Monthly Archives: January 2012

Putting a face on Nigeria’s “paradise lost”

deltalaine:

Images such as these can be found in Delta, Bayelsa, and Rivers State. Extracting oil causes underground shifts that allow pockets of natural gas to escape and this gas is lit on a fire as means of eliminating it, causing the gas flares that are in some of these photos. They can burn for months and years, and in some communities families cook with them. In total, there are 50-100 flares across the Delta and some are so large they can be seen from space. The amount of gas burns up could power a large part of the Africa continent if it was harnessed usefully. Local residents are not keen to vent the natural gas because it is so much less valuable than oil.

Gas Flares as Seen From Satellites

Globally, oil-related gas flares emit about 390 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, and experts say eliminating global flaring alone would curb more CO2 emissions than all the projects currently registered under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

For other unforgettable images of the worst damage in the Delta, look at Ed Kashi’s work.

Originally posted on CNN Photos:

As a native of oil-rich Nigeria, photographer George Osodi says he has seen the devastation, conflict and injustice caused by drilling for the “black gold.” Like many in the Delta State, he feels only a few reap the benefits of the resource.

Osodi, a Panos Pictures photographer, spent 2003-2007 documenting the delta and “the exploitation of its riches.” He compiled the resulting images into a book, “Delta Nigeria: The Rape of Paradise.”

While Nigerians might not trust outside journalists, Osodi says they trusted him because he was a local. His intimate photographs gave them a voice.

“I want to show the duality of life in the delta region,” he says. “It is amazing how people carry on with their lives, with their daily routines, with a smile against all odds. I want to put a human face on this paradise lost.”

Earlier this month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

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Occupy Lagos Day 1 Images [video]

Protesters Bury Jonathan in Lagos During Occupy Nigeria:

Fisherman Report Spill From Total Platform Nearing Akwa Ibom Coast | Sahara Reporters

Fisherman Report Spill From Total Platform Nearing Akwa Ibom Coast | Sahara Reporters.

Akwa-Ibom State in southeastern Nigeria has not experienced near the anti-oil mobilization as others to the west, so it will be interesting to see if there is any collective there in response to this spill. There will be little pressure on Total to engage in clean-up since a Chevron rig has been burning offshore near Bayelsa state for over a week, an incident that is much more unusual and comparably more worrisome.

Women Protest Against Chevron Today

Starting early this morning, dozens of Ijaw women from the Kolu-Ama community in southern Bayelsa State traveled to Warri, Delta State to protest in front of the Chevron office there.  Their single demand was for the company to extinguish a fire that has been burning for ten days on an offshore gas platform.  They claimed that Chevron had abandoned the fire after it started, leaving local to deal with the air pollution, fuel spillage, and other environmental degradation that accompany such an accident. Their placards included grievances ranging from depletion of fish stocks due to oil spills to Chevron’s failure to build hospitals in the area.

The Kolu-Ama fishing community where the demonstrators live is also the home of the Foropa, Alaibiri, and Sagbama groups. Bayelsa, the home state of President Jonathan, has experienced some of the most severe environmental damage caused by oil in all of the Niger Delta. Neither the Bayelsa Governor, Timipre Sylva, nor the Delta Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, have commented on the fire nor the demands of the protesters.

This Chevron office, one of four in southern Nigeria, has experienced demonstrations in the past.  In 2010, over 200 ex-militants from the Niger Delta Welfare Committee (NDWC) marched through the front gates demanding more jobs for local youths. NDWC had been in talks with Chevron officials regarding local job creation but demonstrators turned violent once it was decided that negotiations were moving along slowly. The youths became even more aggressive when company officials argued that it was the responsibility of the federal government to create employment opportunities for locals.

So far, the women’s mobilization has been peaceful.  There was no indication whether the women would return to continue their protest tomorrow.

Article: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2012/01/bayelsa-women-lay-siege-to-chevron/


Nigerian Urbanization (I)

Since 2009, there have been ongoing demonstrations by shantytown residents against Governor Amaechi’s plan to tear down 40 waterfront slums in Port Harcourt. Around 200,000 residents live in these slums, making the area the most densely populated part of the city. State security forces have used extreme force in both their evictions and their reactions to the demonstrations. The justification for this use of force is the demolitions are part of the state’s effort at “urban renewal” and the police have argued that the waterfront is the epicenter of urban crime in Rivers State. Protestors have asked, “Do criminals stop being criminals because you destroy their home?” “Won’t making people homeless force them into criminality in order to survive?” While the state is framing its arguments in terms of modernization and public safety, the waterfront tenants are framing theirs in terms of individual human rights. Ultimately, the conflict arises from the singular challenge facing Port Harcourt and all Nigerian cities: overpopulation in a climate of scant resources.

In trying to project what the future of Port Harcourt living may look like, it seems helpful to look to its far larger neighbor Lagos. A few decades ago Lagos had the same population as Port Harcourt has today, 3 million. Port Harcourt’s port, the second busiest in the country, and may in the future compete with that of Lagos. Both cities span across various islands and continually struggle with land erosion into the sea. Their dense populations create issues of housing scarcity and debilitating traffic. Today’s problems in Lagos could very well be those of Port Harcourt tomorrow.

A waterfront resident peddles goods during a traffic jam.

Nigerian Urbanization (II)

Is Lagos the future of coastal urbanization in Nigeria?

There is truly no other place like Lagos, for now at least. It is the largest city in sub-Saharan Africa one of the fastest growing in the world. Less than fifty years ago, a scenic Lagos had a population of 300,000. There was a highly suspect census conducted a few years ago indicating that the current population was 9 million, but that even government officials admitted that was impossible. Today the population is at least 16 million. In ten years, Nigeria’s largest city will have 25 million residents, making it one of the planet’s top five megacities.

The main problem for Lagos is that that although 600,000 people move there every year, there is physically nowhere for them to go because the city is a collection of islands. The scant land that exists is swampy and unstable, easily eroding away during harsh weather. Nigerians are survivors though, highly adept at making it through the most adverse conditions, so some of the ¾ of the city population that live in shantytowns have responded by building floating slums out of garbage. Lagos produces hundreds of tons of garbage every day. One source said that it was 300, another 9000, so let us assume it is somewhere in between. Some of the new arrivees have devised an ingenious system of creating their own new land based on all this garbage.  They dump (or pay someone a small fee to dump) the rubbish to float on the water where they wish to expand onto.  Then they gather sawdust from the local timber yard (Lagos has the largest one in West Africa) and leave it on top of the floating rubbish for six months to help it decompose.  Then, bucket by bucket, they place sand on top of the sawdust and when that is packed down, the rubbish/sawdust/sand layers become stable enough to build a home on.  It is an incredibly resourceful system of land-filling.

The largest slum, Makoko, built half and mile into the water of Lagos Lagoon, is home to 100,000 people who live in homes perched on stilts.  There, everything from taxing people to selling herbal medicines is done on canoes.  Residents use larger canoes to transport children to school, ferry commuters to their day jobs on the mainland, and even move machinery and building supplies. They are some of the few Lagos inhabitants who may be able to avoid the infamous traffic, including the single 12-mile long go-slow that forms every morning and evening every weekday on one of the city’s three main bridges.

It is not unusual to spend 4-5 hours per day stuck in traffic in Lagos.  It is just part of living there. The only way to avoid it is to have the good fortune to be able to live and work on the same island, which is really only a possibility for the wealthy. One solution is to take often dangerous okadas (motorcycle taxis) but riders must be willing to arrive at their destination dirty, sweaty or wet from rain.  The traffic problem is so bad that it is part of the reason that the country capital was moved from Lagos to Abuja in 1991. Here is a video on the city problems, of which there are many.  In all fairness however, there is never a dull moment in Lagos, and it can offer some of the most memorable scenes to be witnessed in Africa, e.g. a calf strapped to the back of a bicycle, a multi-million dollar yacht sailing past beach shantytowns, hundreds of Muslims wordlessly and simultaneously stopping their bartering to pray together amidst freeway traffic. Fascinating place to visit, less than optimal place to live:

 

 

One problem that isn’t discussed enough here is the way that climate change will negatively impact Nigeria’s coastal cities, specifically Lagos and Port Harcourt. The slums were built by rural farmers from inland Nigeria who couldn’t make ends meet in the countryside and came to find economic opportunities in the big city. West Africa has been suffering from an unprecedented drought for a decade now, attributed by many scholars to global warming-induced desertification of agricultural land. At the same time, rising sea levels are pushing Lagos residents farther inland as they try to avoid flooding. Although sporadic at the moment, clashes over land and resources will only increase in the coming years as these two groups are forced into conflict with each other.

Even after years of living in these conditions, many of the rural-to-urban migrants speak with yearning of their home village, and maintain the hope that they will save enough money to return one day. These conversations make one wonder why the state doesn’t invest in making villages more livable, instead of trying to accommodate the influx of arrivees in cities.  Rather than perpetually building and rebuilding urban roads, an ongoing financial drain, those funds could be used to improve key national highways that allow the non-urban to better transport their agricultural goods to market.  Rather than building new university campuses where the flood of aspiring students are, it makes much more sense to build a university in a smaller town where students will move to and can have a more affordable cost of living anyway.  The government should be responding to the Lagos population crisis reactively instead of proactively, and in a way that gives Nigerians a positive incentive to leave the cities if they wish to.

Okonjo’s Subsidy Interview [video]

I understand her to be arguing that lifting the fuel subsidy is a form of wealth redistribution. About three minutes into the video she argues that the poorest segment of the population doesn’t purchase fuel and thus doesn’t benefit from the subsidy. However, the poor do purchase food, and the cost of food partly depends on the cost of fuel used to transport it. The poor do sell goods to passing cars, and the number of cars that can pass them on any given day depends on the cost of fuel. The poor do spend their days working and sometimes their evenings in school, and a school’s capacity to have generator-powered light after dark depends on the cost of fuel. The price of this single product negatively impacts the poor more than any other segment of society in fact. They are the ones who will suffer most over the next few years as they wait for hypothetical social services (which will realistically never come) that will make the removal of the subsidy “worth it.”

One of her more paradoxical arguments is that lifting the fuel subsidy will help fund programs to improve maternal and infant mortality. The reality is that hospitals in Nigeria depend on generators. Those generators power incubators, sterilizers, water pumps, and light bulbs necessary to for health care providers to do even the bare minimum that they are able to now. Within homes, families need to be able to power fans and air-conditioners to reduce the chances of malaria infection among pregnant women and children under the age of five. Ultimately, because there is no reliable source of electricity in the country, lifting the fuel subsidy will make running generators prohibitively expensive and will actually worsen maternal and infant health.

All in all, not a shining example of a quality interview on the part of Okonjo.

Strikes Over, Nigerians Still Unhappy with Fuel Prices

Strikes Over, Nigerians Still Unhappy with Fuel Prices.

NLC Strike Suspended While Soldiers Clamp Down on Protesters

There are two major developments today.  First, the NLC has asked for a “suspension” (i.e. end) to the nation-wide labor strike and encourages all Nigerians to return to work tomorrow, despite that the price of fuel was not returned to its previous price. The federal government had  stated last week that the N141 per liter price was non-negotiable but agreed with the NLC over the weekend on N97. The NLC also reiterated its call for an end to street demonstrations (although the demonstrations began before the NLC became publicly involved and most were planned and implemented independently of the NLC anyway).

Second, although the number and intensity of protests across the country lessened, today saw the strongest suppression of demonstrators yet. Police clamped down harshly on marchers (led by the former governor) in the northern city of Kano and President Jonathan deployed soldiers to disperse the remaining demonstrators in Lagos.  Soldiers fired live rounds into the air and around the crowds.  There were no fatalities. Additionally, state security forces stormed the CNN and BBC offices in Lagos, presumably to stop those news sources from reporting on the protests.

The Joint Action Front, the organizational force behind Occupy Nigeria in Lagos, has promised to sustain their protests.

Occupy Nigeria is over for the most part I think, and it is due to relative deprivation. Relative deprivation occurs when expectations (e.g. of standard of living) outpace capacities (e.g. to earn an income). In the long-term, the removal of the subsidy pales in comparison to other hardships this country has endured, and cannot be compared to many other injustices under previous regimes. Today’s Nigerians may compare themselves to Nigerians living under the economically inept administration of Obasanjo or the oppressive dictatorship of Abacha and be comparably thankful for Jonathan.  Nigerians have low expectations of their government because the government so frequently under performs, thus rising fuel prices are not shocking enough to galvanize prolonged resistance.  In the short-term, Nigerians spent last week bracing themselves for doubled fuel prices, making it easier to accept a 50% increase this week.  So long as expectations remain low, the state will not disappoint its citizens enough to incite  sustained opposition.

 

Fuel Prices Down to N97, NLC Suspends Street Protests (Jan. 16)

Just over an hour ago, President Jonathan announced that the federal government would reinstate a portion of the fuel subsidy, reducing the price at filling stations to N97 per liter. Although this is not the previous pump price of N65 that the Occupy Nigeria movement, the National Labour Congress (NLC), and the Trade Union Congress had requested, it is a significant reduction from the N141 price from the past two weeks. The President asked all Nigerians to return to work today, citing the economic hardships that the past week has caused to the country.  In response, NLC called off the public demonstrations but continued with the strike, urging workers to stay off the streets and continue striking at home. I am waiting to hear back from the civil/human rights groups who had coordinated with the NLC to plan the protests, as the former may or may not continue with their marches that had been scheduled for this morning at Isaac Boro Park in Port Harcourt. Here is the text from the President’s broadcast:

“Dear Compatriots,

This is the second time in two weeks I will address you on the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. In the last seven days, the nation has witnessed a disruption of economic activities.  Although, the economic imperatives for the policy have been well articulated by government, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) went ahead to declare a nationwide strike.

There was also near-breakdown of law and order in certain parts of the country as a result of the activities of some persons or groups of persons who took advantage of the situation to further their narrow interests by engaging in acts of intimidation, harassment and outright subversion of the Nigerian state. I express my sympathy to those who were adversely affected by the protests.

At the inception of the deregulation policy, Government had set up the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee to liaise with Labour and other stakeholders to address likely grey areas in the policy, but despite all our efforts, Labour refused the option of dialogue and also disobeyed a restraining order of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.

However, following the intervention of the Leadership of the National Assembly, and other well-meaning Nigerians, Labour accepted to meet with government, but this yielded no tangible result.

It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest. This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace.

Government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships and commends Nigerians who have put forth suggestions and credible alternatives in this regard. Government also salutes Nigerians who by and large, conducted themselves peacefully while expressing their grievances.

Let me assure you that government will continue to respect the people’s right to express themselves within the confines of the law and in accordance with the dictates of our democratic space.

Government will continue to pursue full deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. However, given the hardships being suffered by Nigerians, and after due consideration and consultations with state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly, government has approved the reduction of the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has been directed to ensure compliance with this new pump price.

Government is working hard to reduce recurrent expenditure in line with current realities and to cut down on the cost of governance. In the meantime, government has commenced the implementation of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment projects: including the Federal Government- assisted mass transit programme which is already in place, and job creation for the youth.

Furthermore, the legal and regulatory regime for the petroleum industry will be reviewed to address accountability issues and current lapses in the Industry. In this regard, the Petroleum Industry Bill will be given accelerated attention. The report of the forensic audit carried out on the NNPC is being studied with a view to implementing the recommendations and sanctioning proven acts of corruption in the industry.

Let me assure Nigerians that this administration is irrevocably committed to tackling corruption in the petroleum industry as well as other sectors of the economy. Consequently, all those found to have contributed one way or the other to the economic adversity of the country will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

My dear compatriots, I urge you to show understanding for the imperatives of the adjustment in the pump price of petrol and give government your full support to ensure its successful implementation. I further appeal to Nigerians to go back to work and go about their normal duties as government has made adequate arrangements for the protection of life and property throughout the federation.

Government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion. As President, I have sworn to uphold the unity, peace and order of the Nigerian State and by the grace of God, I intend to fully and effectively discharge that responsibility.  Let me add that we are desirous of further engagements with Labour. I urge our Labour leaders to call off their strike, and go back to work.

Nigeria belongs to all of us and we must collectively safeguard its unity.

Thank you. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

The demand that the liter price be reduced back to its original price of N65 per liter was one of the clear and consistent demands common among all agitating groups this week.  It will be up to the involved civil society organizations to decide if they want to join the NLC in calling off streets protests but continuing the strike, or if organizations want to continue to demonstrate in order to meet their original price goal.

By agreeing to N97 per liter, subsidy supporters show that they are willing to engage in dialogue and compromise with the federal government, possibly increasing their legitimacy in the eyes of state officials and  their chances of collaboration with the government in the future. However, agreeing to a price higher than the original one may also indicate to the public that the NLC is no restraining force on the state, and is simply a collection of “big men” making decisions behind closed doors.

The lesson learned by the government may be that if they want to implement an unpopular decision, all they must do is take a wildly unpopular action and quickly change it to a mildly unpopular one for it to be palatable.  Like a seasoned salesman who knows a buyer will haggle over a price, perhaps the federal government doubled the fuel price in order to ultimately have the price be increased by just 50%, sending the public the message that the state is responsive to the demands of the public.

Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, 14th President of Nigeria