Apr 20, 2007

Ogoni: No Oil Benefits for Locals

UNPO President Ledum Mitee speaks out against wasted oil resources, calling for oil revenues to be redirected to local communities so as to provide basics, like water and electricity, which they desperately need.

Below is an article published by Al Jazeera:

Billions of dollars of oil money are wasted every year in Nigeria due to fires, spillage, robbery and corruption.

Nigeria's anti-corruption agency estimates that in 2003 alone, 70 per cent of oil revenues - more than $14bn - was stolen or wasted.

Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Nigeria, discovered that for many who live in the vast oil-producing Niger Delta, lack of basic services are dominant issues in elections that are under way.

Regional elections were held last week and a presidential vote is scheduled for Saturday.

Little hope

Much of the popular resentment is because ordinary Nigerians have become poorer, despite half a century of oil exports.

In the Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, one secondary school, filled with 700 pupils, has only three teachers.

Those in the impovershed region live on little hope.

Saturday Zorzor, a young Nigerian student, wants to be an engineer, but none of the teachers can teach physics.

Saturday said: "I've already made up my mind. No matter what it takes me I will struggle to do it."

But his mother is distraught for not having the capacity to assist her son.

She said: "I sit inside and cry every day because I cannot help my son with his schooling."

Failing state

Should Saturday achieve his goals, it will be with no thanks to the state. Nigeria is the world's biggest offender for failing to put its oil profits back into services such as education.

Ledu Mitee, of the Movement For The Survival Of The Ogoni People, said: "The oil you see wasted here, if you translate it into cash, it will be more than enough to provide electricity, water or basic things for the community here.

"We can do better than this."

But the ruling party says otherwise. Chief Willy Akinlude, chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party, said that Nigeria has "a ministry in charge of this oil money and they are doing a very good job".

He told Al Jazeera: "We have many local governments in the Niger delta, and the federal government is taking care of these people.

"What we need to do is to ensure that these institutions give out more funds so that people can enjoy the dividends of democracy so that they get at least the basic things they need in this country - education, electricity, transportation and anything that will help them to move forward."

Oil spills galore

Government documents have recorded 7,000 oil spills, which equates to one per day for the last 25 years. Many analysts think the true number is up to 10 times higher than this.

Lagos, for example, is Africa's most populated city: the sixth largest in the world, but its infrastructure is grossly inadequate.

Two out of three residents live in a slum, of which less than one per cent have a flushing toilet. None have reliable supply of electricity.

Optimists say free and fair elections could lift the gloom.

Simmons said: "Ensuing elections in Nigeria are so important for the whole of Africa - about one in five Africans is Nigerian. Democracy here is crucial, regardless of how it comes about.

"There has to be stability here."