Nigerian Oil Wars  

Posted by Big Gav

I'm watching a good episode of Foreign Correspondent on the ABC at the moment about the oil industry and the problems it faces (and causes) in the Niger Delta.

I've never been to Nigeria but I've been interested in the goings on there since the mid-nineties, when I was living in London and working for an oil services company that had operations in Nigeria (along with a lot of other places).

During this time I shared a (very nice, and best of all, company paid for) house with a rather insane Nigerian who told me all sorts of stories about his homeland whenever he had a free moment. This wasn't very often, as during his travels he had accumulated 4 ex-wives (in each in England, Scotland, Canada and the US) and he spent a lot of his time arguing on the phone with them about child support payments. I can still hear his anguished cries in my head - "You can't squeeze blood out of a stone" he'd yell, as his tardiness at paying up was bemoaned at great length to him, again and again and again.

Nevertheless I did manage to learn a bit about Nigeria, in spite of the interruptions, both from my housemate and the news stories about the trial and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Strangely enough I also played basketball with a team consisting largely of (and competing mostly against) Nigerians at that time - usually I'd be the only white guy on the court as we toured the rougher areas of South London, and I often wondered as I found myself getting into yet another fight if I was going to get backed up or if they'd simply let me perish. It turned out that the most important thing to most of them was tribal differences though, so fights between guys from different regions were usually far more brutal than the ones I ended up in.

Anyway, putting my store of random anecdotes to one side, Nigeria is yet another example of a third world country that is really not benefiting from its oil wealth. Ken Saro-Wiwa made the following speech before his death, and it seems that things haven't changed that much for the people in the Niger Delta since (although General Abacha died not that long after Saro-Wiwa):

"I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is on trial here, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learned here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and all those who assist them. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected of a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of their urine.

We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardised the future of our children. As we subscribe to the subnormal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, degrade our hospitals, and make ourselves the slaves of those who subscribe to higher standards, who pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom and hard work"

Foreign correspondent showed some rather staggering scenes of oil pollution in the delta, but spent most of its time focussing on the Asari militia that are pushing for independence for the Niger Delta and the ejection of foreign oil companies like Chevron-Texaco and Shell. These guys certainly aren't angels either though, and as usual its hard to see much of a positive future for this part of Africa. And its just one more oil supplying region which looks like remaining unstable until the oil runs out.
The Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force like to party – even at a funeral.

When Eric Campbell caught up with the Force on their home turf in the heart of Nigeria’s oil producing region, they were sending off the recently departed in fine style – swigging booze, taking drugs, firing their weapons into the air, and gunning their motorbikes through crowded village streets.

When they’re not engaged in their own unique style of mourning, this well organized crime gang has become a key player in the world’s most strategically important industry – oil. The vast Niger Delta where they operate holds an estimated three percent of the world’s oil, and to the U.S. it's a vital alternative to the oilfields of the Middle East - worth US $30 billion per year.

And the Force wants a share for the people of the Niger Delta. As their leader, Al Haji Asari Dokubo, admitted to Campbell, the gang has brazenly stolen oil straight out of pipelines owned by some of the world’s biggest multinationals. Called ‘bunkering’, the practice is costing Western oil companies hundreds of millions in lost revenue each year. But if gangs like the Force are threatened, they can disrupt Nigeria’s oil supply with ease. Recently the price of oil rose to a record $50 a barrel when the market panicked after Asari threatened to cut-off the flow of oil.

Not that the government of Nigeria seems overly concerned about cleaning up the industry, or using its massive oil wealth to help the people - some believe that they’re the biggest gang of all. “People have now grown to the situation where they don’t believe anything that the government stands for”, Nigerian human rights lawyer Ledum Mittee told Foreign Correspondent, “instead of the oil becoming a blessing, it now becomes a curse”.

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