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Nigeria: a destroyed population

by : Alessandro Ambrosin
Wednesday May 23, 2007 - 21:54

Nigeria, which is the most populated state of Africa with its 132 million inhabitants, has been a victim of violent territorial destruction during the last fifty years. Massacre and violation of human rights do not arise any attention anymore, only some clamorous episodes capture the press’ interest for a moment and then they are forgotten.

The state of Nigeria is the worlds eighth biggest producer of oil supplying 2.5 million barrels per day. The Niger Delta area, rich of black gold, has always been the multinationals most desired territory for big companies like Shell which controls almost the half of the raw petroleum, followed by Total, Mobil, Elf, Texaco, Chevron and the Italian Agip. The huge industrial colonisation begins at the end of the fifties. A military protection against any rebellion from those native communities that opposes this programme is obtained by paying great amounts to Nigerian governors. The 250 ethnical minorities expropriated from their natural habitat are the first ones to pay the sad consequences: They are forced to leave the territory to give room to the new settlements of extraction and elaboration of the raw petroleum.

If, on one hand the abuse of the territories have let to an ecological destruction never seen before, then on the other hand the social condition of the Nigerians have undergone an enormous impoverishment. The huge amounts of money the multinationals gain in complicity with the government are in contradiction to the real conditions of the Nigerians who are trying to survive with a dollar a day in depressed areas without drinkable water and without drainage. An environment threatened by pollution and epidemics. The deforestation, the leakage of raw petroleum coming from the wells and from the pipes have created a situation which cannot be justified anymore. Unlike other wells the leakage of gas is not being recovered but burned. This usage – gas flaring – is adopted by all the multinationals in the Niger Delta. The consequence is dramatic because Nigeria is the country that lets out most CO2.

In November 2004 Amnesty International drew up a report entitled – Nigeria: human rights in the oil pipeline-, where the constant violation of the human rights that the Nigerians daily suffer emerges. The social and ecological conflicts brought forward by the local population have reached dramatic epilogues. Ken Saro-Wiwa, guilty of denouncing and fighting for the defence of the territory and of the populations, was hanged, condemned by a false trial, together with other eight co nationals on November 10 1995. This was unfortunately not the only case, the repression against a population which is guilty of claiming its rights remains. In the Niger Delta the multinationals, thanks to the support of a corrupted government, take advantage from a particular concession which gives them every legal right in the territory and which makes them totally careless of anti-pollution politics.

We have met Edo Dominici from Onlus ASud, an Italian association that since 2003 supports social and native movements of the world through an international cooperation project.

The impossibility to pick up news from Nigeria sometimes originate misleading interpretations, a consequence of a well studied manipulation. The fact that we talk too little about Nigeria remains. Why is that? In this territory the news sources are very few and all controlled by the multinationals and/or by the Nigerian government. They both have an interest in manipulating the reality of which they are themselves responsible. December 26 for example, when Abule Egba in the north of Lagos after an explosion opened a gap in the oil pipe and 500 hundred people died, everybody ran to the place, pushed forward by the limit of survival, to fill cans and bottles with the precious black gold. The local press spoke about a sad incident caused by a theft attempt. April 21 2004 the Cronica, a Spanish daily, gave a picturesque image of the dissidents, describing the ethnic group Ljaw as – a population that wears amulets to be invulnerable against bullets-. There are no doubts that the news wanted to reduce the capacity of conducting serious political request.

How do you trace the news in these places and what kind of collaboration have you got with Nigeria? Thanks to internet we have lately been able to follow the events of Nigeria. Our association, ASud, has a collaboration deal with the MOSOP in Italy (The ogoni of Saro Wiwa). We have installed an intercourse with Italian journalists and organisations that follow the Nigerian case and with whom we have a continuous exchange of information. Besides this we also have a relationship with a Nigerian Ong who operates directly on Delta.

The attacks on the wells and the kidnapping made by MEND on one side, and the repression by the government on the other have reached levels never seen before. You only have to think about the 200 dead people after the election of the new president Yar’Adua. What did you do in this situation? I must state beforehand that MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) did not want to interfere with the election. “The scarce reliability of the election – Jomo Gbomo, the spokesman of MEND, has declared – will not bring any change, in fact to avoid any false interpretation on April 4 (15 days before the election of ndr) we freed all the hostages”. Those who today sabotages the multinational’s settlements are mainly but not only the guerrillas of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).It is not a guerrilla organization in the old meaning of the word but more like an umbrella which encloses different acronyms and components. An “operating” fragmentation that reflects the ethnic and social complexity of the Delta region. Our Association has begun to denounce what was going on from the beginning of 2006 when MEND demonstrated all its capacity in action and in intervention in the area of Delta. The actions have intensified during 2006 and more than 80 foreigners have been kidnapped to be released later in the area. From the beginning we have made the situation known as – a war of low intensity hidden by multinationals –controlled by the media, in particular by ENI for what Italy is concerned. In December 2006 we launched the first appeal to the Italian government, together with Father Zanotelli and other organizations to “free hostages and purify Nigeria”. February 6 2006 we met the president of the chamber Fausto Bertinotti, chief of the chamber Gennaro Migliore and the minister of environment, Pecoraro Scanio to announce the danger of the situation asking to interfere swiftly with ENI.

The kidnapping of technicians of the oil companies as well as the attacks on the wells of the multinationals are multiplying. It seems to be the only way to get the public opinion’s attention. Are you able to operate and organize yourselves in these places in spite of the dramatic situation? It is true, even MEND does not deny it. The kidnappings are used to get the public opinion’s attention on the dramatic life conditions of the Delta population, especially the Ljaw which is with its 14 million inhabitants the poorest Nigerian ethnic, and where the members of MEND come from. Struggling against thousands of difficulties as I have already underlined, our activity is operating mainly on national territory by an immense operation.

Could MEND mark a beginning of a positive change for this population or considering the rampant corruption might it end up by obtaining a piece of this multi millionaire market. What is your opinion? We do not know how MEND have brought forward its battle but we have pointed out the reasonableness of its requests. Legitimate needs, such as to put an end to the plunder of the territory, an equal division of the oil, a refund for the ecological debt and an elimination of the military presence. The Nigerian army in fact, has often marked itself by the brutality of the repression. In August after the disastrous dialogue between the government and the strong powers of the multinationals, the army has given way to series of “rounding up” operations. Half a score of civilians were killed and the villages suspected of helping the guerrillas were razed to the ground.

Is there any hope……. We think so. But a collaboration on both parts is necessary, first of all by the multinationals which have an enormous liberty of action and a huge influence on the Nigerian government. We believe that the multinationals of the rich countries have given the Delta population a great ecological debt. In a fluvial and fragile ecosystem between mangroves and antique ethnics, where the populations once lived on agriculture and fishing, now are confined in inhuman conditions. The forest is invaded by flames from the oil wells and from the explosions caused by the devastating phenomena of the gas flaring, a usage moreover, illegal in many parts of the world. The plumes of smoke are so great that they clearly can be seen from the satellites. Gas flaring scatters toxics into the air like benzene causing an increase of cancer and respiratory sicknesses like bronchitis and asthmas among the local population. The rivers are by now a blackish and polluted magma. We propose that that gas gets recovered and used for the development of the local population, but the companies, first of all ENI, are building 3 liquidizers to export the gas to the European and American plants committing an ulterior theft of the resource. The Nigerian gas will be used by the various electric plants in Italy and other countries giving the multinationals larger profits while paradoxically plants of this type do not exist in Nigeria because they do not have electricity in their homes. Apart from this, a new way should be found to give, by contract, the local population a part of the income gained from the resources which the companies extracts from their land.



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