- Oil corporations in the Niger Delta seriously threaten the livelihood of neighboring local communities. Due to
the many forms of oil-generated environmental pollution evident throughout the region, farming and fishing
have become impossible or extremely difficult in oil-affected areas, and even drinking water has become scarce.
Malnourishment and disease appear common.
- The presence of multinational oil companies has had additional adverse effects on the local economy and
society, including loss of property, price inflation, prostitution, and irresponsible fathering by expatriate oil
- Organized protest and activism by affected communities regularly meet with military repression, sometimes
ending in the loss of life. In some cases military forces have been summoned and assisted by oil companies.
- Reporting on the situation is extremely difficult, due to the existence of physical and legal constraints to free
passage and free circulation of information. Similar constraints discourage grassroots activism.
There is a long and terrible record of environmental
destruction and human rights violations in the oil-producing
regions of Nigeria. The gross level of environmental
degradation caused by oil exploration and extraction in the
Niger Delta has gone unchecked for the past 30 years.
Evidence shows that the oil companies operating in Nigeria
have not only disregarded their responsibility towards the
environment but have acted in complicity with the military's
repression of Nigerian citizens. The profit-driven collusion
between multinational oil companies and the past
and present Nigerian governments has cost many lives and
continues to threaten the stability of the region.
The authors of this report spent ten days in the Niger
Delta (Sept. 8-18, 1999) visiting communities that have
been affected by the operations of the following multinational
corporations: Shell, Mobil, Agip and Elf. Plans to
visit areas in Delta State near Chevron Corporation facilities
were canceled due to the instability in those areas.
However, while in Nigeria, we interviewed individuals
who gave personal accounts alleging Chevron's involvement
in recent killings in the Delta. We also met with a
group of U.S. lawyers who were in Nigeria at the time
gathering information to substantiate lawsuits against
Chevron in U.S. courts.1
During our visits, we met with community residents,
leaders of community groups, and state and local government
officials. Despite efforts to arrange meetings with
representatives of the oil companies, we were only granted
one meeting with a representative of Shell. Based on
the testimonies of those we met, as well as on our own
observations, we conclude that oil extraction and the
related operations of multinational oil corporations pose
a serious threat to the livelihood of the people of the
Tensions in the Niger Delta continue to erupt into violence
as natural resources vital to local communities' survival are
destroyed by oil operations. Environmental and social justice
for the people of the Niger Delta remain central issues
for achieving peace in the region. As long as people's calls
for justice continue to be ignored and resisted by both
multinational oil corporations and the Nigerian government,
the situation in the Delta can only deteriorate.
Many ethnic groups in the Niger Delta have produced declarations
and bills of rights that call for autonomy in the
management and control of local natural resources. We
believe that the survival of a large number of Niger Delta
communities is now dependent on their ability to establish
their entitlement to local resources.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is also one of the best endowed in terms of natural resources.
Yet, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. As is the case with many oil-rich developing countries, oil
reserves have proved a mixed blessing for Nigeria. Since 1974, only 14 years after independence, oil production
for export has been by far the main source of revenue for the government. Today, oil sales account for more than
40 percent of GDP, 80 percent of the government's budgetary revenue, and more than 95 percent of exports. With
an average production of approximately 2 million barrels per day, Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil produc-ers.
However, due to a persistent fall in oil prices, Nigeria's external debt has risen to an unprecedented level in
the last decade; inflation is rampant, and per capita GNP has fallen to levels comparable to or lower than those
estimated in the mid 1960s, when oil exploration began in earnest..
The oil industry has expanded in Nigeria at the expense of
other previously important production sectors, such as agriculture
and manufacturing. This has created regional imbalances
and an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth
between different sectors of society,2
deepening the potential
for conflict in this complex multi-ethnic nation.
The Niger Delta, one of the world's largest wetlands, and the
site of most of Nigeria's biodiversity, is also the area where
the main oil reserves are found. Almost one third of Nigeria's
oil is shipped directly to the US. Most of the balance is sent
to other countries, mainly in Europe, and very little remains
in Nigeria for refinement and consumption. During the last
four decades, hundreds of billions worth of crude oil have
been extracted from the Niger Delta wetlands, earning huge
profits for a privileged few, while virtually robbing the affected
communities of both life and livelihood.
In addition to a clear lack of access to this locally produced
resource, the inhabitants of the Niger Delta region have seen
few benefits from the large-scale operations carried out in the
proximity of their communities. In fact, in their comprehensive
3-year long study, Human Rights Watch states that
"Despite the vast wealth produced from the oil found under
the Delta, the region remains poorer than the national average;
and […] the divisions between the rich and poor are more
obvious in the areas where gas flares light up the night sky."3
Though oil companies claim that their operations are carried
out according to the highest environmental standards,4
indisputable that they have had a severe impact on the environment,
and on agricultural and fish production throughout
the Niger Delta region. Many communities report they
rarely receive any or sufficient compensation for land taken
by oil companies, or rendered useless by oil spills, acid rain,
and other forms of pollution.5
Moreover, protests against
environmental degradation and loss of land rights by local
communities have frequently met with violent repression by
the various police and security bodies with the complicity of
the oil companies.
The main multinational oil companies operating in the
region are Shell (accounting for more than 40 percent of the
volume of production), Mobil and Chevron, in that order.
Other companies with significant presence in the Delta are
the Italian company Agip, France's Elf-Aquitaine (commonly
known as Elf), and Texaco. All of these companies operate on
the basis of a joint venture with the Nigerian government.
Nigeria is a country with approximately 300 different ethnic
groups, each with its own language, culture, customs and traditional
forms of government (see map 2 at the end of this
report). The people we encountered during our trip identified
themselves with their ethnic group before identifying as
Nigerian citizens. Both oil companies and the government/military
benefit from, and in some cases exploit, ethnic differences
in the Delta, which divide and weaken local communities.
Even before independence, politics have been dominated by the
three majority groups: the Yoruba, who are predominant in the
west, the Hausa-Fulani, in the north, and the Igbo, in the south.
Many minority communities of the Niger Delta feel they have
been excluded from political participation and the economic
and social benefits enjoyed by dominant majority groups.
The country of Nigeria came into existence in 1914, when
two British colonial protectorates were amalgamated into one
territorial unit. This act arbitrarily brought together hundreds
of distinct ethnic and political groups. The country gained its
independence in 1960. Since then it has been ruled primarily
by military dictatorship. The most repressive regime was the
one of General Sani Abacha (1993-1998). Upon Abacha's
death in 1998, General Abdusalami Abubakar took control for
a short period and allowed elections to proceed. Although it
was acknowledged that there had been widespread fraud during
the elections, the pressure to transition Nigeria to so-called
democratic rule was so great that the election's results
were certified by international observers. On May 29, 1999,
former General Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria's first
civilian president since 1993. When our delegation arrived,
Obasanjo had been in office for 100 days.