With its 120 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. Independent since 1960, this Federal Republic gathers 36 States of the Territory and close to 200 ethnic groups.
The economy of the country was formerly based on a surplus agriculture which allowed the export of foodstuffs and a relative prosperity. But in the 80s, average per capita income fell from more than $ 1000 to less than $ 300. In the Niger Delta, pollution is such that it has become dangerous for the lives of inhabitants, rebellions, police violence, murders, executions and industrial "accidents" are countless. Why ? Because the region sits on one of the most fabulous oil reserves in the world….
Nigeria is indeed the 7e world producer for 2 million barrels produced every day. Oil is of course exploited by Western companies, as a joint venture or on the basis of other agreements with the state. Even though Nigeria is a member of OPEC, there is no obligation on the money returned to the country and most importantly, there is no control over the destination of this money. This is (to a great extent) the source of the political instability in this country, where getting power means getting your hands on a colossal source of income!
Production is mainly concentrated in the Niger Delta in the south of the country. This marshy area is populated by several ethnic groups that exploit the mangrove and some fields. But pollution caused by oil spills is such that dirty soil and water become unsuitable for agriculture, fishing and consumption. The air is saturated by the burning of gases and the acid rain finishes to denature the soil and the forest. This state of affairs poses both public health problems and social problems, as unemployment is hard on those regions where men can no longer work in the fields or fishing.
Oil revenues represent 65% of the state budget, but only 5% goes to the producing regions. In addition to all the inconveniences described above, they are left in a state of underdevelopment by the central government. No drinking water, roads, electricity, schools or hospitals worthy of the name ... and repeated shortages of gas! The population is trying to take advantage of manna in its own way ... by siphoning pipe-lines. 800 was vandalized between January and October 2000, a loss equivalent to 4 billion dollars for the 2000 year. This gives an idea of the magnitude of the traffic, but the price is heavy: in October 1998, 1000 people were killed in the explosion of a line, 250 people in July 2000, 60 in December 2000 ....
The actions of protest multiplied, sometimes very violent and repressed with an equivalent violence. In October 1995, the hanging of environmentalist writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his companions moves the international community. His rigged trial earned Nigeria his expulsion from the Commonwealth. However, the situation continued to deteriorate to the point where companies were sometimes forced to lower their production and repatriate their employees.
Since 1999 (and the eviction of military regimes), the situation has improved a bit. The oil companies and the government buy a little social peace by participating in the development of the region. Ecological solutions would even be studied. It is legitimate to think that this pacification is not foreign to the interest that the United States succumbs to the discovery of gigantic reserves in the Gulf of Guinea. The United States is seeking to distance itself from its traditional ally, Saudi Arabia. They must therefore find new and more accessible resources (Iraq) (Africa). By March 2000, American tankers had announced their intention to invest in the region. The visits to Africa by C. Powell and G. Bush in 2002 had no other purpose than to approach potential heads of state-partners. In Nigeria, oil is in the south. An independent state in the south, riddled with a central government that levies huge royalties and whose negligence has led to declines in production would be ideal for oil companies. This prospect may have weighed in the easing of central government policy, as well as probably other US proposals.
We can therefore fear that this appeasement will last only the time to meet the needs of tankers. With the problems of an agriculture struggling to feed a growing population, the radicalization of Islamists in the north and the battles for oil that are getting ready, the room for maneuver for a final peace is very slim.
Sources / Links:
– Nigeria and oil, summary article
- Very complete article but in English: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/nigeria.html
- The multiple fractures of Nigeria by Joëlle Stolz, Le Monde diplatique, February 99: http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/1999/02/STOLZ/11638
- The anger of the communities of the delta, Afrique Relance (United Nations), June 99: http://www.un.org/french/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol13no1/deltafr.htm
- Oil: a double-edged economic asset, Afrique Relance (United Nations), June 99: http://www.un.org/french/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol13no1/petrole.htm
- Offensive on African black gold by Jean-Christophe Servant, Le monde diplomatique, January 2003: