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A Shell of Democracy

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An article by Shawn Hattingh
 
On the 16th of May 2007, Father Kukah visited the University Cape Town to discuss the recent Nigerian elections. For those people who are not familiar with Father Kukah, he is the person who was appointed by the Nigerian state to ‘reconcile’ the Ogoni people and Shell. Indeed, he has been working around the clock to get Shell back in Ogoniland through ‘reconciliation’. Ever since Shell was kicked out of Ogoniland 13 years ago by popular protests, it has been desperate to get its grubby paws back on that area’s oil.
 
Being so close to the Nigerian government, Father Kukah had a skewed view of the recent elections. During the meeting in Cape Town, Father Kukah noted that even though the Nigerian election was flawed, it was a step forward from the previous military dictatorships that existed in Nigeria. What Father Kukah failed to mention, however, was that the rigged election results will not lead to an ounce of change in the lives of most Nigerians. For as long as the present system remains in Nigeria, the majority of Nigerian people will not see the benefits of Nigeria’s oil. Indeed, the majority of Nigerian people will remain impoverished and exploited. Along with this, he also failed to mention that the true holders of power in Nigeria are not the Nigerian people or the political parties that may claim to represent them; the real holders of power are rather the IMF, World Bank and the huge multinational oil companies that are sucking the resources out of that country. Certainly, these institutions are not about to let go of the lucrative stranglehold they have over Nigeria or its resources.
 
The World Bank and IMF have controlled the Nigerian economy for over two decades. They set the spending priorities of the Nigerian government, not the token figures who sit in the Nigerian Finance Ministry. Indeed, it is the IMF and World Bank that have dictated that Nigeria should focus its spending on debt servicing; rather than on education and healthcare. They are responsible for forcing Nigeria to liberalise every aspect of the economy. This has seen the Nigerian state clamping down on workers rights; privatising every government function including healthcare and education; relaxing environmental laws; and allowing multinational corporations to repatriate all of their profits out of Nigeria. All of this has been done in order to meet the desires of the multinational oil companies that are operating in Nigeria; at the direct expense of the majority of people.
 
Father Kukah, in his presentation in Cape Town, of course failed to note that the biggest beneficiary of the situation that exists in Nigeria has undoubtedly been Shell. Shell has been operating in Nigeria since 1958 and is responsible for over 80% of the oil that is extracted from the Niger Delta. This has seen Shell producing 400 000 barrels per day, everyday, since then. The result; Shell has made hundreds of billions of dollars. Most of this money has been whisked away by Shell, while a trickle has been handed on to corrupt Nigerian elites to keep the black gold flowing smoothly. The real cost of Shell’s practices, however, have been borne by the people of Nigeria and the environment in which they live.
 
Although Shell has drilling operations in over 28 countries, 40% of all its worldwide oil spillages occur in the Niger Delta. Since 1976, it has been calculated that Shell has been responsible for over 3 000 oil spills in the Niger Delta. The way in which Shell has dealt with these oil spills has been to set them alight. This has seen the land on which these spills have occurred becoming totally infertile and unusable. All of these spillages have also resulted in the death of aquatic life in rivers in the Niger Delta. Most of the water sources that are used for human consumption have been smothered with oil. In 1997, an environmental justice group based in Nigeria, Project Underground, found that petroleum hydrocarbons in the water sources of one part of the Niger Delta, Ogoniland, were 360 times the legal levels allowed in the European Union. Considering that most of the people in the Niger Delta survive through subsistence fishing and farming, the economic and health consequences of this pollution have been devastating.   
 
Shell also flares the natural gas in the Niger Delta that is associated with oil extraction. Indeed, 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas is flared in the Niger Delta every single day. This has seen massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, such as CO2 and methane, being pumped into the atmosphere. In fact, the Nigerian oilfields release more greenhouse gases than all of the rest of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa combined. Due to this massive amount of air pollution, the Niger Delta regularly experiences acid rain. The flares have also exposed the people of the Niger Delta to a cocktail of toxins. The morbid consequences are that premature death from respiratory illnesses, cancer and asthma have become a regular occurrence.
 
Shell, with the assistance of the Nigerian state, have also expropriated vast tracks of land from the indigenous population, with little or no compensation. By 1993, the people of the Niger Delta, spearheaded by the people of Ogoniland, struck back. They began to peacefully occupy the oil installations within the Niger Delta. The response from Shell, along with its allies in the Nigerian state, was swift and ruthless. Since 1993, over 2000 people in the Niger Delta have been murdered by Nigerian state forces at the bidding of Shell. These victims have included people such as the activist and poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa. His crime – questioning Shell’s right to pillage the Niger Delta. In fact, Shell’s involvement with the Nigerian state and the military is so extensive that it has even openly admitted that it funds the Nigerian forces that are deployed in the Niger Delta. Shell has also let it slip that on at least two occasions it has directly paid military officials to storm specific villages. On each occasion, people within these villages were murdered by these paid henchmen.
 
Events that took place in 1999 perhaps mostly clearly demonstrate how far multinational oil companies, and their state stooges, will go to further their interests. In January 1999, women from Ogoniland launched a massive peaceful campaign against Shell: Operation Climate Change. The Shell-backed military administration’s knee-jerk reaction was to deploy two warships and 15 000 troops against these peaceful demonstrators. During the course of this action, hundreds of these women were raped. This systematic violation of human rights was then followed with a full-scale onslaught on a group of environmentalists that were occupying one of the drilling rigs as part of Operation Climate Change. The soldiers that launched the attack used gun boats supplied by Chevron and were backed up by helicopter gunships. When the smoke subsided, over fifty unarmed environmentalists lay dead.
 
Naturally, being a government and Shell man, Father Kukah failed to mention anything about these atrocities that have been committed against the people of the Niger Delta. His solution to the problem of the Niger Delta is to tell the people of the Delta to stop resisting multinational oil companies, such as Shell. For Father Kukah there is simply no alternative. Fortunately, the peoples of the Niger Delta’s have not headed the advice of the Shell stooge, Father Kukah.  Indeed, struggle for environmental and economic justice continues in the Niger Delta. To be sure, the struggle of the people of Ogoniland, and the wider Niger Delta, will continue. The oil companies, the IMF, the World Bank, the Nigerian government and Father Kukah leave them with no other choice.

Being so close to the Nigerian government, Father Kukah had a skewed view of the recent elections. During the meeting in Cape Town, Father Kukah noted that even though the Nigerian election was flawed, it was a step forward from the previous military dictatorships that existed in Nigeria. What Father Kukah failed to mention, however, was that the rigged election results will not lead to an ounce of change in the lives of most Nigerians.

For as long as the present system remains in Nigeria, the majority of Nigerian people will not see the benefits of Nigeria’s oil. Indeed, the majority of Nigerian people will remain impoverished and exploited. Along with this, he also failed to mention that the true holders of power in Nigeria are not the Nigerian people or the political parties that may claim to represent them; the real holders of power are rather the IMF, World Bank and the huge multinational oil companies that are sucking the resources out of that country.

Certainly, these institutions are not about to let go of the lucrative stranglehold they have over Nigeria or its resources.  The World Bank and IMF have controlled the Nigerian economy for over two decades. They set the spending priorities of the Nigerian government, not the token figures who sit in the Nigerian Finance Ministry. Indeed, it is the IMF and World Bank that have dictated that Nigeria should focus its spending on debt servicing; rather than on education and healthcare. They are responsible for forcing Nigeria to liberalise every aspect of the economy.

This has seen the Nigerian state clamping down on workers rights; privatising every government function including healthcare and education; relaxing environmental laws; and allowing multinational corporations to repatriate all of their profits out of Nigeria.  Father Kukah, in his presentation in Cape Town, of course failed to note that  Although Shell has drilling operations in over 28 countries, 40% of all its worldwide oil spillages occur in the Niger Delta. Since 1976, it has been calculated that Shell has been responsible for over 3 000 oil spills in the Niger Delta.

The way in which Shell has dealt with these oil spills has been to set them alight. This has seen the land on which these spills have occurred becoming totally infertile and unusable. All of these spillages have also resulted in the death of aquatic life in rivers in the Niger Delta. Most of the water sources that are used for human consumption have been smothered with oil. In 1997, an environmental justice group based in Nigeria, Project Underground, found that petroleum hydrocarbons in the water sources of one part of the Niger Delta, Ogoniland, were 360 times the legal levels allowed in the European Union.

Considering that most of the people in the Niger Delta survive through subsistence fishing and farming, the economic and health consequences of this pollution have been devastating.     

Shell also flares the natural gas in the Niger Delta that is associated with oil extraction. This has seen massive amounts of greenhouse gasses, such as CO2 and methane, being pumped into the atmosphere. In fact, the Nigerian oilfields release more greenhouse gases than all of the rest of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa combined.  Shell, with the assistance of the Nigerian state, have also expropriated vast tracks of land from the indigenous population, with little or no compensation.

By 1993, the people of the Niger Delta, spearheaded by the people of Ogoniland, struck back. They began to peacefully occupy the oil installations within the Niger Delta. The response from Shell, along with its allies in the Nigerian state, was swift and ruthless.  Events that took place in 1999 perhaps mostly clearly demonstrate how far multinational oil companies, and their state stooges, will go to further their interests. Operation Climate Change.

The Shell-backed military administration’s knee-jerk reaction was to deploy two warships and 15 000 troops against these peaceful demonstrators. During the course of this action, hundreds of these women were raped. This systematic violation of human rights was then followed with a full-scale onslaught on a group of environmentalists that were occupying one of the drilling rigs as part of Operation Climate Change. The soldiers that launched the attack used gun boats supplied by Chevron and were backed up by helicopter gunships. When the smoke subsided, over fifty unarmed environmentalists lay dead.  

Naturally, being a government and Shell man, Father Kukah failed to mention anything about these atrocities that have been committed against the people of the Niger Delta. His solution to the problem of the Niger Delta is to tell the people of the Delta to stop resisting multinational oil companies, such as Shell. For Father Kukah there is simply no alternative. Fortunately, the peoples of the Niger Delta’s have not headed the advice of the Shell stooge, Father Kukah.  Indeed, struggle for environmental and economic justice continues in the Niger Delta. To be sure, the struggle of the people of Ogoniland, and the wider Niger Delta, will continue. The oil companies, the IMF, the World Bank, the Nigerian government and Father Kukah leave them with no other choice. 

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