by Ken Silverstein
Multinational Monitor magazine, January / February
When Nigeria's dictatorship executed Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight
other human rights activists in 1995, Washington rang with calls
for tough action against the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha. More
than two years later, the Clinton administration has done nothing
more than impose token sanctions against Lagos.
The chief reason for the administration's inaction is that
U.S. oil companies with heavy investments in Nigeria have spent
lavishly to oppose sanctions against the Abacha regime. Typical
of the material oil company lobbyists are passing around the Hill
is a report produced by Mobil which states forthrightly that "U.S.
companies have a substantial and long-term interest in the stability"
of Nigeria. The Mobil report warns darkly that a deterioration
of ties between the two countries could devastate the U.S. economy.
Abacha's first move after killing Saro-Wiwa was to sign up
a number of U.S. lobby and PR shops to ensure that his regime
would not be unduly inconvenienced by Washington. Abacha, who
seized power after annulling 1993 elections won by opposition
leader Moshood Abiola, was especially concerned about the situation
in Congress, where Rep. Donald Payne of the Black Caucus has been
the leading critic of his regime.
Abacha has spent about $10 million to lobby administration
officials and congressional leaders. A beltway firm called C/R
International cashed in on Saro-Wiwa's murder by signing a $390,000
deal with Base Petroleum, a company reportedly owned by a son
of General Abacha. C/it's mission was to sabotage sanctions on
Nigeria's oil industry. Just last September, Nigeria signed up
the firm of Ruder Finn, at a cost of $100,000, to plot strategy
on improving Nigeria's image in the U.S. media. (Ruder Finn's
hiring came just a month after Nigerian police busted up a reception
for human rights and social activists hosted by departing U.S.
ambassador Walter Carrington, who had been sharply critical of
Abacha's lobbying effort has been greatly aided by U.S. oil
companies, especially Amoco, Chevron and Mobil. The latter alone
has more than half a billion dollars at stake in Nigeria, where
it produces 200,000 barrels of petroleum a day. (Dutch giant Shell
has even bigger investments in Nigeria, including a $4 billion
natural gas joint venture with the military regime.)
Oil company lobbyists have been regularly dropping by congressional
offices to make sure that nothing is afoot that could jeopardize
their investments. Mobil's man passes out a glossy brochure that
whitewashes Gen. Abacha's hideous human rights record. The only
references the brochure makes to the ongoing turmoil in Nigeria
are vague statements about an "unsettled political situation"
and the comment that Nigeria "has been going through difficult
Needless to say, Mobil is all in favor of "reform and
progress in Nigeria." However, so the lobbying brochure proclaims,
"we do not believe that cutting off relations or instituting
trade sanctions or boycotts will achieve the desired result. In
fact, such actions could cause Nigerians to resist and resent
what may be seen as unfair meddling in the country's political
development by outsiders." The brochure ends by quoting a
number of Nigerians who laud Mobil's work in their country. Heading
up the list of these supposedly objective observers is Dr. Abdul
Oyekan of Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Petroleum Reserves.
The oil companies are also working through the Corporate Council
on Africa, which musters about 100 big firms with investments
in Africa, including Mobil, General Motors and Coca-Cola. The
Council was founded in 1992 by a group of business tycoons and
former government officials that include Chester Crocker, assistant
secretary of state for Africa during the Reagan years, and Andrew
Young, currently Nike's apologist and flack. The group's executive
director is David Miller, who worked in the Bush White House and
also served in a top position at the Overseas Private Investment
Council (OPIC), which subsidizes U.S. business deals abroad.
Amoco, Chevron, Conoco and Mobil have each funneled at least
$40,000 to the Council during the past few years. Though it claims
to be an apolitical organization that does not seek to "influence
any position or policy of the U.S. After pocketing the oil companies'
dough, the Council set up a "Nigeria Working Group"
to coordinate its posture towards the Abacha regime. Materials
produced by the Working Group include a report- which features
photos of smiling Nigerian children and virtuous industrial activity-titled
"The Economic Dimension: The United States of America and
Nigeria." The Council's report touches briefly on human rights
violations in Nigeria, but swiftly makes clear that next to the
economic issues at stake such matters are of trifling concern.
"Not only is Nigeria the source of approximately 9 percent
of U.S. oil imports, but it also represents an annual market of
over $1 billion for American goods and services," the brochure
reads. "U.S. companies are well positioned to compete for
and win major new opportunities as Nigeria proceeds with a $3
billion to $5 billion effort to rehabilitate and privatize its
telecommunications and power sectors."
Nigeria produces an extremely pure crude oil called "Bonney
Light." The Council's brochure devotes an entire page to
the superb qualities of Nigerian crude, saying it is "highly
sought after and sells at a premium on the spot market."
According to the Council, "any disruption to this supply
of imported petroleum will severely impact the American economy"
and even lead to "higher levels of pollution" as Nigerian
oil is replaced by imported petroleum with a higher sulfur content.
The Council has also been fiercely lobbying for a bill in
Congress that would increase OPIC subsidies for U.S. firms investing
in Africa, with special attention given to backing investments
in the energy sector. If the bill passes, the oil companies can
surely count on the Council's Miller to help open the money pipeline
at his old agency.
Corporations & the Third World