5 Apr 2006
Nigeria’s president Olusegun Obasanjo organized a conference in Abuja today (March 5th) with representatives of the oil-rich but war torn Niger Delta region. This coastal region of Nigeria has been in the limelight recently due to a spate of kidnappings of foreign oil workers and attacks on petroleum installations. Activists in the Niger Delta have been violently campaigning for the allocation of increased share of the national budget to crude oil-producing areas. Nigerian oil exportation has plummeted by about 25% and insecurity has increased as a direct consequence of the crisis.
The River Niger Delta has the richest biodiversity and the largest concentration of petroleum resources in Nigeria. In the midst of these riches, majority of the area’s 20 million people live in shacks, have no clean water, no electricity and have a high rate of unemployment. Oil-generated pollution is increasingly rendering their environment unfit for subsistence farming or fishing. The violence in the area is responsible for the deaths of about 1000 people annually according to a Shell (oil company)-funded report.
The Nigerian government laments that the crisis has caused the country some $6.8 billion in lost revenue so far. This amount reflects what is lost due to the disruption of production alone and not that associated with illegal oil bunkering. The stealing of oil has complicated the situation and made it difficult to differentiate the wolf from the sheep. The Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was sentenced to death and hanged by Sani Abacha (late Nigerian military leader) for genuinely championing the fight of the Ogoni people against the ‘irresponsible’ behaviour of the oil companies. Some of today’s activists are more likely to turn out to be greedy warlords than selfless leaders like Saro-Wiwa.
Dr Edmund Daukoru (Nigerian oil minister and current OPEC president) admitted that illegal oil bunkering could provide enough funds for the criminally-minded to create private armies. This was corroborated by a Shell funded report that said “one day’s worth of illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta will buy quality weapons for and sustain a group of 1500 youths for two months”.
At the time this report was released, oil prices were around $35 per barrel. The stakes are certainly higher now that oil prices have almost doubled.
As to be expected, some of the activists invited to attend the Abuja conference have opted to boycott. They claim that the Abuja “jamboree” is a waste of time as nothing can be achieved during a one-day conference. The fear is that those people that currently profit from the anarchy of what some analysts call Nigeria’s ‘little Colombia’ may do everything to disrupt any peace talks.
Njei Moses Timah
Njei Moses Timah