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Monsters and Nigeria’s poor still suffer despite vast oil wealth

Africa Features

By Tia Goldenberg
Dec 26, 2006, 18:48 GMT

Nairobi/Abuja – Hundreds of people attempting to steal fuel from a pipeline in Nigeria were burnt to death on Tuesday, proving that as the West African nation becomes wealthier from its oil riches, the country’s poor suffer.

Tuesday’s blast came after oil thieves vandalized the pipeline, which ran through one of the commercial capital Lagos’ suburbs. Hundreds had rushed in to scoop up the precious oil, when the fire erupted.

‘It is pandemonium,’ said Ige Oladimeji, a Nigerian Red Cross officer on the scene, where some 10,000 people had gathered to witness the disaster. ‘Over 200 people are burnt beyond recognition.’

The oil pipeline from Tuesday’s incident ran through one of the city’s poor suburbs. The residents, who don’t see much material benefit from the country’s oil wealth, ran to grab a piece for themselves. Then came the explosion.

‘Bodies are spread out on the ground. They are being carried away by authorities. We can’t recognize people,’ Oladimeji told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by phone, as sirens blared in the background.

Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil producer and Africa’s richest country, has not been able to funnel down its wealth to the neediest of people, a majority of whom live on less than one dollar a day.

According to Amnesty International, Nigeria ‘has not provided enough essential services, nor built the social and physical infrastructure in large parts of the country, necessary to ensure a minimum acceptable level of the rights to health, education, and access to drinking water, and an adequate standard of living.’

Nigeria derives 90 per cent of its total annual income from oil exports. Widespread corruption and mismanagement has let much of the poverty fester.

It has also led the country to oil shortages. Fuel scarcity is a common occurrence and is why thieves ransack the pipelines: while Nigerians queue for hours for petrol, thieves make brisk business with the stolen fuel.

It is that practice of corruption that keeps the country shackled by poverty and pushes residents to steal fuel, often leading to explosions.

In the past decade, some 2,000 people have been killed in similar accidents. A blast in May left 300 petrol thieves dead. In 2003, at least 225 were killed by a pipeline inferno.

Worse still is the situation of residents in the Niger Delta, from where the country pumps its oil. Niger Delta inhabitants live in squalor, with hardly any services, despite the wealth generated from their land.

They have attempted terror tactics to try and get a chunk of the riches, taking oil workers hostage, sabotaging oil facilities belonging to huge multinational oil companies and setting off car bombs. But still, little has been done to address their grievances.

The government has tried unsuccessfully to suppress the violence with heavy-handed attempts at imposing order and through dialogue.

But the government has failed to deliver on the services the impoverished country needs. As the country’s politicians, who face an election in April, continue to profit, Niger Delta militants and impoverished Nigerians continue to suffer.


© 2006 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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