energy


We have a laboratory that shows us what happens to a vital and sensitive coastal wetland subjected to massive and repeated oil spills. So far very little has been done to study it. The Niger Delta, one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world, has experienced an average of one oil spill per day, collectively the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill per year, for five decades, 50 years. Half the life created in a warm coastal wetland is created in the top two millimeters of slime on the surface of the marsh mud, the food base of the entire coastal wetland, as illustrated below. If this layer is covered by oil and dies, all the animals up the food chain risk starvation. In the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold. you can hear a man telling us that in his Niger Delta fishing community where they have fished for generations, there is now no one who can make a living as a fisherman.

Half of the all the life created in the nature-rich Louisiana coast, one of the world's most productive estuaries, or in any warm coastal wetland, takes place in the thin layer of slime on top of the marshes. Microscopic creatures are a key part of the Gulf marsh ecosystem. (nola.com, click to enlarge enough to read)

Right now BP’s Deep Horizon well is spilling what may be the equivalent of one or more Exxon Valdez spills per week. The well may be compromised downhole (from dougr at the Oil Drum) and leaking in multiple locations. How, and even if it can be stopped are open questions to which no one appears to know the answer. In the Niger Delta we have the laboratory for how this massive a spill might effect people, plants, animals, land, and water. But it has been very little studied. The effects of this oil spilling on people has been almost completely ignored.

Meredeth Turshen wrote of the Niger Delta in 2004:

Specific effects of oil development on women’s health seem not to have been investigated. Although I found an article on the effects of exposure of crocodiles to sub-lethal concentrations of petroleum waste drilling fluid in the Niger Delta basin, I could find nothing on the health of women who live near oil wells and oil production stations, and nothing on reproductive outcomes in areas adjacent to petrochemical plants. Yet it is known that cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead are contained in the refinery effluents that are constantly discharged into nearby bodies of water. At high concentrations these metals cause metabolic malfunctions in human beings. They enter the food chain through the drinking water and the local fish that people consume.

Right now we are just beginning to see similar exposure to US citizens.

Oil spills have destroyed lives and livelihoods throughout the Niger Delta. You can see and hear what has happened to people:
Click here to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold.
It is based on Ed Kashi’s book of the same name, Curse of the Black Gold.

Neither the oil companies nor the Nigerian government want anyone to know what is going on. Investigation and research is actively discouraged. Those engaged in research or reporting may find themselves threatened and at risk of arrest, beatings, injury and death. And now The Mercenaries Take Over, mostly hired by the oil companies to protect their interests and prevent interference and investigation.

The same thing is happening in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has hired mercenaries to keep the news media and the public away from the places the oil has come ashore and prevent investigation.
Louisiana response to Gulf of Mexico oil spill obstructed by BP and federal agencies, state officials say
or
Barriers to news coverage of Gulf of Mexico oil spill remain despite promises

Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access.

The threats and dangers are not now as pervasive and severe as in the Niger Delta. But they are there, and this is just the beginning. You can see in the following picture the vast extent of the oil spill, covering 18, 473 square miles on June 19, and growing. Much of that oil will be coming ashore in the wetlands. Storms are likely to drive it to land and inland. Much oil remains suspended in the water along with a great deal of methane that has been escaping with the oil. The oil and methane will kill marine life and make their habitat uninhabitable.

Strong thunderstorms form large, dense masses of bright white cloud in this MODIS/Aqua satellite image of the northeast Gulf of Mexico taken the afternoon of June 19, 2010. But it's clearer than the MODIS/Terra image taken the day before, and reveals fresh oil upwelling around the location of the leaking Macondo well, source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Slicks and sheen span 18,473 square miles (47,847 km2) on this image. Thin patches of slick and sheen appear to be making landfall from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Perdido Key in Florida, and from Grayton Beach State Park to the Seacrest / Rosemary Beach area along the Florida coast. (from SkyTruth on Flickr: flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4722626008/ , click to enlarge)

In Nigeria Claytus Kanyie says:

The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.

And another Nigerian fisherman speaks:

If you want to go fishing, you have to paddle for about four hours through several rivers before you can get to where you can catch fish and the spill is lesser … some of the fishes we catch, when you open the stomach, it smells of crude oil.

Soon this will be true in the Gulf of Mexico, as will all the health effects and economic impact of wetlands saturated with oil, and of a sea depleted of oxygen and filled with oil and toxic chemicals.

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Ghana’s capacity to generate energy for industrial, commercial and domestic use is in serious crisis because of the failure of mining companies, industries, ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to pay the huge sums of money they owe the Volta River Authority (VRA).

Akosombo Dam of the Volta River Authority, the VRA generates and supplies electrical energy for industrial, commercial and domestic use in Ghana (click to enlarge).

Figures available to the Daily Graphic put the current debt owed by MDAs to the VRA at GH¢90 million, while some mining companies also owe the authority more than GH¢15 million.

Energy crisis looms as VRA crawls on dwindling income was reported in Reporting Oil and Gas.

Furthermore, the VRA claims that it is compelled to sell power cheaper than the production cost, as a result of which what it obtains from loyal customers who pay their bills regularly is not enough to sustain its operations, a situation that has plunged the authority into a critical financial situation.

As the big consumers and government agencies appear reluctant to meet their debt obliga-tions, the VRA is pushing for higher tariffs to enable it raise the needed revenue for the sustenance of its operations.

Alternatively, it says it will require extra funding from the government for the sustenance of its operations and to prevent the situation from deteriorating further.

The government can pay its bills one way, or pay them another. Preferably the MDAs, ministries, departments, and agencies will pay their own bills, and itemize them in their budgets. Or the government can pay them in some other way, with subsidies or some other arrangement that must be clearly defined. But they must pay, and must be realistic about what they are paying and the VRA’s income and expenses. And the process should be transparent and visible to the public, who is paying, and who is not paying.

The mining companies have been brutal to people living in mining areas, displacing people, poisoning and destroying the environment. They most certainly should pay their bills. That is the least they can do for the country.

The Head of Public Relations at the VRA, Mrs Gertrude Koomson, put VRA’s loss at 50 per cent of its production cost and listed inflation and increases in crude oil prices as other factors contributing to the huge losses.

“As things stand at the moment, there is no way the authority can continue to effectively serve the nation, since its revenues are not covering the cost of production,” she added.

Mrs Koomson said the VRA believed that the time had come for the public to start paying the right price for electricity and went further to state that the authority had presented a proposal to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURC) and was awaiting its response.

She observed that if the right price was not paid today to meet the cost of production, consumers might be compelled to pay much higher prices in future that is, if the system did not collapse completely.

I wonder exactly what Mrs. Koomson means by people paying the right price. Does she mean that the businesses and MDAs that have failed to pay should pay up their share? It sounds like the system is currently being sustained by the small rate payers while the big players are skating along free. Is she talking about charging the smaller rate payers more because the big guys don’t pay? If so, that has to change.

All those using power produced by the VRA need to pay their fair share. It is especially important for businesses and government agencies to show leadership and support, for the sake of both solvency and fairness. To do otherwise is a shift of wealth upwards from the poorer to the richer. It is also a shift from being functional to being dysfunctional, a path to certain failure. It is a bad way to do business, as well as being unethical and undemocratic.

It should be possible to bring some legal pressure to bear on the big players to pay their bills. In this regard Ghana may be suffering from the structural adjustments forced down its throat by the IMF and World Bank. Structural adjustments force governments to dismantle those parts of government that are particularly necessary for serving the general population, for building up a country, for creating jobs, creating a middle class, and achieving real independence. They are designed to leave a country at the mercy of predatory capitalism. World Bank and IMF aid and adjustments are designed to cripple a country’s ability to govern itself. For examples, you can look at the government and economy of almost every country they have “helped”. Ghana has certainly suffered its share.

________

Akosombo Dam photo from marantzer on Flickr.

JonesKagame2005

Retired US Marine is to be Obama’s new National Security Advisor. As Rick Rozoff records:

“Jones is expected to play a key role in the Obama administration. According to U.S. press reports, he will be as strong as Henry Kissinger, the all-powerful national security adviser to President Richard Nixon.”

Under Bush:

Jones was appointed to the NATO post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the overlapping, essentially co-terminous one of Commander, United States European Command (COMUSEUCOM) in the first Bush term and is part of the two-thirds of the Obama administration’s foreign policy triumvirate – National Security Adviser, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense – inherited from the preceding administration.

During his tenure Jones has not been reticent about his intentions:

Jones has been president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. Until his Dec. 1 selection by Obama, he also served as a board member of the Chevron Corp.” (Houston Chronicle, December 25, 2008)

Establishing such a group [military task force in West Africa] could also send a message to U.S. companies ‘that investing in many parts of Africa is a good idea,’ the general said.” [U.S. Department of Defense, August 18, 2006)

And, just as candidly, he and his NATO civilian cohort declared:
“NATOs’ executives are ready to use warships to ensure the security of offshore oil and gas transportation routes from Western Africa, reportedly said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s Secretary General, speaking at the session of foreign committee of PACE [Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe]. “On April 30 General James Jones, commander-in-chief of NATO in Europe, reportedly said NATO was going to draw up the plan for ensuring security of oil and gas industry facilities. “In this respect the block is willing to ensure security in unstable regions where oil and gas are produced and transported.” (Trend News Agency, May 3, 2006)

Note that while speaking to those he assumes to be interested and complicit parties, Jones is quite candid in moving his finger across the map of the world and indicating precisely where the Pentagon’s – not the State Department’s, say, or the US Department of Energy’s – priorities lie.

In 2006 Afriquechos reported (machine translation):

Interviewed in his headquarters in Stuttgart in Germany by the “Wall Street Journal”, the boss of the European command of the U.S. Army, General James Jones (photo-against), is categorical. For three years, 70% of his time and all that of his deputy, General Chuck Wald, is devoted to Africa. With three obsessions in mind: radical Islam, energy security and the growing influence of China on the continent. The fact that all three are gathered around the Chadian crisis clearly explains the keen interest shown by American diplomats and military to the latest developments of the situation in N’Djamena.

Jones interest in Africa was reported in the Ghanaian news Insight in 2006, from GhanaWeb:

Marine General James L. Jones, Head of the US European Command, who made the disclosure said the Pentagon was seeking to acquire access to two kinds of bases in Senegal, Ghana, Mali and Kenya and other African Countries.

The new US strategy based on the conclusions of May 2001 report of the President�s National Energy Policy Development group chaired by Vice President Richard Cheney and known as the Cheney report. …

In its efforts to promote greater diversity in oil supplies, the Bush Administration is focusing its attention on six African countries, Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Chad and Equatorial Guinea. …

The major risks associated with hosting US military installation include terrorist attacks, the destruction of national culture and more direct US control over the lives of the host people

The picture above, of Jones with with Rwanda’s President Kagame is from this 2005 article about military cooperation between the US and Rwanda.

I just heard Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State (MSNBC Thursday January 22) talking about bringing the 3 Ds, Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. She was followed on the broadcast by a clip of Vice President Biden also speaking about the 3 Ds, but emphsizing the diplomacy and development angle. The 3 Ds have been touted numerous times by spokepersons for AFRICOM. It will be easy to tell what they mean by this. Look at the budget. Where is the money being appropriated and how is it being spent?

And for anyone who knows African history, 3 Ds sounds like a cynically mocking reference to the 19th century 3 Cs, in which Europe was going to bring Africa Commerce, Christianity, and Civilization. We all know how well that worked for Africa. If you need a refresher see Scramble for Africa, or King Leopold’s Ghost, a saga whose murderous ramifications continue to this day. And if you want to see exactly what 3 Cs, now 3 Ds are doing today, Click here to view the 8 minute video Curse of the Black Gold.  Or read the book Curse of the Black Gold, and look at the pictures.  Considering what happened with the 3 Cs, I am continually surprised to hear US spokespersons speaking as though the 3 Ds are anything other than an insult. As Omotaylor at the AfricanLoft said, upon hearing of the 3 Ds: “I see the 3 Fs in their endeavour, – Foolery, Fallacy and Failure.”

With two of Obama’s three major foreign policy positions going to people who were architects of AFRICOM under Bush, Gates as Secretary of Defense, and Jones as a powerful National Security Advisor, it does not look like there will be much of a change in approach. When it comes to US military designs on the continent of Africa, creating proxy wars, manipulating governments, and recolonizing the people who live there are likely to continue. This will be done for the sake of US resource hegemony. I think Clinton is tough, but I don’t know if her focus and interest are all that different from Jones and Gates. I truly hope I am wrong in all this, that Obama has better intentions.  I’ll continue to watch the evidence.

Graphic: yellow is demand, green supply.

Asia Times just published the article The rise of the new energy world order by Michael T Klare. Klare writes:

The combination of rising demand, the emergence of powerful new energy consumers, and the contraction of the global energy supply is demolishing the energy-abundant world we are familiar with and creating in its place a new world order. Think of it as rising powers/shrinking planet.

This new world order will be characterized by fierce international competition for dwindling stocks of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, as well as by a tidal shift in power and wealth from energy-deficit states like China, Japan and the United States to energy-surplus states like Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. In the process, the lives of everyone will be affected in one way or another – with poor and middle-class consumers in the energy-deficit states experiencing the harshest effects. That’s most of us and our children, in case you hadn’t quite taken it in.

Here, in a nutshell, are five key forces in this new world order which will change our planet:

  • Intense competition between older and newer economic powers for available supplies of energy.

Until very recently, the mature industrial powers of Europe, Asia and North America consumed the lion’s share of energy and left the dregs for the developing world. . . . But that ratio is changing . . .
. . .
In this new stage of energy competition, the advantages long enjoyed by Western energy majors has been eroded by vigorous, state-backed upstarts from the developing world.


  • The insufficiency of primary energy supplies.


By all accounts, the global supply of oil will expand for perhaps another half decade before reaching a peak and beginning to decline, while supplies of natural gas, coal and uranium will probably grow for another decade or two before peaking and commencing their own inevitable declines. In the meantime, global supplies of these existing fuels will prove incapable of reaching the elevated levels demanded.
. . .
. . . So expect global energy shortages and high prices to be a constant source of hardship.

  • The painfully slow development of energy alternatives.

. . . alternatives, which now contribute only a tiny percentage of the world’s net fuel supply, are simply not being developed fast enough to avert the multifaceted global energy catastrophe that lies ahead.
. . .
In global warming terms, the implications are nothing short of catastrophic: Rising reliance on coal (especially in China, India and the United States) means that global emissions of carbon dioxide are projected to rise by 59% over the next quarter-century, from 26.9 billion metric tons to 42.9 billion tons. The meaning of this is simple. If these figures hold, there is no hope of averting the worst effects of climate change.

When it comes to global energy supplies, the implications are nearly as dire. To meet soaring energy demand, we would need a massive influx of alternative fuels, which would mean equally massive investment – in the trillions of dollars – to ensure that the newest possibilities move rapidly from laboratory to full-scale commercial production; but that, sad to say, is not in the cards.

Instead, the major energy firms (backed by lavish US government subsidies and tax breaks) are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes . . .

  • A steady migration of power and wealth from energy-deficit to energy-surplus nations:

In the case of oil and natural gas, the major energy-surplus states can be counted on two hands. Ten oil-rich states possess 82.2% of the world’s proven reserves. In order of importance, they are: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, Kazakhstan and Nigeria. The possession of natural gas is even more concentrated. Three countries – Russia, Iran and Qatar – harbor an astonishing 55.8% of the world supply. All of these countries are in an enviable position to cash in on the dramatic rise in global energy prices and to extract from potential customers whatever political concessions they deem important.

The transfer of wealth alone is already mind-boggling.
. . .
Russia is now the world’s leading supplier of natural gas, the second largest supplier of oil and a major producer of coal and uranium. Though many of these assets were briefly privatized during the reign of Boris Yeltsin, President Vladimir Putin has brought most of them back under state control – in some cases by exceedingly questionable legal means.

  • A growing risk of conflict.

Will energy-deficit states launch campaigns to wrest the oil and gas reserves of surplus states from their control – the George W Bush administration’s war in Iraq might already be thought of as one such attempt or to eliminate competitors among their deficit-state rivals?

The high costs and risks of modern warfare are well known and there is a widespread perception that energy problems can best be solved through economic means, not military ones. Nevertheless, the major powers are employing military means in their efforts to gain advantage in the global struggle for energy, and no one should be deluded on the subject.
. . .
One conspicuous use of military means in the pursuit of energy is obviously the regular transfer of arms and military-support services by the major energy-importing states to their principal suppliers. Both the United States and China, for example, have stepped up their deliveries of arms and equipment to oil-producing states like Angola, Nigeria and Sudan in Africa and, in the Caspian Sea basin, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The United States has placed particular emphasis on suppressing the armed insurgency in the vital Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where most of the country’s oil is produced; Beijing has emphasized arms aid to Sudan, where Chinese-led oil operations are threatened by insurgencies in both the South and Darfur.
. . .


In this new world order, energy will govern our lives in new ways and on a daily basis.
It will determine when, and for what purposes, we use our cars; how high (or low) we turn our thermostats; when, where, or even if, we travel; increasingly, what foods we eat (given that the price of producing and distributing many meats and vegetables is profoundly affected by the cost of oil or the allure of growing corn for ethanol); for some of us, where to live; for others, what businesses we engage in; for all of us, when and under what circumstances we go to war or avoid foreign entanglements that could end in war.

This leads to a final observation: the most pressing decision facing the next president and Congress may be how best to accelerate the transition from a fossil-fuel-based energy system to a system based on climate-friendly energy alternatives.

I recommend you read the entire article. This is the world we are living in. Voting, and how we vote in each and every election where we can vote is critical. These facts do not bode well for democracy anywhere.

Africa at night by satellite

The Economist has an article this week in which it points out that power shortages are one of the biggest brakes on development.

SEEN from space, Africa at night is unlit—as dark as all-but empty Siberia. With nearly 1 billion people, Africa accounts for over a sixth of the world’s population, but generates only 4% of global electricity . . . most of the attempts at electrification in the 1970s and the 1980s failed. In some countries, dictators pillaged power stations for parts and fuel. In others, power stations were built but not maintained. Turbines were run at full capacity until they broke, then were abandoned. By some counts, only 17 of Nigeria’s 79 power stations, many dating from this period, are still working; . . . The World Bank reckons that 500m sub-Saharan Africans are without what it calls “modern energy”.

I know the constant lights out in Ghana this summer have been devastating for small business, and for employees in any business that uses electric power, which is most all of them. Rawlings got rural electrification under way. But if there is no power, power lines don’t help a lot. The Economist reports there are a number of plans and projects underway throughout the continent:

Many African governments are looking at alternative sources of energy to make up their projected shortfalls. Hydropower is clean, from the point of view of greenhouse-gas emissions, but most of the easy alternatives, notably coal, are dirty. Donors committed to cutting global carbon emissions are unlikely to favour more dirty coal-fired power stations of the sort that predominate in South Africa, although the government there claims that it wants to clean them up. Some fossil fuels, however, are less damaging than coal. A pipeline planned for west Africa, which will carry gas that is now flared off in oilfields, could stabilise electricity supply in coastal cities.

Few Africans in rural areas have access to electricity. Connecting them to national grids will be slow and expensive. Yet Lilliputian windmills, water mills, solar panels and biomass furnaces could have a big collective impact. The cost of lighting a shack takes 10% of income in the poorest households and the kerosene lamps are highly polluting. In response, the World Bank has rolled out “Lighting Africa”, an ambitious effort to get 250m of the poorest Africans on clean-energy lighting by 2030.

Talk of the mass production of biofuels in Africa is premature, but advances have been made. Some investors are backing jatropha, a plant whose seeds produce an oil for burning in generators. There is also an effort to tap geothermal energy. The Great Rift Valley, from Eritrea to Mozambique, could produce 7,000MW. Kenya hopes to get 20% of its energy from geothermal sources by 2017.

Engineers think they can also use the steady winds in Africa’s mountain ranges for power production. And if the costs of using the sun’s warmth can be reduced to 30% below its present cost, vast solar farms could offer cheap, clean energy for African cities and in doing so boost incomes in rural areas. Egypt, which relies mostly on natural gas, is looking hard at solar power.

The biofuels worry me a bit. If Africa goes into biofuel production, will it be for African power? or for US and European use? Much of what I’ve been reading lately talks about Africa growing biofuel for the US market. And although this article talks about how hydropower is clean, it can still have profound environmental impact, which is not mentioned here. We can see examples of this with the Chinese dams on the Mekong, and the consequent effect on water supply in Southeast Asia.

Small scale local projects can make a huge difference.

I was relieved the article did not mention nuclear power. Some are talking about that, and it would be an unmitigated disaster. No one has figured out what to do with nuclear waste. It is a huge, though mostly silent problem in the US. Europe has been dumping nuclear waste off the coast of Somalia, some of which washed up with the tsunami. And the regulation and management, which is unreliable here in the US, would, depending on which government in which country, be likely to be less dependable, more erratic, and a danger to everyone.

ADDED 8/23 – After studying the map above, it looks like the brightest spots are Cairo, the Niger Delta, and Pretoria. Everything I read about the Niger Delta says there is little to no electricity, and what there is, is frequently off. So what is causing the light? Other things I read say that you can see the fires from space that flare the gas off the oil, and that there are children in the delta that have never known a dark night. Is the light coming out of the Niger Delta from gas flares?

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.

(This could have been easily avoided, had there been any will to avoid it, but that chance may be past.)

In Nigeria:

To put the scale of wealth into perspective and to emphasise the stakes for Nigeria, the US and more recently China, the World Bank reported that 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.

Anyone looking at this situation should be able to see that it is not going to work, that it cannot be sustained. But the oil companies and the Nigerian government have avoided looking, or at least avoided seeing, for decades. The opportunity may be gone.

In many parts of the world, where liberation, or other political movements begin to support and finance themselves with criminal enterprises, the political ideology quickly gets left behind, and the movement becomes a criminal gang. Once the profit motive takes over, a gang does not have much incentive to negotiate seriously for its original goals. And it has very little motive to give up its “struggle” or to lay down arms. Gangs will usually continue to use whatever rhetoric of liberation they started with. It makes them sound a bit more legit, and helps recruiting and media relations. But they become criminal gangs in business for profit.

We’ve seen this in with the IRA and guns and drugs, we’ve seen it in West Africa with diamonds, in Central and South America with insurgencies and paramilitaries and cocaine, in southern and central Asia with opium, and plenty more. Now this is happening in Nigeria with the youth gangs in the delta and oil, and the implications are enormous, for Nigeria’s neighbors, and Ghana is a close neighbor, and for world energy supplies.

The Oil Drum reports on the escalating violence in the Niger Delta. (see the article for maps, pictures, and more information)

MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, was the military branch of the Ijaw struggle. It was relatively easy for the government of Nigeria to reign in the violence in the Niger delta for two reasons: MEND had clearly defined political motivations, and a long-term interest in the viability of Nigeria as an oil exporting state. Further, as a coherent tribal society, the traditional system of tribal relations and leadership exerted effective control over the actions of MEND.
. . .
Over the past year this relatively stable system has rapidly broken down, and the result is the likelihood of a runaway escalation in violence. MEND fractioned amidst infighting among Ijaw tribal alliances. Various factions, with various political agendas, neutralized the ability to push for peace through negotiations—there was no single party, nor accession to a single set of demands, that could defuse the motivation to violence. In addition, the ransom money that foreign oil companies now routinely paid for the return of western employees spawned a market for guerrilla entrepreneurs—actors who were less motivated by traditional Ijaw political goals than by a return on investment. The lure of easy money has led to a proliferation of militant groups (now perhaps best characterized as criminal gangs) and a dramatic increase in attacks. This infusion of easy money to youthful militants broke down the traditional tribal structure of respect for leadership by elders.
. . .
Finally, because of the shift from a political motivation to a profit motivation, militants are no longer invested in preserving the long-term viability of Nigeria as an oil exporter. As a result, the targeting strategy has shifted from the temporary sabotage of infrastructure for political ends to threats of permanent destruction of key infrastructure nodes
. . .
The escalating violence in Nigeria has two important ramifications:
First, the tip from stable violence to perpetual escalation of violence represents a sea change in the level of disruption to Nigeria’s oil exports. . . . The new entrepreneurial violence is comprised of multiple actors, each competing to extort money from a limited target list of oil installations, foreign workers, and foreign oil companies. Because the actors are now militant youths seeking short-term financial gain, rather than careful elders seeking long-term political concessions, there is a strong market incentive to fill the available market space—in other words, to escalate kidnappings and infrastructure attacks until all Nigerian production is shut in.
. . .
Second, this transition from ideologically motivated violence to financially motivated violence portends problems for energy infrastructure throughout the world. . . . as long as marginal returns on investments in energy infrastructure attacks remain positive, there will be a strong incentive to escalate these attacks no matter how completely a region’s export capacity is destroyed.
. . .
Finally, it is worth considering that energy infrastructure was designed to optimize economic performance, not security and defensibility. . . . If this analysis is correct, the increasing incentives to attack energy infrastructure will become yet another factor accelerating the rate of decline of global energy production.

With Ghana’s recent discovery of oil, I see two looming problems here. One is that the people, particularly in the neighborhood of the oil, need to see their lives and livelihoods improve for the sake of security of the whole country. And Ghana oil installations may be at risk from criminal gangs unrelated to Ghana. The oil, and these gangs the US calls terrorists, are the motivations for the US Africa Command. But the Africa Command is likely to make the situation much worse.

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