“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 Lands, A CorpWatch Radio Interview with Human Rights Activist Oronto Douglas
The Niger River Delta is one of the most oil-rich places in the world and home to 20 million people. It is also an extremely rich ecosystem, which contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet.
The all too frequent oil spills have poisoned the water and destroyed vegetation and agricultural lands. According to the official estimates of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, approximately 2,300 cubic meters of oil are spilled in 300 separate incidents annually. There is an extensive network of pipelines as well as numerous small networks of flowlines between the fields, and most pipelines and flowlines are laid above ground.
Pipelines, which have an estimate life span of about fifteen years, are old and susceptible to corrosion, since many of them were constructed between the 1960s and early 1980s and have not been replaced. A significant case is the Bonny Terminal in Rivers State, operated by Shell, which has reportedly been in operation for 40 years without any maintenance overhaul. Its original lifespan was 25 years.
The carelessness of the oil industry has also destroyed the way of life of the local population that mostly survives through agriculture and fishing. People are often stricken by disease following consumption of polluted water. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the chemicals present in the oil are also highly carcinogenic.
Moreover, oil companies burn off extra gas that escapes as a result of oil drilling. Some gas flares in the Niger Delta have been burning constantly day and night for over 30 years. The gas flares pollute the air and create acid rain. The medical implication of gas flaring in Nigeria include asthma, blood-related disorders, coughing and difficulty or painful breathing, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, cancer and premature death.
Having their lands devastated, their air polluted and their water supply poisoned, the local population is condemned to poverty, starvation, various illnesses and, in all likelihood, death.
The Nigerian government has turned a blind eye to the people’s suffering, but instead has been ready, willing and able to aid western oil companies by brutally repressing those who would dare stand up for their basic human rights. The oil industry in the Niger Delta involves both the government of Nigeria and subsidiaries of multinational companies like Shell, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Agip, Total (formerly known as Elf) and Texaco (now merged with Chevron), with Shell being the main operator on land. The majority of cases reported and investigated by Amnesty International relate to Shell.
The report Amnesty International Nigeria: Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta – Report PDFreleased in June 30, 2009 by Amnesty International exposes the following violations in the human rights:
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 quite a 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 impunity of those who abuse basic human rights has created a devastating cycle of escalating conflict and violence. The trial and hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well known environmentalist and activist, has brought international attention, but it is only one case among hundreds, maybe thousands, of the oil crimes in Nigeria.
A 2001 Greenpeace report states that “two witnesses that accused them [Saro-Wiwa and the other activists] later admitted that Shell and the military had bribed them with promises of money and jobs at Shell. Shell admitted having given money to the Nigerian military, who brutally tried to silence the voices which claimed justice”.
The direct result of these abuses by the governments and the oil companies is people getting sick and dying from pollution, poisoning, hunger and violence. And all these crimes are financed with consumers’ money. Our money.
Human Right Watch, Amnesty International, Amnesty International Nigeria: Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta – Report PDF, Friends of the Earth, Global Issues, Crossed Crocodiles, Renew America, Wikipedia: Petroleum in Nigeria, Wikipedia: Conflict in the Niger Delta, Remember Saro-Wiwa