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The Guardian: Letter from Nigeria

EXTRACTS: For angry residents of the delta, Shell has become synonymous with poverty and pollution. Shell Nigeria has brought social, spiritual and ecological impoverishment to the delta.

Robert Lacville

Tensions were running high at election time in the Niger delta. Some western oil companies sent families home and shut down all travel for three weeks. “Don’t get kidnapped,” a friend emailed. More than 200 kidnappings have been recorded since October last year. “Beware of hijackers,” a Nigerian woman told me in London.

Travelling to a peace seminar, I was surprised to be met at Port Harcourt airport by an armed guard of five soldiers. “A new white face in town will be noticed,” their colonel told me. “You are welcome, and we do not want your welcome to be spoiled by kidnappers.”

The peace and anti-poverty seminar outlined good ideas for bringing calm, sustainable development for the Oil Rivers. It was a pity it ended in a riot. The organiser disappeared, leaving 100 youths clamouring for “travel money”. They picked on me in the corridor. “We are law students,” they cried as a policeman created a one-man barricade, pinning me to the wall.

By the time my guards reached me, the crowd had moved on to the food table to demand their share of rice. The colonel declared the seminar finished. He piled all the guest speakers into a minibus, crammed two soldiers with Kalashnikov rifles on to the floor at our feet and sent us to the hotel sanctuary. Now I knew why there were five armed police at the hotel gate in addition to my personal bodyguards. Tensions run high at election time.

Trade between Europe and the chiefs of the Oil Rivers in the 1800s made both sides wealthy. Palm oil built the fortunes of Unilever. Palmolive soap cleansed the British upper classes, while a soap byproduct called margarine was fed to the working classes who could not afford butter.

These days “oil” has a different meaning in the delta. The Oil Rivers host the wells and pipelines of Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total, Saipem and AGIP. Petrol made oil companies and military dictators rich, while the locals became poor. For angry residents of the delta, Shell has become synonymous with poverty and pollution. Rusting pipelines leak oil, which encourages illegal tapping. Lax security and poor maintenance cause explosions.

Nigeria’s urban elites and generals have grown fat, but democracy and oil wells have brought no benefit to the region’s 45 ethnic sub-groups. Once wealthy from their rich soils and oil palms, farmers complain that oil seepage has made their fields infertile. Fishermen find nothing in their nets but polluted water. Shell Nigeria has brought social, spiritual and ecological impoverishment to the delta.

But the job of managers in Nigeria is to produce oil profitably. They have no interest in social development or a clean environment. Shell’s policies on social responsibility read well on its website, but in Nigeria the company offers only palliatives: a school here, some scholarships there, but there is no commitment to regional development and social harmony.

The peace seminar described modern exploitation of Nigeria’s slave coast by white men. The printed programme showed Big Men in hats bearing names such as Goodluck and Godnews and Peremobowei (“born with wealth” in the Izon language): names that breathe optimism for their region.

The youths remain unconvinced. The hungry law students are representative of a huge problem. More than half the population is young; most are unemployed. Africa is becoming destabilised by an underclass of youths who see no future.

Unlike the rest of Africa, however, the oil states are a land of plenty. That which Shell hath taken away, Shell can return. I intend to contact Shell and see how I can help it create an island of peace in its mayhem of gas flares, polluted rivers and oil-soaked fields. If Goodluck is elected vice president, maybe his name will come to represent the future of the region that gave him birth.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianweekly/letterfrom/story/0,,2065227,00.html

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1 Comment on “The Guardian: Letter from Nigeria”

  1. #1 Poulton
    on Jun 1st, 2020 at 18:32

    it is a real shame that Shell has sullied its reputation, never following its own precepts concerning environment protection and the glories of nature. Shell could have been a world leader instead of a destroyer. I was raised with magnificent Shell films about nature, insects, animals …. and then as an adult I fond out that Shell was destroying the southern shores of Nigeria. Shell was complicit in the murder of Ken Sarawiwa and others who wanted a clean environment. What a shame.

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