Today, March 5, 2008 / 6248, The Nigerian government announced that they were filing charges of treason, terrorism and other offenses against Henry Okah, 42, and Edward Atatah, 43. These two leaders of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were arrested in Luanda, Angola, in September 2007, charged there with illegal possession of, and trafficking in firearms. Family members and attorneys have expressed their concern that the two detained had not been seen since being taken into custody by the Abuja government. Rumors had circulated that Okah had been shot during interrogation, possibly tortured and perhaps even killed. In February a Nigerian court ordered authorities to allow the two to receive visits from attorneys, family and doctors, but the order has apparently not been obeyed.
Nigeria is America's largest trading partner in Africa, based upon the oil extraction, and Africa now supplies more oil to the U.S. than Saudi Arabia. Over $50 billion in oil investments is being spent in Africa over the next three years. Companies such as Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Hercules Offshore are the main foreign-owned beneficiaries of Nigeria's oil production. The Ogoniland region of the Niger River Delta produces over 2 million barrels of oil per day, which trades on the current market of over $100-a-barrel, thus adding 10's of billions of dollars into the Nigerian national economy.
Yet, in Ogoniland the profits are not only not being equitably distributed among the local population, but the impact upon the environment has been absolutely devastating. Emanuel Nnadozie, writing about the oil contribution to the national economy, wrote: "Oil is a curse which means only poverty, hunger disease and exploitation" for the local residents. Once pristine rivers flowing through the delta have been devastated since Shell began drilling for oil in 1958. Pipelines now cross peoples farmlands and the flaring (burning) of natural gas into the air is occurring at the rate of 70 million cubic meters a day, "the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet." Once pristine lands teaming with fishing and farming communities are now subject to contaminated water, acid rain, fish kill offs, and increase sickness. Shell, claiming that it cleans up its oil spills, used "techniques like burning the crude which results in a permanent layer of crusted oil meters thick and scooping oil into holes dug in surrounding earth", which reportedly flows right back out during the next bout of rain.
I implore us all to raise our consciousness of the issues that have forced these "reluctant rebels" of the Ogani and Ijaw ethnic groups to rise to arms and fight against their fellow Nigerians over the oil economy and it's disruption to the livelihood of the Delta inhabitants. Despite the incredible wealth which comes from Nigeria's exporting of 2.2 million barrels of oil daily, the people of the region producing the oil lack clean water, electricity, adequate healthcare and few jobs for displaced fishermen and agricultural workers. As well, the people are subject to abuses on a daily basis from the machinations of foreign extractors of oil such as Chevron, Shell and Hercules Offshore.
In 1995 author and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 others from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogani People were executed by the Nigerian strongman Gen. Sani Abacha. In honor of this award-winning brother, current movement organizers and those that have been forced to turn to arms to bring justice and equity to the Niger River Delta, we must bring these critical issues to greater awareness.