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Hartford Courant: Poverty, Strife Stanch Nigeria’s Oil

Amid Legacy Of Corrupt Regimes, Ogonis Use Crude As A Bargaining Chip

June 14, 2007

By EDWARD HARRIS, Associated Press:  Protests against oil companies began here in Ogoniland, 500 square miles of oil-rich land. When villagers drove out the oil companies, that brought relative peace – but not prosperity – because there are no oil company payments to fight over. Similarly, the democratic experiment that has emboldened militants elsewhere in southern Nigeria has brought new liberties, but no framework for the peaceful resolution of grievances.

The end of military rule in Nigeria was meant to be a start. Civilian rulers took over from the military in 1999, and that trend was apparently cemented when deeply flawed elections set up the first civilian-to-civilian handover since independence from Britain in 1960.

“At least we have our freedom,” said Kelvin Agbam, a community development leader in the Niger Delta. “But that means freedom for everyone – even the militants.”

When oil began flowing from Nigeria in 1958, the country had a growing industrial base, vast farms and some of the best universities in Africa.

Now, after disastrously corrupt military and civilian regimes, Nigeria has seen its bounties squandered. Most of its 140 million people have grown poorer. Few Nigerians enjoy electricity or running water.

Nowhere is the decay more pitifully on display than in the Niger Delta, where the crude is located. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil have been drilled, but few villages have basic schools or health clinics.

Long before the wider region’s restless and underemployed began taking up arms, the 500,000-strong Ogoni ethnic community was protesting such conditions.

The primary focus was Royal Dutch Shell, which was operating most of the wells in the area. Oil companies, which have sponsored some development projects, say chronic regional underdevelopment is a problem to be addressed by the government, which receives a majority of the oil revenue.

During the military period, when leaders were stealing much of the oil wealth, militants would likely have met with a brutal reaction by security forces. Ogoni leaders instead used largely peaceful protests, shutting down oil infrastructure, starting in the early 1990s.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s 1999 election, which ended decades of near-constant military rule, was supposed to give Nigerians a voice. Instead, cronyism, corruption and electoral hanky-panky undermined the nascent democracy.

Delta residents say militancy began blossoming during elections in 2003, when politicians armed young men and set them against their rivals or used them to rig votes.

Moses Siasia, a youth activist in the Niger Delta, said the solution for the region is “massive development. “We want this place to be like Kuwait.”

But the glittering high-rise buildings of Kuwait are nowhere to be seen in the Niger Delta, where poverty as profound as anywhere in Africa can be seen. Since a new militant group arose in late 2005, violence has reached its worst levels ever, with the kidnapping of nearly 200 foreign workers and the cutting of a quarter of the country’s normal 3 million-barrel daily production.

That has sent prices of crude and gasoline sharply higher, and for the first time raised concerns that the entire region could go the way of Ogoniland. Last month’s elections have not helped calm the Delta, where billboards thank residents for supporting the ruling party candidates.

The opposition rejects the vote as rigged, and international observers said it was not credible.

Ogonis demand promises of more oil resources before they allow oil companies to return. The oil is their sole bargaining chip, but distrust of the government runs deep.

“We have seen several military and civilian rulers. But since democracy came the last time, we’ve seen no change,” said Sunday Badon, a 45-year-old Ogoni activist.

Comment posted by John Donovan

Shell has been guilty of causing hellish pollution in Nigeria for decades, engaging in corruption with successive Nigerian regimes to plunder billions in oil revenues, while leaving the local population to live in abject poverty. The following link is to a leaked Shell confidential internal report in which Shell admits that its operations in the Niger Delta have fuelled corruption and violence.

http://www.shellnews.net/2004%20Documents/pea

Posted by John Donovan, co-owner of the website: http://royaldutchshellplc.com/

http://www.courant.com/business/hc-nigeriaoil0614.artjun14,0,6653821.story

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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