A near civil war is raging in the Niger Delta over the region’s oil production. The region’s oil wells do not belong to local people or even to Nigerians but are the exclusive preserve of foreign multinationals who loot the oil wealth through corrupt military and civil local administrations: according to People’s Daily Online of 16 February 2006:
“The Shell Group is the biggest foreign oil company in Nigeria, with a daily production of over 1 million barrels, making up more than 40%… US-based Exxon Mobil Corporation ranks the second and Chevron Texaco the third. There are also Italy-based Agip and France-based Total. These five western companies largely dominate the oil industry in the country.”
However, the foreigners who control oil production – and oil production today constitutes no less than 90% of Nigeria’s GDP – have done so for the purpose of pursuing maximum profit – in total disregard of the needs of the people of the locality and at the expense of the environment. As People’s Daily Online put it (op.cit):
“In their pursuit for maximum profits, these companies have always been mean with infrastructure investment and consequently their oil pipelines often crack and leak due to lack of maintenance and replacement.
“Statistics show that the leakage of crude oil in the Niger Delta amounts to 10,000 barrels annually. Caught ablaze under the scorching sun, the escaped oil causes frequent farmland and forest fires as well as serious air pollution. It also poisons the earth, kills crops and thus plunges many farmers into deeper poverty. More serious is the contamination of rivers which not only deprives fishermen of their living but causes drinking water shortage”.
Meanwhile, Daniel Balint-Kurti reports in Newsday on 23 April (‘Oil fight in Nigeria reaches turning point’):
“Delta residents live in abject poverty and also suffer from the environmental effects of oil pumping, including the pollution of drinking water and rivers and damage to fishing. The oil gives off a rainbow gloss in some places.
“In one village, Pepa Ama, residents say the pumping of oil has sunk their land. Villagers walk barefoot over thin rotting logs and wobbly planks to avoid getting oily feet.
“‘We are the owners of the oil,’ said one village resident, Florence Dmanda, 46, who lives in a small hut on stilts above the polluted mud with her husband and 12 children. ‘We don’t have water to drink, we don’t have fish to kill because of the water. Even money to buy things to ea, we don’t have’.
“Towering gas flares light up the sky with an orange glow at night and cause acid rain, which pollutes drinking wells and damages crops…”
Resistance of the people
Oil was first struck in Nigeria in 1958, and by the 1970’s it was already apparent that, as far as the masses of the people were concerned, the discovery and exploitation of their oil was not a source for celebration but was, on the contrary, an absolute disaster.
At that time, chiefs of the Ogoni tribe living in the region handed a petition to the Military Governor complaining about the depredations of Shell-BP. The Iko tribe also protested in 1980 to Shell with regard to the dire threat to their livelihoods caused by the way Shell conducted its operations.
Such was the breadth and depth of the people’s protests that from 1987 the Nigerian government, ever the stooge of the oil multinationals, resorted to overt violence with an attack on the homes of protesting communities, destroying 40 houses and leaving 350 people homeless.
In the 1990’s protests against Shell by the people of the Etche tribe at Umuechem in Reivers state were followed by a government massacre of up to 80 people and the destruction of some 500 homes. By this time anti-Shall protests had spread to many other tribes, including the Omudiogo, Ogbia, Igbide, Izon, Irri, Uzuri and the Ijaw.
The Ogoni leader, Ken Saro Wiwa, brought the situation of the Niger Delta people to the attention of the world in his book Genocide in Nigeria, in which he described how the Ogoni have been “gradually ground to dust by the combined effort of the multinational oil company, Shell…, the murderous ethnic majority in Nigeria and the country’s military dictatorships”. As a result of standing up for ordinary people against the oil companies, Ken Saro Wiwa found himself arrested, charged with a murder that he had clearly not committed, and hanged, along with other Ogoni activists.
The baton of the struggle has now passed to members of the Ijaw tribe who started holding demonstrations against imperialist oil looting in late December 1998. The demonstrations once more provoked state violence against the communities involved, with a military crackdown in the area lading to the deaths of several tens of people, the torture of others and the detention of many.
Undeterred, the Ijaw youth gathered at Kaiama in Bayelsa state on 11 December 1998 to form an umbrella Yough Council and make what is known as the Kaiama Declaration, which states:
“All land and natural resources (including mineral resources) within the Ijaw territory belong to Ijaw communities and are the basis for our survival.” Accordingly, “We demand the immediate withdrawal from Ijawland of all military forces of occupation and repression by the Nigerian state. Anyh oil company that employs the services of the armed forces orf the Nigerian state to protect its operations will be viewed as the enemy of the Ijaw people” The youth advised “all oil companies and staff and contractors to withdraw from Ijaw territories by 30 December 1998”
Demonstrations following the expiry of this deadline were met with escalated army violence and reprisals, in the form of mass destruction of houses and other property of innocent villagers.
The greater the state violence, however, the greater the indignation of local people and the sharper their resistance, with attacks on oil installations, kidnappings of expatriate staff occurring repeatedly. Reputedly the rebels are able to arm themselves by illegally diverting oil which they sell to raise money for relatively sophisticated weaponry. Such has been their success that Shell has been forced to shut down four of its Niger Delta flow stations and is losing over 106,000 barrels a day.
Imperialism’s only hope for survival in the face of such magnificent resistance is to endeavour to divide its enemies. As has been seen, the destructive effect of oil companies’ operations affects all the people of the Niger Delta, but imperialism will be seeking to isolate the Ijaw from those others, and one suspects that if the Ijaw see the solution to their problems in secession, this may well play into the hands of imperialism.
Moreover, it is not just the people of the Niger Delta but all the oppressed classes throughout Nigeria who suffer as a result of the imperialist stranglehold on Nigeria’s economy. It cuts the rebels from their potential allies throughout Nigeria to talk of “the murderous ethnic majority in Nigeria”. While the Nigerian compradors can only rely on ethnicity to maintain some degree of mass support while they continue to indulge in the kleptomanic sprees that are their reward for controlling the Nigerian masses for the benefit of imperialist looters, nevertheless it is important to help the exploited and oppressed community to break the ethic link with their exploiters and to join the fight of the Ijaws and others to push imperialism out of the whole country.
Even in areas of Nigeria where there is no oil, the masses of the people are not living in luxury from the proceeds of the sale of Niger Delta oil – quite the contrary. The only Nigerians to derive any benefit from the oil are a tiny handful of compradors, who also, at the behest of imperialism, flood the Nigerian market with cheap imperialist-produced goods, destroying all local industry and business, which are not in a position to compete against their technologically advanced foreign rivals. This translates into mass unemployment and a plummeting standard of living for working people throughout Nigeria for whom oil has brought not wealth but deepening poverty.
s We look forward to the proletariat and peasantry of Nigeria overcoming all ethnic divisions and pooling their massive strength to eject the deadly imperialist parasite from their country for once and for all.