Nobody has been held to account.
The business of oil extraction in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has operated as a deadly mix of corporate profiteering and state backed repression from the very beginning.
The relations of production have followed the patterns of commerce established by western traders and colonial powers - essentially characterised by a wedlock of rapacious profits facilitated by armed military repression - from the early 1950s when oil exploitation gained momentum.
For instance, in 1895 - more than 60 years before the commencement of crude oil export from Nigeria - the British Navy burnt down Brass, a thriving Niger Delta trading site, to secure a palm oil monopoly for the British owned Royal Niger Company. As many as 2,000 people have died in the process.
This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.
But following independence in 1960, the substitution of the Union Jack for independent Nigeria’s green and white flag did not alter the character of the oil business. Nigeria’s sovereign security forces continued in the same vain.
At no time in the decision-making chain on oil extraction were the indigenous people of the Nigeria Delta, in whose farmlands, rivers and creeks crude oil is found, consulted, considered or valued.
From the start, the partnership was between state and companies, and the drivers were always profit and plunder by any means necessary.
The history of oil exploitation is littered with corporate and state abuses against communities whose only crime is demanding a new and fairer deal.
In 1990, the people of Umuechem community where Shell has extracted crude oil since 1958, went on a peaceful march demanding a new deal from the company and the Nigerian government.
Shell had promised roads, hospitals, schools, electricity and job opportunities when they arrived in the community thirty years earlier. Fast forward three decades, none of the promises had been kept.
In its place, the farming and fishing community was exposed to pollution, land grabs and loss of livelihoods.
In response to the peaceful protest of the Umuechem people, Shell made contact with the tactical units of the Nigerian police who burnt everything, killing 100 people in the Umuechem massacre.
Nobody has been held to account. Shell continues to extract crude oil on its terms in Umuechem.
Nobody has been held to account.
In the same period, the same level of state supported repression was unleashed on the Ogoni people.
This time it was the Nigerian army acting in the interests of Shell. Again, the people had peacefully demanded a new deal from Shell and the Nigerian state. Thousands of community members were killed, raped and exiled.
The leadership of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, which included Ken Saro Wiwa, were executed on the recommendations of a stage-managed military tribunal.
In defense of oil companies and their reckless extraction, the Nigerian government continues to attack communities in the Niger Delta using special units of the armed forces.
In November 1999, the military killed 2,500 people in the village of Odi. In 2005, 17 persons were killed in Odioma for demanding community benefits.
In 2008, Twon Brass, Epebu, Agge and Uzere communities were attacked. In 2019 alone, at least three communities in the Niger Delta were attacked and burnt by the military.
Today, after six decades of oil extraction, the Niger Delta is one of the most polluted, poverty stricken and militarised places on earth.
For the indigenous people of the region, every attempt to define a new deal has consistently resulted in cruelty and death.
For them, any kind of transition must depart from the rather narrow fixation on jobs; it must address the consequences of decades of reckless and mindless oil extraction.
A just transition and a new deal has to repair the ecological disaster occasioned by oil pollution in the Niger Delta which has eliminated the livelihoods of the people.
A just transition must seek to provide justice for the countless victims of oil company inspired and state sanctioned abuses. A just transition must include reparations to the people of the Niger Delta for the years of mindless expropriation.
Beyond being green and environment friendly, the new deal has to be people inspired and centered.
It must be a deal fashioned by the people, within the context of their reality and addressing the peculiarity of their needs.
Every previous deal has been the product of the wedlock between oil-multinationals and governments, fixated on profits and enforced with terror.
Ken Henshaw works for We The People, based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.