The Blight of the Niger Delta

Nigeria is the most populated African country, and since 1958 to present day the country of Nigeria has been under environmental and social assault. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Exxon Mobil, TotalFinaElf, and Chevron-Texaco oil companies have depleted the delta of the Niger River, also known as the Oil Rivers due to its high concentration of oil in the southeast region of the country.

Over 80% of the oil extraction in Nigeria is in the Niger Delta (Wiwa, 2000). The oil in the Niger Delta provides 20% of all of Nigeria’s GDP, approximately 65% of revenue, and 95% foreign exchange rates (CIA’s World Factbook). In fact Nigeria has become the leading gas flaring country in the world (Friends of the Earth, 2004). Yet Nigeria is still one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the world, due to over 60% of its inhabitants living below the poverty line (CIA’s World Factbook).

This is seen in the tribe of the Ogonis’ homeland. It has 100 oil wells, two refineries, a petrochemical complex and a fertilizer complex while the Ogoni people do not even have electricity or running water (Gedicks, 2001, 46). Similarly most tribes people in the area are in such poor living conditions that for heat they use wood, and candles for light. This is such a problem because the Niger Delta is home to many minority ethnic groups, including the Ogoni, as well as vast forests and animals that are unique to the Nigerian Delta ecosystem, that suffer severe exploitation by the multinational oil companies.

Tribe after tribe of the Niger Delta have watched as their traditional fishing and farming livelihood be desecrated by the extraction of oil and gas. This is because the extraction of oil and gases produces gas flares which contain toxins that contaminate the air; many of the tribes people suffer from respiratory problems because of the pollution and are plagued with asthma and bronchitis without the ability to get medications to treat it. If that wasn’t distressing enough, according to a study conducted by the US government in 2010, its was found that “the flares contribute to acid rain and villagers complain of the rain corroding their buildings.

The particles from the flares fill the air, covering everything with a fine layer of soot.”(Environmental Distress In Third World Countries, Article 19). Villagers also are constantly bombarded with rip-roaring noise from the constant flares and drilling. Aside from the environmental aspect of the depletion of the once beautiful Nigerian Delta, there is a daunting fear of the dictatorship that runs Nigeria is paid by the oil companies that are drilling in the Niger.

An example of this is that Shell Oil provides over 50% of the income keeping the Nigerian dictatorship in power; in turn the Nigerian government pillages tribes all along the Niger Delta to insure that the tribes people do not rebel against the oil companies (Niger Delta: Crimes Against Peace and Justice). Those who protest are either convicted on false charges and/ or are executed. Aside from Shell Oil, Chevron-Texaco has destroyed the traditional local economy. They run pipelines though gardens and villages. To be sure that the pipelines and flares are not disturbed by the locals, Chevron leases helicopters to the Nigerian military to attack and quell protestors.

An example of this injustice is found in 1990 in the region of Umuechem, a large community located on the Delta. The villagers protested to stop oil companies destroying the land they lived on and were met with Chevron helicopters, “... the people in the village of Umuechem protested oil pollution of their homeland, and were set upon by the notorious Mobil Police (known locally as the “Kill and Go) who bombarded the village, killing more than 100 people, as they looted many homes. The survivors were forced to leave their homes.(United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) release, May 2002).

The tribes people’s fate lies in either being terrorized by the government’s military, being poisoned by the toxic air and drinking water contaminated by drilling, oil wells, oil spills, and pipelines, or by gas flares that burn 24 hours a day, producing intense heat and chemical gas fogs that pollute the air, leaving once plentiful farmlands barren and unproductive. Both the UN and US have attempted to use propaganda against the villagers living on the delta by claiming that they are ‘rebels’ and terrorists’ through the media. If the media isn’t sending that message, then they are claiming that Shell has been putting in money to help the tribes people of the Niger Delta.

“Local people demand better public services and a greater share of the oil revenues that companies like the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) pay to federal government in tax and royalties in an attempt to help locals.”(Shell Global, Conditions in the Niger Delta), this statement is taken out of context and is completely false. Shell, knowing full well how corrupt the Nigerian government is, and still supplying money to it, and claiming it is to give back to its inhabitants is absurd. Shell then goes on to say “Over the last decade, heavily armed and well-organized gangs have shut down operations, kidnapped staff and sabotaged pipelines. Militant groups have emerged, financed in part by the theft of crude oil and condensate on an industrial scale.

They cause massive pollution in the process by damaging wellheads and other facilities.”(Shell Global, Conditions in the Niger Delta). When they referring to these ‘militant groups’, they are in fact referring to the tribes people who live in a living hell due to the oil companies like Shell. The US media such as the Huffington Post, and CBS News have only reported on the ‘terrorists’ of the Niger Delta who kidnapped Shell employees, are bombing pipelines, and who are killing the Nigerian government’s soldiers. They say that these people of the Niger are ruthless and are a threat to America and Great Britain, as well as the Nigerian government.

What they don’t cover in their pieces is that these so-called terrorists live under a dictatorship which gets most of its funding from the oil companies, in which the troops are provided automatic weapons, helicopters, and the ‘go’ from the dictator to scorch and burn any persons or tribe believed to be apart of the ‘terrorist’ groups who are fighting to protect their freedom, land, and families from the harmful effects of drilling for oil and gas. Though there are international laws and guidelines of drilling for oil and gas, many if not most have been overlooked in the Nigerian Delta.

The Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria, lists strict rules to decrease pollution in areas such as the Delta (EGASPIN, article 5, pg. 46). However as claimed by the World Bank, since 2009 gas flaring in the Niger has contributed to the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the sub-Saharan African region combined. Because of this it is a large contributor in the serious problem of climate change. Now that the problem has been addressed, it is time to look toward a solution.

One solution is for the US and UK to look for more green energy solutions instead of the use of oil and natural gas. Some alternative solutions in achieving energy could be: wind-power, solar- power, nuclear-power, and water-power. All of which would be sustainable to conduct within our own country instead of outsourcing in other countries for oil. This would also allow for the US and the UK to become far less