Bonny Island: A Case of Bittersweet Development

Bonny Island: A Case of Bittersweet Development

Bonny Island is a relatively isolated town in the Niger Delta that has been heavily influenced environmentally, economically and socially by the oil and gas companies that operate in the area. Studying the impact that these companies have made on Bonny Island would be useful in highlighting how other companies can also extend socio-economic benefits to their host communities, by improving corporate-social responsibility, adopting and learning from sustainable and unsustainable practices respectively.

The presence of the companies on the island meant a growth in the population of people on the Island, which then led to a boom in businesses in industries such as housing, catering, transportation and general services, further resulting in increased business transactions and the creation of jobs for the natives of the island.

This is a clear indication of the diversification of the Bonny Island economy, from just trade and the agricultural sector. The flourishing of local businesses has also been further accelerated by the provision of near-uninterrupted power and clean water supply through the Bonny Utility Company (BUC), which has been supported by the companies in question. The constant power keeps costs down and allows machinery to be used throughout the day, and all of this in turn allows businesses to run at lesser costs and generate more job opportunities, especially for the indigenes of the Kingdom.

Companies on the island have since continued to invest in Bonny Island and its people, not only through infrastructure but also through projects such as The Finima Legacy project. The Finima Legacy Project enabled local contractors to make capital investments in their companies thereby expanding their operating capacity. They have also taken the initiative in training other businessmen and women of the community, and increasing their efficiency as a result.

Another major factor in the productivity and efficiency of a workforce is the health of the people. Access and quality of health care has improved by the funding and construction of hospitals, whilst other attempts have been made through various schemes including deworming exercises and malaria prevention. The latter has been deemed successful in reducing the number of deaths caused by the diseases, according to a healthcare expert spoken to.

Despite efforts in healthcare, these same companies have been accused of illegally dumping their industrial waste in the waters that surround the Kingdom. Dredging and filling of the waterways has also led to highly acidic water bodies and this in addition to leaks from faulty pipelines has contaminated the water. These activities are detrimental not only to the health of the inhabitants, but also to livelihood of the fishermen. Populations of fish have declined, some of them severely, reducing the income generated for the fishing population. Whilst data on potential illnesses caused by the contaminated fishes is not yet available, the act of dumping waste illegally is not only reckless, but just one example of pollution and harm to the environment caused by their activities.

Bonny Island remains a popular destination in the area because it is claimed to be one of the “cleanest and most beautiful” towns in the Niger Delta. However, its environment has undergone massive changes since oil and gas operations began in the area. Deforestation due to the expansion of business and population of the island in turn causes the soil to be leached of minerals, making for less productive harvest for poor farmers. Coastal erosion caused by their operations increases flooding, again impacting the farmers and small business owners, and more than anyone the poorest people in the community.

The divide between the richest and the poorest in the Kingdom of Bonny is blazingly apparent. Yes, the same flood that might leave the poor man in ruins as his home and farm are washed away, is nothing but a minor inconvenience to the richer. Whilst it is true that the oil and gas industry have brought great wealth to the Kingdom of Bonny, the reality is that in doing so it has also widened the income gap massively and left other indelible negative footprints.

This inequality has led to resentment amongst the lower class towards the wealthier people of the kingdom. Many of the workers of these companies are in the upper socioeconomic class, and there is an obvious physical divide between these people and the rest of the island. The workers of the companies live in a camp often described by some as a “little London.” This divide and expression of their wealth further fuels the resentment.

This resentment has manifested as “grumblings” amongst some people and has created tensions between the population There has also been increased incidences of violent crime. Cases of armed robbery and kidnapping have increased as it is seen as a way of getting “fast cash” from families by asking for ransom. Some indigenes believe that the industry is largely to blame for this, as the presence of such large companies has made Bonny Island a target for criminals.

On the other hand, however, violent crimes committed by the indigenes are not uncommon. These crimes are not explicitly driven by resentments caused by income inequality, however. There are a number of indigenes unhappy and overwhelmed with the number of foreigners that have come into the island and fear “losing” the kingdom to them. Discussions between the companies and the indigenes do occur occasionally, but attempts by them to help the indigenous people with this have remained unfruitful and unnoticed.

Much can be said of the ways companies handle their responsibility to Bonny Island. One can sum it up, however, by saying that they seem to be a lot better at doing good things (health care, investments and infrastructure) than they are at managing the environment, as seen in the illegal dumping waste and the unethical talks with the leaders of Bonny Kingdom, which could be seen as unserious. More listening needs to be done still, but with a few nudges in the right direction it seems that they will do a good job as they have in other aspects.

Sources

  1. Wittenberg, Dick (2004) Oil, Gas and Mining: The Bonny Island LNG Project. http://www.eca-watch.org/problems/oil_gas_mining/bonnyisland/BonnyIsland130704.html
  2. Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd (2016). Facts and Figures on NLNG 2016. Port Harcourt. www.nlng.com/Media-Center/Publications/2016%20Facts%20and%20Figures%20on%20NLNG.pdf
  3. Okafor Ofiebor (2015) Save Us from Sea Pirates – Bonny Island Residents Beg Buhari. The NEWS Nigeria. http://thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2015/11/save-us-from-sea-pirates-bonny-island-residents-beg-buhari/
  4. Olukoya, Sam. (2013) Job-seekers Invade Nigeria’s Monkey Village. BBC News. news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3193083.stm
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