[DEBATE] : Review of The Next Gulf
soenke.zehle at web.de
Fri Apr 7 13:10:46 BST 2006
home >> NEWSLETTERS >> Newsletter >> 8 - BOOK REVIEW: THE NEXT GULF
2006 is the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery by Shell of large oil
reserves in the Niger Delta. The day I write this review, news has been
announced that Exxon plans to invest over $2 billion in Nigeria to
ensure a steady production capacity of 1 million barrels per day. Ten
years after the judicial murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa, how much has changed
in the world of Nigerian oil?
Only a few weeks ago Shell was instructed by a Nigerian court to pay
$1.5 billion to the people of Ijawland in compensation for pollution.
Shell, whose profits for 2005 exceeded £13 billion has refused to pay.
Now decades of struggle for control of the oil and peaceful protest
against the ecological devastation wreaked by the oil industry has given
way to armed resistance and kidnappings of oil workers.
Released last year to commemmorate the 10th anniversary of the execution
of Ogoni activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, The Next
Gulf by Andy Rowell, James Marriott, and Lorne Stockman investigates the
appalling history of the oil industry in Nigeria, particularly
documenting the recent history since 1995 after the media's attention
moved on to other things.
1995 was a crisis year for Shell. After the Brent Spar protests, the
death of Saro-Wiwa ignited a public relations crisis and a collapse of
morale within the company. Shell embarked on an unprecedented public
relations campaign to rebrand itself as an open caring and responsive
company. Glossy reports, such as Profits and Principles, followed and
selected journalists were invited on tours of the region. The previously
obscure concept of 'corporate social responsibility', became Shell's
mantra. Whilst Shell was forced to pull out of the small Ogoni region,
for the rest of the delta little has changed. Shell and the other oil
companies continue to pollute the land, water and air, whilst denying
all responsibility. In 2005 Shell's non-executive chairman, Lord
Oxburgh, even claimed that the hated gas flares were a positive benefit,
'the locals appreciate the flares as a heat source to dry their fish.'
The book also traces a detailed history of Nigeria since the British
takeover in the 17th Century. It illuminates the long centuries of
exploitation, administered by the Royal African Company (founded 1672)
and its sucessor, the Royal Niger Company (1886), through slavery and
then palm oil and other industrial products, up to the modern era of oil
production. It shows how Shell and the Nigerian government have become
intertwined and interdependent and how the oil giant has profitted from
the brutal military repression of the people of the Delta and from
inter-ethnic conflicts in the region. It details also the corruption
which is endemic to the oil industry in Nigeria.
In December 2003 a report by Shell's consultants WAC was leaked. The
report, examining the poltical situation in the Niger Delta, concluded
that Shell's own operations there are actually fuelling the inter-ethnic
violence and warned that Shell may lose its social license to operate
throughout the whole region. Predictably, this part of the report was
dismissed by Shell which maintains that it can keep going by changing
'operating, security and community development practices.' In 2004
Christian Aid's report Behind The Mask found that Shell's CSR programme
in Nigeria had utterly failed to deliver real benefit to the Delta's people.
Appalling though the history of Nigeria is, it is the authors'
examination of the area's likely future that is most chilling. In recent
years, with the security of Middle Eastern oil supplies becoming a
source of deep anxiety to American energy interests, the hungry eyes of
the White House have turned towards the Gulf of Guinea and identified it
as a source of strategic interest. US arms and military advisers are now
pouring into Nigeria to protect new investments in Nigerian oil.
The Next Gulf is a highly authoritative work of history and politics but
it also contains many poignant and personal reflections. In a number of
different ways the authors attempt to show how many facets of British
life are intimately connected to the Niger Delta, just how much of our
lifestyle is made possible by oil. The book quotes Ogoni leader Ledum
Mitee, 'When I travel outside Nigeria people often ask me how far away
Ogoni is. I tell them it's as far as the nearest Shell service station.'
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