Almost as regularly as the US bombs oil-rich Iraq, an oil pipeline of one multinational or other bursts somewhere in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. President Clinton has just returned from Africa’s most populous country. He went to Nigeria’s capital Abuja, but angering many, he canceled his trip south to the Delta.
Last month, it was Chevron’s pipeline that exploded. After demanding compensation, a spokesperson for 26 communities near the oil city of Warri called on Clinton to intervene. It seems that as community leaders headed off for a meeting called by Chevron, they got word from back home that their communities had been taken over by a combined team of soldiers and naval personnel with two gunboats.
And the militarization of the Delta is only increasing. The Niger Delta is on fire. Last October’s explosion of a gas pipeline in Nigeria’s oil producing region has killed more than 700 people. Once again a leaky pipeline leads to tragedy and is so often the case in Nigeria, the military regime and the transnational oil companies without presenting any evidence call it sabotage. The reason is simple; that way the military dictator, General Abdasalami Abubakar rules out compensation for the families of the deceased as he flies to the scene in a Shell Oil helicopter.
Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, cranking out more than 2 million barrels per day, it suffers from massive fuel shortages for it’s own people. It’s no surprise that thousands flock to the leaky pipeline with cups and cans to scoop up what gas they could, their bodies found charred still holding those cups. But are they thieves and vandals as the Associated Press called them? The terms might be more appropriate for the past and Present leaders of Nigeria, one of the world’s largest cleptocracries. Fuel shortages are merely one part of a greater frustration felt throughout the Niger Delta. Perhaps the most powerful symbol of the Delta is the gas flare. Hundreds as high as buildings burning night and day. In some cases these flares have roared continuously for 40 years since oil was discovered in Nigeria. Ogowni activist ken Saru-Wiwa spoke often of the irony of children in the Niger Delta, growing up without electricity but who have never known a dark night, living in the shadow of the flame.
But now a new fire is burning in the Delta, it is the rage of millions of people kept in desperate poverty, providing power to the most powerful countries in the world while being kept powerless themselves. Five years after the hanging of Ken Sara-Wiwa and eight other minority rights activists, communities from the Delta have shut down a third of the country’s oil production through unprecedented acts of resistance infuriating trans-national oil corporations and their Nigerian military business partners. Helicopters, barges and oil mining facilities belonging to corporations like Shell, Chevron, Mobil and Texaco are being seized in protest of horrid living conditions and environmental devastation.
Today we’ll look at one of the protests that took place last May in the Niger Delta, and the response of one of the trans-national corporations, Chevron, the third largest oil company in Nigeria.
San Francisco-based Chevron gave the Democratic Party $100,000 to help pay for the 2000 National Convention in Los Angeles. This is a company that facilitated the killing of unarmed civilians in an attack by the feared Nigerian Navy and notorious Mobile Police (MOPOL) in the oil-producing Niger delta as we documented in our 1998 documentary "Drilling & Killing" which won George Polk, Project Censored, Golden Reel & Overseas Press Club awards. In an interview with Democracy NOW!, a Chevron official acknowledged that on May 28, 1998, the company transported Nigerian soldiers to their Parabe oil platform and barge in the Niger Delta, which dozens of community activists had occupied. The protesters were demanding that Chevron contribute more to the development of the impoverished oil region where they live.
In the interview, Chevron spokesperson Sola Omole was asked:
Q: Who took them in, on Thursday morning, the Mobile Police, the Navy?
A: We did. We did. Chevron did. We took them there.
Q: By how?
A: Helicopters, yes, we took them in.
Q: Who authorized the call for the military to come in?
A: That’s Chevron’s management.
Soon after landing in Chevron-leased helicopters, the Nigerian military shot to death two protesters, Jola Ogungbeje and Aroleka Irowaninu, and wounded several others. The eleven activists were detained for three weeks. During their imprisonment, one activist said he was handcuffed and hung from a ceiling fan hook for hours for refusing to sign a statement written by Nigerian federal authorities.
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