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Nigeria - rapid economic development and the environment

The Environmental Issues of Rapid Economic Development in Nigeria


Nigeria is developing rapidly and has many major industries. This is raising the quality of life for many people but also has the consequence of impacts on the natural environment. There are issues with oil spills, industrial pollution, deforestation, desertification and the usual environmental issues associated with the rapid growth of urban areas.

Oil spills

Oil is a vital industry for Nigeria as it brings in a lot of export earnings. However, Oil is a dirty industry and can damage the environment. Oil spills contaminate water sources if the oil meets it and ruins the aquatic ecosystem. Oils pills in the Niger delta are caused by pipeline and tanker accidents, lack of maintenance of pipelines, sabotage and non-functioning equipment. Many of these spills have poisoned water supplies for local people and ruined the ecosystems. In 2011 Shell said they spilt 17.5 million litres of oil into the Niger delta. You can see an interactive map of oil spills like the one below here - You can explore more like this here -

Map of oil spills in Niger Delta

The Bodo Oil spill

In 2008 and 2009, two massive oil spills in the fishing town of Bodo had a catastrophic impact. Thick black oil leaked into rivers and creeks for weeks, killing fish and robbing people of their livelihoods. Shell, the operator of the leaking pipelines, repeatedly understated the volume of oil spilled – and offered the community only a tiny amount of compensation ($4000). With the help of Amnesty International, the Bodo community took legal action. Shell admitted it had made false statements about the size of the spills and settled out of court, paying the community £55 million in compensation. You can find out more at Amnesty International -

Industrial Pollution:

Many industries in Nigeria are growing quickly, often more quickly than regulation can monitor and manage. The contributing factors to pollution are a reliance on using solid fuels for cooking, Industry, burning waste and traffic pollution from very old cars. There are an estimated 10,000 illegal small-scale industries in Nigeria. These industries have increased waste which damages groundwater supplies. In addition, these industries emit dust and other pollutants into the air which can result in respiratory & heart problems for people. In 2016, Onitsha, a booming port city in southern Nigeria, recorded 30 times more than the WHO's recommended levels of PM10. This made it the world's most polluted city for air quality for this pollutant.

Industrial pollution Nigeria


Economic development has also been bad for forests in Nigeria. As of 2005, Nigeria has the highest rate of deforestation in the world according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Between 2000 and 2005 the country lost 55.7% of its primary forests. Forest has been cleared for logging, timber export, subsistence agriculture and notably the collection of wood for fuel which remains problematic in western Africa. This is bad for soils, which can be quickly eroded. It also releases CO2 into the atmosphere and results in a loss of biodiversity. This has also been linked to increased intensification of subsistence farming and the increased use of commercial farming in Nigeria.

Deforestation Nigeria

By Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr, OGL v1.0,


Rapid economic growth and population growth in northern Nigeria is creating the environmental problem of desertification. The process by which dryland ecosystems are continually degraded by the removal of tree and plant cover, mostly by human activity. In northern Nigeria, desertification threatens the livelihoods of some 40 million people. These areas account for about 35 percent of the country’s total land area and are key areas of livestock rearing and agricultural production, such as beans, soya beans, millet, sorghum, tomatoes, melons, peppers, and onions. Desertification is being fuelled by poor land use, unsustainable grazing practices, deforestation, and the consumption pressures associated with a booming population. The government is trying to tackle this with tree planting schemes involving local farmers and land owners.

Degraded land in  Igeria

Degraded farmland in Nigeria by Linus Unah, source

Urban areas

Large urban areas such as Lagos and Abuja have challenges to deal with protecting the natural environment and providing people with a clean environment to live in.

  1. Water pollution is a major problem. Uncontrolled disposal of raw sewage, sediment carrying runoff and effluents into the Lagoon system has created serious health concerns. Deadly waterborne diseases like cholera & diarrhoea are affecting people as a result.
  2. Air pollution – Lagos and other cities have some very dirty air including dangerous levels of Nitrous Oxides, high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and small dust particles called particulate matter. These are both hazardous to human health and can cause things like asthma. The causes of this pollution are industry, ever increasing numbers of cars and construction dust.
  3. Waste – Cities like Lagos producer a lot of solid waste. There is no comprehensive city-based system of collection and this waste poses a hazard to human health. It has been estimated that Lagos produces 13million kg of waste per day using infrastructure developed in the 1970’s when the city had only 3 million residents. That leaves a lot of uncollected waste.
  4. Traffic congestion – rising car ownership and wealth have meant that more people own cars in Nigeria. These contribute to both noise and air pollution, as well as lots of lost hours as people sit in traffic jams.

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