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It was in this backdrop of economic instability that economic nationalism also reared its ugly head. International crooks and foreign multinational companies rushed in and used both legal and illegal methods to gain contracts for supplying all sorts of stuff like stock fish, frozen chicken and meat, cars, and custom-made wine. Outlandish contracts were even given for supplying water and firewood to military barracks and prisons. Foreign governments and countries in connivance with the corrupt Nigerian bourgeoisie simply exploited the gullible Nigerians. (Gearey, 41); (Ihonvbere, 33)
As Belgium's King Leopold had famously said, "I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake." (Ayyash; Hendershot) Mineral-rich Africa is viewed only as an object to be consumed by the resource-hungry developed nations of the world and not as a "subject of the future." This is all the more evident by the following comment by John Ghaznivian, author of 'Untapped: The scramble for Africa's Oil" while recounting 'his experience' at the 18th World Petroleum Conference in South Africa, "…organizers had decided to give us each a little chocolate mousse and sponge cake carefully moulded into the shape of Africa..…as I looked round…wondered: was I the only one to pick up on the symbolism of 3,500 drunken oil executives devouring the Dark Continent, bite after dribbling, chocolaty bite?" (Ayyash; Hendershot)
The blame for Nigeria's oil woes can also be attributed to the political elite and successive military dictators. These Nigerians looted the oil wealth of their own country and were also responsible for making the environment more conducive for the prolonged exploitation by foreign-owned multinationals. The collapse of the civilian government and takeover by General Aguiyi-Ironsi in 1966 was the start of the military dictatorship in Nigeria. This was preceded as well as followed by civil war arising out of religious and ethnic conflicts between the north and the south. Some months later, a military coup was staged with the aim of facilitating the secession of north Nigeria from the rest of the nation. However, even then the temptation of being able to exploit the oil-rich eastern regions could not be resisted by the greedy military rulers and the country stayed together, just for this appalling reason. (Okonta; Douglas, 45)
The rise in international oil prices resulted in an 'oil boom' with federal oil revenues rising from $295 million in 1965 to $2.5 billion in 1975. Nigeria joined OPEC and became one of the elite oil-producing countries. However, its effects did not filter down for the benefit of the average Nigerian who continued to be plundered by foreigners and betrayed by his own rulers. Social and economic development plans which were supposed to be undertaken from a special fund set aside for the Niger Delta never materialized especially for the ethnic minority groups of the Niger Delta. (Okonta; Douglas, 47)
The second military coup staged by General Ibrahim Babangida against the previous dictator General Buhari in 1985 resulted in a second phase of military dictatorship in Nigeria. General Babangida in collaboration with the IMF -- International Monetary Fund now let loose a rein of harsh and crippling economic warfare on the Nigerian population. People like the leader of 'MOSOP -- Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People', Ken Saro-Wiwa, and an active environmentalist, have been brutally silenced by the military rulers for daring to speak out against the widespread ecological warfare unleashed by the foreign oil companies like Shell. The kind of environmental damage that would not have been tolerated in the developed countries is a common occurrence in Nigeria. (Okonta; Douglas, 47)
For instance, Nigeria has faced over 4800 spills in the period between 1970 and 2000. At 12%, Nigeria has the world's highest flaring rates and massive dredging operations in the Niger Delta have destroyed traditional livelihoods. These foreign companies are not just guilty of destroying the local ecosystems but they also resort to illegal means to hold up court cases for as many as fifteen years. In most cases, oil spills are not even recorded leave alone being acted upon. Without a sympathetic government to turn to, the dislocated indigenous tribes have often resorted to violence and militancy to put forward their demands. (Watts, 9.3)
Most of the discussion on the link between oil and socio-economic development in Nigeria and other oil-producing African countries has been brought up around the 'resource curse thesis' which puts forward the hypothesis that oil wealth is the sole reason for triggering social crises, state corruption, profligacy and militancy. "The reality is that oil alone does not lead to violence or corruption. Conflict occurs only as a result of the politicisation of the oil factor, in ways that make the exclusive control of oil and its distribution, the exclusive preserve of 'a few' to the exclusion of others." (Obi, 14) The words of Saro-Wiwa in his pre-conviction statement just before his murder by the military junta may haunt many for days to come: "I predict that a denouement of the riddle of the Niger Delta will soon come. The agenda is being set for this trial. Whether the peaceful ways favoured will prevail depends on what the oppressor decides, what signals it sends out to the waiting public." (Okonta; Douglas, 51)
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Obi, Cyril I. Oil and Development in Africa: Some Lessons from…[continue]
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