Up to 13 million barrels of oil have spilled in the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years, representing about 50 times the estimated volume spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989. Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, PDF.

Oil spill in the village of Ikarama, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 7 February 2008  © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Oil spill in the village of Ikarama, Bayelsa State, Nigeria, 7 February 2008 © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

These spills equal the amount of 1 Exxon Valdez sized oil spill per year. And this is taking place in one of the most sensitive wetlands of our planet, part of the lungs of the planet. The spills pollute the land, pollute the water, clog the creeks, and gas flaring pollutes the air and the rainwater, bringing down toxic acid rain on land and water and all that live there.

As one Niger Delta fisherman stated:

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.

The Niger Delta is one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world and is home to some 31 million people. The Niger Delta is also the location of massive oil deposits.

Under Nigerian law, local communities have no legal rights to oil and gas reserves in their territory.

This report focuses on one dimension of the crisis: the impact of pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry on the human rights of the people living in the oil producing areas of Niger Delta.

This report is a report from Amnesty International Nigeria: Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta – Report PDF. The report was released June 30, 2009.

The main human rights issues raised in this report are:

  • Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food – as a consequence of the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries, which are the main sources of food for many people in the Niger Delta.
  • Violations of the right to gain a living through work – also as a consequence of widespread damage to agriculture and fisheries, because these are also the main sources of livelihood for many people in the Niger Delta.
  • Violations of the right to water – which occur when oil spills and waste materials pollute water used for drinking and other domestic purposes.
  • Violations of the right to health – which arise from failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws to protect the environment and prevent pollution.
  • The absence of any adequate monitoring of the human impacts of oil-related pollution – despite the fact that the oil industry in the Niger Delta is operating in a relatively densely populated area characterized by high levels of poverty and vulnerability.
  • Failure to provide affected communities with adequate information or ensure consultation on the impacts of oil operations on their human rights.
  • Failure to ensure access to effective remedy for people whose human rights have been violated.

The report also examines who is responsible for this situation in a context where multinational oil companies have been operating for decades. It highlights how companies can take advantage of the weak regulatory systems that characterize many poor countries, which frequently results in the poorest people being the most vulnerable to exploitation by corporate actors. The people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights undermined by oil companies that their government cannot or will not hold to account. They have been systematically denied access to information about how oil exploration and production will affect them, and are repeatedly denied access to justice. The Niger Delta provides a stark case study of the lack of accountability of a government to its people, and of multinational companies’ almost total lack of accountability when it comes to the impact of their operations on human rights.

More oil is being prospected and discovered throughout Africa. Rather than an outdated holdover from an ugly past, Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta is probably the model for oil exploitation across the African continent. Only if African countries stand up for themselves and their people, can the devastating effects be mitigated. Far too many governments in Africa are not accountable, or only barely accountable to their people. And even where there is a will, the outside powers and donor countries will not make it easy. Look at what is happening in Somalia, another potential source of oil. The international donor countries are keeping it destabilized in the name of fighting “terrorism”. When Somalia did develop its own government in 2006, it was rapidly crushed by the US using Ethiopia as a proxy. This is what is known as stability operations.

In response to a question, I was talking to someone in the neighborhood where I work about pollution and oil exploitation in the Niger Delta. He was not really interested and brushed it off, saying, “we have to get our oil from somewhere.” This is someone with whom I’ve had a number of friendly conversations, and generally think of as a nice guy. I think his response typifies the attitude of people in the US, and in the developed and rapidly developing world.

Just as the European colonial powers spoke of bringing Africa the 3 Cs, Christianity, Civilization and Commerce, the US, and the US Africa Command speak with straight faces of bringing Africa the 3 Ds, Defense, Diplomacy, and Development. It was a mirage the first time, and this is pretty much the same thing, minus Christianity. It is not done to benefit the people of Africa but to fool them. It is like the distraction of a magician, so you don’t see how he does the trick.

As Dr. Wafula Okumu testified:

To paraphrase Kenyatta’s allegory, “when the Whiteman came to Africa, he was holding a Bible in one hand and asked us to close our eyes and pray. When we opened our eyes after the prayer, his other hand was holding a gun and all our land was gone!” Africa’s colonial history was characterised by military occupations, exploitation of its natural resources and suppression of its people. After testing decades of independence, these countries are now jealously guarding their sovereignty and are highly suspicious of foreigners, even those with good intentions.

There are many professed good intentions, and very few genuine good intentions among the powers gathering around for this latest scramble for Africa, particularly in the search for oil. It behooves Africans to be very wary indeed.

Oil spill fouls the water supply

Oil spill fouls the water supply

defenders of human rights

defenders of human rights

Violence has been an instrument of governance in the Niger Delta as a constant companion to the oil business. Sokari Ekine has written a moving and well documented account of “how women have spearheaded the defence of local livelihoods through organised protests which cut across regional ethnic divisions” in Women’s responses to state violence in the Niger Delta, Violence as an instrument of governance.

The Niger Delta is a region of Nigeria that has been subjected to excessive militarisation for the past 13 years, where violence is used as an instrument of governance to force the people into total submission (Okonta and Douglas, 2001; Na’Allah, 1998). It is where, by far, the majority of the people live in abject poverty and where women are the poorest of the poor (Human Rights Watch, 2002; 2004; 2007). This region has little or no development, no electricity, no water, no communications, no health facilities, little and poor education. In contrast, the region generated an estimated over US$30 billion in oil revenues over a 38-year period in the form of rents for the government and profit for the multinational oil companies

Now, in order to keep this population poor, without water, without communications, or health facilities, or education, or jobs, in order to keep oil and money coming out of the Delta, going to the politicians and the oil companies, according to Nigeria’s Next, The Mercenaries Take Over.
(h/t Foreign Policy Exchange)

The Niger Delta is crawling with British and American private paramilitary companies providing security services for clients in the oil and gas industry, in clear violation of Nigerian law

There are at least 10 mercenary companies operating in the Delta, including Triple Canopy, Control Risk, Erinys International, ArmorGroup, Aegis Defence System, and Northbridge Service Group, the successor company to the now defunct Executive Outcomes … “the notorious South African paramilitary force known for its role in helping the Angolan government during the war with the rebel UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi,and for fighting directly in the Sierra Leonean civil war.

Our laws forbid foreigners from operating armed security companies or paramilitary organisations of any kind and, strictly speaking, these hired guns are forbidden from freelancing here. But almost all of them have sought to get around the law by forming vague partnerships with local companies and by claiming to provide mainly advisory services, which contradict their stated objectives and services on their parent websites and their known activities in other countries.

Government denial

Astonishingly, our military and security services also claim to know nothing of their presence.

“I am not aware,” said the spokesman for Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Col. Christopher Jemitola. “If there is any evidence, including photographs, bring them up and we will address the issue.”

Some of the security companies also claim not to bear any arms in the Delta, a chaotic frontier where foreigners are routinely kidnaped and gunfights are a fact of daily life in cities such as Port Harcourt and in the creeks of the mangrove swamp.

This denial beggars belief, said Ishola Williams, a former commandant of the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command.“They must be magicians,” said the retired general. “Are they going to fight the militants with karate or judo? We have to be very realistic, because if someone gives you a contract to provide protection for oil workers in the Niger Delta, what would you do– you would go there with your bare arms?”

Apart from the Biafran war of 1967-70, paramilitary groups are relatively new to Nigeria. But the protracted and deteriorating insurgency in the Niger Delta has made them increasingly sought after. One of the security companies that claims local partnership in Nigeria is Erinys International, a British company with experience of guarding oil installations in Iraq.

In the wild frontier of the internet, private military companies are rife and active, peddling their services to prospective patrons. Many of them have announced that they are now operationally domiciled in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, and some claim they work in partnership with the military Joint Task Force, the Nigeria defence forces known by its acronym JTF and which has primary responsibility for security in the area.

A JTF spokesman, Musa Sagir, denied knowledge of the existence of the foreigners nor any collaboration with them. We don’t have any connection with any foreign military contractor,” Col. Sagir said, adding that “With my inside knowledge and experience in the Niger Delta, in particular River State, I don’t have formal or informal knowledge of the existence of foreign military contractors.”

What was more, he added, somewhat indignantly, “we are trained for the job and we know what to do at the right time.”

Willaims, the retired general and now head of the local Transparency International office in Nigeria, was buying none of that. “Remember that these are government officials. If they say they know them, you as the press will go and blow it up that foreign military companies have taken over the job of security in this country and what are they doing? The House of Representatives will take it up and want to investigate, and it shows the weaknesses of all the armed forces and all the security agencies in Nigeria.”

Official denials and a seeming lack of awareness of the activities of these companies also demonstrate the enfeebled state of the Nigerian state, said Kayode Soremekun, a professor of international relations at the University of Lagos.

My own problem here is that the ministry of internal affairs and ministry of defence are not aware of their existence,” Soremekun said. “It is either one or two things: the ministry of defence is genuinely ignorant of this particular development, or it is pretending. Either way it does not bode well for the Nigerian state. And it simply shows what a lot of people had thought all along, that those who really control the Nigerian state, those who really determine what happens in the Nigerian state, cannot even be located in this country. You can locate them offshore.”

Since our laws do not allow for foreign owned security company to operate locally, most of these private security contractors have resorted to calling themselves “risk management consultants” rather than hired guns.

This way, they are able to provide a cocktail of services and products that are not different from what regular private military companies provide– or what the same companies do elsewhere in countries like Sierra Leone

Most of the companies are not forthcoming about their activities, for example:

At Control Risk, yet another of these security companies active in the Niger Delta, company spokesman, Edward Murray, told Next on Sunday to “go to hell” when asked to help define the scope of their Nigerian operations.

The company states that it is in Nigeria to protect British oil workers and names “a large oil producer” as a client. However, its mission includes, according to its official web site, “the provision of technical security services (onshore and offshore) and sophisticated management of security strategy in places where security is linked to broader issues of social performance.” In plain English, the company guards oil company interests against restive locals.

The mercenary companies are there to protect the “rights” of the oil companies to kill and oppress the people of the Niger Delta, pollute their land and water, and steal the resources from under their feet.

The people who are suffering most are the women. They are also organizing and fighting back. So women and children will remain major targets of violent military governance.

Meredeth Turshen wrote 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. Fish store mercury without metabolizing it, and people who eat mercury-contaminated fish can contract Minamata disease.

The health of the people and of future generations is not even important enough to study. The people polluting the environment don’t want the effects known. Until there is a serious effort to create a political solution to the problems of the Niger Delta, the people will continue to suffer, and the health and lives of the entire population are in danger. The proliferation of armed mercenaries will only escalate and prolong the problem.

(h/t sdnnigeria’s photostream)