Dec 03, 2007

Ogoni: Plagued by Black Gold

The oil resource region of Niger Delta is baring the consequences of its grounds as the situation profits the government and causing further environmental damages to the already impoverished region.
The oil resource region of Niger Delta is baring the consequences of its rich grounds as the situation is profiting the government and causing further environmental damages to the already impoverished region. 

Below is an article published by Joel Bisina from Nigerian Tribune:

Nigeria is Africa’s largest and most complex country, with a population of over 120 million people from over 250 tribes. The vast, swampy terrain of the Niger Delta region supports almost 20 million people, many of them in isolated communities only accessible by boat. 

The Niger Delta serves as the economic nerve centre of the Nigeria Federation with its vast oil deposits. Currently, crude oil accounts for about 85 per cent of the nation’s revenue. Oil from the Niger Delta accounts for 20 per cent of oil supply to the United States (US), and has become increasingly important from a strategic perspective as conflicts continue in the Middle East.

However, this “blessing” has become a curse for the people of the Niger Delta. They have suffered environmental devastation, economic poverty and constant conflict. To make matters worse, political considerations and greed on the part of a corrupt government have kept many of the earnings from these vast reserves from returning to the Niger Delta to help restore the region. 

Since the discovery of oil and the production in commercial quantities in 1958, the people of the Niger Delta have known no peace.

Economic activities related to oil and gas have placed the government’s security emphasis on the need to produce oil and gas most efficiently. This type of security consideration ignores the impact on other environmental and human resources such as water, forests, fish and the climate of the area. The youth of the region, a vibrant and energetic generation who should be supporting the productivity and the future of this area, are instead being continuously cut down by bullets from security operatives under the guise of the war on terrorism. Communities are razed and extra-judicial killings are the order of the day. 

From the days of the hanging of playwright and prominent environmental rights activist Ken Saro Wiwa and nine other Ogoni individuals by the then military regime of General Sani Abacha, to the Odi holocaust and the burning and destruction of Awor and Fenegbene by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the story has been the same.

When oil production activities are intensified or activated in a very dedicated manner, riverbank erosion results, gas flares occur frequently, forests are cut down, rivers and streams are dredged, turned into canals or blocked and then polluted. Farms and sacred lands are not spared either; they may be acquired for oil and gas development or polluted, as production gets under way. Anything that is seen to obstruct or have the semblance of serving as obstruction to the free flow of oil is uprooted and destroyed, whether it is a human being, a community or a stream. 

Compounding the plight of the people of the Niger Delta is the issue of environmental pollution. Oil production and dredging have caused acid rain, fouled the air and the water, and caused widespread erosion. Whole communities have watched their lands erode away. Fishing and farming, the traditional occupations of these people, is no longer viable. This situation has caused poverty, hunger and desperation among these peoples, who are struggling to eke out a living.

The issue of ownership rights is key. Federal laws automatically transfer title to any land where oil is found to the Federal Government without adequate compensation to the landowners. This gives the Federal Government the right to enter into alliances with multi-national oil companies in the name of joint venture operations at the exclusion of the people. 

The result is that the Federal Government and the multinational oil corporations share the resulting revenue on a ratio of 60:40 per cent with nothing left for the landowners. In addition, oil spills and other ongoing problems caused by the oil production are not attended to, so the area is left in much worse shape than before the oil reserves were found.

Underlying this complex and fraudulent economic arrangement is the issue of ethnicity and tribalism. There are 250 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, with the Yorubas, Igbos and the Hausa/Fulani of the South West, South East and the North comprising the majority tribes. The minorities of the Ijaws, Itsekiris and other nationalities inhabit the oil-rich Niger Delta region, with its swampy terrain, and is completely cut off from development, modern industries and social infrastructure. Educational opportunities are limited, and the closest health care facility is about three hours by speedboat. 

Because the government tends to be populated by people who originated from the majority tribes which do not happen to be located in the delta, they have created a formula for sharing the revenues from oil production that favours other regions, further increasing the poverty in the delta and creating anger and conflict between the delta tribes themselves. Trust among the tribes has been eroded, while hatred and suspicion have grown, as they are made to believe that they are enemies of one another by the ‘divide and rule’ and ‘divide and exploit’ attitude of national government and multi-national collaborators.

The combination of these factors creates a potential powder keg. Because Nigeria is the largest nation in Africa and considered the leader in political and economic issues, any eruption could have a deeply destabilising effect on both the continent and the global community. By providing the world a more complete understanding of the real story behind the impact of the oil discovery and production during the last 45 years in Nigeria, perhaps we can find the resources to address these issues before a major eruption occurs.