Tag Archives: Oil

My grandmother was a fisherwoman………

she used to fish on the Sombrero River and the adjoining creeks but then came the  oil, and  greed, and pollution and war, now most of the fish are dead, fat men and women fight over the overspill of their bellies and men with guns terrorize people trying to live in peace!  This could be a long story and maybe one day it will be but for now….

From Platform London

The picture above captioned as A Niger Delta Village In the 1960s (Before Oil) has sparked much discussion on online forums in Nigeria. While there have been debates about its veracity, what is interesting is the way that it provides a catalyst for people’s memories about the region before oil.

Here is one comment that I find particularly moving and evocative:

As a young Niger Delta boy even in the early 70s such good looking natural environment existed in the Niger Delta.

1. I remembered going to pick periwinkles in the swarms meeting blue coloured water that is reflecting the blue skies in a hot afternoon like that.

2. I remembered especially on a rainy day and especially at night going to creeks with only Calabash and bare hands coming home with good catch of fishes

3. I remembered using such clean (so to say) sea waters tasting salty to soak my garri padling my canoe while returning from Kaa or Iyanaba market

4. I remembered not bothering about tap water every morning to bath to school but jumping into this river like you do in this modern day swimming pole, wash mysely come out robe high scenting pomade and off to school

5. I remembered having my canoe capsided on the sea and I swarm to safety without any polluted water with oil to choke me

6. But I also remembered afterwards on Sobiekiri river many canoes with people on the water, someone mistakenly threw a cigaret stub on the water and it caught fire and so many people were burnt to dead including good swimmers who jumped into the river to see if they could dive past the burning oil on the water


50 years on and Shell STILL has not cleaned up it’s mess – despite the 2011 UN Environmental Programme’s  [UNEP] damming report on Shell’s and the NNPC activities

The report found that, without exception, all the water bodies in Ogoni was polluted by the activities of oil companies – Shell Petroleum Development Company (Shell) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Indeed the report stated that some of what the people took as potable water had carcinogens, such as benzene, up to 900 times above World Health Organisation standards. The report also revealed that at some places in Ogoniland, the soil is polluted with hydrocarbons to a depth of five (5) metres.

The UNEP report revealed that the Ogoni homeland had indeed been turned into an “ecological disaster,” as the Bill of Rights asserted. We remind ourselves that the UNEP report made recommendations that most of us saw as low hanging fruits that government could easily have responded to assuage the pains of the people and commence a process of restoring the territory to an acceptable state. The apparent inaction is nothing but a squandering of opportunities to rescue a people and for impactful political action.

A total clean up of Ogoni land will take a life time or about thirty years at the least. That is the length of time UNEP estimates it would require to clean up the water bodies in the territory. And it would require an additional five (5) years to clean up the land. How is that a lifetime? Well, life expectancy in the Niger Delta stands at approximately forty-one years.



“We Remember Differently” – Oil is Everything in Nigeria

From Bella Naija – Chimanada Ngozi Adiche responds to some of the criticism of Chinua Achebe’s memoir “There Was a Country”.   I finished reading ‘There Was a Country’ a few days ago and was contemplating my own response to some of the critical reviews of the book.  Fortunately for me Adichie has said nearly everything I wanted to say and probably much better too.   She unlike Achebe’s few lines of reference and unlike all of the reviews I have read, has at least mentioned  one of the two elephants in the room – the Biafrian minorities.     My memory of this period is a vague which probably shows that the war had little impact on our lives.  I do know that our Igbo workers did not leave the compound and there were large numbers of soldiers and check points everywhere – something which has never gone away.    In that sense it was a frightening time – the soldiers were frightening.  Young men with machine guns and red eyes and limited vocabulary.   I do know that families were split between those  who supported Nigeria and those supporting Biafra.   My parents were on the Nigerian side – then.  The Biafran side were in Port Harcourt or thereabouts.    A good question to ask is how much choice did minorities  have but to stay when Biafra was declared and they woke up to find they were in another country?

The other elephant in the room is oil.  I do think it’s worth asking the questions – Would there have  been a war without oil? Would there have been a secession?  Would there have been a succession of coups?  Because Oil is everything in Nigeria.   It would be another 20 years of dance and thievery in what was known as the ‘oil boom’ for some and for others the ‘oil doom’ before the Ogoni people, drowning in oil polluted swamps, would rise up and set in motion a new consciousness amongst Nigerian minorities of the east.
“Chinua Achebe at 82: “We Remember Differently” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

” I have met Chinua Achebe only three times. The first, at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, I joined the admiring circle around him. A gentle-faced man in a wheelchair.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Chimamanda Adichie,” I said, and he replied, mildly, “I thought you were running away from me.”

I mumbled, nervous, grateful for the crush of people around us. I had been running away from him. After my first novel was published, I received an email from his son. My dad has just read your novel and liked it very much. He wants you to call him at this number. I read it over and over, breathless with excitement. But I never called. A few years later, my editor sent Achebe a manuscript of my second novel. She did not tell me, because she wanted to shield me from the possibility of disappointment. One afternoon, she called. “Chimamanda, are you sitting down? I have wonderful news.” She read me the blurb Achebe had just sent her. We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made. Afterwards, I held on to the phone and wept. I have memorized those words. In my mind, they glimmer still, the validation of a writer whose work had validated me.

I grew up writing imitative stories. Of characters eating food I had never seen and having conversations I had never heard. They might have been good or bad, those stories, but they were emotionally false, they were not mine. Then came a glorious awakening: Chinua Achebe’s fiction. Here were familiar characters who felt true; here was language that captured my two worlds; here was a writer writing not what he felt he should write but what he wanted to write. His work was free of anxiety, wore its own skin effortlessly. It emboldened me, not to find my voice, but to speak in the voice I already had. And so, when that e-mail came from his son, I knew, overly-thrilled as I was, that I would not call. His work had done more than enough. In an odd way, I was so awed, so grateful, that I did not want to meet him. I wanted some distance between my literary hero and me.

Chinua Achebe and I have never had a proper conversation. The second time I saw him, at a luncheon in his honor hosted by the British House of Lords, I sat across from him and avoided his eye. (“Chinua Achebe is the only person I have seen you shy with,” a friend said). The third, at a New York event celebrating fifty years of THINGS FALL APART, we crowded around him backstage, Edwidge Danticat and I, Ha Jin and Toni Morrison, Colum McCann and Chris Abani. We seemed, magically, bound together in a warm web, all of us affected by his work. Achebe looked pleased, but also vaguely puzzled by all the attention. He spoke softly, the volume of his entire being turned to ‘low.’ I wanted to tell him how much I admired his integrity, his speaking out about the disastrous leadership in my home state of Anambra, but I did not. Before I went on stage, he told me, “Jisie ike.” I wondered if he fully grasped, if indeed it was possible to, how much his work meant to so many.

History and civics, as school subjects, function not merely to teach facts but to transmit more subtle things, like pride and dignity. My Nigerian education taught me much, but left gaping holes. I had not been taught to imagine my pre-colonial past with any accuracy, or pride, or complexity. And so Achebe’s work, for me, transcended literature. It became personal. ARROW OF GOD, my favorite, was not just about the British government’s creation of warrant chiefs and the linked destinies of two men, it became the life my grandfather might have lived. THINGS FALL APART is the African novel most read — and arguably most loved — by Africans, a novel published when ‘African novel’ meant European accounts of ‘native’ life. Achebe was an unapologetic member of the generation of African writers who were ‘writing back,’ challenging the stock Western images of their homeland, but his work was not burdened by its intent. It is much-loved not because Achebe wrote back, but because he wrote back well. His work was wise, humorous, human. For many Africans, THINGS FALL APART remains a gesture of returned dignity, a literary and an emotional experience; Mandela called Achebe the writer in whose presence the prison walls came down.

Achebe’s most recent book, his long-awaited memoir of the Nigerian-Biafra war, is both sad and angry, a book by a writer looking back and mourning Nigeria’s failures. I wish THERE WAS A COUNTRY had been better edited and more rigorously detailed in its account of the war. But these flaws do not make it any less seminal: an account of the most important event in Nigeria’s history by Nigeria’s most important storyteller.

An excerpt from the book has ignited great controversy among Nigerians. In it, Achebe, indignant about the millions of people who starved to death in Biafra, holds Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian Finance Minister during the war, responsible for the policy of blockading Biafra. He quote’s Awolowo’s own words on the blockade — ‘all is fair in war and starvation is one of the weapons of war. I don’t see why we should feed our enemies fat in order for them to fight harder’ and then argues that Awolowo’s support of the blockade was ‘driven by an overriding ambition for power for himself in particular and for the advancement of his Yoruba people in general.’

I have been startled and saddened by the responses to this excerpt. Many are blindingly ethnic, lacking in empathy and, most disturbing of all, lacking in knowledge. We can argue about how we interpret the facts of our shared history, but we cannot, surely, argue about the facts themselves. Awolowo, as de facto ‘number two man’ on the Nigerian side, was a central architect of the blockade on Biafra. During and after the war, Awolowo publicly defended the blockade. Without the blockade, the massive starvation in Biafra would not have occurred. These are the facts.

Some Nigerians, in responding to Achebe, have argued that the blockade was fair, as all is fair in war. The blockade was, in my opinion, inhumane and immoral. And it was unnecessary — Nigeria would have won anyway, it was the much-better-armed side in a war that Wole Soyinka called a shabby unequal conflict. The policy of starving a civilian population into surrender does not merely go against the Geneva conventions, but in this case, a war between siblings, people who were formerly fellow country men and women now suddenly on opposite sides, it seems more chilling. All is not fair in war. Especially not in a fratricidal war. But I do not believe the blockade was a calculated power grab by Awolowo for himself and his ethnic group; I think of it, instead, as one of the many dehumanizing acts that war, by its nature, brings about.

Awolowo was undoubtedly a great political leader. He was also — rare for Nigerian leaders — a great intellectual. No Nigerian leader has, arguably, articulated a political vision as people-centered as Awolowo’s. For Nigerians from the west, he was the architect of free primary education, of progressive ideas. But for Nigerians from the east, he was a different man. I grew up hearing, from adults, versions of Achebe’s words about Awolowo. He was the man who prevented an Igbo man from leading the Western House of Assembly in the famous ‘carpet crossing’ incident of 1952. He was the man who betrayed Igbo people when he failed on his alleged promise to follow Biafra’s lead and pull the Western region out of Nigeria. He was the man who, in the words of my uncle, “made Igbo people poor because he never liked us.”

At the end of the war, every Igbo person who had a bank account in Nigeria was given twenty pounds, no matter how much they had in their accounts before the war. I have always thought this a livid injustice. I know a man who worked in a multinational company in 1965. He was, like Achebe, one of the many Igbo who just could not believe that their lives were in danger in Lagos and so he fled in a hurry, at the last minute, leaving thousands of pounds in his account. After the war, his account had twenty pounds. To many Igbo, this policy was uncommonly punitive, and went against the idea of ‘no victor, no vanquished.’ Then came the indigenization decree, which moved industrial and corporate power from foreign to Nigerian hands. It made many Nigerians wealthy; much of the great wealth in Nigeria today has its roots in this decree. But the Igbo could not participate; they were broke.

I do not agree, as Achebe writes, that one of the main reasons for Nigeria’s present backwardness is the failure to fully reintegrate the Igbo. I think Nigeria would be just as backward even if the Igbo had been fully integrated — institutional and leadership failures run across all ethnic lines. But the larger point Achebe makes is true, which is that the Igbo presence in Nigerian positions of power has been much reduced since the war. Before the war, many of Nigeria’s positions of power were occupied by Igbo people, in the military, politics, academia, business. Perhaps because the Igbo were very receptive to Western education, often at the expense of their own traditions, and had both a striving individualism and a communal ethic. This led to what, in history books, is often called a ‘fear of Igbo domination’ in the rest of Nigeria. The Igbo themselves were insensitive to this resentment, the bombast and brashness that is part of Igbo culture only exacerbated it. And so leading Igbo families entered the war as Nigeria’s privileged elite but emerged from it penniless, stripped and bitter.

Today, ‘marginalization’ is a popular word in Igboland. Many Igbo feel marginalized in Nigeria, a feeling based partly on experience and partly on the psychology of a defeated people. (Another consequence of this psychology, perhaps, is the loss of the communal ethic of the Igbo, much resented sixty years ago. It is almost non-existent today, or as my cousin eloquently put it: Igbo people don’t even send each other.)

Some responses to Achebe have had a ‘blame the victim’ undertone, suggesting that Biafrians started the war and therefore deserved what they got. But Biafrians did not ‘start the war.’ Nobody with a basic knowledge of the facts can make that case.

Continue reading on Bella Naija


Not a pretty picture: A short documentary on Nigeria

Via Sahara Reporters TV

Trust no body – will the real Nigeria stand up.

Will the real Nigeria stand up.  


Ed Kashi who produced the photo journal “Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta” in 2008 recently returned to the Niger Delta for 7 weeks.   Kashi’s photos vividly captures the way oil invades peoples lives on all levels. From the oil infested rivers and ponds, the pollution from gas flares, pipelines running through villages and the poverty of peoples lives to the rise of the various militant groups including MEND.

He returned to Nigeria to shoot some video in Bayelsa State and publishes excerpts from his dairy which capture the farcical disorganised bureaucracy and sheer frustration at getting anything done in Nigeria. Nigeria is full of farce and irony. The capital of Bayelsa State, Yenagoa is as far removed from the modern showcase that is Abuja, [which was built on money obtained from the oil produced in Bayelsa and elsewhere in the Delta] as you can imagine. I wonder how many residents and visitors to Abuja consider the cost of the city to those in the far outposts of South Eastern Nigeria. Not very many I am sure. To return to the diary…

May 15, 2009

Yenagoa….this is the capital city of the federal state of Bayelsa, which is only 12 years old. They have put me up in the bosom of the state, the Government House, a large compound for hosting guests and dignitaries. I have not been put in the VIP building. The furniture is broken, many of the lights don’t work, the TV is useless, there is no internet, the bed is a piece of foam on a piece of plywood, and it’s not clean. On the bright side, there is electricity, a functioning air conditioner and some lights. I have to focus on what I do have, not what I don’t, otherwise I’d go downhill fast.

This is so typical of Nigeria. I am in a grand compound, with a sense of decrepit grandeur on the surface. Yet inside so much is broken, unfinished or just done poorly. The irony is, being hosted by the government I have less than I would in one of the privately owned guest hotels in the town.


A woman dressed in Sunday best negotiates the crossing of 9 pipelines running in front of the houses. Photos by Ed Kashi

The last sentences encapsulates the essence of Nigeria – A grand country which on first sight gives one a sense of a slightly decrepit land. Scratch the surface and you find much that is broken, unfinished, doesn’t work or is just done poorly. A sense of “patch patch” everywhere and the resignation of “weytin for do now?”. On the positive side, expectations are relatively low so disappointment is kept to a minimum. Of course, for some, there is always the knowledge that secret hiding places of luxury exist built behind walls and irons locks. From here one can pretend one is in another Nigeria.

Villages bombed and destroyed in Delta State

Statement issued by Ijaw leaders on the unprovoked attack on Ijaw communities in Warri South West, Delta State.

At the aftermath of the unprovoked attack on Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu kingdom of Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State the Ijaw nation wishes to state with emphatic unequivocation the following:

a) That the deployment of highly supplicated military weaponry and arsenal to engage hapless villages and towns in aerial and amphibious bombardment in a scale never ever witnessed in even the Nigerian civil war is callous, inhuman, dastardly, barbaric and insensitive. We condemn this unprovoked attack in the strongest term possible.

b) The burning, destruction, complete razing of Okerenkoko, Oporoza, Kunukunuma, Peretorukorigbene, Kurutie and many other communities and the killing and maiming of innocent people including women and children amount to systemic annihilation of an ethnic race and this is simply genocide. It therefore deserves international condemnation.

c) Nigeria, in the comity of nations, is a highly respected country in International Peace Keeping operations where its proficiency even in the most challenging circumstances restrained it from the deployment of such supplicated weaponry in the weight and scale as was deployed to attack the Ijaw communities. It is therefore a travesty of justice and totally incomprehensible that the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) which primary task is to restore hope and bring peace to the troubled Niger Delta region decided to employ such highly sophisticated weaponry to kill and maim innocent fellow citizens. This, in our estimation is a clearly premeditated attack, conceived, planned and executed with the light of speed not even enforced in normal war situation.
Continue reading

Controlling the oil rivers from King Jaja to Ken Saro-Wiwa

King Jaja of Opobo

In “The Jaja Saga: The West Indian End (1888-1891)” Professor Gabriel Olusanya makes the connection between the exile of King Jaja of Opobo by the British colonial government because the King wanted to have control of his resources and with the present struggle in the Niger Delta again over control of resources. In King Jaja’s day it was palm oil, today it is petroleum oil but the foreign actors are the same.

The same vicious struggle for the control of the oil resources in the Delta has continued in a post colonial and independent federal Nigeria. The British Buccaneers have been replaced by non-indigenous local predators, that in collusion with the big foreign-owned oil companies have seized control of vast oil resources in the Delta area in a manner that can not be said to serve the economic interest of the people of the Delta. Like Jaja, the people of the Delta want to control their own resources.”

King Jaja finally passed away in 1891 which was also the year in which the region presently known as the Niger Delta was formalised as a British colony. Although the British had colonised Lagos as early as 1862, it wasn’t until 1891 that the Oil Rivers Protectorate was created. European traders had been coming to the Delta region since the 15century, first to trade in slaves, then after abolition to trade in palm oil.

palm oil

The traders were unable to negotiate the hundreds of creeks and dense forest of the Delta and therefore had to rely on the people from the coastal regions such as the Kalabari and Nembe for the palm oil. My own grandfather and my fathers material grandfather were both relatively rich merchants from trading in palm oil and palm kernels right up until the 1930s though by this time the British had already established their commercial interests in the region. Two things happened to end the Kalabari trade in palm oil and kernels. One was the growth of the palm oil / kernel trade in Malaysia which by 1934 had overtaken Nigeria (the plant was taken to Malaysia from West Africa at the turn of the century). The second event was the exploration for oil which began around the same time. Though it was to be some 40 years later before Shell finally struck oil there was a strong indication that oil would be discovered. Once these two factors occurred there was no longer a foreign interest in palm oil or kernels and effectively trading on a large scale ended. What were once relatively rich city states of Okrika, Nembe and Kalabari became the poverty villages and towns they are today. Unlike palm oil, local people did not have the knowledge or means to extract the oil and were therefore completely at the mercy of the oil multinationals and a non-indigenous neo-colonialist state which held them with disdain.


I don’t know when the oil in the Delta will run out but there are probably only about another 30 years left before it dries up, the multinationals pack up and move elsewhere and the Nigerian government disintegrates into it’s indigenous parts. What this tells me is that we (people of the South south and South East) should be re-thinking an agricultural policy which includes palm oil and kernels with the aim of replacing oil and the multinationals within the next 10 years.

Links: Life with palm oil


Cursing the oil

Nigeria’s dirty oil