Oil price hike and the Niger-Delta situation - who gains?
with Valentine Alily
Oil dropped below $90 per barrel, shortly after the President of the United States, George W. Bush, pleaded with Saudi Arabia that OPEC should consider the impact of current �very high� oil prices as they review �different production levels.� He was speaking on the second day of his visit to Saudi Arabia, lamenting that OPEC should �understand that if one of their biggest consumers� economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less oil and gas sold.�
His statement came at a time when he had accused Iran of �threatening global security by backing militants� and when the government of Nigeria had ordered its military formations in the Niger-Delta region to begin an offensive against �all known militants and their hideouts�. Oil will certainly climb even higher than the $100 mark it attained in January 2008.
The price of oil had spiked with the escalation of hostilities in the Middle-East and attacks by militants on oil installations and barges in the Niger-Delta region. The Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, General Owei Andrew Azazi, ordered �a full scale battle� against all militants �in view of the rising activities of the militants and threats to invade some states.� He stressed that the Joint Task Force (JTF) of the Nigerian Armed Forces should ensure �maximum casualty on the side of the militants.�
The offensive actually began on December 19, when the JTF led by Brigadier-General Sarkin-Yaki Bello ransacked the Okrika locations of the Niger Delta Vigilante Movement (NDVM), razing the residence of the group�s leader, Ateke Tom, to the ground and putting him on the run. The militants, including the largest group called Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), have threatened fire for fire if attacked.
While one cannot fault President Umar Musa Yar�Adua�s government for declaring �full scale battle� against the militants, certain issues need to be addressed here:
1. Do the militants have genuine reasons for taking up arms or are they just a bunch of terrorists and rogues, as the government claims?
2. Who will gain in the instance of a full scale war in the Niger-Delta � government or the militants?
3. What will be the fate of the common Niger-Delta citizen when these two elephants (government and militants) fight?
If truth must be told, for a people who account for approximately 90% of Nigeria�s oil resources, the natives of the Niger-Delta have had a raw deal. From the very day Shell BP drilled its first oil well in Oloibiri in 1956, the Niger-Delta has never been the same again. Oil pollution and gas flaring have decimated the ecosystem. The gas industry statistics publisher, Cedigaz, claimed in a 2001 statistical index that Nigeria accounted for 19.79% of global flaring. That is more than Iran�s (the second major culprit) and Indonesia�s (the third) combined. The UNDP/World Bank 2004 survey estimated that Nigeria flares an 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas daily (over 70 million cubic metres per day)!
When you consider that this has gone on for over 40 years, then you will begin to appreciate the magnitude of suffering the people of the Niger-Delta have experienced in their own land. It is known that gas flaring eject toxic substances like benzene and acid rain into the air. Illnesses like premature deaths, asthma and cancer are commonplace in the Niger-Delta. A World Bank survey on adverse effect of gas flaring in the Niger-Delta area of Bayelsa State in 2006 claimed that premature deaths amounted to about 49 deaths and 4,960 respiratory illnesses within that year.
According to the UNDP/World Bank report, Nigeria�s emission of 70 million tons of carbon dioxide makes it the world�s 42nd biggest emitter of obnoxious gas; and that is just gas flaring.
Nigeria has 606 oil and gas fields in the Niger-Delta. 355 of these are onshore and 251, offshore. Of these, 193 are in full production with more coming on-stream. A report by Emmanuel Inoni, Douglason Omotor and Felicia Adun of the Delta State University and the Ministry of Agriculture & Natural Resources in 2006 (The Effect of Oil Spillage on Crop Yield and Farm Income in Delta State, Nigeria) concludes that the region has witnessed 6000 oil spillages in over 40 years. That is approximately 150 spillages per year. Between 1976 and 1996, the report claimed, 647 incidents occurred resulting in spillage of about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil. Of that only 550 thousand barrels were ever recovered, leaving 1.9 million barrels to destroy the ecosystem.
To mention the devastation to crops, sea life and the environment in a region where the population lives on fishing and subsistence farming is disheartening to say the least. This is in addition to lack of infrastructure like good roads, hospitals and schools.
Despite these sad testimonies to life in the Niger-Delta, it remains the only region in Nigeria that has witnessed consistent Police and Military action that killed thousands. Almost every Nigerian leader has sent in troops to �sanitize� the Niger-Delta. In November 1999, barely seven months into his first term as President, Olusegun Obasanjo sent soldiers into Odi and razed it to the ground. General Ibrahim Babangida sent the police to Umuechem in October 1989 and did the same thing. Sani Abacha�who actually set up a task force specifically for the Niger-Delta (The Rivers State Internal Security Task Force) in 1994�decimated Ogoni in 1995, capping it with the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the renowned environmental campaigner. General Abubakar, who took over after Abacha�s death, dispatched the Navy and the Army to Kaima in June 1998 and massacred close to three hundred civilians. Now President Yar�Adua is about to add his name to the list.
So, is it any wonder that the youths now carry arms and are fighting back at a system that has marginalized them for years? Agreed, armed confrontation is not the best solution to a problem, but if you realize that former President Obasanjo�s government is said to owe the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over N300 billion (about $2.1 billion) in debt, then you will begin to appreciate the level of angst and frustration the people of the Niger-Delta must be feeling.
However, the issue of a full scale confrontation in that region will not benefit anyone. In a long drawn out total battle, the government will win. It has the resources and manpower to sustain an all-out war in the Niger-Delta; but at what cost?
If the government goes on with its threat policy of �all-out battle�, who will eventually be displaced and killed? The militants? Maybe. The ordinary citizens? Certainly!
So who gains in such a battle?
Certainly not the long suffering people of the Niger-Delta. They will be brutalized. The government on the other hand, will experience a further drop in oil production; but will that affect global oil price adversely? No! In fact the government will make more money by going to war in the Niger-Delta. Already the Niger-Delta crisis is said to reduce Nigeria�s oil out put by 25%. This � coupled with the Middle East situation � accounted for the oil price shooting through the ceiling. A further drop therefore in this level of production will see oil price peaking beyond $100�translation: more revenue in government coffers.
And the militants, who unfortunately have acquired a thirst for dollars via kidnapping and illegal bunkering will simply move to other countries like Cameroun, Ghana or even South Africa. Most of them have become dollar millionaires and can afford to relocate. They will simply move to greener pastures and live the good life.
Eventually it is the man, woman and child on the streets of the Niger-Delta that will bear the brunt of a government�s full attack if and when it does occur. It is the common Niger-Delta person who will feel � like the Ibos felt, post-1966 crisis that led to secession and Biafra � the might of the Federal Government of Nigeria and its military�with all the brutality, pain, death and anguish that a war generates. It is they who will pay with their lives and liberty for the sins of a few militants.
President Yar�Adua is known for his controlled calm even in tough situations. He is known for believing in and initiating dialogue in very difficult circumstances. He is known to be disciplined, mature and not prone to emotional outbursts or irrational decisions. He is known to believe in fair play and judicious well being. The time is now for him to exhibit all these qualities and save Nigeria from another war.
As Africans have experienced time and time again, no one wins in an all out war...not the government; not the people!
Comments Posted about this opinion
Posted by Femi Oshin on the 7 Feb 2008
As much as i undestand the pillage, depletion and pollutiong the Niger Delta area has suffered over the years, most writers have perhaps (deliberately) blind themselves against the huge allocation in billions of Naira that the oil producing states receive.
Moreso, the govt is considering adjusting the revenue allocation formular to cool the Niger Deltan nerves.
Reports will be more balanced when money accruable to the Niger Delta area is mentioned.
Comment on this opinion
Posted by kashlil jamcee on the 16 May 2008
we really experience time and time again the oil price hike... it is simply because tdue to the higher demand of oil however it has no enough supply to sustain the needs of the whole world in terms of oil...