HISTORY AND CULTURAL STUDIES
We plan to produce research results that contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
Extending over approximately 70,000 km sq., the Niger Delta is reputed to be the world’s largest wetlands, covering about 7.5% of Nigeria’s land area. The area is criss-crossed by innumerable rivers and rivulets cutting through its sandy coastal ridges, brackish/saline mangrove swamps, freshwater swamps, and lowland rainforests. The core delta extends from the Benin River in the west to the Imo River in the east, and from the southernmost tip at Palm Point in Akassa to Onya/Samabri in the north, where the Niger River bifurcates into its two main tributaries, Rivers Nun and Forcados.
The region is also an area of immense cultural diversity with an estimated population of 34 million people (2005), speaking over two hundred languages and dialects, clustered in about forty ethnic groups.
The Izon are the most populous group; thers include the Epie-Atissa, Ogbia, Nembe, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko, Ukwani, Engenni, Abua, Odual, Abureni/Mini, Eleme, Ogoni, Ikwerre, Etche, Ekpeye, Ogbah, Egbema, Ndoni, Obolo (Andoni).
The Niger Delta was a collection of states, controlled by different chiefs and kings, These communities traded with each other before the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th Century, with palm oil being the primary commodity. The terrain is extremely difficult and a substantial portion of the region falls under the “world’s fragile ecosystem”. Many communities live along creeks and are accessible only by boats. Farming and fishing are the main economic activities in the communities, while commerce and oil-industry related activities dominate the urban areas. The riverine communities are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes and man-made disasters (floods, sea encroachment, oil pollution, piracy, hostage- taking, communal conflicts, etc). Oil exploration started in the Niger Delta region in the late 1930s and oil was found in commercial quantity in 1956 at the Oloibiri village. Since then oil production has increased significantly.
After the civil war, crude oil became the major source of government revenue after the sharp increase in crude oil prices in 1973/74 and the rapid increase Nigeria’s crude oil production. By the mid 1970s, oil had become the mainstay of the economy, accounting for over 85% of federally collected revenue and over 95% of foreign exchange revenue. All the oil was produced from the Niger Delta region and its adjoining offshore, but the region remained neglected and impoverished despite the negative consequences of oil exploration and production activities.
In contemporary Nigeria, these peoples inhabit the states of Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers. The key cities of the core Niger Delta include Yenagoa, Port Harcourt, Bonny, Warri, Sapele, Ughelli, and Twon-Brass. Generally, the people of Itsekiriland around Warri in the Western Delta, and the Nembe(Brass), Kalabari (New Calabar), Okrika (Wakrike), Obolo(Andoni), and the Ibani city-states of Bonny and Opobo have been better documented than the other ethnic nationalities.
The primary reason for this is that the area has been in contact with the literate world for about five hundred years. These documentations have focused on explaining three issues about the Niger Delta peoples. First, they have tried to explain the nature of societies established by the Ijo and other groups. Second, they have tried to explain the ways by which these societies came to acquire the peculiar characteristics that distinguish them from their neighbours. In recent times, the writers have also been trying to explain the roots, manifestation, and consequences of the environmental and developmental challenges facing the land and the people.
The core Niger Delta later became a part of the Southern region of Nigeria, which came into being in 1951 (one of the three regions, and later one of the four regions). The majority of the people were those from the colonial Calabar and Ogoja divisions, the present-day Ogoja, Annang, Ibibio, Oron, Efik, and Izon peoples. The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) was the ruling political party of the region. The NCNC later became the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, after western Cameroon decided to separate from Nigeria. The ruling party of eastern Nigeria did not seek to preclude the separation and even encouraged it. The then Eastern Region had the second, fourth and fifth largest indigenous ethnic groups in the country including Igbo, Efik-Ibibio and Izon.
As Nigeria began to prepare for independence, the search for oil began in the Delta in the 1950s and by 1956 it was discovered in commercial quantities. Less than two years later it was being commercially produced and sold on the international markets. Today around two million barrels of oil are extracted in the Niger Delta every day making it the world’s eight largest oil producer in a country that remains one of the world’s poorest as the oil revenues largely bypass those living and working outside that industry.
The Delta region has a steadily growing population estimated to be over 30 million people as of 2005, accounting for more than 23% of Nigeria’s total population. The population density is also among the highest in the world with 265 people per kilometre-squared. Urbanization and Poverty in Nigeria are on the rise, and official corruption is considered a fact of life. The resultant scenario is one in which there is urbanization but no accompanying economic growth to provide jobs. This has ironically forced the growing populace to begin destroying the ecosystem that they require to sustain themselves.
Research at the Institute plans to document, promote, and undertake research into various aspects of life in the Niger. We plan to produce research results that contribute to the enhancement of the quality of life of the peoples of the Niger Delta.
• To initiate and sustain quality research that will contribute to capacity building, sustainable development and peaceful co-existence in the Niger Delta.
• To undertake collaborative research into community history and cultural heritage in the Niger Delta.
• To undertake research into the nature and contributions of indigenous knowledge to the development process in the Niger Delta.
• To create databases for existing research results for the Niger Delta.
• To establish and develop community museums, monuments and cultural landscapes in the Niger Delta to stimulate tourism
• To organise essay competitions for Secondary School students in the Niger Delta
• To promote a reading culture by participating in the establishment and development of community Libraries
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