Mar 31, 2003
Within a few days of each other, Royal Dutch-Shell, a British-Dutch company, the American Chevron-Texaco, and the French company TotalFinaElf announced that they were closing their sites in the Niger River delta. This will have grave consequences in this country where "black gold" accounts for 96% of its export income.
The oil companies justify their decision by citing the climate of violence that exists throughout the region. For a period of time now, the Niger delta has been, in fact, the scene of violent conflicts between the oil companies' armies, backed up by the Nigerian army, on one side, and the ethnic majority of the region, the Ijaws, on the other side. There have already been dozens of deaths on both sides.
The Ijaws are claiming financial compensation for the damage these companies have caused. Over the decades in which they have been there, the oil companies have not only pillaged the resources of the region, they have also gravely polluted the area, and in particular the delta swamps where fishing is the principal activity of the local populations. And the anger of the population has been heightened by the demands that the government forces make on their villages. The enormous dividends from the oil go overwhelmingly to the stockholders of the big oil companies, and to those who make up the regime and the army, rather than to the populations who remain trapped in misery and underdevelopment.
This is not the first time the people of the Nigerian delta have rebelled, only to face a ferocious repression. In 1995, the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, was tried and then hanged by the regime of General Abacha. Nonetheless, these rebellions have obliged the oil trusts to make some gestures toward the local population, by limiting the damage to the environment and by giving aid for development.