FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Oil Trip: Nigeria, Chad, Liberia

by EMIRA WOODS

It is almost impossible to imagine, as we sit in a well-lit, fully functioning gas station on Main Street, USA, that a community blessed with oil riches under its soil could look as impoverished as Yenagoa in the Nigerian state of Bayelsa.

Yenagoa is the site of one of Nigeria’s first oil wells, built in pre-independence 1956 . Yet as in many communities in Nigeria’s oil rich Delta region, most people of Yenagoa live in mud huts. Some reside only a few feet away from the oil wells. But they lack electricity and indoor toilets. They have no hospitals, no running water, and no schools. And there is unemployment too. Oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil bring in foreign workers for even the most menial jobs.

I recently took a trip to Yenagoa as part of a tour of three African countries-Nigeria, Chad, and Liberia-that may well fuel future U.S. energy needs. Historically, the United States has gotten two-thirds of its oil from other countries. Most U.S. oil imports come from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Canada. Increasingly, as the United States, China, and other nations expand their thirst for oil, and instability deepens in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming a more attractive source for crude. The U.S. National Intelligence Council estimates that Africa could supply 25% of U.S. oil by 2015.

The three countries I visited could well play a role in meeting that goal. Each is at different stages of oil production. In Nigeria, oil exploration dates back to 1956. In Chad, extraction started just three years ago. In Liberia, where I spent much of my childhood, the potential of oil off its expansive coastline holds hope for the future.

In each of these countries, a complex web of geo-political actors, from oil company executives and government officials to military agents, makes decisions that impact the lives in the communities that produce the oil that flows straight to consumers in the United States.
Nigerian Injustice

The residents of Yenagoa lack jobs and basic social services. What they do have in abundance is environmental damage from decades of oil spills, compounded by the constant burning of gas flares necessary to extract the crude. Farmland is rendered useless while rivers and waterways, once well-populated with marine life, are now barren. One local chief explained that he received from Shell oil 150 Naira ($1.15) for each acre of land used by the company. I was astonished when he went on to say, “150 Naira, once every four years.” With oil prices at historic highs, how could the compensation to communities long suffering the health impacts of oil spills and gas flares be such a pittance?

Military and security personnel blanket the area around Yenagoa to protect oil interests. The communities are under siege.

In Odi, a community adjacent to a well built in1958, villagers are demanding basic services like clean running water, electricity, and schools. The response from security agents has been severe. Our delegation watched in horror as one young man after another came forward to show fresh wounds from 5 days earlier. They told us that uniformed military men had grabbed 15 youths as they walked home from an adjacent village in the middle of the afternoon. The young men were beaten, tortured, and imprisoned, as a warning to others in the village. For almost a week, the youths languished in a prison miles away. Their family members were forced to walk for a day and a half to see them or bring them food in that decrepit prison. Their crime? Clamoring for basic rights.

As oil companies celebrate record profits and the price of oil hovers close to $65 per barrel, African communities ostensibly blessed with the curse of oil languish in squalor. In fact, with no useable farmland or waterways, many in Nigeria say that they are worse off than their grandparents were before the discovery of oil.
Hope in Chad?

Recognizing the plight of their neighbors in Nigeria, communities in Chad’s oil producing areas worked hard, even before the onset of oil production in 2003, to minimize environmental damage and maximize the benefits to communities from which the oil flows.

The 650-mile Chad-Cameroon pipeline (Africa’s biggest investment project) links landlocked Chad to world export markets through Cameroon’s port city of Douala. It was funded through loans and other support from the World Bank. Heroic measures initiated by activist, civil society, human rights, and religious community leaders led to a forward-looking revenue management law to manage the flow of oil revenues in a transparent way, ensuring resources for future generations.

However, the Chadian government has subverted its own revenue management law. It has diverted spending away from the original priorities of agriculture, health, and education and toward “security.” As a result, money that only now is beginning to flow from oil production is spent on weapons and other military equipment, instead of poverty reduction and the interests of future generations.

The oil wells in Chad are newer, so its oil-producing areas haven’t yet experienced the damage caused by decades of oil spills. However, gas flaring, with its related health and environmental damage, is an integral part of the production cycle. When the wind blows, the smell of the burning gas blankets villages miles away.

In a community near Doba, with gas flares as a backdrop, villagers told us about increased death and dying in the past few years from respiratory ailments and contaminated water supplies.

Meanwhile, in Chad’s fertile agricultural zone, mangoes, cotton, gum Arabic, and cattle are abundant. Yet there is not one factory transforming the raw produce into goods for domestic or international markets.

In spite of these challenges, Chadians maintain that their vigilance will minimize negative social and environmental impacts of oil and secure poverty reduction. Chad could easily feed itself and its neighbors if productive capacity were built in the agricultural sector. Oil revenue directed at building an education system, providing healthcare, as well as basic electricity, running water, and roads, could go a long way toward improving the condition of people’s lives.

Throughout the country, in spite of a recent coup attempt and the elections in April that the majority of people boycotted, Chadians remain hopeful. From the capital city to the Southern oil fields, everyone seemed confident that future generations will experience a better life.
Liberian Alternatives

Liberia, the third country I visited, has recently emerged from 25 years of war. People there are hopeful too, despite the 85% unemployment rate and the complete lack of functioning schools or healthcare.

Liberians hope that concessions now being granted for off-shore oil exploration will lead down the road to a new source of revenue. Liberia’s National Oil Company negotiated two contracts with the Nigeria-based Oranto Petroleum Limited and British-based Broadway Consolidated PLC. With exploration already underway, few in Liberia think that leaving the resource untouched is a viable option.

The key question is, whether and how Liberia can escape the oil curse that so clearly has hurt Nigeria, Angola, and other countries in Africa’s richly endowed Gulf of Guinea region.

One possibility is for countries like Liberia to consider alternative models for oil development. What, for example, can Liberia learn from Venezuela’s example of 61% national control of oil revenue and management? Or from Norway’s use of oil revenue to diversify the economy while advancing social services?

Like many Africans, I fear that oil companies look to Africa for its resource wealth without seeing the people. Resource-rich communities are dehumanized and the color line is ever present as the greatest profits flow steadily to wealthy white men who already control enormous wealth and power.

The price of oil has nearly tripled since President George W. Bush took office in 2001, yet the majority of the people who live in the countries from which the fuel flows still experience grinding poverty. Viewed side by side, the $10 billion quarterly profits of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, or Shell and the $1.15 per acre compensation paid (every four years) to some farmers in oil producing zones show just how unfair the global oil industry has become.

The next time you pull up to the pump, stop a moment and remember that the thick black crude is extracted from the earth’s crust at great social, political, and environmental cost. Then do whatever it is in your power to demand dignity and proper compensation for those whose land or sea may be cursed with the blessing of this natural resource.

EMIRA WOODS is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail