Poverty in the Midst of Plenty
Nigeria in Crisis -- Who Owns the Oil?
We are pleased to bring you excerpts from an in-depth analysis of the crisis in Nigeria. The full article is made available through the news service of Foreign Policy in Focus. Foreign Policy in Focus has kindly granted us permission to share top articles with the readers of the Progress Report.
by Oronto Douglas, Von Kemedi, Ike Okonta, and Michael WattsOil Corruption High; Living Standards Low
The mythos of oil wealth has been central to the history of modern industrial capitalism. But in Nigeria, as elsewhere, the discovery of oil, and annual oil revenues of $40 billion currently, has ushered in a miserable, undisciplined, decrepit, and corrupt form of "petro-capitalism." After a half century of oil production, almost $300 billion in oil revenues has flowed directly into the federal exchequer (and perhaps $50 billion promptly flowed out, only to disappear overseas). Yet Nigerian per capita income stands at $290 per year. For the majority of Nigerians, living standards are no better now than at independence in 1960. A repugnant culture of excessive venality and profiteering among the political class--the Department of State has an entire website devoted to fraud cases--has won for Nigeria the dubious honor of #1 in Transparency International's ranking of most corrupt states.
Paradoxically, the oil-producing regions within federated Nigeria have benefited the least from oil wealth. Devastated by the ecological costs of oil spillage and the highest gas flaring rates in the world, the Niger Delta is a political tinderbox. A generation of militant restive youth, deep political frustrations among oil-producing communities, and pre-electoral thuggery all prosper in the rich soil of political marginalization. Massive election rigging across the Niger Delta in the April 2003 elections simply confirmed the worst for the millions of Nigerians who have suffered from decades of neglect. It was the great Polish journalist, Kapucinski, who noted in his meditation on oil-rich Iran: "Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free.... The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident...In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie." It is this lie that currently confronts West African oil producers and the Niger Delta in particular.
Since March 12, 2003, mounting communal violence has resulted in at least 50 deaths and the leveling of eight communities in and around the Warri petroleum complex. Seven oil company employees have also been killed, prompting all the major oil companies to withdraw staff, to close down operations, and to reduce output by over 750,000 barrels per day (almost half of national output). President Obasanjo has dispatched large troop deployments to the oil-producing creeks. Ijaw militants, incensed over illegal oil bunkering (in which the security forces were implicated) and indiscriminate military action, have threatened to detonate 11 captured oil installations. The strikes on the offshore oil platforms -- a long-festering sore that is rarely mentioned in the media -- were quickly resolved. Nobody seriously expects, however, that the deeper problems within the oil sector will go away. Relatively new to delta politics, however, is a series of assassinations, most notably that of Chief Marshall Harry, a senior member of the main opposition party and a leading campaigner for greater resource allocation to the oil-producing Niger Delta. Fallout from the Harry assassination has already become a source of tension in his native oil-producing state of Rivers. Supporters of the main opposition party, the ANPP, and another opposition grouping of activists and politicians, the Rivers Democratic Movement, have linked the ruling party to the assassination.
The Niger Delta stands at the crossroads of contemporary Nigerian politics. Despite the 13% growth of oil revenues to the delta states, the region remains desperately poor. The resultant deepening material and political grievances place the Niger Delta at the confluence of four pressing national issues in the wake of the April 2003 elections: 1) the efforts led by a number of delta states for resource control, which in effect means expanded local access to oil revenues, 2) the struggle for self-determination of minority people and the clamor for a sovereign national conference to rewrite the federal Constitution, 3) a crisis of rule in the region, as a number of state and local governments are rendered helpless by militant youth movements, growing insecurity, and intracommunity, interethnic, and state violence, and 4) the emergence of what is called a South-South Alliance linking Nigeria's hitherto-excluded oil-producing states in a bulwark against the ethnic majorities.
Oil Companies Getting a Free Pass
What is most strikingly missing from current discussions of the security problems in the Niger Delta is the role of Shell and other powerful corporate international actors in deepening and sustaining the crisis. Several independent human rights organizations, most notably Human Rights Watch, have linked the oil company to the spate of killings, rapes, and intercommunal feuds that have crippled social and economic life in the Niger Delta since 1993. These human rights groups have also detailed the company's links to powerful and corrupt Nigerian state officials. Moreover, environmental groups have documented the company's unrelenting attack on the human ecosystem on which the local communities rely for sustenance. The fact that a case against Chevron was recently heard in San Francisco Federal Court speaks powerfully to these issues of corporate practice. Indeed, detailed local community studies in Nembe, Peremabiri, and Ke/Bille have documented the need for new forms of corporate accountability. Yet, not a single industrialized country consuming Shell's oil has called for sanctions to be imposed on the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta. Any serious attempt to address the problem of alienation and militancy in Nigeria must focus globally, not just on the Niger Delta.
In a just world, all natural resource revenue belongs to all citizens. To see how this can be achieved for Nigeria, visit the Niger Delta Fund Initiative
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