Physical Setting

The coastal lowlands bordering of Nigeria range in height from sea level to 150m above sea level and extend across the entire length of the country coast from Yewa-Badagry area in the west to the Bakassi peninsula at the Cameroon border. Creeks, lagoons, estuarine bars and swamps dominate its landscape, but the broad sedimentary basin of the Niger Delta is by far its most prominent physical feature. The vegetation of the area is predominantly mangrove and fresh water forests. The mangrove forests contain red and white mangrove trees, raffia palms and coconut trees.


People and Population

The major ethnic group in this region is the Ijaw; and minor ethnic groups include the Urhobo, Itsekiri, and a very small population of Igbo and Yoruba. On the eastern part of the Niger Delta, that is, mainly in Akwa Ibom State, are the Ibibio and Efik ethnic groups. The area is sparsely populated and has very few large settlements, primarily due to its difficult environment. The swampy nature and the extremely high rainfall experienced in the area do not favour a high population density. Houses are usually built on stilts along the riverine areas in order to avoid the flood waters. Although, the area is generally sparsely populated, there are some large urban centres in this region, such as, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri, Uyo and Calabar. The largest among them is Lagos metropolis with a population of over 10 million.


Resource and Economic Activities

This region can be rightly said to form the backbone of the Nigerian economy. Enormous oil and natural gas resources are found both onshore and offshore in the Niger Delta area; exports of these resources account for over 80 per cent of the country’s foreign earnings. The major cities earlier mentioned, in particular, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri, are Nigeria’s most industrialized urban centres, and indeed the coastal lowlands region is the most industrialized geographical region in Nigeria.

The major industries are oil and gas in Port Harcourt and Warri, iron and steel in Warri; and heavy and light industries in Lagos.

Although, a substantial proportion of the people are employed in the oil and gas sector and in the industrial sector generally, the majority of the population are engaged in primary production activities especially farming and fishing. Crops grown in the area include yam, cocoa yam, plantain, maize and cassava. Fishing is the traditional occupation of most of the coastal peoples but especially of the Ijaw in the Niger Delta, the llaje in Ondo State and the Egun and Awori in Lagos State. Most coastal dwellers are artisanal freshwater fishermen operating in the lagoons, creeks and river estuaries. But, there is also a sizeable number of fishermen who engage in fishing in the open ocean.

Traditional arts and craft are an important economic activity in this region. The crafts industry sources its raw materials locally. The major crafts include weaving of baskets and fishing nets. Palm fruits are processed into palm oil. Mangrove trees found in the area provide fuel for household cooking; they burn very well even when fresh. The mangrove trees are also used as telephone and communication poles, as they are usually very tall and straight in nature. Other important economic activities include lumbering of timber in the forest belt, and rubber tapping and processing in Cross River and Delta States.


Transport and Trade

Water transportation remains the main mode of transportation in this area, with its numerous creeks and lagoons. The difficult wetland environment of this region makes road construction difficult and costly. However, modern roads that link this region with other regions of the country serve the upland area. Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar have international airports; and Warri has an airstrip. Trade in fish and agricultural commodities such as, palm oil, plantain and cassava; and in locally distilled gin (Ogogoro) and imported materials is a major feature in this region.


Problems of Development

The key problems of development in this region are related to the extreme and difficult environment. These include:

  1. The poorly-drained mangrove and freshwater swamps make all kinds of construction, whether roads, airports, or housing, extremely difficult and expensive.
  2. The excessive rainfall usually experienced in the area limits economic activity.
  3. The high level of salinity of soil water in some parts significantly affects agricultural production and the availability of drinking water.
  4. The flooding usually experienced annually is a major threat to life and property in most parts of this region.
  5. Roads and other modes of transport are poorly developed. This is a major drawback for the development efforts of this region.
  6. The techniques and tools employed in fishing and farming are out dated and constrain large-scale production.
  7. Marine weeds such as water hyacinth often invade most of the lagoons and creeks in the area. This affects fishing and water transportation in the area.
  8. Oil spillage and pollution regularly experienced in this area destroy marine, freshwater and terrestrial plant and animal life.
  9. There is incessant conflict in the Niger Delta, occasioned by agitation for oil resource control, which has led to calls for self-determination by a number of militant and civil groups in the Niger Delta region. Armed militant groups are involved in such illegal actions as hostage taking and blowing up of oil pipelines. This is a major obstacle to the development of the Niger Delta and the region at large.


Suggested Solutions

The difficult environmental and social problems being encountered in the Southern Coastlands and the Niger Delta in particular can be overcome if these suggested solutions are attended to. These include:

  1. Flood control devices need to be put in place in order to manage the perennial flood occurrences in the region.
  2. Land reclamation policy and infrastructure should be put in place to make more land available for socio-economic development.
  3. The numerous waterways should be developed, via dredging and the clearing of waterweeds to facilitate easy and improved transportation of people, goods and services.
  4. Modern boats, such as, engine powered speedboats should be introduced in the region to facilitate transportation.
  5. There should be a deliberate attempt by government and oil companies operating in the region to control the environmental impact of oil exploitation in the region.
  6. Communities and the people of the region should be compensated and empowered by developing the necessary socio-economic infrastructure, in order to facilitate the rapid development of the region.
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