The Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria, is a densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate.
The Niger Delta, as now defined officially by the Nigerian Government, extends over about 70,000 km² and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass. Historically and cartographically, it consists of present day, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers State. In the year 2000, however, Obansanjo's regime expanded its definition to include Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River State, Edo, Imo and Ondo States. Some 31 million people of more than 40 ethnic groups including the Efik, Ibibio Annang, Oron, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Igbo, Urhobo, Yoruba, and Kalabari, are among some who speak about 250 dialects in the Niger Delta.
During the colonial period, the core Niger Delta was a part of Eastern Region of Nigeria which came into being in 1951 (one of the three regions, and later one of the four Regions). This region included the people from colonial Calabar and Ogoja Divisions, which are the present Ogoja, Annang, Ibibio,Oron, the Efik people (see old Calabar Kingdom), the Ijaw, and the Igbo people, with Igbo as the majority and the NCNC (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon) as the ruling political party in the region. NCNC later became National Convention of Nigerian Citizens after Western Cameroon decided to cut-away from Nigeria and became a part of Cameroon largely due to the feeling of not-belongings in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria, and unfortunately, the ruling party of then Easteren Region of Nigeria never cared and perhaps encouraged loosing western Cameroon for their political interest.
In 1953, the old eastern region had a major crisis due to the expulsion of Professor Eyo Ita from office by the majority Igbo tribe of the old eastern region. Eyo Ita from the old Calabar Kingdom was one of the pioneer nationalists for Nigerian idependence. He was an Efik man from the old Calabar Kingdom. The minorities in the region, mainly people of the old Calabar Kingdom, the Ijaw and Ogoja demanded a state or region of their own, the Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) state. The struggle for the creation of COR state continued and was a major issue on the status of minorities in Nigeria during debates in Europe for Nigerian independence.
A second phase of the struggle saw the declaration of an Independent Niger Delta Republic by Isaac Adaka Boro during Ironsi's administration, just before the Civil war.
During the Nigerian civil war, Southeastern State of Nigeria was created (also known as Southeastern Nigeria or Coastal Southeastern Nigeria) which had the colonial Calabar Division (old Calabar Kingdom), and colonial Ogoja Division. Rivers State was also created. Southeastern state and River State became two states for the minorities of the old eastern region, and the majority Igbo of the old eastern region had a state called East Central State. Southeastern State was renamed Cross River State and was later split into Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State. Rivers State was later divided into Rivers State and Bayelsa State.
Phase three saw the request for justice and the end of marginalization of the area by the Nigerian government with Ken Saro Wiwa as the lead figure for this phase of the struggle. The indigents cried for lack of development even though the Nigerian oil money is from the area. They also complained about environmental pollution and destruction of their land and rivers by oil companies. Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders were killed by the Nigerian Federal Government under Sani Abacha.
Unfortunately the struggle has gotten out of control and the present phase, the phase four, has become militant in nature.
Western Niger Delta consists of the western section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Delta, Edo, and Ondo States. The western (or Northern) Niger Delta is an heterogeneous society with several ethnic groups with Ijaw as the majority. Other ethnic groups include Urhobo, Ezon, Igbo, Isoko, Itsekiri, and Ukwuani groups in Delta State, along with Yoruba in Ondo State. Their livelihoods are primarily based on fishing and farming. History has it that the Western Niger was controlled by chiefs of five separate powerful nations with whom the British government had to sign separate "Treaties of Protection" with in their formation of "Protectorates" that later became southern Nigeria. The five Chiefs were the Chiefs of Itsekiri, Isoko, Ukwuani, Ijaw and Urhobo.
Central Niger Delta consists of the central section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Bayelsa and Rivers States. The Central Niger Delta region has the Ijaw (including the Nembe-Brass, Ogbia, Kalabari,Ibanis(Opobo,Bonny,etc), Okrika, and Andoni clans, the Ogoni and other groups (which consists of the Ekpeye, Ndoni, Etche, Ikwerre, Ndoki) in Rivers State.
Eastern Niger Delta Section consists of the Eastern (or Atlantic) section of the coastal South-South Nigeria which includes Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. The Eastern Niger Delta region has the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron, Ogoja (including Ekoi and Bekwara) people, of old Calabar Kingdom, who are all related with a common language and ancestor.
Coincidentally, Nigeria has become Africa's biggest producer of petroleum, including many oil wells in the Oil Rivers. Some 2 million barrels a day are extracted in the Niger Delta. Since 1975, the region has accounted for more than 75% of Nigeria's export earnings. Much of the natural gas extracted in oil wells in the Delta is immediately burned, or flared, into the air at a rate of approximately 70 million m³ per day. This is equivalent to 41% of African natural gas consumption, and forms the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. In 2003, about 99% of excess gas was flared in the Niger Delta. The biggest gas-flaring company is the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, a joint venture that is majority owned by the Nigerian government. In Nigeria, “...despite regulations introduced 20 years ago to outlaw the practice, most associated gas is flared, causing local pollution and contributing to climate change.” The environmental devastation associated with the industry and the lack of distribution of oil wealth have been the source and/or key aggravating factors of numerous environmental movements and inter-ethnic conflicts in the region, including recent guerilla activity by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
Oil revenue allocation has been the subject of much contention well before Nigeria gained its independence. Allocations have varied from as much as 50%, owing to the First Republic's high degree of regional autonomy, and as low as 10% during the military dictatorships. In practice, 85% of the oil wealth is retained by Nigerian elites who comprise 1% of the population. This is the table below.
|Year||Federal||State*||Local||Special Projects||Derivation Formula**|
* State allocations are based on 5 criteria: equality (equal shares per state), population, social development, land mass, and revenue generation.
**The derivation formula refers to the percentage of the revenue oil producing states retain from taxes on oil and other natural resources produced in the state. World Bank Report
The effects of oil in the fragile Niger Delta communities and environment have been enormous. 85% of national oil revenues end up in the hands of 1% of the population, while local indigenous people have seen little if any improvement in their standard of living while suffering serious damage to their natural environment Almost 7000 oil spills occurred between 1970 and 2000, more than one each day.
When long-held concerns about loss of control of their homeland and their resources to the oil companies were voiced by the Ijaw people in the Kaiama Declaration in 1998, the Nigerian government sent troops to occupy the Bayelsa and Delta states. Soldiers opened fire with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas, killing at least three protesters and arresting twenty-five more.
Since then, local indigenous activity against commercial oil refineries and pipelines in the region have increased in frequency and militancy. Recently foreign employees of Shell, the primary corporation operating in the region, were taken hostage by outraged local people. Such activities have also resulted in greater governmental intervention in the area, and the mobilisation of the Nigerian army and State Security Service into the region, resulting in violence and human rights abuses.
In April, 2006, a bomb exploded near an oil refinery in the Niger Delta region, a warning against Chinese expansion in the region. MEND stated: “We wish to warn the Chinese government and its oil companies to steer well clear of the Niger Delta. The Chinese government by investing in stolen crude places its citizens in our line of fire.” 
Government and private initiatives to develop the Niger Delta region have been introduced recently. These include the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC ), a Government initiative, and the Development Initiative (DEVIN ), a community development non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta. Uz and Uz Transnational , a company with strong commitment to the Niger Delta, has introduced ways of developing the poor in the Niger Delta, especially in Rivers State.
In September 2008, MEND released a statement proclaiming that their militants had launched an "oil war" throughout the Niger Delta against both, pipelines and oil production facilities, and the Nigerian soldiers that protect them. Both MEND and the Nigerian Government claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on one another. 
The documentary film, Sweet Crude which premiered April 2009 at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, tells the story of Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
Hope and betrayal on the Niger Delta], National Geographic, February 2007
Because of the money from petroleum production, there have been many political problems in recent times. For example, many oil workers have been taken as hostages.