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There is a symbiotic relationship between the military dictatorship and the multinational companies who grease the palms of those who rule….
They are assassins in foreign lands. They drill and they kill in Nigeria.
— Assassins in Foreign Lands1, A CorpWatch Radio Interview with Human Rights Activist Oronto Douglas
The Niger Delta in Nigeria has been the attention of environmentalists, human rights activists and fair trade advocates around the world. The trial and hanging of environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of the Ogoni ethnic minority made world-wide attention. So too did the non-violent protests of the Ogoni people. The activities of large oil corporations such as Mobil, Chevron, Shell, Elf, Agip etc have raised many concerns and criticisms.
A series of repressive and corrupt governments in Nigeria have been supported and maintained by western governments and oil corporations, keen on benefiting from the fossil fuels that can be exploited. As people and transnational oil corporations have been fighting over this “dark nectar” in the delta region, immense poverty and environmental destruction have resulted.
The Ogoni, Ijaw and other people in the Niger Delta, those who have been worse affected for decades have been trying to stand up for themselves, their environment and their basic human and economic rights.
The Nigerian government and the oil companies have responded by harshly cracking down on protestors.
Shell, for example, has even been criticized for trying to divide communities by paying off some members to disrupt non-violent protests.
According to Human Rights Watch, “multinational oil companies are complicit in abuses2 committed by the Nigerian military and police.”
An investigation and report by Essential Action and Global Exchange found that:
- Oil corporations in the Niger Delta seriously threaten the livelihood of neighboring local communities. Due to the many forms of oil-generated environmental pollution evident throughout the region, farming and fishing have become impossible or extremely difficult in oil-affected areas, and even drinking water has become scarce. Malnourishment and disease appear common.
- The presence of multinational oil companies has had additional adverse effects on the local economy and society, including loss of property, price inflation, prostitution, and irresponsible fathering by expatriate oil workers.
- Organized protest and activism by affected communities regularly meet with military repression, sometimes ending in the loss of life. In some cases military forces have been summoned and assisted by oil companies.
- Reporting on the situation is extremely difficult, due to the existence of physical and legal constraints to free passage and free circulation of information. Similar constraints discourage grassroots activism.
While the story told to consumers of Nigerian crude in the United States and the European Union—via ad campaigns and other public relations efforts—is that oil companies are a positive force in Nigeria, providing much needed economic development resources, the reality that confronted our delegation was quite the opposite. Our delegates observed almost every large multinational oil company operating in the Niger Delta employing inadequate environmental standards, public health standards, human rights standards, and relations with affected communities. These corporations' acts of charity and development are slaps in the face of those they claim to be helping. Far from being a positive force, these oil companies act as a destabilizing force, pitting one community against another, and acting as a catalyst—together with the military with whom they work closely—to some of the violence racking the region today.
— Oil For Nothing: Multinational Corporations, Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta3, Essential Action and Global Exchange, January 25, 2000
There have been many clear examples of corporate influence in the Nigerian military repressing the protestors. The military have been accused of thousands of killings, house/village burnings, intimidating people, torture and so on. From Shell’s involvement in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa to Chevron-marked helicopters carrying Nigerian military that opened fire upon protestors, the corporations are facing harsh criticisms for the way they have been handling (or encouraging) the situation.
Criticisms abound about the way the oil companies have neglected the surrounding environment and health of the local communities. The Niger Delta is the richest area of biodiversity in Nigeria, but regular oil spills that are not cleaned up, blatant dumping of industrial waste and promises of development projects which are not followed through4, have all added to the increasing environmental and health problems.
The latest government has tried to be more democratic and open5, which provides hope. However, there are still a number of problems to be solved, including corruption and religious tensions between Muslims and Christians. There were riots and killings, for example, at Muslim calls for imposition of Sharia, Islamic criminal law.
For more information, the following are good places to start:
- Democracy Now!’s section called Voices from the Nigerian Resistance11
- The award-winning documentary, Drilling and Killing12 by Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill and Dred Scott Keyes
- Assassins in Foreign Lands:13 A CorpWatch Radio Interview with Human Rights Activist Oronto Douglas.
- Human Rights Watch reports:
- Amnesty International’s Nigeria Campaign for Human Rights Reform16
- Institute for Economic Democracy17 has a lot of information on how economic rights have been exploited by the powerful, throughout history. While this site does not have a particular section on Nigeria, it is very broad and deep at the same time and can help put something like the struggle for oil, freedom and basic rights in Nigeria into perspective with similar struggles throughout history.
- Oil For Nothing: Multinational Corporations, Environmental Destruction, Death and Impunity in the Niger Delta18 is a powerful report from Essential Action and Global Exchange.
- Invisible Engagement19 a look at U.S. involvement in Nigerian politics, from Africa2000.com.
(Note that listed here are only those hyperlinks to other articles from other web sites or elsewhere on this web site. Other sources such as journal, books and magazines, are mentioned above in the original text. Please also note that links to external sites are beyond my control. They might become unavailable temporarily or permanently since you read this, depending on the policies of those sites, which I cannot unfortunately do anything about.)
- 'Oil companies' responses to local communities' protests', Oil for Nothing, January 25, 2000, http://www.essentialaction.org/shell/report/section3.html
- Jonathan Power, 'Nigeria Starts to Move Again', Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, July 19, 2000, http://www.transnational.org/forum/power/2000/07Nigeria.html
- 'Unrest has big impact on Nigeria oil output', International Herald Tribune, June 11, 2004, http://www.iht.com/articles/524461.html