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Nigeria: Ecocide in Niger Delta – flight and migration as a consequence of western raw materials policy


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Ecocide in Niger Delta – flight and migration as a consequence of western raw materials policy 

Dialogue forum with Peter Donatus

Impressive yet depressing pictures are used by Peter Donatus, environmental and human rights activist, to highlight the real reason for the mass exodus of young people from Niger Delta to big Nigerian cities and/or abroad – namely the ecological disaster and destruction of livelihoods underway in the region since 1958. This is clear proof of the ruthless, momentous and inhuman business practices of the powerful lobby held by multinational companies who have no respect for the environment and continue to exploit so-called Third World countries – the human consequences of which are then disparagingly called “economic refugees” in Europe. 

Donatus once fled the region himself and accuses multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria of ecocide, which albeit not yet recognized under international law, can clearly be termed a crime against humanity. 

“Climate change and ecocide are, for me, the biggest and most important causes of flight worldwide. It is not correct to speak of ‘economic refugees’ in this context. The concept is a misnomer. This diversionary tactic vilifies people who had to flee because they lost their livelihoods and European multinationals destroyed a big part of their environment,” said Donatus. 

Peter Donatus

Peter Donatus is a Nigerian, freelance journalist, human rights activist and long-term critic of the Royal Dutch Shell company. He fled Nigeria in 1989 after being held incommunicado (i.e. without any contact to the outside world) for several months. He has been living in Germany ever since. 


On November 10, 1995, Nigeria’s former military regime hanged well-known Nigerian author, human rights activist, winner of the Right Livelihood Award and critic of Shell Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight of his comrades. The executions unleashed a wave of international protests. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in the Niger Delta. For decades, they had fought peacefully against ruthless crude oil extraction by multinational oil companies including Shell, the accompanying environmental pollution and the devastation of their livelihoods. 

Nearly 20 years after Ken Saro-Wawo and the eight other environmental activists were executed, ecocide is still being waged in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. The destruction wreaked on the environment and the annihilation of livelihoods by the multinational oil companies in the region as well as the social marginalisation continues almost unimpeded.  

Nigeria with over 170 million inhabitants is Africa’s most populous country and the sixth-biggest exporter of oil worldwide: Nearly 90% of state revenue comes from the sale of crude oil and natural gas. Despite this wealth, nearly two-thirds of the population live in abject poverty while a few corrupt elite raid state coffers along the lines of: “Those on the receiving end who are not getting rich are stupid.”

Environmental experts estimate that over 7,000 oil-related accidents have occurred in the Niger Delta during the past 50 years. Several million litres of crude oil have already leaked. Crude oil production has turned a region that used to be Nigeria’s natural paradise into hell on Earth. Every day, more than 300 oil leaks are reported. The groundwater in several areas is so badly contaminated that conventional water supply can no longer be ensured. In 2011, the WHO found a concentration of CO2 and benzol in the groundwater, which was 900 times higher than the international concentration limit and 1,000 times above Nigeria’s own threshold level. 

More than 400 tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere through the open flaring of gas while global warming causes people worldwide to fear for their lives. Air pollution is another main cause of cancer and cancer-related deaths across the globe. Most poor Nigerians live in the Niger Delta. The life expectancy of approx. 20 million inhabitants of the Niger Delta is well below the average life expectancy in other parts of Nigeria (52 years). 

According to the UNO, it will take another 30 years to rectify all the environmental damage. Yet, every year 13 million barrels of crude oil still contaminate the Niger Delta with no end in sight. 

This event will be held in English and translated simultaneously into German. 

The forum is being held as part of the AfricAvenir International e. V. 2015/2016 project: “Why we are here! African perspectives on flight and migration.” 

Further information (in german): 

Article about Peter Donatus and his work by the Greenpeace Magazin.

It will be carried out in cooperation with Betahaus and the kind support of the Landesstelle für Entwicklungszusammenarbeit (LEZ) and Engagement Global. 

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