Jun 22, 2010

Ogoni: Will US Oil Spill Bring Attention to the issues faced by the Ogoni Peoples?

Sample ImageAuthor and priest, Rev. Bekeh Utitiang, from the Niger Delta reflects on the difference in international and national political and economic responsibility taken by both oil companies and governments in addressing the issues of oil-spills in the US and the Niger Delta.

Below is an article from the HuffingtonPost.com

 Oil is cheap. Despite all the taxes that are placed in every single gallon of oil we buy, it is still cheap. But when we factor in both the human and environmental cost of oil, it is not cheap. The oil spill in the Gulf once again reminds us of the cost of our addiction to fossil fuels and the human and environmental cost involved in oil.

What is happening in the United States is not new. It is not news to some in the world. It is news here in because this country is a "developed" nation and oil companies are held more accountable for their actions. I have been telling those who care to listen that the people of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the region I happen to come from, have been suffering from this devastation for many years. The oil companies have ravaged the whole land and the region is becoming an environmentally unsafe place for humans to live. The rivers, which were once rich in fish, no longer have any fish. The people of the Niger Delta, who traditionally were fishermen, are now without a livelihood. The oil companies have created communities of people who live in abject poverty. The land has become so polluted that it is no longer good for agriculture. Oil, which was supposed to be a blessing to the people, is now a curse. This region, rich in natural resources, is about the poorest region in Nigeria because oil companies like British Petroleum, Shell, and Exxon Mobil have aligned themselves with corrupt politicians and civilian dictators to evade environmental accountability. Easily forgotten today is that the leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), who fought for environmental rights in the region, were tried in a Kangaroo Court during the reign of the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha, and were hanged. Abacha did this at the service of his masters, the oil companies. This inhumane act appalled the world, but the oil companies continued business as usual. 

Imagine for a moment if America did not have a strong democracy in which businesses are held accountable for their actions! Imagine if the government of the United States and BP just ignored the people of the Gulf Coast while oil continued to spill! What do you think these people who have lost their environment and livelihoods would do? While no one should support violence or kidnapping in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the side of the story not often told is the connection between the inhumane acts of the oil companies/government and the militancy in the oil regions. Within the U.S. now, there is a new form of patriotism rising as a result of BP's actions in the Gulf Coast. The President, in the last few weeks, has been aggressive in resolving this crisis in the American Gulf. BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion in an escrow account to pay claims.

This is just the beginning. BP will spend more money. This has not been the case in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The people have been ignored; some of them are taking their destinies into their hands. The government has failed them. The international community is not there to listen and respond to their plight. What is happening in the Niger Delta region is not a Nigerian problem. It is a problem that deserves international attention and response. The Nigerian government has shown that it is incapable of implementing environmental justice in this region. Militancy in that region will not end unless the government and the oil companies concretely address the problems that fuel militancy. 

To end militancy, the oil companies and the government must clean the waters, pay significant damages to families living in the Niger Delta region, provide jobs to residents or train them for new occupations, and provide basic civil rights such as electricity, good roads, hospitals, and schools. They must embrace a new culture, not only of environmental responsibility, but social responsibility.

Some of the media has done a good job highlighting the effect of the spill. How long before another story moves to the top of the headlines and newscasts? The consequences of this environmental disaster could span decades. It will take the voices of many concerned citizens of the world to keep this issue in the forefront of our collective global conscious. Media around the world should report on the many narrative layers of oil disasters. Peeling back those layers will be an opportunity to educate this generation on the dangers of our world's addiction to oil. Hopefully, peeling back the layers will lead to a global clean energy revolution.