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Gulf oil spill and Nigeria’s Niger delta

Frank A. Nomayo writes on the lessons Nigeria can learn from the Gulf Oil spill

Mr. Tony Haywood, the Managing Director of British Petroleum is on the hot seat, courtesy of the oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico.

The world is so concerned about the damage occasioned by the devastating spillage, damage to natural life, damage to sea life and by implication, damage to all life that needs and depends on the sea for survival.

The Gulf of Mexico is contiguous to the U.S.A, and President Obama is not taking the disaster lightly. Already, British Petroleum has made commitments worth 20 billion dollars, for compensation and rejuvenation of sea life affected by the spill.

The oil spill portends has many lessons for Nigeria and its own vulnerable oil bearing Gulf of Guinea. The Gulf of Mexico disaster is but a passing episode compared to the frequent oil spills that are commonplace in Nigeria’s oil creeks.

That nobody is crying out does not mean that all is well. Indeed, the rusty pipes that carry Nigeria’s crude oil all over the Niger Delta, some above ground, others buried but corroded, are veritable sieve that spills oil and its effluents all over the creeks and the land and the sea of the Gulf of Guinea.

What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico happens all the time in Nigeria, and sadly no one is complaining. British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell are birds of the same feather, who conjugate to the same proximity; the difference is only in their area of operation.

While Obama is vigorously pursuing Mr. Tony Haywood, our own government is petting Shell and treating her with kid gloves. While BP is forced to commit billions of dollars to ameliorate the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, our own government is giving more and more power to Shell to do what it likes in the Gulf of Guinea.

When you choose a Minister of Petroleum and Adviser on Petroleum Matters from Shell’s ex-employees, you give the company a carte blanche to continue to exploit the land and its people.

The pipes that crisscross the Niger Delta are ancient and rusty, they spill unrecorded thousands of tons of crude every day into the mangrove forest of the Niger Delta, and the resultant destruction of life is glossed over by government’s careless attitude. Instead, the trend is to blame sabotage and militants for what is clearly a result of a lackadaisical approach to safety and security measures.

Nigeria oil prospecting companies prefer to buy arms to arm their security agents for the suppression of any local dissent, they prefer to kill, maim and oppress the locals, and they prefer strong arm tactics to community development assistance. Who will save us? No wonder militancy thrives in the Niger Delta, and that even though there is relative peace in the oil sector now, occasioned by the recent amnesty deal, no wonder guns are proliferating in the creeks and the people are still restive.

They have stood up against the exploitative tendency of oil companies only because there is no government to protect them from the gluttony of oil merchants.

From the 1950’s until recently, the people have been betrayed by their leadership, and they only woke up to take their destiny in their own hands when they noticed that Shell was buying guns and ammunition to suppress the voice of Dissent and complaint.
In 1994, the management of SPDC commissioned an arms dealer to facilitate approval by the Nigerian Police for an update in the type of firearms in use of their supernumerary police attached to Shell locations namely P.H Warri and Lagos.

These automatic guns, rubber bullets, smoke grenades were to be used in the Nigeria Delta, to protect its oil installations.

This approval was duly obtained by Humanitex Nigeria Limited, an indigenous company specializing in arms and ammunition purchase and distribution, and licensed to do so. It’s M/D, Chief G.O. Akinluyi, through the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, facilitated and secured this much needed approval. True to type, Shell petroleum preferred to cut corners and started to obtain these arms directly from the open arms market.

In 1995, Humanitex dragged Shell to court, and since then, Shell has employed all kinds of tactics to make sure the case is not heard in court on merit. Can anyone imagine this scenario taking place in America, Argentina or even Mexico?
Shell Petroleum has been blatantly intransigent because it is sure of the connivance of the powers that be in Nigeria.
One wonders why the Nigerian government has never called any oil company to book over dozens of spillages in the Nigerian Delta region, and has never surcharged such companies to pay relief compensation to affected communities
Our government needs to be proactive in its handling of multinational oil companies operating outside laid down procedure in Nigeria, if we are to benefit from our God given natural wealth.

Our oil will not last forever, but for while it lasts, our benefit as a nation should be certain and sure. Many multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria are not straight, and in an attempt to maximize profit, they go to great length to cheat in whatever way.

Our brightest minds should be deployed to investigate, supervise and report Shell or any other company that attempts to take our country for granted. British Petroleum was operating together with Shell. Then it was Shell BP in Nigeria.

BP was sent packing, since history keeps repeating itself, Shell should be made to operate transparently in Nigeria or be sent packing. Enough of force majure often pleaded by oil companies when they actually cause most mishaps due to carelessness to safety and security measures, and a clear attempt to maximize profit to the detriment of our poor country Nigeria.

The recent oil spill in the gulf of Mexico is probably a harbinger of better things to come in the Nigeria situation. World powers, be they democratic or socialist should please help Nigeria to get a better deal from the multinational oil companies for it is only then that Nigeria can better be able to play her role in world affairs, and thereby move further from the take off stage of development to a near state of self-sufficiency.
The role of the USA in world affairs continues to give us hope that the world will not abandon us to fate, rather with the required support and the guiding role of the USA in particular, the future for our county will be as bright as the Northern star.

The Amnesty International Report 2008 indeed notes quite poignantly that oil industry in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has brought impoverishment, conflict and human rights abuses and despair to this most vital region and one of the worlds most important wetlands, it details the impact of terrible pollution and the environmental damage to its human population, who have been denied a right to adequate standard of living, loss of clean water and food, and the safety of their ecosystem. Some of the most beautiful landscapes have been destroyed in the mangrove swamps of Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta.
The destruction of livelihoods and the lack of accountability and redress have led people to steal oil to sell back to some oil companies at very reduced rates, some people also vandalize oil infrastructure.

The regulatory system in the Niger Delta oil region of Nigeria is deeply flawed. Even though there are laws and regulations that require companies to comply with international recognised standards of good oil field practice, and laws and regulation to protect the environment, these laws and regulations are poorly enforced.

The government agencies responsible for enforcement are ineffective, and in some cases compromised.

The spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been described by John Vidal, environmental Editor of the London Guardian, as small fry compared to what has been happening in Nigeria, this has in the recent past raised debates in America about the imperative of greater government regulation of the oil industry and the need for government like the Nigerian government to rise above the fears of threats, bribery of the oil moguls, to force them to take greater responsibility for their activities.

This indeed is a teachable moment for Nigeria.