In the Gulf, a reporter jumps into oil-covered waters, in Washington a woman interrupts a hearing to pour oil over herself, and a BP executive is summoned to the White House. In the Niger Delta, half a world away there is only silence. Where children splashed and fishermen sang as they cast for shrimp and crabs there is now the kind of quiet you find in mortuaries, not estuaries.
Estimates say that up to 2.5 million gallons of oil could be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day. The Niger Delta has borne the brunt of some 546 million gallons over the past 50 years.
Let me type that again for you: five hundred and forty six million gallons of oil have been spilled in the Niger delta over the past five decades.
According to a New York Times article:
“The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage. In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest — soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses — but mostly resentful resignation.”
A third of the US’s crude oil comes from Nigeria, and though the Niger Delta region contributes nearly 80 percent of its government’s revenue, its inhabitants haven’t seen any benefits. Life expectancy there is the lowest in Nigeria and in addition to a loss of livelihood as most of the marine and bird life disappear, people of this area must deal with gas flares, polluted water, and government-sanctioned oil thieves.
“President Obama is worried about that one,” Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo. “Nobody is worried about this one. The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.”
Where is the media attention?
It reminds me of the 2006 toxic waste dump in Abidjan.
A Swiss-based shipping company dumped 500 tonnes of petrochemical waste from Europe at 15 sites in a city in which 5 million Ivoirians live. 17 people died and over 80 000 sought medical attention for injuries such as severe burns, respiratory distress, intestinal bleeding and eye irritation. I was in the U.S at the time and I did not hear about the event for months and when I did I definitely did not hear about it from the mainstream media
“ Trafigura [the shipping company] has denied any waste was transported from Holland, saying that the substances contained only tiny amounts of hydrogen sulfide, and that the company did not know the substance was to be disposed of improperly. In early 2007, the company paid US$198 million for cleanup to the Ivorian government without admitting wrongdoing, and the Ivorian government has pledged not to prosecute the company”
Of course these two events speak to several larger issues beyond biased media attention, in particular the environmental degradation and human rights violations that come along with the exploitation of natural resources in developing countries. Oil was recently discovered in Uganda, and while the government has already began spending imagined future revenues on Russian fighter jets, no one is asking the most important question, which is; Who exactly is going to benefit?
Meanwhile the UK company that discovered the oil, Heritage Oil, has the nerve to try to get out of paying tax for its $1.3 billion sale of the oil fields to another British company Tullow Oil.
History has proven many times over that when natural resources in developing countries are exploited by foreign multinationals, it is rarely the people who benefit. Those dying in Mulago Hospital will NEVER see a shilling of the profits from oil exploration in Uganda. The people in the Lake Albert Rift are likely to see more damage than good from the oil that has been discovered under their feet. Oil must be the most environmentally destructive energy source and the corporate and governmental entities that exploit it will not let little annoyances like oh, human, plant and animal life get in the way of making obscene sums of money.
We should be worried, not excited by the discovery of oil in Uganda, and I for one, would like to be the first to tell companies like Tullow and Heritage to GTFO of my country.