afrol News - No democratic dividend for Nigeria's Oil Delta

No democratic dividend for Nigeria's Oil Delta

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afrol News, 23 October - The end of military rule in Nigeria had "brought little benefit to the people living in the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta," a new report released yesterday concludes. Here, the army and oil companies still were in control. 

According to a new 40-page report, "The Niger Delta: No Democratic Dividend," not very much has changed in the Delta since the change from military to civilian government in 1999. According to the reports authors, the US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), "there is still widespread deployment of army, navy and paramilitary Mobile Police at oil facilities across the delta."

On the economic development, things had rather gone from bad to worse. "Much greater sums of money are flowing from the federal government to the delta region, but ordinary people living in the delta see little if any benefit from these funds," the US group said, presenting the report in New York yesterday. 

Discontent among the people of the delta remains high, with both the government and the oil companies. Occupations of oil facilities and other protests directed at the oil companies therefore continued unabated. 

The report considers several recent violent incidents around oil facilities, and concludes that both the government and the oil companies "have failed to fulfil their responsibilities." 

Security forces continued "to commit human rights violations with impunity in response to protests and acts of violence at oil facilities," HRW concludes. The oil companies remained "complicit in many such abuses despite their stated commitment to respect human rights." 

- The Nigerian government still seems to support oil production at any cost, said Bronwen Manby, deputy director of the Africa Division of the group and author of the report. "And the oil companies too often go along with whatever the government does - or even make things worse," he adds.

In one case examined in the report, naval personnel had carried out a reprisal raid on a village where oil company employees were taken hostage, destroying several dozen houses and killing several people. In another case, money paid by an oil company to a community representative had apparently been used by that person to "hire" police to harass and arrest members of an opposing faction in the village. 

The international oil companies have in recent years also greatly increased the amount of money they spend on community development projects and compensation. "But in most cases they have taken insufficient care to monitor the use made of their money," the report criticises. 

- In particular, they have failed to ensure that it does not reinforce factional violence between those who benefit and those who do not, HRW notes. "The oil companies also continue to fail to monitor closely security force activity at or near their facilities or where work is being carried out on their behalf, or, in many cases, to intervene with the authorities when abuses are committed." 

The human rights group recommended that the Nigerian government should "fully investigate and prosecute members of the security forces and the responsible civilian authorities" who were implicated in human rights violations in the oil producing areas. These included those responsible for abuses in Ogoniland from 1993 to 1998, including the 1995 execution of author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority rights activists, and at Odi in November 1999, when soldiers had destroyed the town, killing hundreds of people. 

- This week is the anniversary of an army massacre of more than two hundred civilians in Benue State, in central eastern Nigeria, noted Mr Manby. "Just as in the case of the destruction of Odi and the abuses in Ogoniland, there has been no accountability for these killings, and President Obasanjo has refused to take action against those alleged to be responsible," he lamented.

Sources: Based on Chevron, Nigerian press and afrol archives

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