In southeastern Nigeria, in an area known as Ogoniland off the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, is the site of one of the most polluted regions in the world. Over half a century of oil drilling and spills in the Niger Delta by Shell and other companies have left the area’s creeks, swamps, fishing grounds and mangroves awash in black, oily crude. A 2011 United Nations report said some areas remain contaminated 40 years after a spill, despite clean-up efforts.
The environmental devastation is widespread within the 1,000 square kilometers of Ogoniland — equivalent to roughly 390 square miles or about a third of the size of Rhode Island. It has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen in surrounding villages, while jobless youth facing a bleak future are taking up arms, destroying pipelines and wreaking other havoc. Damaged pipelines have led to more oil spills, while corruption and locals’ deep distrust of outsiders have further hampered assistance.
Cleaning up the Niger Delta and improving the economic plight of the area’s villagers have long been a passion of Chinyere Nnadi, founder and CEO of Sustainability International, a U.S. nonprofit whose goal is alleviating poverty in Africa. His family came from Nigeria and he remembers vacations back to their village where they had to deal with lack of electricity, unpaved roads, armed robbers and devastated agricultural crops. Since other groups have already tried to clean up the oil mess with mixed results, Nnadi realized that any solution must start with fighting corruption and building trust before any real progress is possible.“I’m personally invested in it because it’s my family history,” Nnadi says in an interview with Knowledge@Wharton. “From the outside, it looks like it’s something as simple as solving an environmental problem. But then when you look into the society, you realize [the root of the problem is] systemic corruption and the lack of transparency within the actual community.… Because that system is sick, and the actors don’t trust each other, no work is able to be done.” To solve the problem, Nnadi said he realized that “we would have to introduce a new way of doing things.”topics from