Oil explosion
I think this may have been the explosion on Dec. 26, 2006, that killed more than 500 people. It is a powerful picture and I wish I could give credit to the photographer, but I don’t have that information.

Root Causes

According to what I read, there are three root causes of the oil violence in the Niger Delta.

  1. 50 years of exploitation, indifference, and short sighted greed on the part of the oil companies.
  2. Nigerian state and federal officials allocating and stealing the oil money for themselves, with approval and collusion from the oil companies.
  3. Violent actions and reprisals by the Nigerian Army acting as security forces for the oil companies, often acting against towns and people unrelated to an initial incident.

In any discussion of oil and Nigeria, it is important to keep this in mind, it is not sustainable:

80% of oil wealth is owned by 1% of the population; 70% of private wealth is abroad whilst 3/4 of the country live on about $1 a day – at least 15 million of those live in the Niger Delta.

As a consequence of the three root causes, there is now a 4th cause of violence, guerrilla entrepreneurs, as mentioned in the previous post. Initially these were a reaction to the three root causes. But now they are also an escalating cause of violence.

Had the oil companies and the Nigerian government been willing to act in good faith, and to think long term at any point in the process, the present situation could have been averted.

As a result of short sighted attention to the bottom line, and lack of long term attention to the bottom line, which would have included paying attention to the wellbeing of the people and the environment where they operate, the oil companies are losing money as their production is shut down throughout the Delta.

The Oil Companies

The role of the oil companies at this point is quite simple, but they talk about it as being very complicated. They are a major player in the future and the current state of this country. They claim, whenever you ask them critically what they’re doing, they claim that they should not be involved in the affairs of a foreign nation, which is of course absurd, because they’re engaged in influencing the affairs of foreign nations every day. In Nigeria, they literally sit down at the table with the Nigerian government and work with them every day to determine what’s going to happen with petroleum-use laws, with the environment, with actually how to deal with the resistance itself. . . . With the military as their own security. . . . The JTF, which means joint task force, serves as private security forces in, in essence, occupied villages.

Prince Wegwu, head of the youth association in the village of Mbodo Aluu:

What we are agitating for is 25 percent of all oil revenues. We know that the oil companies give money to people in secret and we want them to stop that. The companies should give part of the money to the oldest men in the village and the other part of it to the head of each family.

Sure some elders don’t always use the money correctly but that is where our youth associations come in: We would make sure the money does not go missing and ensure there is no violence.

But we don’t want money; we want jobs. We are all unemployed here.

As long as oil companies and the government give nothing, the youth will be angry. And it’s not good to get angry because that’s when things get violent.

The Nigerian State and Federal Officials – Misappropriation and Theft

The following specifically describes problems in Rivers State. But these problems are not confined to Rivers State. This report describes the basics of how state officials allocate or steal all public money for their own interests, and the problems for the citizens that result. Chop Fine, the Human Rights Watch report, tells us the following:

Human Rights Watch found that the government’s failure to tackle local-level corruption violates Nigeria’s obligation to provide basic health and education services to its citizens.

Since 1999, the revenues accruing to the 23 local governments in Rivers have more than quadrupled. And in 2006, the Rivers state government’s budget was US$1.3 billion, larger than the budgets of many countries in West Africa. But that windfall has not translated into efforts by local governments to bolster basic education and health care systems that have teetered on the edge of collapse for many years.
. . .
The report documents how revenues flowing into local government treasuries in recent years have been grossly misallocated or stolen outright. Many local governments have lavished funds on new government offices and other massive construction projects that dwarf spending on health care and education. One local government dedicated only 2.4 percent of its revenues to maintaining its crumbling primary school infrastructure while spending 30 percent of its budget on salaries and expenses for the offices of its chairman and legislative councilors. Some local government chairmen have set aside more money for their own travel and “miscellaneous expenses” than they allocate to the schools and health clinics they are charged with running.

As one embittered resident put it, “All they do is build their headquarters, massive things, air-condition them, and buy vehicles to drive around in.”

Significant revenues are also lost to apparent theft.
. . .
Civil servants, health workers and others told Human Rights Watch that money set aside in local government budgets for health care and education had never reached its intended destination. The salaries of many health workers are months in arrears, even though the money to pay them is included in the budget. The head teacher of one primary school told Human Rights Watch that when he complained to local officials about his school’s lack of materials, such as chalk, he was told that the local government had no money for education. Human Rights Watch visited clinics so under-equipped that their demoralized staff could offer almost no services, and in some cases staff had padlocked the doors and abandoned their posts altogether. Many primary schools in Rivers state have no desks, textbooks or other teaching materials, and classes are held in crumbling buildings without access to water or toilet facilities.

“We started to produce oil in 1957 here but look at the town – government has done nothing for us,” a teacher interviewed in Akuku/Toru local government told Human Rights Watch. “Local government is supposed to help the school but they don’t. They have not given us any support . . . The most important things we need are textbooks, instructional materials, and a toilet.”

The Rivers state government is charged with overseeing the conduct of its local governments. But many of the problems of local-level governance in the state are mirrored by the state government’s own conduct. For example, the office of the state governor had a travel budget of roughly US$65,000 per day in 2006, along with budgets for unspecified “grants,” “contributions” and “donations” that totaled an additional US$92,000 per day. This official extravagance contrasts sharply with the virtual absence of state services for much of the population.

“Local government corruption in Rivers is astonishingly brazen and has caused untold suffering,” said Takirambudde. “Yet neither Rivers state nor the federal government has done nearly enough to address the problem of local corruption or punish those responsible.”
. . .
The human impact of the government’s failure to live up to its responsibilities to provide basic health and education services is not limited to Rivers state. One in five Nigerian children dies before the age of five, a statistic that translates into more than 1 million child deaths per year. Many are struck down by illnesses that could be easily prevented by the basic health infrastructure Nigeria’s local governments are tasked with maintaining. Public primary schools, part of a school system that was once among the best in Africa, have fallen into an appalling state of disrepair and dysfunction across much of Nigeria.

Nigerian Military Violence

The Nigerian military serves in essence as private security for the oil companies, though I would argue that its actions do not make them more secure, certainly not in the long run.

With the military as their own security. . . . The JTF, which means joint task force, serves as private security forces in, in essence, occupied villages. These villages are the places where pump stations are right literally in the middle of town. Gas flares right next to where people live. And the JTF is serving as security for Chevron and Shell.

There are plenty of documented cases of military atrocities and destruction. The Nigerian government has repeatedly used collective punishment on communities, such as Odi, Odioma, or Aker Base, and many more. Often the perpetrators they are seeking are long gone in their boats, and the local community suffers instead.

From Odioma:

“When the soldiers arrived at the community yesterday with their gunboats, our people thought they came for peace, and so no one raised any dust. Our chiefs gathered immediately at the palace of the Amanyanabo to await the soldiers to explain their mission, but the next thing that happened was shooting, shooting, shooting…. firing and firing. The soldiers were shooting at everyone, and started burning houses at the waterside” – Philemon Kelly Dickson, Odioma community spokesperson

“We are so surprised. Government says they are for peace but it is killing and killing. We never killed anybody, so why this?” – Reuben Diepre, Odioma community youth president

From Aker Base

. . . at least two pickup trucks full of uniformed soldiers entered the Aker Base community carrying canisters of gasoline, residents told Human Rights Watch. They spread out inside of the settlement, moving from building to building, dousing homes and businesses with gasoline and setting them ablaze. It is not clear how many soldiers were involved in the attack, but the burned area covered an area roughly equivalent to four football fields.
. . .
Residents of Aker Base described their community as having been a settlement where many people ran bars, shops or other businesses out of their modest homes. When Human Rights Watch visited the scene two days after the attack, there was not a single structure left standing, and tin roofing lay in twisted piles atop the charred ruins of what had been a crowded expanse of homes and businesses. Dozens of former residents were standing together in the rain amid the wreckage. “We came back here just to stand around,” one man explained. “We have no other place to go.”
Many lost everything they had along with their homes, and some did not even have the money left to buy a change of clothes. “I have only my clothes,” one woman told Human Rights Watch. “For the children there is nothing – we did not even bring one Naira out of the house.”
. . .
One woman who owned a small bar that was reduced to ashes during the attack said:
“All of the struggle of my life is for nothing – look at my property. I used up my whole life serving different men to build this place of my own and now it is all gone just like that, in one night, just because of nothing.”

The picture at the top of this post is from the aftermath of a pipeline explosion, when people were trying to steal oil by tapping in to one of the pipelines, called illegal bunkering. The government blames this entirely on the militias, calling them rascals and oil thieves. Since illegal bunkering from the pipelines is not simple and requires special equipment, and since the quantities of oil bunkered and sold on the black market are not carried away in oil cans, but are carried away by oil tankers, it is a safe bet that military officers and government officials are involved, at least some of the time. Local citizens may collect oil for themselves after the initial theft, taking advantage of the availability, and exposing themselves to danger from explosions.

So what can be done?

In Ogoniland, where much of Shell’s operations have been shut down, the environment is beginning to make a comeback. I remember reading, but can’t find the link right now, that the people in Ogoniland are saying they would rather Shell not come back. They prefer to have their environment back, to farm and fish, rather than have the oil extracted. This could be a serious problem for oil dependent countries such as the US if it catches on.

The Recommendations of the Chop Fine Report would make an excellent beginning to a solution. Briefly, it recommends transparency and accountability in moneys collected or donated, and moneys spent. These recommendations would yield positive results regarding all three of the root causes of the violence. With some action, and given some genuine good will, it may not be too late. Unfortunately there is no visible sign of genuine good will, or good intentions, on the part of those with the power and the money.

Oil companies should have, and might still be able to work directly with local communities, helping with environmental cleanup, providing micro credit loans, building donated facilities such as schools and clinics, and donating equipment. But they show no inclination to serve their own interests in this manner.

Analysts say the key to solving the crisis will be improved governance, free and fair elections, and public provision of services such as water, electricity, roads, public transport, schools and small business development.

Increased militarization, and US involvement via the Africa Command will make the situation infinitely worse. I’ll go into that a bit more in a subsequent post.