Along the Niger Delta, the Nigerian government

Along the West African coast some 27,000 square miles of mangroves, freshwater swamps, and lowland rainforests flow into the Gulf of Guinea. It is in this colossal opening to the Atlantic ocean that Nigeria holds the most valuable monetary operation in the continent. With 2 million barrels of crude oil extracted daily and some 38 billion barrels of crude oil still residing under the murky waters of the Niger Delta, the Nigerian government holds one of the largest oil exploitation programs in the world. Yet, scarce resources have been handed to the tribes and local communities that live in the extremely diverse and dynamic delta region despite the massive 700 billion dollars of oil revenue washing through the Nigerian government and international oil goliaths, such as Royal Dutch Shell.

With a huge flow of money, constant environmental catosphorophies issuing no government response, decades of human rights violations, and a growing impatient and angry population, the Niger Delta region remains a volatile, and at times violent, territory in the once oasis of natural beauty. The mangrove forest of Nigeria is the third largest in the world and houses many minority ethnic groups, most notably the Ogoni and the Ijaw. In this land of cultural and biological diversity live 30 million people as well as many unique species of plants and animals.

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Yet, with the Nigerian federal government issuing official numbers of the some 7,000 oil spills from 1970 and 2000 and the 365 major oil spills now occurring yearly, the Nigerian and international community has witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of barrels spilled into the river banks, local village water wells, and mangroves over the past few decades. All of which have threatened the entire ecological system and the lives of those who live in the Niger delta. Though leaders of indigenous populations in the Niger Delta like Ken Saro-Wiwa, an influential spokesperson for the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), may claim that the Niger Delta has been “completely devastated by three decades of reckless oil exploitation or ecological warfare by Shell,” the Nigerian government and oil companies respond that it is actually sabotage and theft that has caused so much of this damage in the Niger Delta region. It is estimated, according to government data, that close to 400,000 barrels a day are lost due to sabotage, theft, and lost production, which then costs the Nigerian government and oil companies billions of dollars of yearly losses.

Yet, at the same time most Royal Dutch Shell’s facilities (the company responsible for over 1,000 spills from 1970-2000) were constructed during the 1960s to previous lowered safety standards. The looming challenge that remains for Nigeria, in the midst of sabotage operations and low safety standards, is how to prevent continued spilling of crude oil into their heavy populated and already damaged environment. Conflicts between the successive Nigerian Governments, large oil behemoths, and enraged militant groups have raged on for decades. At the center of this conflict is the debate of socio-economic deprivations in the wake of huge revenue from the oil industry. Many citizens have seen spilled crude oil on their river bank and now much rather see financial payouts from this oil industry to better improve their economic situation.

Fierce kidnappings, tapping into pipelines, purposefully causing spillages of those pipelines, and targeting attacks and killings of defenders of oil deposits have all been tactics of an almost full militarization of regional minority militia groups, mostly composed of young teens. The SPDC (Shell’s Nigerian wing) has claimed that more than 60% of oil spills from its facilities in Nigeria have been due to sabotage incidents stating that “sabotage is usually easy to determine, since there is evidence of cleanly drilled holes, hacksaw cuts, cutting of protective cages to open valves.” Many blame the well established group of the Niger Delta Avengers that routinely take credit for pipeline bombings and murders of Nigerian soldiers as they protest an old and failing 2009 amnesty initiative. Yet, through this all there have also been various peaceful protests to reduce the rampant corruption in Nigeria as many Nigerians fear that the enormous amount of money gained from the oil industry has completely clouded political leaders judgment to act on the interest of their own citizens.

The challenge is a complex one in which the government needs to appease the various angry indigenous tribes so to stop the wheel of violence between malitas and the military, while also trying to avoid avoid more forced spills as it is ruining ecolife and poisoning thousands of local drinking wells.


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