Dec 23, 2005

Ogoni: Oil Companies and the Niger Delta

Government has reaped an estimated US$280 billion from oil in the past 30 years; Delta communities have seen precious little of the revenue, analysts say the average Nigerian has little to expect from an expected boom in oil production next year

Government has reaped an estimated US$280 billion from oil in the past 30 years; the Delta communities have seen precious little of the revenue. But analysts say the average Nigerian has little to expect from an expected boom in oil production next year.

Oil production in the troubled Niger Delta region will increase by up to ten per cent next year, according to the latest estimates. Nigerian is already Africa’s most productive oil-producing nation, and by 2010 will generate up to four million barrels per day, on a par with Mexico.

Yet, stretches of the region have erratic electricity supplies, poor water quality, and few functioning schools or healthcare centers. The government provides very little infrastructure, works, or conditions conducive to employment.

Nigeria was a British colonial Creation. It came into being in January 1914 with the Amalgamation of the Colony of Lagos and the Northern Protectorate. Nigeria was granted independence in 1960, originally with Dominion status. In 1963, Nigeria broke its direct links with the British Crown and became a Republic within the Commonwealth.

International oil companies have operated in the Niger Delta area since 1956, when Oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, in what is now Bayelsa State. Over the past half-century, the Nigerian government has earned billions of US dollars from its oil sector, and oil revenues now account for nearly 80 per cent of the national budget.

However, the International Oil conglomerates have caused much antagonism among locals, who object to the contamination and destruction of their region.
The Oil companies have admitted that some of their activities have contributed to the violence.

Dutch Oil giant, Shell admitted it had inadvertently fed conflict, poverty, and corruption through its oil activities in Nigeria, which accounts for about ten per cent of Shell’s global production.

Government and local communities must take the lead,” said Emmanuel Etomi, Shell’s community development manager in Nigeria. “As part of an industry inadvertently contributing to the problem, we are prepared to help,” he said.

The International Agency Action Aid, which has been active in Nigeria since 1999, told Security Watch that “the environment is going to be significantly damaged” by these latest oil findings.

While acknowledging that the local community will “gain on the one hand, whilst losing on the other”, Action Aid’s regional coordinator, Otive Igbuzor, said: “There are going to be benefits, because the revenue for the people will increase. But the environment will be destroyed.” Speaking to ISN Security Watch last week from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, Igbuzor warned that doubling ‘production from just over two million to four million barrels could cause an increase in violence.

The local people will feel cheated, bitter, and will likely increase their restlessness. It will create another challenge for the government,” he said. “The better option for the people of the Niger Delta is the better management of the environment, and that the people are empowered and not marginalised.”

The Delta is a maze of pipelines dotted with well-heads and flow stations. As night falls, often the only light is from flares burning unwanted gas that, according to reports, is contaminating the environment.

Frequent Oil spills have affected fish stocks and polluted water holes. And in order to alleviate the frustrations of communities that lack both development and employment, companies offer “ghost” jobs, paying money to people who are not expected to work.

The Delta’s marginalised people have vigorously pursued a campaign for their rights. However, their campaign for economic and social rights is impeded by continued threats to their civil and political freedoms.

Saro-Wiwa had written about his people’s plight since 1968, saying: “The notion that the oil-bearing areas provide the revenue of the country, and yet be denied a proper share of that revenue is unjust, immoral, unnatural, and ungodly. Why should the people on oil-bearing land be tortured?”

Following the Ogoni executions, the Oil companies came under greater scrutiny and many companies adopted codes of conduct on corporate social responsibility, although only 91companies have adopted explicit policies on human rights. The inhabitants of the Niger Delta remain among the most deprived oil communities in the world. 70 per cent live on less than US$1 a day, the standard economic measure of absolute poverty.

Oil has warped the Nigerian economy and society. During the oil boom of the 1970s, the country’s military governments quickly abandoned other sources of export income, such as minerals and agricultural commodities, in favor of oil.

Oil is also at the heart of a culture of corruption that has pervaded a succession of military and civilian governments. This year, Nigeria has ranked the seventh most corrupt country in the world by Berlin–based watchdog Transparency International - an improvement on 2004, when it came. Though violence is a problem in the Niger Delta, production will never be shut down as the returns are just too high.

The US military has undertaken joint exercises with the Nigerian military to exchange ideas on the conflict in the Delta but last week, US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell told a press conference with Funso Kupolokun, head of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, that Washington had no plans to establish a permanent military base in the Gulf of Guinea and only had a military training arrangement with Obasanjo’s government.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) claims that civil unrest and violence can occur with little notice throughout the country. The most recent incidents occurred in the Niger Delta and in the Cross-Rivers and Ebonyi border regions.

According to the FCO, there were “threats against Oil production facilities and expatriates” following the arrest of a gang leader in September.

“But it also said Nigeria’s human rights situation had improved since the return to civilian rule.”

The Obasanjo government set up a panel to investigate human rights abuses during the country’s military rule and also established a National Human Rights Commission.

In the meantime, the Chief executive of the Shell Group and president of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, Jeroen Vander Veer, told the business Action for Africa Summit in London earlier this year that “business can make a contribution to tackling poverty in Africa through its everyday business operations”.

The Shell Foundation, through its support for small enterprises, is helping to develop Africa’s entrepreneurial potential, and those small businesses will play a vital role in stimulating economic growth across the continent. However, business cannot act alone, governments need to create a supportive investment climate, underpinned by good governance that will allow businesses, big and small, to unleash Africa’s potential,” he said.

Action Aid’s regional coordinator Otive Igbuzor summed up Nigeria’s plight, saying: “‘We need to move faster in our work, because resolution of these issues in the Niger’Delta is a metaphor for the resolution of problems in Nigeria.”

About the author:
Theodore Liasi is ISN Security Watch’s Special Correspondent for Humanitarian Issues. Theodore Liasi is a photojournalist and writer with over 14 years of experience covering war-torn countries around the world. He is the winner of the Amnesty International Photojournalist of the Year award. His work has been published in Newsweek, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Sunday Times.

Source: The Tide Nigeria