Research Paper: Nigeria a Survey of the Reasons

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Nigeria

A Survey of the Reasons Nigeria's Oil Spills Receive Little Attention Despite the Fact that They Outnumber Those of the U.S.

This paper will show the reasons the people of the Niger Delta region live in an environment of constant oil contamination that is never cleaned up while the comparatively minor oil spill in the Gulf Coast induced instant and widespread reaction and was cleaned immediately. By focusing on Shell Oil's own denial of culpability for pollution in Nigeria and on Nigeria's own war-ravaged human geography, spatial constraints, and lack of significant organizational models and spokesmen, this paper will show that the situation in Nigeria is far from being broadcast or remedied.

The southern state of Ondo in Nigeria is part of the Niger Delta, which yields 40% of all the oil imported by the U.S. Adam Nossiter of the New York Times states that "the Niger Delta…has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years…the oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless." As Nossiter phrases it, the fact that the Gulf Oil spill of 2010 received so much attention has some Nigerians in absolute disbelief. But while the Earth Island Journal asserts that "one of the few positives to come out of the BP gusher is a sudden awareness of the impact of offshore drilling throughout the rest of the world," such awareness does not necessarily translate into the kind of ethnic and geographical understanding needed to make oil companies like Shell more culpable in the public eye for what they have done to places like the Niger Delta, where constant oil spills have virtually destroyed the livelihood of many. From the standpoint of human geography, scholars debate the reason the Niger Delta receives so little notice compared to the notice given the Gulf Coast oil disaster. The fact is that companies like Shell Oil maintain almost zero culpability for oil spills in Nigeria.

To get to the root of the problem, Andrew Herod states "that space must be conceptualized as playing an important role in the structuring and outcome of social processes, for society does not function in a geographical vacuum" ("Workers, Space, and Labor Geography" 112). What this means, of course, is that spatial dimensions can seriously alter the way business is conducted as well as perceived. Shoddy business practices may be happening all over the world -- but the geographical locations of those shoddy business practices can determine how (if at all) they are remedied. In places like Nigeria, where Shell Oil can work virtually under the radar of public censorship, cutting costs and polluting the environment without attempting cleanup -- even going so far as to deny that cleanups even need to be made or are their responsibility -- shoddy business is easily conducted and far from being reformed ("Shell Oil Defends Nigeria Operations").

As reported by Huffington Post, Shell refuses to admit fault, despite the fact that 500 cases have been filed against the oil company for pollution of the Delta region environment: "Royal Dutch Shell executives defended their much-criticized operation in the Niger Delta before Dutch lawmakers on Wednesday but said the company will not pay compensation for pollution caused by sabotage and vowed to fight a $100 million fine imposed by a Nigerian court for a 40-year-old oil spill." Instead, Shell contends that the pollution is the result of Nigerian rebels -- refusing to account for the rusty, leaky pipes that flood the Delta with gallons and gallons of crude every day.

If the "aim of workers' education should be to free the learner from being simply a cog in a system" ("Workers' Education and Neoliberal Globalization" 9, 14), Shell Oil is doing its best to keep Nigerian citizens as mere cogs in the machinery of corporate takeovers. The kind of education that helps workers organize and fight against corporate greed may be available and profitable in spatial dimensions where learning can be gotten uninterrupted and at no great cost -- like in the United States. Unfortunately, such notions have difficulty taking root in the African setting.

Yet, Ebrima Sillah reports that Nigerians in the Delta region are demanding justice, calling even for the "expulsion of oil companies from the Niger Delta." Environmental Justice is crucial to the crippled livelihood of many in the region; yet, due to a corrupt government that sits virtually in the back pocket of companies like Shell Oil, Nigerians calling for cleanup are likely to go unheard.

Unlike in America, where celebrities like Kevin Costner and James Cameron are quick to offer their services in the facilitation and cleanup of crude oil spills in the Gulf Coast, Nigeria has no such celebrity voices. Costner went so far as to pour millions of dollars of his own money into the financing of a cleanup device that would ultimately be used by the U.S. government in its response to the Gulf Oil crisis. Yet, no such machines have been sent to Nigeria. James Cameron, who offered to send video recorders to the bottom of the sea to help monitor the spill in the Gulf, has not lent any such assistance to the Delta. The reason is that as far as the public is concerned, oil spills in the Delta are not even happening -- and if they are, they are the fault of sabotage -- at least, Shell Oil likes to say so.

However, Chris Milton has a better grasp of what is happening in Nigeria. In his review of Peter Maas' Crude World he says: "Take Equatorial Guinea, for example. Ruled by a man described as 'the worst dictator in Africa,' the country receives hundreds of millions of dollars each year in oil revenues" -- funds not put back into the environment itself or into agencies set up to help preserve that natural habitat of locals -- but funds that are put into anything "from a Boeing 737 with gold-plated bath taps to the suitcases stuffed with American dollars which were regularly transferred from the embassy in DC to the dictator's bank." Milton then identifies what is happening in the Niger Delta, which helps to explain why Herod's education-based theory for enabling the support and survival of workers in the globalized economy may not be so practical:

The military is fed, clothed, and housed by the oil companies to wage a campaign against the rebels, who are fighting against pollution and corruption in the Delta. But the rebels themselves are financed by stolen oil, which can only be exported by bribing the military they're fighting against.

The pumping of, refining of, and stealing of oil in Nigeria has merely created a vicious circle of combatants from local mob forces to internationally-backed governmental troops: the losers of which are the locals themselves. Milton notes that Maas' solution to the problem ("We cannot undo geology but we can make these minerals less valuable.") may be more wishful thinking than anything else. The issue of what essentially amounts to corporate raping and pillaging of once fertile lands will hardly be solved by wind turbines. The issue goes much deeper than finding a new source of energy. The issue is one of dehumanization, crass corporate greed, third world takeovers, tribal differences, and public ignorance. The fact that Nigeria is an entire ocean away and populated by a race that is classically considered as exploitative has much to do with why the Delta can be flooded with crude and destroyed daily with little to no concern from the same people who had their eyes glued to the Gulf Oil spill of 2010. Americans were directly affected then. As far as what happens in the Niger Delta -- what does not touch them, does not hurt them.

To emphasize the fact that geography plays a massive role in the inattention granted to the plight of individuals such as those in Nigeria, Herod states that

Economic geographers have traditionally paid much greater attention to the activities of corporations and firms than they have to those of workers, whether organized or unorganized, with the result that the ways in which workers shape the production of economic landscapes have been marginalized. ("Using Industrial Disputes" 229)

Nothing would seem truer as reports of fighting in the Niger Delta region as far back as 1999 only confirm how little attention the United States has given to the issue of oil baron exploitation in Africa:

Clashes between soldiers and local protesters continue in Nigeria where hundreds of Ijaw people were killed [in] one week…when soldiers opened fire in Yenagoa, capital of Nigeria's main oil-producing Bayelsa State. Youths had gathered there to protest the expiry of an ultimatum to oil firms to leave the region. Some unconfirmed reports from Nigeria allege that the military used Shell helicopters to bomb Ijaw towns. ("Deadly Collusion")

Such events hardly speak of a situation in which "education of the workers" can have a stabilizing effect. Nigeria is involved in an all-out war, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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