecosystems of the Niger Delta are lowland rain forest, freshwater forest and the mangrove swamp.
The lowland rain forest zone in the Niger Delta is replete with diverse species. The zone is characterized by tall trees (1st layer/stratum) which is characterized by thick and dense forest with smooth bark trees of about 40 to 50 metres tall and often, epiphytes and lianas are attached to the bark of the tree; big trees with canopy (2nd layer/stratum) which are plants with high branch, 20–35 metres tall and can provide shade; lower trees with bare trunks (3rd layer/stratum) which are plants of about 20 metres tall; while 4th layer are with mosses, small stemmed shrubs, lichens, herbs and ferns.
The vegetation found in rain forest is mainly used for timber, firewood, saw wood, particle board, pulp/paper, poles and traditional medicine.
The freshwater swamp of the Niger delta is situated between the lowland rain forest in the north and the mangrove swamp in the south. It covers an area of about 14,500 km2.
Freshwater are water resources that are mostly used for domestic purposes including drinking, bathing and cooking.
Within the freshwater swamps, other habitats such as riparian and arable farmland are common.
The swamps provide a transition zone between the two ecosystems and a passageway for the migration of biodiversity. This zone is silt laden from the River Niger. It is essential habitat for fisheries particularly during the flooding period. The freshwater is also an important habitat for crayfish, prawn, crabs and crocodiles.
The vegetation of freshwater forest is also characterized by tall trees. Majority of the plant species in the area is used as fuel, food, medicine, boat carving and it also protects the shoreline.
According to Paula Caballera, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Regional Managing Director for Latin America, the Niger Delta forms a natural dam for the River Niger. She says that “if the delta did not exist, it is likely we’d be brainstorming ways to build a man-made structure to do the work the delta does naturally.” (Paula Caballera, The Niger River Delta – A Strategic Asset in Africa’s Sahel Region, October 20, 2014)
Freshwater and Mangrove Swamp Zones
of the Niger Delta
The mangrove swamp
of the Niger Delta
consists of vast
swamps, rivers, rivulets
and creeks covering
about 6,000 km2
within the estuary of the
This makes it
the third largest in
the world and the most
tropical and fresh
water forests, aquatic
biodiversity in West Africa.
The Willink’s Minorities’ Commission Report, 1958, recognizes the Niger Delta wetlands as “one of the most fragile ecosystems of the world”, requiring special developmental attention.
The mouths of the channels are almost all obstructed by sandbars. In this way, the delta is being gradually extended seaward by the increments of silt brought down by the river, and mangrove swamps extend beyond its outer edge.
(xi) Ancient Empires of the River Niger
The River Niger was the site of some early empires in West Africa. One of these was the Mali Empire which was a trading empire that flourished from the 13th to the 16th centuries. It was located on the upper River Niger east of the Fouta Djallon. At the heights of its power, it controlled the land of the middle Niger and absorbed the trading cities of Timbuctu and Gao.
Another great trading empire which was located on the middle reaches of the River Niger is Songhai in present day central Mali. The Songhai Empire expanded tremendously and dominated the Western Sahel/Sudan in the 15th and 16th centuries.
(xii) Ethnic Groups and Principal Cities of the River Niger
The River Niger hosts an estimated 110 million people from diverse ethnic groups who live along its banks in hundreds of small and medium size communities as well as important cities.
The ethno-linguistic trend along the river’s is somewhat complicated. The Malinke-speaking people, for example, are spread across numerous West African countries including Guinea and Mali.
The Songhai-speaking people of Gao and Timbuctu, the Bambara-speaking people of Bamako and the Zarma (also called Zerma, Djerm) people of Niger and Burkina Faso are other prominent ethno-linguistic groups located in the upper stretch of the River Niger.
In Nigeria, the Yoruba and Nupe speaking inhabitants of Jeba dwell beside the River Niger. Others include the Igbirra (Ebira) speaking people of Lokoja, the Igala speaking people of Idah, the Igbo-speaking people of the commercial metropolis of Onitsha on the eastern bank and Asaba on the western side, the Ukwani speaking people of Aboh and the Itsekiri of Koko are all on the Niger. The Ijaw (Izon) speaking people occupy the creeks of the delta.
(xiii) Effects of River Niger on Livelihood and Culture of Communities
For those who live on either side of its banks, the River Niger is a vital source of economic support. The uses of the River Niger environment to enhance the quality of life may be discussed under several heads, including domestic, fishing, agriculture (farming); hunting and gathering; trading and transportation, pastoral cattle ranching and cultural activities.
(a) Domestic: For centuries, communities living along the Niger took water directly from the river for drinking, cooking, bathing and other domestic use.
(b) Hunting and Agriculture: The bank of the river is frequented by various categories of animals that come to the river to drink water, particularly during dry periods. The banks therefore become an important area of hunting.
(c) Fishing: Along the whole length of the river system and its tributaries, fishing is a significant activity, particularly during the dry season. For several group of people, such as the Bozo and Somono in the lake region, the Sorko on the middle Niger, the Kede and the Kakanda between Jebba and Lokoja and the Wurbo and the Jukun on the Benue, river fishing is a specialist vocation.
(d) Trading and Transportation: The River Niger is an important source of water transportation. More than three-quarters of the total length of the river is used for commercial transportation.
The middle course of the River Niger is navigable to small craft during high water as far downstream as Ansongo (a small town in the Gao region of eastern Mali) – some 1,770 km in all. Below Ansongo, 690 km downstream from Timbucktu, navigability is interrupted by a series of defiles and rapids. The river becomes navigable to small vessels again at the river port village of Labbezanga – from which it flows into Niger – and continues to be navigable up to the Atlantic Ocean.
From Onitsha to the confluence of the River Benue and River Niger, large vessels can move for 10 months of the year (June–March).
From Lokoja to Jebba, the River Niger is navigable to all craft only from October to mid-November. Above Jebba the River Niger is navigable only to smaller craft and this is dependent locally on periods when water levels are adequate. Thus, Jebba is in effect the head of navigation of the Niger waterway. Extreme fluctuation in water level at times constitutes a major handicap to vessels plying beyond Lokoja.
Navigation in the lower stretch is made possible by the influx of water from the Benue River which is at its high level in June.
(e) Pastoral Cattle Rearing: Livestock raising is one of the principal occupations in rural settlements along the upper and middle courses of the River Niger and one of the main sources of income. Due to climatic fluctuations, nomadic cattle herders move their herds of cattle and sheep to the northern Sahel during the rainy season and down to the southern parts in search of grazing land and drinking water during the dry season.
(f) Environment and Culture
The culture, traditions and spiritual life of riverine settlements are also influenced by their environment. For instance, the Ogiamien title of the Itsekiri Kingdom monarchs has something to do with water. The boat regatta is also one of the kingdom’s most impressive cultural events.
For centuries, the Niger Delta’s Ijaw, Ogoni and other people coexisted peacefully with one another and their neighbors. In temperament, they were generally easy going and the tranquil surroundings kept them away from hinterland aside for trade and inter-marriage.
This was until contact with Europeans and when the region became part of Nigeria in 1914. The discovery and large-scale exploitation of crude oil in 1956 the area shattered the peaceful life of the people.
(xiv) Problems of the River Niger
The River Niger is plagued by two significant issues that detract from its natural beauty. These are natural and man-made factors.
The first is a climatic condition that causes drought such as what happened in 1985 and 1990, when some areas of the river dried up almost completely. Water scientists believe that the River Niger’s volume has dropped by one third in the previous thirty years.
The second main factor is Africa’s fast increasing population and pollution caused by unregulated human activities. Urbanization, industrialization, intensive farming practices, deforestation, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and emission from the consumption of fossil fuel, all contribute considerably to the degradation of the River Niger environment.
In 2004, representatives of nine member-states of the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), held a two-day summit in Paris, France, and signed a blueprint for protection of the bio-diversity and ecosystem of the River Niger and its tributaries.
On pollution, the Paris summit noted that the Malian capital, Bamako, lies on the banks of the River Niger. Nearly all the city’s commercial and residential effluent drains into the river, untreated. Other Malian towns further east follow suit. The same situation occurs in Niamey, capital of Niger, through Burkina Faso and the commercial city of Onitsha in Nigeria.
Pollution poses severe hazards, particularly water-borne diseases such as diarrhea which spreads through contaminated water.
Moreover, as the water table shrinks due to an annually decreasing rainfall, pollutants become increasingly concentrated in the river.
Another element that has had a negative influence is the spread of water hyacinth. This floating, aquatic weed originates in South America’s Amazon basin and was first introduces to Africa as an ornamental plant. It thrives in stagnant and filthy streams, depriving river water of oxygen, destroying fish and aquatic life. Water hyacinth spread on the River Niger has had major environmental repercussions as it has in East and Southern Africa.
Plastic debris has also presented a significant threat in the River Niger, causing pollution and amphibian suffocation.
The River Niger is likewise being choked by silt (from runoffs) at an alarming rate.
As a combined result of increasing population, drought and shrinking water volume, river fishing communities have become increasingly vulnerable as fish stocks have dwindled.
One of the grave social problems that has arisen from pattern of adaptation of communities to the River Niger environment is widespread conflicts between nomadic Fulani cattle herders and farming communities.
A frightening dimension was added to the crisis with emergence of armed Fulani herdsmen, who constantly launch attacks on farming communities and violently seize land from farmers to make way for their cattle. The security challenge posed by this category of herders stretches from Middle Belt states in Nigeria such as Benue and Taraba to most states in South-East, South-South and South-West Nigeria.
A report by Jose Luis Baran, an independent researcher based in Brussels, Belgium, revealed that between 2017 and May 2020, armed Fulani herdsmen killed 2,539 people in 654 attacks in Nigeria. (Bayo Akinloye, Report: Fulani Herdsmen Killed 2,539 Nigerians in 654 Attacks, THISDAY online).
It is claimed that some of the criminals carrying out the attacks are aliens from neighboring countries. However, the ethnically and religiously skewed structure of the Nigerian security apparatus makes it impossible for farming communities to get the protection they need from the Federal Government.
Nine countries share the Niger River Basin. Multiple uses and possible trade-offs need to be considered and assessed along this transboundary watershed, especially against the backdrop of climate change and demographic trends.
(xv) Scramble for the Wealth of the Niger Basin
From the 16th century onwards, the rich and huge natural resources of the Niger Basin drew international competition to exploit them. Although the Portuguese were the first Europeans to discover “the land of the Blacks” in the mid-14th century, the British outwitted other European nations in manipulative and brutal conquest and exploitation of the Niger Territories’ human and natural resources.
When the British Government prohibited slave trading in the British Empire in 1833, British explorers and slave merchants switched to what they termed “legitimate trade”. The Niger Delta was abundantly endowed with palm oil production which British and other European countries required to power Europe’s budding industrial revolution.
The export of palm oil was monopolized by European countries. They determined the prices at which they would purchase palm fruit from Niger Delta residents in exchange for worthless commodities such as hot beverages (dry gin), coloured beads, mirrors, hats and walking sticks which they referred to as “free trade”.
Thus, the First Scramble for the Niger Delta involved competition among European powers for a share of the palm produce of the Niger Delta, an area which they named the “Oil Rivers”.
Another leg of the First Scramble was intensive and extensive exploitation of timber in the rain forest region with its abundance of tall trees.
For nearly 100 years, covering the period of 50 years before and another 50 years after Nigerian Independence, the virgin forest of the lower forest zone of the Niger Delta which Mother Nature endowed her since time began was mercilessly exploited by timber loggers for expot to Europe.
Indeed, the first experience of a moving motor vehicle which I personally ever had in my village was that of heavy-duty lorries known as “motor-igedu” which ferried logs of wood away from forests in my area in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
(xvi) Paradox of the Splendour of the River Niger
The second scramble for the natural resources of the River Niger is more entrenched and ongoing. Unlike the First Scramble, the discovery and large-scale exploitation of crude oil and natural gas in the Niger Delta is carried out by multinational corporations in such a way that people have no knowledge of what is going on and only experience the consequences.
Foreign exchange gains from crude oil sales were projected to dramatically improve Nigeria’s standard of living. On the contrary, it became a harbinger of ruin for the surrounding communities, comparable to what Chief Obafemi Awolowo once called “damnosa hereditas”, an accursed heritage involving misery.
In the Niger Delta, indigenes suffer, foreigners enjoy. The nearer you are to sources of wealth (crude oil), the poorer you are. This is the paradox of the Niger Delta. Outsiders gain, insiders lose.
This applies not only to the oil bearing areas that suffer the brunt of oil doom in relation to the Nigerian state but also to the country as a whole where foreigners and their corrupt local agents gain the larger benefit than honest toiling citizens of Nigeria.
Surely, foreign banks keep more of proceeds of sale of Nigeria’s crude oil and natural gas than Nigerian banks, courtesy of big looters and oil thieves.
Most Nigerian billionaires keep the illicit money they make from crude oil theft in foreign banks. The foreigners then lend the money back to the country, saddled with “conditionalities”,
Perhaps, the most notable examples of the paradox briefly described here are Oloibiri and adjoining communities of the local government areas where crude oil was first struck in commercial quantities by Shell in 1956 and Ogoni land where Shell started drilling crude oil shortly after Oloibiri.
Oloibiri is in total decay. The site of the oil wells is now wasteland. Shell and the Federal Government of Nigeria extracted the oil, devastated the environment and deserted the place. All that remains are polluted streams infested with fat mosquitoes, unproductive farmlands and capped empty wells while oil companies have long moved to new sites where they serially carry out similar devastations.
The tragedy of Oloibiri is not merely that Shell and Nigerian Government stole the oil and left the place as wasteland.
2008 picture of Oloibiri Oil Well 1 and 2
which Shell left about 1977
Source: Nairaland Forum
Shell and the Federal Government of Nigeria left the place worse than they met it. The means of subsistence of the people (farming and fishing) was destroyed without any replacement. In order to develop Oloibiri, one has first to undo the colossal environmental damage done to the land and creeks by Shell and the Nigerian Government before one could think of how to start developing the place.
The construction of a Specialist Hospital in the area which was billed to be the nucleus of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital was abandoned when the military junta led by Major General Mohammadu Buhari (retd.) sacked the civilian government on December 31, 1983.
Even the foundation for a National Oil Museum (NOM) laid by late President Shehu Shagari in 1980 remains abandoned.
The major function of police posts in the area is to harass innocent and peaceful villagers and arrest people who produce native gin which government labels “illicit”.
Given the mindless greed of the Nigerian ruling elite, it is feared that the fate of Oloibiri awaits much of the oil-bearing areas of the Niger Delta.
If Nigeria presents a clear case of intense human suffering characterised by much labour without commensurate rewards, the Niger Delta epitomises the Nigerian paradox.
(xvii) Developmental Projects Based on the River Niger
Development refers to a process of planned material or social change that conduces to life sustenance, self-esteem and freedom. It is a measure of the intrinsic welfare of citizens.
Since the middle of the 20th century, more sophisticated technology has been used in the construction of dams for irrigation, hydroelectric power and modern transportation systems along the River Niger.
Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are three of the world’s most destitute landlocked nations and improved management of the River Niger’s resources is a difficulty they face on a daily basis.
Over the years, river navigation along the River Niger has significantly improved. The main River Niger ports in Mali are located at Koulikoro and Timbuktu while those in Nigeria are located at Onitsha, Burutu and Koko,
There are rail bridges over the River Niger at Koulikoro in Mali, Jebba in Nigeria and another over the River Benue at Makurdi,
Road bridges over the River Niger include those at Bamako, Segao, in Mali, Niamey in Niger, Malanville in Benin and Kainji, Jebba, Lokoja, and Onitsha in Nigeria. There are also road bridges over the River Benue at Makurdi, Numan and Yola. Ferries cross the Niger at Bamako, Gao, Niamey, Yelwa and Idah; there are also ferry crossings of the Benue at Garoua.
Among large scale power station and irrigation systems developed on the River Niger and some of its tributaries are:
- Fomi Dam in Guinea (hydroelectric and irrigation potential of Guinea and Mali);
- Selingue hydro-electric dam, Mali;
- Markala dam (irrigation) in Mali;
- Sotuba Hydro-Electric Power Plant in Mali;
- Goronyo dam on Rima River Sokoto State (irrigation);
- Bakolori dam, on Sokoto River (irrigation);
- Gusau dam (on Sokoto River), Zamfara State;
- Zungeru Power Station (near completion)
- Kainji hydro-electric dam, Borgu LGA, Niger State, Nigeria;
- Jebba hydro-electric power station across the Niger River on the border between Niger State and Kwara State;
- Dadin Kowa dam on Gongola River situated in Yamaltu Deba LGA of Gombe State;
- Lagdo reservoir on the River Benue in Cameroon (intended for hydro-electric power and irrigation);
- Nigeria has about 38 power generating plants (bothhyrdo and thermal).
The Niger River Commission was formed in 1963 to coordinate multinational cooperation in developing the River Niger and its tributaries. On November 21, 1980, it was refounded as the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) but its success has been mediocre.
(xviii) Present Condition of Niger Basin Communities
The Niger Basin seems to have a low level of technological progress and this reflects in the low standard of living of the population. Mismanagement of economic infrastructure, political instability and a high level of insecurity are other problems.
The majority of the region’s hydro-electric and thermal power plants are either closed or running at considerably below capacity. As a result, just 35 per cent of the population has access to electricity.
Despite the enormous water resources of the River Niger and its tributaries, 30 per cent of the area’s population has no access to improved water supply and 75 per cent lack access to improved sanitation.
Furthermore, the level of insecurity is concerning. For instance, the Nigerian Security Tracker, an initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations of the USA, revealed in October 2022 that 53,418 people were killed by non-state actors in Nigeria under the watch of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) between May 29, 2015 and October 14, 2022. The former military dictator was elected as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2015, promising to combat insecurity. (Leke Baiyewu, Tope Omogbolagun, Solomon Odeniyi, Sami Tunji, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, Damilola Aina and Justin Tyupuusu, N’East leads as terrorists, others kill 53,418 under Buhari, PUNCH NEWSPAPERS, October 23, 2022).
According to the UNDP Human Development Index (2018), nine countries of the Niger Basin are at the worst third of 189 countries. (Water-energy-food.org, Niger Basin).
(xix) The Curse of Crude Oil and Gas Exploitation in the Niger Delta
Taking the River Niger to represent the physical environment and its people, the Splendour of the Niger is subjected to considerable stress by poor quality of political leadership in the region. Nowhere is this debility more starkly exemplified than the unbelievable level of ineptitude brought into the management of Nigeria’s huge crude oil and natural gas endowments.
There are about 94 oil producing countries in the world and Nigeria is among the top ten flarers of gas. Approximately 75 per cent of total gas produced is flared while about 95 per cent of associated gas used as by-product is also flared.
Gas flares cause acid rain, which damages crops and vegetation and acidifies rivers and streams. It reduces farm yields and harms human health by raising the risk of respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung conditions like cancer as well as other conditions like blindness, impotence, miscarriages and early deaths.
The case of Ogoni land in Gokana LGA of Rivers State serves as a stark illustration. Environmental Assessment of Ogoni territory, a Report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in August 2011, on the consequences of oil exploitation in Ogoni region, reveals that the operation of oil firms left the land in turmoil and an obvious environmental disaster.
In order to determine how much the ecosystem has been degraded and how prevalent it is, a UN team evaluated every component of the environment as well as the health of the local population. They looked for health issues among the locals that might be caused by petroleum throughout their health examination. According to their findings, the soil, vegetation, surface water and ground water have all been seriously damaged.
Permanent heat and lack of darkness at night have affected human, animal and plant life in the area incalculably. Thick sooth covers the affected areas, making rain water unfit for human consumption. Palm plants become scorched in the heat while rubber trees stop producing. This poses a serious threat to the local population’s subsistence farming, ecology, veggies, dwellings and metallic minerals.
Since Shell started drilling oil wells in Ogoni land in 1958, the entire landscape was taken over by oil rigs and intricate network of pipelines.
Oil Industry Infrastructures in Ogoni land (UNEP, 2011)
The UNEP Report criticized Shell Petroleum Development Company’s (SPDC) handling of environmental degradation in Ogoni area. It discovered that the world’s largest ever clean up would be required, with an initial cost of $1 billion (about N500 billion) and a clean-up time of 30 years.
The region is plagued by “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict”, according to the UNEP report.
Crude oil exploitation does not only devastate the environment and livelihood of the people, it also devastates other economic, cultural and social activities. “The majority of the people of the Niger Delta do not have adequate access to clean water or health-care.”
The UNEP draws attention to a further threat to communities in the Niger Delta that results from the negligence of those in charge of the country’s oil sector.
“In the Niger Delta, oil spills, garbage dumping and gas flaring are widespread. The land, water and air quality have all been harmed by this pollution, which has been present in the area for decades.”
The report went on to say that “hundreds of thousands of people are affected, notably the poorest and those who depend on traditional livelihoods like fishing and agriculture.”
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), now NNPC Limited, estimates that approximately 2,300 cubic metres of crude oil are spilled in 300 separate incidents annually. Also, between 1970 and 2000, between 9million and 13million barrels of crude oil was spilled in the region. The World Bank however states that actual volume of spills may be ten times greater as most spills are not reported. (Yosef Mahmoud, The State of the Niger Delta Oil Spill – The Borgen Project online)
In the last 20 years, about 2,000 Niger Deltans have been killed in pipeline related explosions and accidents in the Region. One of the most horrific incidents occurred in Jesse, near Sapele, Delta State on October 17, 1998. People had been taking fuel where it was gushing out from a pipeline which they later hawk in jerry cans along Benin-Sapele Road. An account of the incident by Wale Fawale (The Guardian, October 24, 1998, p 5), reveals that over 1,000 people were roasted to death in that incident.
(xx) Enhancing the Splendour of the River Niger
Mother Nature gave River Niger Basin residents a plethora of natural riches that is the envy of many other countries.
The greater part of Nigeria’s 923,768km2 area encompass fertile agricultural terrain suited for the growth of a wide range of food crops including yam, cassava, cocoa-yam, maize, onion, melon, okra and many kinds of vegetables, as well as palm trees, cocoa, rubber, cotton, groundnut and millets.
A wide range of timber including iroko, mahogany, which are now severely reduced due to relentless cutting over the past 100 years, is found in the vast evergreen rain forest region.
Access to sea food is ensured by the River Niger as well as its extensive coastal waters that border the Atlantic.
Metal, ceramic, chemical, metallurgical and refractory, industrial and mineral fuel deposits are found in the subsoil of the area.
Thinking of enhancing the splendor of the Niger, many ideas of innovative projects spring to mind. These include:
- Restoration of river banks;
- Opening natural river channels blocked by unplanned human habitation;
- Harnessing the tourism potentials of the River Niger/Benue confluence and other areas;
- Dredging and development of shipping ports to accommodate larger vessels that will facilitate export of farm produce from the hinterland; such ports will reduce frequency of heavy-duty vehicles moving goods over long distances and cut down current high rate of accidents and also make it easier to maintain existing roads;
- The Koko Port is a viable additional port for ocean going vessels and this would relieve the perennial congestion at Apapa Port in Lagos;
- The River Niger and its tributaries are also apparently sources of additional energy;
- Joint stake-holders engagement in remediation of the Niger Delta environment which has been destroyed by Shell and Nigerian Government;
- Boat building industry.
The Niger Delta also has potential for a thriving palm wine industry but this potential is not exploited. The fishing potential is also under-exploited.
One however realises that there has never been shortage of suggestions for improving the environment. The critical issue has always been the human factor. For example, the dredging project of the River Niger commenced by late President Umaru Musa Yar-Adua’s administration in 2009 has been neglected by the Federal Government.
The level and quality of development in any society is dependent on the level and quality of leadership. In turn, the quality of leadership is dependent on quality of minds that choose leaders. Both are intricately inter-related.
The ingredients of democratic governance such as rule of law and periodic elections are necessary but not sufficient conditions for development. In his Presidential Address entitled Charter of Stability and Progress which he delivered at the Second Annual Congress of the UPN at Eko Hotel, Lagos, on Tuesday, December 11, 1979, Chief Awolowo declared:
“What is required is that every Government of the day must recognise the ultimate purpose of the state – which is the welfare of the entire people without discrimination and having recognised that purpose, to set about making plans for its attainment. But no plan for the welfare of the people will ever succeed unless the very first principle in the pursuit of this ultimate purpose is fully recognized.
“The first principle is that: man is the sole creative and purposive in nature: everything else by comparison is inert. In all the spheres of production, distribution, exchange and consumption, he is the initiator and accelerator of every form of human progress: he is the generator of every initial impulse to human evolution.
“Any plan for progress therefore, which places man in a secondary place is basically in error, antithetic to the natural order of human endeavours, and is bound to fail, as well as a bane rather than a blessing to the people.” (Charter of Stability and Progress, p 24-6).
For the above reasons, Awoist vision of a prosperous Nigerian nation-state lays utmost emphasis on investment in man with a view to increasing human power over the challenges of the physical and social environment. Children inherit the biological endowments of their parents which define body characteristics and intelligence. However, intelligence and acquisition of relevant skills are nurtured in a social environment which may stimulate or stultify it.
At the first Guardian Lecture marking the newspaper’s fifth anniversary in July 1988, Mr. Michael Manley, former Jamaican Prime Minister asserted:
“Third world societies cannot seriously tackle their major structural problems without the broadest involvement of their populations.”
He further observed that:
“Economic independence begins and ends with the skills of the people who wish to enjoy it.” (The Guardian, Tuesday, July 12, 1988, p 17).
Enhancing the Splendour of the Niger presents a human challenge rather than a technical or technological one. The world has the technology to address its fundamental developmental issues. Examples of nations that have surmounted environmental constraints to provide their citizens with excellent levels of living include Israel, Japan and United Arab Emirates (UAE). The main issue in enhancing the Splendor of the Niger therefore, is how to create a visionary and disciplined leadership that is focused on the real development of the sub-region.
It is obvious that a government that places less emphasis on investing in people and permits students in federal tertiary educational institutions in Nigeria to stay at home for 8 months due to misplaced priorities and a refusal to uphold minimum standards in tertiary educational institutions cannot enhance the splendor of the Niger, taking the Niger to symbolize the environment and people of Nigeria or the Niger Basin.
(xxi) The Core Message of The Splendour of the Niger
In concluding this address, Ladies and Gentlemen, kindly permit me to present what I consider to be the core message of The Splendour of the Niger. Nature has a silent and unobtrusive way of impressing vital lessons on man if only he cares to look. The River Niger and its tributaries and indeed the natural world, constitute an abiding object lesson in building up, conservation and self-preservation through the law of cycles.
The River Niger is magnificent because it is constantly replenished by its tributaries to become the gigantic natural phenomenon that it is. If it should stand alone without its tributaries, it would probably dry up rather than increase tremendously before the end of its 4,000plus kilometre journey from the Fouta Djalon highlands to the Atlantic Ocean.
Therefore, the River Niger teaches us the value of co-operation and team-work in producing great results. As far back as the 4th century BCE, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) posited that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” For example, if each item required to build this edifice is placed alone, each would most certainly not serve as much as when they are combined to build it. The same goes for modern technological equipment.
Development failure in Nigeria is ample demonstration of the fact that large land mass, huge population and abundant natural and human resources do not necessarily add up to wellbeing of citizens or development.
Here comes the critical factor of what has been called “intangible assets” in terms of human and institutional strength in any geographical space. In practical terms, these translate to attitudinal factors, positive values, common goals, unity of purpose and other factors which enable any society to deploy the skills of its citizens for the achievement of group goals. Indisputably, relevant technical competence of individual role occupants and availability of material resources are indispensable but they are not sufficient to achieve development.
There is a more telling dimension of backwardness which is more invidious, yet less amenable to measurement. It is the structure of private and social thinking about the world, about society and governance which some social psychologists refer to as Group Intelligence (GI).
Nigeria is a country replete with individual intelligence but little or no “group intelligence”. This explains why Nigerians perform brilliantly abroad but fall short of their capabilities in their own country. This is a place where, in most cases, individual intelligence is applied to frustrate and checkmate group objectives, thereby depleting rather than replenishing the Splendor of the Niger.
Africans and the entire world are waiting for Nigeria to lead the way in restoring the dignity of the Black Man in the world. A great Nigerian nation-state will reverberate across Africa as a model of the new Africa.
I respectfully submit that the missing link in the Splendor of the Niger, which I equate with the development of the Niger Basin, is visionary and disciplined political leadership that builds rather than divides. In other words, Nigeria needs a leadership that fosters Group Intelligence by mobilizing all the human and material resources in the country to achieve the goals of the state rather than private, ethnic or theocratic goals.
The 2023 presidential election offers each and every one of us an opportunity to contribute to enhancement of the Splendour of the Niger, taken to represent the bigger Nigerian state or the Niger Basin.
In this respect, any politician can reel out an impressive array or list of developmental projects. The pertinent question then is the vision of such a leader or his ideological orientation. What kind of society does he have in mind? Is it more of the same or a fundamental shift in the direction of the society? The capacity of such a politician and his credibility, based on his or her antecedents also come to play.
A politician, for example, whose personal and business life is opaque or shrouded in secrecy, who cannot be transparent about his personal life, or who looks the other way when heinous crimes are committed by his religious or ethnic group without speaking out boldly, is most unlikely to be a credible candidate to lead the largest Black Country in the world.
I further submit that character of leaders is key because the Nigerian experience has shown that whatever the resources available in a state, if the human beings that occupy that space are debased, the place is thereby debased. The effect is more crippling if the debased constitute the ruling class in the society. This is the core of the Nigerian predicament.
On this score, I wish to appreciate the Old Boys Association of ICC for keeping alive the spirit of this great citadel of nurturing human intellect and character beyond the walls of that noble institution. By applying group intelligence to organize this Annual Convention, you preserve in perpetuity, the objectives for which the college was founded for the advancement of human civilization.
By virtue of this, I pray with the Psalmist that the ICC and all its alumni “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in its season; its leaves also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:3 (KJV)
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I believe that each of us here today can play a vital role in enhancing the Splendour of the Niger and I so entrust you with this sacred responsibility.
I thank you very much for listening.
Awolowo, Obafemi. Charter of Stability and Progress, Presidential Address delivered at the Second Annual Congress of the Unity Party of Nigeria at Eko Hotel, Lagos, on Tuesday, 11th December, 1979, p 24-6.
Caballera, Paula. The Niger River Delta – A Strategic Asset in Africa’s Sahel Region, October 20, 2014
Meek, Charles Kingsley. The History of a Name, The Journal of African History, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1960
Nwanze-Obi, Felix. The British Occupation of the Niger Territories (1830-1914), Mercury (Overseas) Press, Great Britain, 1976
United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Environment Assessment of Ogoniland, (2011), ISBN: 978-92-807-3130-9 Job No.: DEP/1337/GE