Niger Delta and guilt of oil companies
Anyone visiting the Niger Delta oil producing areas will agree that they have experienced a disgracefully unacceptable level of exploitation and environmental degradation. There is also no disputing that all attempts to compensate the peoples and change the way oil operations are carried out have failed. Something urgent needs to be done, not only to clear up the mess, but also ensure it doesn’t continue to happen. The only dispute in the whole sorry mess is who is to be held responsible. It’s either the nation as a whole, various governments or the oil companies. Holding all Nigerians responsible doesn’t make sense. Our nation suffers from some of the worst poverty in the world. 70% of our population lives below the internationally accepted poverty line and have not benefited in any way from oil exploration. It simply does not make sense to blame them. Indeed very few of the ills of this nation can be attributed to the people themselves, they are always the victims. This leaves government and the oil companies. Definitely successive governments over the years must share part of the blame. After the First Republic Nigeria dispensed with patriotic, selfless leadership and military adventurists together with a new political class took it upon themselves to lead the nation to ruin by entrenching corruption and incompetence. As a result over the years successive governments failed to alleviate the problems of the Niger Delta. All the huff and puff over increased oil derivation allocation, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Amnesty Program and the creation of a Ministry of Niger Delta came to nothing because corruption hijacked the processes. A class of instant billionaires was created while ordinary people wallowed in abject poverty. Niger Delta leaders let their people down massively by elevating corrupt governance above service to the people. That aside the oil companies must take the largest share of the blame. For too long they have exploited the area with little or no benefit to Nigerians other than to the fraudulent and corrupt elite. For decades the international community has called on Shell to improve operations in the Niger Delta. Where they operate elsewhere in advanced nations there is seldom news of oil spills and environmental degradation. Even when such tragedies occasionally occur immediate action is taken to rectify the situation. The cost. But in the Niger Delta where oil spills and fires are an almost daily occurrence and people suffer all types of ailments from breathing contaminated air, the likes of Shell and Chevron suppress the news and try their best to ensure that they can get away with doing nothing. In order to supress agitation and demands for compensation oil companies have in the past supplied weapons to government for the sole purpose of killing Nigerians to ensure the continuous flow of disproportion profits. It’s not a rumour. Shell have been involved in an embarrassing court case for years with a Nigerian company called Humanitex over an arms supply issue. Humanitex were being represented by current Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo whose integrity earned him a reputation in legal circles for not taking cases unless there is merit in them. However Shell has also earned its own reputation for trying to escape their business liabilities and frustrating all attempts to be held accountable for their actions in Nigeria. Residents of the oil-producing areas live not only in fear of both the police and army who have a reputation for extra-judicial killing, but also quite incredulously in fear of Shell’s private army reputedly comprising 1,200 soldiers who act like an army of occupation and terrorises the people at will. The Niger Delta Avengers have correctly identified oil companies as being responsible for their plight. If they had mistakenly decided that all Nigerians are their enemies, they would be randomly killing people rather than attacking oil company installations. However there is a problem with the means they have adopted to act against those exploiting them. Until further notice the oil belongs to Nigeria. Presently oil production is the lowest since 1989 because over twenty oil pipelines have been blown up and aren’t functioning. Since approximately 70% of our national income comes from the Niger Delta region, it has had a debilitating effect on the economy. The Niger Delta Avengers aren’t to blame for the fact that actions against oil companies are harmful to the nation as a whole. If over the years State Governors had made their States self-sufficient rather than collecting handouts from oil sales, then the majority of Nigerians would only be looking on in semidetached interest at the happenings in the Niger Delta. As with so many other technical areas like road and estate building which we allow foreigners to do for us for their benefit instead of ours, drilling oil isn’t rocket science. The change mantra must incorporate changing the manner in which the nation conducts oil operations. There is no reason why Nigerians cannot oil operations and use the profits for the benefits of Nigerians instead of repatriating them overseas.