(Video: Al Jazeera report on a new legal battle against Royal Dutch Shell and other foreign oil companies polluting the Niger Delta.)
Imagine BP's Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster happening every single year, with little or no public outcry, no media coverage, and all but silence from government and the companies involved. Welcome to Nigeria.
Over the last 50 years, foreign oil companies have spilled over 1.5 million tons of oil here, but there have been no legal convictions against them, and no compensation for spill victims. The Niger Delta is now one of the most polluted places in the world. Snip from Guardian article by John Vidal:
On 1 May this year a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline in the state of Akwa Ibom spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. Local people demonstrated against the company but say they were attacked by security guards. Community leaders are now demanding $1bn in compensation for the illness and loss of livelihood they suffered. Few expect they will succeed. In the meantime, thick balls of tar are being washed up along the coast.
Within days of the Ibeno spill, thousands of barrels of oil were spilled when the nearby Shell Trans Niger pipeline was attacked by rebels. A few days after that, a large oil slick was found floating on Lake Adibawa in Bayelsa state and another in Ogoniland. "We are faced with incessant oil spills from rusty pipes, some of which are 40 years old," said Bonny Otavie, a Bayelsa MP. This point was backed by Williams Mkpa, a community leader in Ibeno: "Oil companies do not value our life; they want us to all die. In the past two years, we have experienced 10 oil spills and fishermen can no longer sustain their families. It is not tolerable."
With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta supplies 40% of all the crude the United States imports and is the world capital of oil pollution. Life expectancy in its rural communities, half of which have no access to clean water, has fallen to little more than 40 years over the past two generations. Locals blame the oil that pollutes their land and can scarcely believe the contrast with the steps taken by BP and the US government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.
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[ Thumbnail: George Esiri/Reuters. A ruptured pipeline burns in a Lagos suburb after an explosion in 2008 which killed at least 100 people. ]