The Gulf of Mexico oil spill blasted into the headlines the manner in which capitalism is detrimental to our ecological system. Crude oil the substance that many a war has been waged for washed up on the American gulf shores by the barrel. Billions of dollars were lost over the period of approximately six months that oil gushed by the second into the ocean.
British Petroleum, the owners of the offshore rig, pledged twenty billion dollars for the relief effort. However their image was demonised in the public eye with many African people declaring to boycott the brand.
In relation to their world, across the ocean in the Gulf of Guinea, ridden with crude, similar instances occurred daily according to some. The soil is blackened by imperialism and the plant of progression fails to bloom and the world has turned a blacked eye on the Niger Delta.
Nigeria, a country infamously known for its diversity and its colourful population gained independence from Britain in 1960. The country was blessed with a lucrative resource, black gold, crude oil, is the world’s sixth largest oil producer.
The blessing of the resource soon became one of Nigeria’s curses as oil production and sale boomed in the 1970’s so did corruption and mismanagement coupled with a legacy of coups. The focus in the Delta was solely oil production, of which only the government and foreign oil companies benefited from.
Activism in the Niger Delta began to rise in the early 1990’s, as groups from the region began so vocalise and mobilise their opposition of the exploitation. Tragically the regime at the time silenced any opposition; it is during this period that peaceful activists such as Ken Saro-Wiwa were executed without fair trial.
The government’s violent action and failure to address the grievances of their people escalated tensions in the region and ultimately paved the way to its militarisation.
One group the emerged from the creeks is the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known as MEND.
MEND are known as one of the largest militant groups in the Delta and it has been reported that they have been engaged in activities such as sabotage of Delta oil production through the destruction of oil infrastructure, averting foreign interest in the region, kidnap of foreign oil workers and oil bunkering. MEND reports that their aim is to expose the decades of exploitation and oppression in the region and to localize the control of the oil industry and seek reparations for communities devastated by the industry.
On October 1st, 2010 during Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee celebration, bombs devastated celebration and killed twelve. It was immediately reported that MEND claimed responsibility for the attack with the purpose of highlighting the government’s failure to resolve the continuing exploitation. Henry Okah and alleged MEND leader was arrested in South Africa in connection with the bombings but denied any involvement. Raising his status from rebel militant to terrorist in what he deems is a political ploy to gain electoral favour in upcoming government elections.
The Niger Delta is a region of contrasts; foreign oil workers live in luxurious communities whereas villages in the Delta fail to fish or grow crops as the ecological system has been ravaged by oil spills. In desperation some lose their lives by siphoning fuel from pipelines, ethnic land is robbed from many communities and handed to oil companies. Communities are desperate for control over their own resources and do not want to witness further exploitation by the west.
The crisis of the Delta will cease when the government hears and aids the cries of its people. Then groups such as MEND would have in their greed whether though means of violence, terror and fought and won the cause of their people. Bloodshed is never justifiable but one can clearly see the escalation of the issue from peaceful protest to militancy is by no means coincidental.
The Delta and its people will not remain silent until companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Texaco confess their sins and make penance. And Africans should not grieve for the tears of distant lands until they clean the blood of their own wounds.