Nigeria: Big Oil And Disaster CapitalismDate Posted: Tuesday 22-Jun-2010
By Obi Nwaknama
Close to One Trillion Dollars worth of oil profits later, the Niger Delta is in the end an ecological Armageddon. It fits perfectly into what the Canadian journalist and author, Naomi Klein, would describe as evidence of the consequences of "disaster capitalism."
In her rather apocalyptic book and New York Times Bestseller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, although it specifically and decidedly ignores Nigeria and the situation in the Niger Delta, she nonetheless paints a grim picture of what the Economist Joseph Stiglitz calls the "political machinations" and the "hubris" of international corporate madness and its deleterious global impact.
Naomi Klein traces in a skillful and courageous way a 50-year trajectory from the "free market" economics of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of Economics, to the creation of economic shock therapy and disaster zones from which international multinationals profit, to its juncture in the war in Iraq that basically ceded Iraq's oil fields to Shell, British Petroleum and Halliburton. A reading of Naomi Klein's book puts into great panoramic perspective, the real situation in Nigeria.
The closest example or equivalent by a Nigerian of Naomi Klein's expose is the work by my friend, the journalist and scholar, Ike Okonta. His seminal book, Where Vultures Feast: Shell, Human Right and Oil, and its sequel, When Citizens Revolt: Nigerian Elites, Big Oil and the Ogoni Struggle a fine expose should occupy an honoured spot on the library or bedside reading collection of every educated Nigerian.
What we now know about the large scale exploration of oil in the Niger Delta and its gross impact should leave anyone with even a modicum of conscience filled with rage, starting with Nigeria's Petroleum Acts 1968 and 1969 which virtually ceded Nigeria's oilfields to Shell and to other oil companies without regard to their potentially dangerous activities.
In a 2008 Amnesty International report on the oil industry in Nigeria we have just a very brief but important witness to the situation. The Amnesty International Report indeed notes quite poignantly that the oil industry in Nigeria's Niger Delta has "brought impoverishment, conflict, and human rights abuses and despair" to this most vital region and one of the world's most important wetlands.
It details the impact of the terrible pollution and the environmental damage to its human population, who have been denied a right to adequate standard of living, a loss of clean water and food, and the safety of their ecosystem.
Thousands of years of human culture and some of the most beautiful landscapes have been destroyed. To make my point, I should quote a crucial aspect of the report fully: "Oil pollution kills fish, their food sources and fish larvae, and damages the ability of fish to reproduce, causing both immediate damage and long-term harm to fish stocks. Oil pollution also damages fishing equipment.
Oil spills and waste dumping have also seriously damaged agricultural land.
Long-term effects include damage to soil fertility and agricultural productivity, which in some cases can last for decades.
In numerous cases, these long-term effects have undermined a family's only source of livelihood. The destruction of livelihoods and the lack of accountability and redress have led people to steal oil and vandalize oil infrastructure in an attempt to gain compensation or clean-up contracts. Armed groups are increasingly demanding greater control of resources in the region, and engage in large-scale theft of oil and the ransoming of oil workers.
Government reprisals against militancy and violence frequently involve excessive force, and communities are subjected to violence and collective punishment, deepening anger and resentment."
This to me is a tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the public health implication of this with the massive pollution of ground water supply in the entire South-East and South-South areas of Nigeria, and the massive incidents of particularly rare forms of cancer currently at epidemic stages ought to have attracted the attention of epidemiologists and should really drive home the human carnage - the extinction of the human population in these regions either through infertility or disease.
Yet, a succession of Nigerian governments have largely played possum to these realities, and have in fact almost acted as if the Nigerian government was merely an arm of these multinational oil companies, particularly Shell. The Nigerian government through its regulatory arms, has basically permitted these oil operators to kill Nigerians and destroy a most important ecological habitat of this nation, and high government officials have profited from the great evil.
Here again is an important insight by the Amnesty report: "The scale of pollution and environmental damage has never been properly assessed. The figures that do exist vary considerably depending on sources, but hundreds of spills occur each year.
According to the UNDP, more than 6,800 spills were recorded between 1976 and 2001. According to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency some 2,000 sites require treatment because of oil-related pollution. The real total may be higher.
The regulatory system in the Niger Delta is deeply flawed. Nigeria has laws and regulations that require companies to comply with internationally recognized standards of "good oil field practice", and laws and regulations to protect the environment but these laws and regulations are poorly enforced. The government agencies responsible for enforcement are ineffective and, in some cases, compromised by conflicts of interest."