The Role and Responsibility of Oil Multinationals in Nigeria

Article excerpt

The role played by the oil multinationals in Nigeria has received increasing attention in recent years as protest against oil production has grown, and with it the repressive response of the Nigerian government. Shell in particular, the largest producer in Nigeria, has faced a barrage of criticism over its activities in the country. This criticism reached a height in 1994 and 1995, when the government suppressed anti-Shell protests by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), executing MOSOP leader and internationally known author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists in November 1995. While the Ogoni crisis is no longer in the headlines, and while the June 1998 death of General Sani Abacha ended a period of unprecedented repression in Nigeria--allowing elections that have led to the installation of the first civilian government in 16 years--protest and repression in Nigeria's oil-producing regions have, if anything, increased.

In particular, youths from the Ijaw ethnic group, Nigeria's fourth largest and the dominant group in the riverine areas of the Niger Delta, have begun to mobilize across the fragmented territories and linguistic sub-groups of the Ijaw people, along the same lines as MOSOP. While the Ogoni are a small group of approximately half a million, the Ijaw number at least 8 million people and live in some of the areas richest in oil deposits. In December 1998 a group of Ijaw youths formed the "Ijaw Youth Council" and adopted the "Kaiama Declaration," a radical manifesto similar to MOSOP's "Ogoni Bill of Rights." The initiative claimed ownership of mineral resources by those living in areas where they are produced, even though the Nigerian constitution provides that all minerals are owned by the federal government. The declaration called for oil companies "to withdraw from Ijaw territories by 30 December 1998, pending the resolution of the issue of resource ownership and control in the Ijaw area of the Niger Delta."(1) On 28 December the Ijaw Youth Council announced the launch of "Operation Climate Change," involving activities aimed at shutting down gas flares, to run from 1 to 10 January 1999.(2) On 30 December several thousand youths supporting the Kaiama Declaration held demonstrations in a number of communities across Ijawland. These demonstrations were peaceful in most places, but in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, a heavy-handed security force response led to confrontations over the next few days between youths, soldiers and nearby communities, resulting in the deaths of dozens of youths, most of them unarmed, as well as two or three soldiers.(3)

There is every likelihood that protests of this type will continue under the civilian government headed by President (and former military ruler) Olusegun Obasanjo, who took office at the end of May 1999 following elections in February There is also serious violence among several of the different ethnic groups who live in the oil-producing regions, especially in the Western Delta. Similar to violence elsewhere in Nigeria, this conflict centers on control of political power and patronage, in which matters such as the location of local government authorities play a key role. In the Delta, however, the violence is exacerbated by the presence of the oil companies and the competition for contracts and other benefits of oil company favor. Although oil production has so far largely remained at levels approximating the quota for Nigeria set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), individual oil companies have at different times been forced to delay delivery on particular contracts for the supply of crude as a result of the ongoing unrest. Shell, for example, produced only 700,000 barrels per day (b/d) from August to December 1998, falling short of its production quota of 830,000 b/d set in July 1998, and shorter still of an average 899,000 b/d during 1997.(4)

Under these circumstances, all oil companies operating in Nigeria can expect to remain the focus of both domestic and international attention. …