Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



By Peluola Adewale

Perhaps, one of the collateral advantages of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster is the momentary media attention it has drawn to daily pollution and environmental degradation of Niger Delta area of Nigeria which has been hitherto under-reported. The international media have run stories comparing the Gulf of Mexico one-off disaster to the cataclysm people of the oil producing areas of Nigeria live daily with. In the last 50 years of oil exploration and exploitation by Shell and other multinationals, oil spills have become an almost daily occurrence in the Niger Delta. According to estimates by environmentalists, about 550 million gallons of oil have been spewed in the region over the period. This amount, they say, is equivalent of one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. The Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska in 1989 when 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled from the grounded, single-hulled supertanker was, until BP Deepwater rig disaster, the worst oil spill in the US history.

In the recent years, the oil companies in Nigeria are quick to blame Niger Delta militants for the oil spills, but the reality is that most of about 7,000km pipelines that transverse the region are failure prone as they are decades-old and corroded. Hence, the oil companies are responsible for most of the oil spills. Besides, oil spills in the Niger Delta much predated militant activities which, in themselves, are a response to the brazenly irresponsible habit of oil multinationals like wanton destruction of environment, farmlands and waters, as well as the Nigerian state’s neglect of the region. It is also not militants that could be blamed for the refusal of the oil multinationals to stop gas flaring, which has continued to degrade environment and engender harmful and unhealthy conditions for the people of the region in addition to its contribution to global warming. This is in spite of an enabling legislation that has outlawed gas flaring in the country.

Despite huge oil revenues at their disposal, the successive governments, both at the federal and in States within the Niger Delta region, which have refused to provide infrastructural development and basic social facilities like standard hospitals and schools in the area, are naturally in cahoots with the oil multinationals to operate without regards to the environment and well-being of the people. The elements in government are there so that a huge part of revenue from oil, the mainstay of the economy, flows into their private bank accounts.

It should be recalled that a few years ago, a report by the World Bank reveals that only one percent of Nigerians, that is the thieving ruling elite, amass 80 percent of the oil revenue accrued to the country. This explains why they do everything no matter how obscene to make sure that oil multinationals pump petro-dollars. Therefore, they are not only unable to call the oil multinationals to order, but also in fact usually deploy armed police and military personnel to brutally repress even peaceful protest by the community people including women against the oil companies.

Besides, the Nigerian government, through the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has part ownership in subsidiaries of the oil multinationals which operate in the country but runs this nationalized company in the interests of the ruling elite, not the Nigerian people who, officially, “own” the NNPC. For instance, Austen Oniwon, NNPC group managing director, recently told the Senate in Abuja that some of the country’s past leaders caused to be withdrawn the sum of Naira 1.5 trillion ($10 billion) from the NNPC treasury for various uses other than oil and gas projects (Punch July 22, 2010).

Feeling of Double Standards

Expectedly, the degree of attention the Gulf of Mexico has generated is outlandish to the people of Niger Delta having lived with oil spills for decades without similar reactions from government and oil multinationals. Hence, there is a feeling of injustice and double standard at the way oil multinationals urgently attend to this disaster in the US while they handle similar situation in Nigeria with no qualms or sense of responsibility.

Chief Promise, the village leader of Otuegwe, a community in Niger Delta told the Observer, “We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.” (The Observer May 30, 2010). The report of the Amnesty International special study on Nigeria oil pollution entitled “Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta” is also replete with instances of oil spills from broken or faulty pipelines that take months before the oil companies even report to the sites let alone stop the leak. Of course, the clean up takes a year or more or simply left undone while the Ministry of Environment and other regulators usually turn blind eye. This has almost destroyed the farmlands and waters in the region. In contrast, with all its complexity and difficult terrain, the Deepwater Horizon oil leak has been almost stopped in less than four months, though with serious environmental issues like effects of the use of toxic dispersants still on.

Praises for Obama are Misplaced

However, from the oil-spill battered people of Niger Delta and media, there have been praises for Barrack Obama and his government over the response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster. This badge of honour Obama is being decorated with is misplaced. It is not impossible for even the worst of leaders to act the same way as Obama, given the massive scale of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill which also claimed the lives of eleven workers. It is instructive to note that just in January there was an oil spill in Texas which did not attract intervention of Obama or the world headlines because of its much smaller scale compared to the Gulf of Mexico. Besides, Obama supports offshore drilling in order to protect corporate profits. Just in March few weeks to the April 20 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater rig explosion, he lifted a 20 year moratorium on offshore oil drilling of the northern Alaska and eastward exploration of the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil industry constitutes a major donor to the two American traditional bourgeois parties, Democratic and Republican in the elections. In fact, according to a revelation by Centre for Responsive Politics, Obama was not only the second highest beneficiary after John McCain, the Republican Presidential Candidate, from the political funds of the oil industry at the last general election but also the top recipient of the BP-related funds. This explains why both parties are always in agreement to pander to the greed of oil companies with lax legislation and regulation. Obama for instance has been talking of clean energy but in the bill on the subject matter being sponsored by the Democrats, Obama’s party, offshore drilling along with nuclear energy and coal is permitted! This is preposterous but is meant to retain the patronage of the oil industry by sustaining their super profit.

It also partly explains why the United States has been the major obstacle to the global measures to reduce the emission of carbon-dioxide and other green house gases which account for global warming and climate change. The United States government is talking of renewable energy not because it is committed to climate change, but in order to reduce its dependence on the Middle East or Arab world for its energy need. In deed, some renewable energy like biofuels which tops its agenda are not only unclean but can also have grave implications for food security. Besides, the Obama government has not done anything to tap into the enormous capacity of wind, water and solar power which a report by Scientific American titled “A Plan for a Sustainable Future” has shown could supply the entire world’s energy needs by 2030.

Corrupt Regulators

There is also the issue of corrupt regulatory agency which accepted the claim of BP that the possibility of oil spill during the drilling was extremely remote. In deed, there are allegations that the company was allowed to drill the deepwater well without filing plans for how it would cope with a blow-out in case there was one (The Independent, May 7, 2010). Minerals Management Service (MMS), the body which regulates the oil industry is one of the most corrupt institutions in the United States. In deed, a former government auditor, Bobby Maxwell, once dubbed the agency “cult of corruption” (CNN, October 14 2008). “I believe the management we were under was showing favouritism to the oil industry,” Maxwell also told CNN. There are other reports which reveal that the agency officers for pecuniary and personal gains usually allow oil companies to circumvent or violate laws and regulations in order to maximize profits.

Nigerian Ruling Elite are parasitic

By and large, whether in Nigeria, the US or elsewhere, the government acts to guarantee the super profit of the oil multinationals at the expense of environment as well as the health and economic interests of the ordinary people resident in the oil producing areas. This is in consonance with the calling of any capitalist government. Of course in Nigeria, the situation is pathetic. The Nigerian ruling elite is perhaps the most parasitic and primitive in the world. What obtains in the Niger Delta is beyond whether there is response or not to oil spills. The fact is that most parts of the oil producing areas have been rendered unsuitable for any economic activity except oil exploration and exploitation. Infrastructure is virtually non-existent in most parts of the region which accounts for 90 percent of the country’s incomes. Farmlands and water are polluted by oil exploration and thus rendered farming and fishing, the traditional occupation of the local people, useless. Worse still, there are no alternative jobs to engage the people. Therefore, most young people are unemployed and thus a rich source of militants who have engaged the Nigerian state and oil multinationals in armed struggle. Over the years, the successive governments have set up interventionist agencies like the current NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta which have all only proved to be cash cows for the sections of the ruling elite from the region.

Socialist Alternative

The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and inhuman situation in the Niger Delta are caused by crazy drive for super profit at gross expense of the environment and working people, and therefore are crises of capitalism. In Nigeria the oil multinationals have to be nationalized and must be put under democratic management and control of working people and communities to prevent the formation of new versions of the present NNPC. Only in this way can the destruction of environment be tackled and the resources of nature used for the benefits of people and society. But this will not happen without beginning the process to defeat capitalism. Therefore, there is need for a fighting working peoples’ party with socialist program that could wrest power from the thieving capitalist elite. The oil industry is international; therefore such action in Nigeria could inspire workers and the poor in other countries to struggle for similar measures, something which is essential because, at the end of the day, there is no lasting solution within confine of a country. This is one of the reasons the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) has been campaigning for building of genuine workers parties and socialist revolution globally.