The Case of Nigeria:
Corporate Oil and Tribal Blood

by Oronto Douglas

excerpted from the book

Views from the South:

The effects of globalization
and the WTO on the Third World

edited by Sarah Anderson

Oronto Douglas is a leading human rights attorney in Nigeria, and served as one of the lawyers on the defense team for the Ogoni leader Ken Saro Wiwa, later executed by Nigeria's military rulers. Douglas is also founder and deputy director of Environmental Rights Action. Though he has been arrested and tortured by the military regime, he continues to work for and speak out on issues of social justice in a corporate military state.

The political mechanisms of corporate rule in the geographical area called Nigeria can only be understood from a historical perspective. This is one country that was designed by corporations for corporations and simply disregards the people who live there. And so to understand it, we have to look at the past

First we have to look at slavery. As many as 10 million people from West Africa were shipped to America to fulfill one common condition, the condition of ensuring that labor is constantly supplied; the use of the human being to sustain factories and other economic activities in the Americas. Then, of course, that phase passed when they discovered that the slaves were reproducing. And, of course, the world was beginning to take note of the indignity that slavery had imposed on fellow human beings. The practice had to change to colonialism.

Active colonialism was then followed in the area of black South Africa, where Africa had reigned supreme, and then in other countries. In the present era, it has been new colonialism, that in my country has been manifested via a military dictatorship that is in service to this new colonialism, which basically is directed, controlled and pushed upon us by transnational corporations...

Imperial Britain was actually very unwilling to colonize Nigeria. Records show that Lord Salisbury, for instance, described Nigeria as a "malaria swamp," and said he would not want in any way to have anything to do with that area. But multinational corporations then pushed the government of Britain to take active control in order to compete with France. We do know that in 1885 and 1886, the European powers, armed only with pencils and erasers, cut Africa into boxes and squares, so much so that when you look at a map of Africa, what you see is not natural borders, but countries of boxes and squares. So the companies and corporations had to send people like Mongo Park, the Landau brothers and the imperialist soldier called Lord Lugat, to take active charge in that potentially rich new country called Nigeria. All these actions were inspired by greed.

In 1895, the United African Company was in direct confrontation with local people over a natural resource called palm oil, which was needed in Europe to produce butter and other types of creams. The local people from the central part of the Niger Delta felt that they were being exploited and challenged by the United African Company. Things escalated so that the people attacked the company's trading post and destroyed the instruments of trade, like the drums and containers. When the United African Company reported that some local savages had invaded their trading post, Britain retaliated by bringing in naval forces. The town of Nembe was bombed, killing over 4,000 people, mostly women and children. The men ran away, leaving the women and the children to bear the brunt of the invading British naval forces. But take note that it was the multinational corporations that directed and controlled the British government to take those reprisal actions against a local community.

The same thing was replayed in 1897 when Benin City, a very famous kingdom, was invaded, works of art stolen, and all with the goal of capturing the rich forest resources of the Benin area.

... in 1937, the well-known monstrous multinational called Shell emerged on the scene. It arrived in Nigeria in 1937. By 1956, it discovered crude oil in commercial quantities in the central part of the Niger Delta. By 1958, Ogoni people from the Boma oil fields had produced tremendous quantities of oil; the same happened in Andoni, Urhoba, Itsekiri, and so on.

But it was not until 1967 that the cruel hands of the multinationals became apparent. Most people in Europe and America think that the war that broke out in Nigeria in 1967 [Biafra] was an ethnic war, but it was not. It was an oil war, engineered by the multinationals. If you look closely at the history, the Ebus of the eastern region were crying out against the persecution of the Lothin region. And, of course, the east thought that they could survive because of the numerous oil reserves there. And so they decided to secede. But secession would have meant that the oil that was then under the control of Shell (and to a large extent of Britain), would have moved away from British control. So, Shell moved swiftly to advise the British government never to back secession. The government's subsequent actions led to a civil war in which over one million people died between 1967 and 1970.

And so it is clear that all strategy toward the capture of political power in Nigeria is strategy aimed and directed at the capture of oil wells. It is important that we keep that in the back of our minds as we look at Nigeria.

Directly from the time when Nigeria was created by corporations, the oil multinationals have been involved. We have seen documents that they were actually involved in the fashioning of an independent constitution for us. Most of the rulers in Nigeria are people who have either been directors or members of the boards of multinationals, principally Shell. Shell has fashioned a new vision, what they call Vision 2010, a vision they have sold to the military dictatorship of General Abacha. And they have also reportedly been heavily involved in the importation of weapons and arms. They retain their own police force, and through their immense power they have plundered a lot of places. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several communities were rendered obsolete.

Then from 1993 to 1995, the Ogoni land was turned into a killing field rather than a drilling field. Even if it is a drilling field, j it has been the drilling of death and the complete massacre of a defenseless people...

We believe that if we are going to resolve all these issues have to challenge the multinationals very vigorously. Our anger must be focused on a complete dismantling of the authorities of corporate rule. Because they have not only caused social disintegration of our culture and our tradition, they have led to the introduction of foreign diseases and the destruction of our cultural ethos. They have led to the destabilization of our mainstream economy and livelihoods. We are basically agrarian people, dependent on fishing and farming; we do not have the technology that the West or other parts of the world have. But we have peace, we have laws, and we intend to promote this.

So from palm oil in 1895, to the crude oil of the present day, when Ken Saro Wiwa and so many Ogonis were killed, we have faced very monstrous multinationals geared toward the destruction of our very existence. It is not only Shell. Chevron, Mobil, AGIP, and all the other multinationals that have recently emerged from Asia and China are involved in the complete desecration of our very dignity as human beings.

Views from the South

Index of Website

Home Page