Tuesday 3 May 2016

Engaging Community Stakeholders For Climate Change Research In The Niger Delta Region Of Nigeria: My Experience So Far

Dr. Omosivie Maduka, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow
Group photograph Paramount Ruler Mbodo-Aluu with CDC chairman and research team

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria as defined by the Nigerian government, occupies about 70,000 km² and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria's land mass. It comprises one of the nine oil-producing states in the country namely: Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Abia, Imo and Ondo. These states are home to about 31 million people spanning over 40 ethnic groups and 185 Local Government Areas (LGAs) who speak about 250 different dialects. Oil exploration in these states is the major source of foreign exchange for the country. Many communities in the Niger Delta have a negative reputation of being hostile to outsiders and are often tagged as volatile or unsafe.  This is often a source of apprehension for researchers working in the Niger Delta. I however found that proper engagement of community stakeholders using the recognized lines of authority is key to managing any issues in this regard.

During the induction training for the second cohort of Circle Visiting Fellows, the importance of early identification and engagement of various stakeholders, including study participants/respondents as a part of the process of planning for research uptake, was emphasized. I chose to put this knowledge to good use during my preliminary visits to potential study sites in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states in Nigeria, where I intend to evaluate the effects of gas flaring and climate change on health in six communities.

Visit to the Sapele LGA office of the HoD health and officials of the Delta State Primary Health care Board

I gained entry into each community through the Primary Health Care (PHC) structure. Accompanied by two research assistants, we paid visits to the officer in charge of health in each LGA headquarters (Medical officer of Health or Head of Department, Health). Through this office we were given access to the officers in charge of the PHCs of the selected communities. PHCs often have close working relationships with the leadership of the communities they serve. We were able to take advantage of this relationship in most of the communities as the PHC staff were happy to take us into the community and introduce us to the paramount ruler, Chairman of the community development committee (CDC) or community spokesman.

Picture with CDC  chairman of Ibada-Elume in Delta State

The reception from these leaders was very warm, we were offered the customary welcome drinks and ‘kola’ (traditional symbol of acceptance).  Our research objectives and methodology was well received and the required social license obtained in all communities.  The typical comment from the community leadership was that “it would be good to know how healthy our people are”. It was also interesting to note that many of the communities requested written feedback on the findings and recommendations from the research. This desire will prove beneficial to the plans to disseminate research findings among members of these communities.

Ibada Elume CDC chairman getting involved in data collection

Contrary to some concerns, none of these communities made any financial demands on us and no one was hostile to us. Rather, in most of these communities, we were given a guided tour of the community and allowed unhindered access to locations for water and air quality assessments. So far, we have conducted community entry activities, collected water samples to assess quality of drinking water and conducted air quality assessments in six communities namely: Mbodo- Aluu and Omuhiombia in Ikwerre LGA of Rivers State, Ibada-Elume and Oton in Sapele LGA of Delta State, Sampou in Kolokuma/Opokuma LGA and Nedugo in Yenagoa LGA in Bayelsa State. Each community has so far been visited twice with favourable responses. These experiences have served to reinforce my appreciation of community entry activities as key to profitable research activities and research uptake in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. 

1 comment:

  1. It is nice to hear such an experience. Thank you for the contribution you made. I hope it will be a good lesson to supplement our approaches since most of us are at the stage of data collection.

    I am one of the researchers who believe that putting utmost effort at the entry point will yield better results at the end. Thank you for sharing your experiences.