Monthly Archives: January 2012

Putting a face on Nigeria’s “paradise lost”


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.


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.