Nigeria: Imperialist thirst for oil devastates a nation / FRFI 192 Aug / Sep 2006

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FRFI 192 August /September 2006

Decades of anger and frustration in Nigeria have exploded into war between the people, and their government and the oil multinationals, ChevronTexaco, TotalFinaElf, Agip and Royal Dutch Shell, who have grown fat on the exploitation of Nigeria’s resources. Charles Chinweizu reports.

British multinational Shell is the major foreign operator, through a joint venture with Nigeria’s state oil company, NNPC, controlling about 50% of Nigeria’s oil. 95% of this is extracted from the southern Niger Delta region, where the war is concentrated. The fightback has reached a more militant and organised phase. Resistance groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force and the Martyr’s Brigade, have emerged, calling for an end to ‘the criminal exploitation of the Niger Delta protected territory, in collaboration with imperialist Great Britain and the dubious occupation Nigerian state’.

Since 2003, attacks against foreign oil firms in the region have intensified, with oil workers and their Nigerian guards captured by armed militants and local youths, demanding a larger share of oil revenues and compensation for the environmental destruction caused by oil exploration. Explosions of oil facilities and pipelines now occur almost weekly. By July 2006, 31 oil workers had been taken hostage this year. In April, a car bomb exploded inside a military base in Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria. In May, a US oil worker was shot dead also in Port Harcourt.

In February, the Nigerian military bombed several villages in Warri South-West killing at least 15 civilians, under the pretext of targeting ‘saboteurs, oil smugglers and bunkerers’ (who siphon oil from pipes). The Nigerian military used a civilian airstrip operated by Shell to launch the attack. In February 2005 in Odioma village, Bayelsa State, the army murdered up to 30 people, raped women and razed over 100 houses, leaving charred bodies lying in the rubble.

Despite encouragement from the British House of Lords in April, which praised the ‘courageous leadership’ of the president and backed its commitment to ‘stabilising’ the country to the hilt, the Nigerian government is in fact at a loss as to how to respond to the growing militancy and seems more concerned with rigging next year’s elections to maintain its tenuous grip on power. The possibility has emerged of military intervention in Nigeria by the US and Britain. Since February 2006 rising attacks have reduced the country’s daily production of 2.4m barrels by a quarter.

British imperialism has dominated Nigeria economically, politically and militarily for centuries. The IMF ‘loaned’ Nigeria $5bn in 1980; by 2004, Nigeria had repaid $16bn but still owed $33bn. Britain is Nigeria’s biggest creditor, with 21% of its debt. Nigeria spends 15 times more on debt repayments than on health. Some 79,000 children under five die every month from poverty-related causes. Nigeria’s ‘debt relief’, gleefully announced by the G8 last June, meant Nigeria had to hand over $12bn to the Paris Club of lenders, to be ‘forgiven’ $18bn. Oil provides 95% of Nigeria’s export revenue and accounts for 25% of GDP and is controlled by a corrupt military and political elite. Nigeria will be the world’s single largest exporter of liquid natural gas in five years and is the world’s eighth largest producer of crude oil, exporting 2m barrels daily, generating $118bn in the first quarter of 2006, when international market prices still averaged $60 per barrel. Some £220bn was stolen by Nigeria’s rulers between 1960 and 1999. Africa’s oil, and Nigeria’s in particular, is vital to the global economy, especially with the resistance to imperialism in the Middle East and an anti-imperialist government in Venezuela.

Shell in Nigeria
Between 1958 and 2004, the Niger Delta region has generated some $360bn in oil wealth. None of this money has been seen by the people of the Niger Delta. Much of it is laundered through British banks, such as HSBC and Barclays. Meanwhile the people of the Niger Delta region live in poverty; 70% lack basic facilities such as running water, electricity, hospitals and medicines and proper housing. The vast majority of the 140 million Nigerians subsist on about 50p a day – £155 per year.

Oil production has destroyed the environment in the Niger Delta, which is criss-crossed by rusty, leaking, high-pressure oil and gas pipelines which regularly burst or explode. Spills are left for decades. By 2001 there had been 4,835 oil spills totaling almost 2.4 million barrels of crude in the region (This Day, 3 August 2001). The area is full of polluted water, emulsified oil pouring into fields, pools of sulphur, and polluted air from the daily flaring of 1.1bn cubic feet of gas. Though flaring gas from oil wells in Nigeria was banned in 1969, it is still burning, producing more carbon emissions than everywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa put together. Sticky soot plasters surrounding communities. In April 2006, Shell was ordered by a high court in Lagos to stop the flaring, but refused to do so ‘until 2009’. Shell was also fined $1.5bn for polluting the Niger Delta, but refused to pay pending appeal.

Shell also has its own armed militia – the ‘Shell Police’ or ‘Kill and Go’ – to defend its interests in the region. It has admitted importing hand guns into the Niger Delta, and supplies weapons and money to rival ethnic groups, a classic divide-and-rule tactic. Chevron-Texaco has leased helicopters to the military to attack local demonstrators in Southern Ondo State. In February 2006 former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced £250,000 funding for the Metropolitan police to train their Nigerian counterparts in tackling ‘violent drug gangs’. There is also direct arming by the US, Britain and other EU nations, through army training programmes worth millions in funding annually.

But this exploitation has led to rebellion. There have been many protests, strikes, and demonstrations which have been met with brutal repression by Nigeria’s ‘security’ forces, who also instigate and exacerbate ethno-religious conflicts. Defenceless villages have also been bombed with helicopter gunships.

Over 10,000 people have been extra-judicially executed by government security agents; civilians have been maimed and tortured and women raped. In one state alone, 53,000 people have been killed in less than three years. As usual the war is described as ‘ethnic rivalry’ between different tribes.

This deliberately masks the role of imperialism in fuelling the war, importing arms and creating ethnic divisions to keep indigenous ethnic groups at each other’s throats, in order to maintain the plunder of Nigeria’s resources.