Nigeria Oil

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico dominated the environmental agenda for months, yet in the Niger Delta the world's other major oil spill story has been raging for decades without any where near the same level of coverage. The Niger Delta, forming 7.5% of Nigeria's land mass, is about 70,000 square km, and is home to around thirty one million people. Originally the home of a major producer of palm oil, petroleum oil was discovered there making Nigeria Africa's biggest oil producer.

Nigeria Oil SpillDrilling for oil in a dangerous, messy occupation even in the regulated west, as events in the Gulf of Mexico have amply demonstrated, however in the relatively unregulated environment of the Niger Delta, its impact has been catastrophic with over 600 oil fields in the region alone. The Nigerian head of 'Friends of the Earth International' recently commented that "In Nigeria, oil  companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people's livelihoods and environments." The situation is so desperately bad that the equivalent of the BP Oil spill occurs in the Niger Delta every year and has occurred for decades. The Nigerian government estimates that there were 7000 spills between 1970 and 2000 alone.

Whilst major oil companies such as Shell are held by the locals as responsible for the leaks and damage, there is widespread acceptance that many of the spills are caused by vandalism and criminal activity. Despite this it is acknowledged that around half the spills are caused by corroded pipe work and decaying tankers.

The spills are affecting the entire River Niger ecosystem, and ravaging farm lands and forests as a thick skin of petrol permeates into the very fabric of the region. As a local leader commented "The land is devastated. The drinking water and streams are polluted. As it rains, we use the rain water but cannot drink it, because even that is full of crude oil."

Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger DeltaThe resentment at this activity, whilst foreign companies accrue millions in revenue, led to the establishment of a group called MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ~ above) which is committed to taking the oil industry back for the local Nigerian people and using revenues to help clear up the environmental disaster in the Delta.

Using guerrilla type tactics, it has attacked oil installations across the Delta in what it calls an 'oil war' warning "Leave our land while you can or die in it.... Our aim is to totally destroy the capacity of the Nigerian government to export oil." More recently MEND has taken to kidnapping oil workers and blowing up supply vessels.

Other armed groups in the area include the NDPVF (Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force) and the NDV (Niger Delta Vigilante) which have hundreds of sub-groups within them, many of which aren't just at war with the oil companies but amongst themselves reflecting ethnic tensions in the Delta between the Ijaw, Itsekiri and the Urhobo peoples. In 2008 the Nigerian government moved in to protect its oil revenues with an armed crackdown on rebel activity and an amnesty in June 2009 was partially successful with many armed youths surrendering their weapons, however the underlying issues have not been addressed resulting in on-going conflict that erupts from time to time and has the potential to flare once again into open warfare.



 
 
 
 
 


Nigeria Oil

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Niger Delta

Niger Delta

A brief history of the Niger Delta together with facts and figures about the area.
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