In terms of the impact of oil exploration on the ecology of life in Nigeria’s oil producing areas, the destroyed lands and rivers, creeks and dead fish and fauna, pipelines explosions and burnt beings and charred bodies of several of the citizens of the oil-rich country remain terrible and poignant reminders to the misuse and abuse of the oil and energy resources of the country of nearly 270 million.
Hence, the increasing domestic and international interest in the report three days ago (August 9, 2021) about the Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigerian unit court-ordered agreement to pay the the Ejama-Ebubu community N45.7 billion naira ($110.9 million). It is in compensation to put an end to a legal case that began in 1991, championed by the community’s lawyer, the relentless Lucius Nwosu
According to William Clowes of Bloomberg who broke the news, that payment seeks to resolve a long-running dispute over an oil spill that occurred more than 50 years ago. It “is for full and final satisfaction” of a court judgment issued against the company 11 years ago.
For all it’s worth, first, I consider this Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s Nigerian unit court case a commendable step forward on what I still consider to be the underpaid/under-compensated costs of the consequences of oil spills and environmental destruction and hazards faced by millions of Nigerians.
Nigeria is the largest oil producer in Africa and in the dynamic top-10 of the world’s largest oil producers.
Second, the consequence of oil spills and environmental damages are reflected in the wreckage and mangled landscape and tortured lives and serated psyches in most of the oil-and-gas-producing communities across the Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa, Imo, Ondo and Anambra States of Nigeria.
Third, crude oil which was first explored in commercial quantity in 1958 by Shell BP (British Petroleum), in the tropical, serene environment of Owaza, the Igbo-speaking area of the riverine part of south eastern Nigeria, left gulleys of degradation, dangerously exposed pipelines, forced abandoning of farmlands.
I toured Owaza on a news documentary assignment in the early 1980s as a staff of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. The Niger Delta and other riverine communities have fared worse.
Fourth, the decimation of the natives’ economic and social ecological infrastructure in the forced the accelerated corrosion of their collective values and interests of Nigerians. All those, and more, have combined with wonderful announcements of billion dollar contracts and deals with the multinational corporations and their Nigerian collectors and agents to raise and dash, every passing year, the tortured hopes of the same poor, dispirited folks on whose lands the oil and gas sit. Is there any wonder why they, like me sometime wonder whether oil is Nigeria’s liquid gold or just a petro-dollar curse?
Fifth, Nigeria’s petroleum industry lays the golden eggs and has brought some development into many areas. It dulled Nigeria into the single lane economy. Yet, that same sector sticks out like a sore thumb, the fertile ground for mega-corruption and abuse of Nigeria’s resources by a few.
Sixth, the battle over who controls the oil money is the key to understanding Nigeria’s business, politics and future. Hence, I must state the nepotism, favoritism appointments and ethnic jostlings primarily seek the primitive seizure and control of State power (at the NNPC, the country’s national oil powerhouse). It is about control of the NNPC rather than a focus for responsibility and performance.
Oil accentuated and, in fact, set the theme for ethnic competition, economic and religious warfare between the more powerful segments of the country (with less economic resources) and the relatively less powerful or at best more docile sections of the country (location for the vast oil resources and minerals). Hence, this avoidable problem of crippling scarcity of fuel and even basic kerosene/gasoline led many to pursue other means to reach some of the product, unfortunately, illegally, must be be put in its past, present and future policy context.
I recall the events at Jesse, the village of Apawor and other adjoining communities which occurred on Saturday October 17, 1998 and he inferno which raged Sunday October 18, 1998. remains a sad metaphor and reminder of the sad state of affairs in Nigeria’s oil and gas business and the lot of Nigeria’s poor. The fire left decimated farmland, burnt livestock made bonfire of human beings, men, women and children, in the most macabre mix of crude oil and fire.
Seventh, it is necessary, against the background of these difficult events and deaths, to look a little deeper, beyond the staggering, running numbers of the dead and the dying. First, crude oil which was first explored in commercial quantity in 1958 by Shell BP, in the tropical, serene environment of Owaza, the Igbo-speaking area of the riverine part of south eastern Nigeria, has left gulleys of degradation, dangerously exposed pipelines, abandoned farmlands, worse, it accelerated the corrosion of the collective values and interests Nigerians. I toured Owaza on a news documentary assignment in the early 1980s as a young staff of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA. The Ogoni and other riverine communities have fared almost worse.
Eight, although Nigeria is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer, its petroleum industry lays the golden egg as well as sticks out like a sore thumb, the fertile ground for mega-corruption and abuse of the resources of all Nigerians by a few. The battle over who controls the oil money is the key to understanding Nigeria’s business, politics and future. Hence, I must state the dueling and ethnic jostlings seek the privatization (not capitalism, in this context, but raw control and abuse) of State power and control rather than a competition for responsibility and performance. The consequences are partly reflected in the underlying reason(s) for the wreckage and mangled landscape and tortured lives and serrated psyches in Jesse, the village of Apawor and others across and beyond the Niger Delta.
Indeed, the explosions and the circumstance of the death of many of these folks animated for the clear-headed the fact that the issue of Nigeria’s future should address the issues of poverty, real empowerment and blinding deprivation faced by many Nigerians. Otherwise, it will be turn out to be a like another candle in Nigeria’s whirlwind- gharish images and sordid twists, punctuated by terrible turns from one debilitating situation into worse, self-inflicted wounds.
Ninth, political stability in Nigeria must address the issue of an equitable political economy, a fairer sharing of the resources and riches of a very fertile country. Nigerians must address, urgently, the location and quality of economic rights rather than drown the entire country on religio-ethnic fixations. Nigerians are an interesting lot. They will be consumed (and have been) since they achieved political independence in 1960 from Britain) with perennial, self-preening huffing and puffing about where the next president should come from.
In this 2021, it’s getting louder, more complicated especially over who will follow and lead Nigeria and after Gen. Buhari’s 8 years of brutal incompetence and nepotism!
*Dr. Chido Nwangwu, the author of the forthcoming 2021 book, MLK, Mandela & Achebe: Power, Leadership and Identity, serves as Founder & Publisher of the first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper on the internet, USAfricaonline.com, and established USAfrica in 1992 in Houston. He is recipient of several public policy and journalism excellence honors, civic engagement and community empowerment awards and has appeared as an analyst on CNN and SKYnews. He served as an adviser on Africa business to Houston’s former Mayor Lee Brown. @Chido247