Posts Tagged ‘Ken Saro-Wiwa’

Nigeria: Öl, Öl, Öl – war da was?

Sonntag, Mai 30th, 2010

“Nigeria’s agony dwarfs the Gulf oil spill. The US and Europe ignore it

The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused headlines around the world, yet the people who live in the Niger delta have had to live with environmental catastrophes for decades

By John Vidal, environment editor

We reached the edge of the oil spill near the Nigerian village of Otuegwe after a long hike through cassava plantations. Ahead of us lay swamp. We waded into the warm tropical water and began swimming, cameras and notebooks held above our heads. We could smell the oil long before we saw it – the stench of garage forecourts and rotting vegetation hanging thickly in the air.

The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.

Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. “We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots,” said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. “This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.”

That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP‘s Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.

Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by rebels. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa state and another in Ogoniland. “We are faced with incessantoil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old,” said Bonny Otavie, a Bayelsa MP.

This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: “Oil companies do not value our life; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable.”

With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.

“If this Gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention,” said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. “This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.”

“The oil companies just ignore it. The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the US I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards. What they do in the US or in Europe is very different.”

“We see frantic efforts being made to stop the spill in the US,” said Nnimo Bassey, Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International. “But in Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

“This has gone on for 50 years in Nigeria. People depend completely on the environment for their drinking water and farming and fishing. They are amazed that the president of the US can be making speeches daily, because in Nigeria people there would not hear a whimper,” he said.

It is impossible to know how much oil is spilled in the Niger delta each year because the companies and the government keep that secret. However, two major independent investigations over the past four years suggest that as much is spilled at sea, in the swamps and on land every year as has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico so far.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

Shell, which works in partnership with the Nigerian government in the delta, says that 98% of all its oil spills are caused by vandalism, theft or sabotage by militants and only a minimal amount by deteriorating infrastructure. “We had 132 spills last year, as against 175 on average. Safety valves were vandalised; one pipe had 300 illegal taps. We found five explosive devices on one. Sometimes communities do not give us access to clean up the pollution because they can make more money from compensation,” said a spokesman.

“We have a full-time oil spill response team. Last year we replaced 197 miles of pipeline and are using every known way to clean up pollution, including microbes. We are committed to cleaning up any spill as fast as possible as soon as and for whatever reason they occur.”

These claims are hotly disputed by communities and environmental watchdog groups. They mostly blame the companies’ vast network of rusting pipes and storage tanks, corroding pipelines, semi-derelict pumping stations and old wellheads, as well as tankers and vessels cleaning out tanks.

The scale of the pollution is mind-boggling. The government’s national oil spill detection and response agency (Nosdra) says that between 1976 and 1996 alone, more than 2.4m barrels contaminated the environment. “Oil spills and the dumping of oil into waterways has been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. These incidents have become common due to the lack of laws and enforcement measures within the existing political regime,” said a spokesman for Nosdra.

The sense of outrage is widespread. “There are more than 300 spills, major and minor, a year,” said Bassey. “It happens all the year round. The whole environment is devastated. The latest revelations highlight the massive difference in the response to oil spills. In Nigeria, both companies and government have come to treat an extraordinary level of oil spills as the norm.”

A spokesman for the Stakeholder Democracy Network in Lagos, which works to empower those in communities affected by the oil companies’ activities, said: “The response to the spill in the United States should serve as a stiff reminder as to how far spill management in Nigeria has drifted from standards across the world.”

Other voices of protest point out that the world has overlooked the scale of the environmental impact. Activist Ben Amunwa, of the London-based oil watch group Platform, said: “Deepwater Horizon may have exceed Exxon Valdez, but within a few years in Nigeria offshore spills from four locations dwarfed the scale of the Exxon Valdez disaster many times over. Estimates put spill volumes in the Niger delta among the worst on the planet, but they do not include the crude oil from waste water and gas flares. Companies such as Shell continue to avoid independent monitoring and keep key data secret.”

Worse may be to come. One industry insider, who asked not to be named, said: “Major spills are likely to increase in the coming years as the industry strives to extract oil from increasingly remote and difficult terrains. Future supplies will be offshore, deeper and harder to work. When things go wrong, it will be harder to respond.”

Judith Kimerling, a professor of law and policy at the City University of New York and author of Amazon Crude, a book about oil development in Ecuador, said: “Spills, leaks and deliberate discharges are happening in oilfields all over the world and very few people seem to care.”

There is an overwhelming sense that the big oil companies act as if they are beyond the law. Bassey said: “What we conclude from the Gulf of Mexico pollution incident is that the oil companies are out of control.

“It is clear that BP has been blocking progressive legislation, both in the US and here. In Nigeria, they have been living above the law. They are now clearly a danger to the planet. The dangers of this happening again and again are high. They must be taken to the international court of justice.”‘

(Quelle: Guardian.)

Siehe auch:

Africa: Multinational Oil, the U.S. And Nigeria – a Crude Contrast

USA: BP soll zahlen – und was ist mit Shell in Nigeria?

Samstag, Mai 15th, 2010

“Africa: Multinational Oil, the U.S. And Nigeria – a Crude Contrast

The 20 April explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig has given rise to a terrible ecological disaster, proving devastating for wildlife, ecosystems and people’s livelihoods across much of the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion claimed the lives of 11 workers, and an estimated 200,000 gallons per day of oil has been spilling out of the damaged rig despite BP’s efforts to contain the environmental mess.[1]

With the Obama administration keen to react swiftly to the disaster, there is also an important political mess to be cleaned up, and BP has been quick to offer to ‘pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses’ as a corporate damage-limitation policy.[2]

With the memories of Haiti’s earthquake and Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina still fresh, this region is tragically no stranger to devastating social and environmental catastrophes, something that will not have been lost on a Democratic government keen not to repeat the dubious dilly-dallying of the Bush administration in the wake of Katrina. Indeed, President Obama has been forthright in stressing BP’s obligation to bear all costs associated with the spill, asserting ‘BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill.’


While people of course deserve to have their livelihoods safeguarded effectively no matter where they live in the world, the bullish reaction of the Obama administration towards BP and Deepwater Horizon presents a sharp contrast with the lack of organisational protection available to people in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region in the face of another oil giant, Shell. On the one hand you have the leader of a super-power (himself acutely aware of the expectations of the US public) forcefully underlining multinational responsibilities in full glare of the global media, while on the other you have a region completely devoid of the political will to safeguard local people.

While the US government can cause a big stir through its political institutions and talk tough to BP, non-violent protestors in the Niger Delta expressing entirely legitimate grievances are treated with contempt and even murdered as military police leap to defend a lucrative oil infrastructure in service to Shell and Nigeria’s elites.

As the global media draws attention to the effect of the BP oil spill on Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry and the state’s precarious wetlands, Niger Deltans face total yearly spills of up to 14,000 tons,[3] all the while conscious of the huge wealth being derived from their environment with no resulting benefits in the shape of housing, medical facilities or decent roads despite some US$700 billion in revenue.[4]

Perhaps most infamously, Shell was also accused in a 1995 US lawsuit of involvement in the assassinations of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the ‘Ogoni Nine’ at the time of the Abacha military regime,[5] a suit leading to an out-of-court settlement of US$15.5 million but no admission of liability on the company’s part.[6]

Compare this to the recent experience of the US’s south, with BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward commenting: ‘We will absolutely be paying for the clean-up operation. There is no doubt about that. It’s our responsibility — we accept it fully.'[7] In much the same vein, Deepwater Horizon has prompted US senators’ calls to make oil companies liable for up to US$10 billion for the cost of a spill.[8]


In light of the immediate reparations available to the US in the wake of the BP spill, the contrast with the Nigerian example seemingly demonstrates the higher value placed on human life and existence in a richer part of the world. The asymmetrical power relations behind the ultimate way in which local people are treated illustrate markedly different political contexts, one in which a multinational gets told in no uncertain terms to buck up its ideas, and another where a company is alleged to collude with federal forces in actively silencing local voices. In essence, while in the US there is political capital in having a pop at the oil industry, in Nigeria this results in the industry having a pop at you. Furthermore, it also illustrates the importance for oil companies of making sure their safety equipment is top-notch when operating in close proximity to richer, more powerful regions of the world where the financial and public-image consequences of a spill are so much bigger, as well as the potential commercial unattractiveness of such regions as a result.

Perhaps a cruel irony behind all this is that rather than providing another example of the general precariousness of humanity’s over-reliance on oil exploitation and fossil-fuel extraction, the consequences of the US spill will likely simply be greater pressure on oil-rich, poorer parts of the world without adequate organisational and institutional protection for local people and environments. With anti-oil sentiment strong in the US, high-profile political figures are keen to respond to the catastrophe in a manner in tune with public opinion, such as Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to u-turn on expanded drilling in his state: ‘You turn on the TV and see this enormous disaster; you say to yourself, why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'[9]


It’s not hard to envisage some of the potential consequences of this heightened US aversion to domestic oil production. As the world’s largest per capita consumer of fossil fuels, the US has to get its oil from somewhere, and with its authorities and business sector wary of over-reliance on the ‘unstable’ Middle East, attention is increasingly turning towards the African continent for supply. Reports that Shell’s profits in Nigeria are slim notwithstanding,[10] Africa’s list of emerging oil producers includes Angola, Gabon, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea (and potentially Ghana and Uganda), all of whom are playing an increasingly prominent role in the global oil sector and whose societies are characterised by the restriction of oil money to an elite few. The diverse make-up of the oil sectors within each of these countries aside, the absence of adequate protective check-and-balances and mechanisms to redistribute the financial gains from oil simply amplifies the scope for further environmental catastrophes, social injustice and the repression of rights, representation and protest.

If the US and the rest of the Western world is keen not to play host to risky oil extraction, then the pressure increases in environments in which multinationals and governmental structures of limited accountability are able to grab natural resources and marginalise local people, giving rise to more of the injustice witnessed in the Niger Delta in contexts in which effective institutional safeguards do not exist. Naturally the composition of the oil sector in Africa at large is a complicated picture, but regardless of whether you’re looking at state-run companies like Angola’s Sonangol or the operations of foreign multinationals, the same seeds for potential social exploitation and inequality remain.

When it comes to US attempts to shore up the supply of African oil, the AFRICOM (African Command) militarisation initiative enters the fray. AFRICOM is a force operating by US officials’ own admission in direct support of US designs on energy from Africa, as indicated by member of the House of Representatives Ed Royce: ‘It’s clearly in our national interest to diversify our energy supply, especially given the turbulent political climate in key parts of the world today. The expansion of energy production in Africa matches to that interest…'[11] As part of broader efforts to achieve ‘security’ within the context of the global ‘war on terror’, the budget behind the AFRICOM programme rose from US$50 million in the 2007 fiscal year to US$310 million in 2009. While AFRICOM commander General E. Ward underlines the support for Africa’s ‘development’ provided by a securitisation programme, Ba Karang argues that AFRICOM is simply a pro-US military, pro-energy initiative dressed up in the cloak of an Islamic fundamentalist threat.[12]


Reaction to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has highlighted sharp contrasts in the protection and rights afforded local populations and environments in close proximity to oil-producing facilities in different parts of the world. While the full might of the government of the world’s super-power has moved to bring BP to heel under a global media spotlight, Nigerians in the Niger Delta continue to suffer environmental degradation, a complete lack of benefits from oil extraction and outright repression in an environment devoid of effective protective mechanisms.

In the wake of a deep environmental catastrophe in the US and increasing reticence towards reliance on Middle Eastern oil, rather than emphasising the inherent, universal precariousness of oil and the need for solidarity behind effective regulation around the world, Deepwater Horizon may well accentuate the pressures on oil extraction in African countries lacking governments with the political will to stand up for their populations or even operate in their people’s best interests. While the US has been able to seek swift compensation for the effects of a major spill, the momentum behind an anti-domestic oil reaction belies the country’s high consumption of fossil fuels. This oil will have to come from somewhere, and with the US, multinationals and African state-run oil companies alike eyeing up the continent’s rich supply, the lack of protection for ordinary African people may well give rise to other examples of seemingly perennial injustice like the Niger Delta.

Alex Free is assistant editor of Pambazuka News.


[1] Dan Brennan, ‘BP spill threatens vulnerable ecosystems with destruction’, 7 May 2010, World Socialist Web Site,

[2] Al Jazeera, ‘BP to pay for US oil-spill costs’, 3 May 2010, ,

[3] Jon Gambrell, ‘Shell spilled nearly 14,000 tons of oil in Nigeria’, 6 May 2010, The Guardian,

[4] ‘Sweet Crude’, 2009, documentary film by Sandy Cioffi.

[5] Gambrell, ‘Shell spilled’.

[6] Sokari Ekine and Firoze Manji, ‘The Ogoni Nine-Shell settlement: Victory, but justice deferred?’, 11 June 2009, Pambazuka News,

[7] Suzanne Goldenberg and Ed Pilkington, ‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill sparks calls for $10bn levy on BP and drilling ban’, 5 May 2010, The Guardian,

[8] Suzanne Goldenberg, ‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Obama attempts to limit political fallout’, 5 May 2010, The Guardian,

[9] Goldenberg, ‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill’.

[10] Gambrell, ‘Shell spilled’.

[11] Ba Karang, ‘AFRICOM and the US’s hidden battle for Africa’, 6 May 2010, Pambazuka News,

[12] Karang, ‘AFRICOM’.”