Yet, Kay Weller speaks of geography as "concerned with spatial differentiation," which is to say that anyone who is going to understand the problem from a geographical perspective must look at Nigeria's human geography -- in other words, Nigeria's regions. Weller goes on to state that "ethnic geography is important to an overall understanding of Nigerian human geography. One definition of an ethnic group is that of a group of people with a common language, common values and beliefs, and a common material culture." In Nigeria, "tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity" exists, which means that multiple languages, values and beliefs can be found within a small, relatively localized area. Hausaland, Yorubaland, and Igboland, for example, are home to Nigeria's three largest ethnic groups. Most smaller groups have similar core territories, which they claim as their home regions. As with all human geography, these ethnic regions are neither static nor fixed. This is clearly evident by examining the cases of Yorubaland and Igboland. Prior to British colonial rule, these two ethnic regions never existed in local perception. Both regions were composed of small-scale city-states that did not have a history of political unity. During colonial rule, however, and in the post-independence period, both Yorubas and Igbos have developed a sense of regional identity. These identities change over time, but the important point to note is that they maintain people's conceptions of a Yoruba region and an Igbo region. (Weller)
What affect can such a human geography as Nigeria possesses have on the oil crises in the Niger Delta? The answer to such a question may have something to do with the reason the U.S. pays more attention to its own oil spills than to Nigeria's -- even though almost half of its imported oil comes from the African nation.
The fact is, American human geography is much more pronounced and formulated than in Nigeria. One common language makes communication swift and easy in the United States, while various dialects hinder the various tribes in Nigeria from organizing to draw attention to the rapine of oil industries in their land. Only when journalists who desire to draw attention to the vicious nature of oil industries focus their writings on the kind of third world devastation exampled in the Niger Delta do Americans take notice. Yet, the human geography of the oil industry is much better situated than that of Nigerian tribes -- who have no PR. Westerners might be persuaded by Shell PR campaigns -- but not Nigerians, who live in the oil-swamped Delta and know better.
Such being the case, the situation of Nigeria is not changing for the better. In 2007 the New Internationalist reported that
Shell may be pumping the petrodollars into glossy PR campaigns, but Nigerians remain unimpressed. Ifieniya Festavera Lott from the Ijaw people in the Niger Delta went to the WSF to tell the world about Shell's activities in her community. "An oil spill flows through my river so I can't get fresh water. Gas flares give us acid rain…[Shell] may say that now it is socially responsible, but it has not cleaned up its act. If wishes were like magic, individuals in the Niger Delta would just click their fingers and all these oil companies would disappear."
Even the U.N. Nigerian Report on Oil Spills is questionable at best: "The report relies more on figures produced by oil companies and Nigerian state statistics than on community testimony and organizations on the ground who work with communities,' wrote Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth, in a press release" ("Oil Money Taints U.N. Report").
Sillah reports that women are also brutally targeted by soldiers in the Niger Delta region, who essentially work for Shell Oil:
Emem Okon, the head of the Women's Development and Resource Centre in the city of Port Harcourt, alleged that the oil companies' own security personnel have been involved in attacks on women. She also said the Nigerian army had committed grave violations of human rights. "There are specific cases in Akwa-Ibom State, where Shell brought in a Shell crew and they attacked women. A pregnant woman was shot dead. There are also cases in Ogoniland where the government...
"A lot of women were raped, a lot of young girls were taken into sexual slavery."
According to Robert Dowd and Michael Hoffman, women -- Christian and Moslem -- are more disposed to be politically active in Nigeria if they participate in communal religion. In fact, many outspoken women have voiced on record their opinions of the oil contamination in the Delta. Despite such activity, "space," as Herod states, restricts their voices from being broadcast to many ears.
And so life in the Niger Delta continues to deteriorate: A 2008 study of the geological conditions of the Niger Delta by Elijah I. Ohimain et al. reveals that oil companies in Nigeria "are at loss on how to manage the impacts arising from dredging activities and the concomitant heavy metal pollution arising from the poor management of contaminated sediments" (263). Yet, such information does not even get a byline in mainstream American media, which is more concerned with Sarah Palin's latest hairdo. As John Vidal records:
With 606 oilfields, the Niger delta…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 U.S. government to try to stop the Gulf oil leak and to protect the Louisiana shoreline from pollution.
Vidal places the blame squarely on the oil companies who ignore the problem. "The lawmakers do not care and people must live with pollution daily. The situation is now worse than it was 30 years ago. Nothing is changing. When I see the efforts that are being made in the U.S.I feel a great sense of sadness at the double standards."
Andrew Herod, however, returns the issue to the problem of spatiality: "Workers are spatial as well as historical social agents and they seek to shape the economic landscape in ways which facilitate their political and economic goals, though they clearly do not have free range to do so -- workers make their own geographies, though not under the conditions of their own choosing" ("Workers, Space, and Labor Geography" 112). Such a line of reasoning may help to articulate how unions are formed, but in the human geography of Nigeria, where several tribes are affected by the oil spills, one must wonder how any solution is to be effected.
Yet, not everyone has given up hope. Some groups are trying to overcome the spatial dimensions that limit the Nigerian people from receiving attention:
Hoping to capitalize on the world's current interest in the environmental impacts of the oil industry, activists in the Niger Delta have been launching clever campaigns. The most recent example was a fake Shell press release and press conference announcing an end to drilling in the Delta. The gag was pulled by a local Nigerian activist group -- the Nigerian Justice League -- that had been trained by internationally known (and feared) corporate pranksters the Yes Men. The ruse drew attention from hundreds of media outlets, and suddenly the question, "Did you know there's an Exxon Valdez spill in Nigeria EVERY YEAR?" was on every NPR listener's tips. ("Shell Game")
If such is the case, then perhaps, as Herod states, educating the workers within the spatial dimensions of Nigeria (and elsewhere) can have an impact after all.
In his "Increasing the Scale of Things," Herod describes how "globalization has fundamentally restructured the economic, political, and geographic contexts within which unions must operate…as globalization has become a permanent feature of workers' lives, some unions have increasingly begun to think about ways of addressing the new geographic realities that it brings with it" (39), which is to say that the key to altering the human geography of spatial dimensions may rest in the organization of labor. Unfortunately, unions in the Niger Delta are subject to all sorts of fits and seizures that go hand in hand with its unique human geography, and Yes Men can only do so much. Herod cites the industrialization of Mexico in the twentieth century as a prime example of reshaping the geography of industrialization:
The geography of industrialization…spawned close links between the corporatist Mexican labor movement and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which has governed Mexico for most of this century. The new factory regime in the border region, however, is forcing Mexico unions to reorganize their structures and modes of operation. (41)
But there is no evidence that such reshaping can take place in Nigeria. As one commentator states concerning the…
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