Niranjan Chatterjee’s Weblog

August 1, 2014

NIGER DELTA CRISIS – THE ROLE OF MULTINATIONAL OIL CORPORATIONS AND THE PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Filed under: International Economics,Political Musings,social awareness — niranjanchatterjee @ 11:17 pm

 

Table of Contents

Abstract 3

History and Origin of the Crisis. 5

Overview of geography of Nigeria and its social set-up. 5

The Civil War of 1967-1970. 7

Communal Violence. 8

  1. Economy. 9

Nigeria and Poverty. 10

The impact Oil Industry in Niger Delta. 14

Brief recount of the history of oil exploration in Nigeria. 14

Environmental hazards related to oil exploration.. 16

Bonny – a fishing community in Niger Delta. 18

Geographic and Demographic Overview of Bonny Island. 18

History of Bonny. 19

Discovery of Oil: Revival of Bonny. 21

Adverse impact of oil industry on Bonny. 22

Damage by Sea Trucks. 23

Spillage of oil and resultant pollution.. 24

Gas Flaring and Pollution.. 28

Land Filling. 29

  1. Erosion.. 30
  2. Dredging. 31

Oloma and Social Change. 31

Unrest in Niger Delta. 32

Is Federal Government a party to the nexus?. 33

Non-recognition of Minorities and Indigenous People. 34

Militancy in Niger Delta. 35

Legal resistance against environmental pollution.. 48

How unsafe it is to reside in Niger Delta. 52

Oil and Health.. 57

Key aspects of the right to health.. 57

Misconceptions about right to health.. 59

Link between right to health and other human rights. 60

Right to health as enshrined in International Human Rights Law and Constitutions of several countries. 61

Right to health: how far it is honoured in Niger Delta. 64

Is there a way forward?. 65

  1. References. 68
  2. Glossary. 73

 

 

 

Abstract

 

The crisis at Niger Delta has been analysed and evaluated from the perspective of health and human rights and while doing do, the responsibility of multinational oil corporations that operate in this region extracting crude petroleum from the oil rich delta have been minutely examined to evaluate whether they promote and protect public health and bolster human rights through robust social and corporate responsibility and governance strategy.[1] The paper also examines the relevance of international law in the realms of public health and whether the current laws have enough teeth to actually bolster and ensure genuine implementation of the right to health by multinational companies that often tend to disrupt fragile ecological balances of areas where they operate. While admitting there is a need to promote debates also regarding the relevance or otherwise of national and supranational institutions as United Nations and World Health Organisation in promoting public health and forcing multinational corporations to take adequate steps in protecting environment and promoting public health especially in their operational zones, this project takes a comprehensive view of the pronouncement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health as a fundamental right. This project also attempts to promote the right to health as a fundamental human right, to clarify the contours and content of the right to health, and to identify good corporate practices for implementation of the right to health at community, national, and international levels.

Niger Delta is an especially delicate case where in addition to international and supranational leadership and governance, there is a need for political leadership and political will at the national and local level for the crisis to be stemmed. The paper adopts the stance that human rights based approach to public health issues might be the most suitable option for improving levels of public health and lowering the alarming levels of environmental pollution that has gripped this region through years of systematic neglect.[2]

Although this region is endowed with an abundance of natural riches, the people of this region live in the midst of abject poverty, disease and hunger. Malnutrition, illiteracy and unemployment characterize the region and the local population remain marginalised and isolated from the riches that lie under the ground. There have been efforts at community mobilization against this marginalisation and these efforts have often taken the form of mass protests that have frequently turned violent. The reactions of government and oil multinationals to such violence have frequently been disproportionately severe and have queered the pitch of the entire scenario even further.[3] So, any solution to such a complicated issue where the lives and livelihoods of numerous people, not only those who are directly affected by the pollution and consequent degradation of public health in Niger Delta but also those who are thousands of miles away from the point of crude oil extraction, working in various related activities, can only be possible through a delicately nuanced policy that views the whole issue through a humanitarian angle and the legal compulsion associated with right to health.

History and Origin of the Crisis

Overview of geography of Nigeria and its social set-up

Nigeria is a densely populated country in Western Africa that borders the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, Niger in the north, and the Gulf of Guinea in the south. The name “Nigeria” is derived from a combination of the words “Niger” (the country’s longest river) and “Area.” Nigeria boasts of rich ethnic diversity, it has about 374 ethnic sub-groups, but these are largely consolidated under three umbrella ethnic groups of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.[4] (Peterside 2004)

Though Nigeria has a history that dates back hundreds of years, it was not until October 1, 1960 that it became an independent Nation within the Commonwealth of Nations under a constitution that provided for a Parliamentary system of government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions. It became a Federal Republic in October, 1963 and the former Governor-General, Nnamdi Azikwe, became the country’s first President. Right from the beginning, Nigeria’s ethnic and religious tensions were exacerbated by disparities in economic and educational development between the south and the north. This was possibly a harbinger of things that were to come in subsequent years. (Olusakin 2006)

Nigeria is considered the fifth largest world exporter of crude oil to the United States based on the oil which is concentrated in the Niger Delta. The nine oil-producing states that made up the Niger Delta (Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers) account for over 90 percent of oil and gas export earnings and up to 70 percent of revenues accruing to the Federation Accounts. The Niger Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world. It covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometres. The Niger Delta terrain is made up of dry land, seasonal flooded land, swamp, shallow waters, and offshore. The coastline receives the tides of the Atlantic Ocean throughout the year, while the mainland is subjected to a series of floods by the various rivers, particularly the Niger. (Gambo 2005)

The Civil War of 1967-1970

A civil war broke out in 1967 when the Eastern part of the country tried to establish an independent country (Biafra), in which over 300,000 Nigerians lost their lives. (Trend 1996) After three years of bloody conflict, Lieutenant General Yakubu Gowon became the Nigerian Head of State in 1970 and focussed his attention on the oil sector which resulted in a period of reasonable economic growth that was due to an increase in the revenues from crude oil and the nationalization of the various oil companies.[5] Military rule continued for a period of twenty nine years (except for a brief four year period of the short-lived second republic between 1979 to 1983) and was marked by recurring coups and ethnic conflicts till the adoption of a new constitution and a relatively peaceful transition in 1999 to civilian rule of which Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as the President. (Cooper 2003)

President Obasanjo was re-elected in 2003 to continue with the daunting task of rebuilding a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement. Most of the times there have been one problem or the other in the Niger Delta over the environmental destruction caused by oil drilling and the ongoing poverty in the oil-rich region. (Benhabib 1996)

Communal Violence

There has also been a spate of communal violence ever since Obasanjo took office in 1999.[6] In May 1999 violence erupted in Kaduna State over the succession of an Emir resulting in more than 100 deaths. In November 1999, the army destroyed the town of Odi in Bayelsa State and killed scores of civilians in retaliation for the murder of 12 policemen by a local gang. In 2000, right from February through to May, over 1,000 people died in Kaduna in rioting over the introduction of criminal Sharia[7] law in the State. Hundreds of ethnic Hausa were killed in reprisal attacks in south-eastern Nigeria. In September 2001, over 2,000 people were killed in inter-religious rioting in Jos. In October 2001, hundreds were killed and thousands displaced in communal violence that spread across the states of Benue, Taraba, and Nasarawa. On October 1, 2001, President Obasanjo announced the formation of a National Security Commission to address the issue of communal violence to make a last ditch attempt to adhere to the official motto of Nigerian Government which is “Unity, and Faith, Peace and Progress.” (Sachs 2005)

It might perhaps be something of a redundancy to mention that the two major religions in Nigeria are Christianity and Islam, and, they engage in religious clashes especially in the northern part of the country, while some people practice the traditional African religions.[8]

Economy

Nigerian economy is heavily dependent on natural oil and gas right from the time vast deposits of this extremely valuable natural resource was discovered in Niger delta. However, prior to this discovery almost 70 percent of the population was employed in the agricultural sector producing cocoa, maize, rice, yams, peanuts, bananas, sugar cane, cotton, rubber, and dairy products. But with the advent of oil sector, agriculture was given a short shrift and as a result of this a country that was once self sufficient became an importer of food. Agriculture and other non-oil sector, which at 1962 contributed 78.2 percent of the nation’s revenue, dropped drastically to 1.1 percent in 1977, while crude oil contribution rose from 13.3 percent to 98.9 percent over the same period. Currently, Nigeria’s economy predominantly depends on the production of crude oil which accounts for about 95 percent of the nation’s export earnings while agricultural products and other non-oil commodities shared the remaining five percent among them. (Africa Report N°113 2006)[9]

Nigeria and Poverty

There is no doubt Nigeria earns huge amounts of foreign exchange through export of oil but the state of a majority of Nigerians suffering from poverty is particularly ironic as its rich oil resources do not warrant such a situation. The situation is made more complicated as there is no universal definition of poverty. It is a complex and multi-dimensional concept, and has various perceptions. It is experienced differently by men and by women and can differ according to geographical area, social group, and political or economic context. [10]

Poverty is experienced not only in economic deprivation but also in terms of an individual’s inability to have adequate daily nutritional intake, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, a livelihood that can support survival, that can give a chance for a child to make his or her way through school, access to essential health services in a health emergency, and also have access to basic social amenities like good roads, stable electricity and water supply. Poverty is also linked to a shortage of vital resources and the endurance of harsh and inhospitable environments, including the breakdown of economic, demographic, ecological, cultural, and social systems, and bad governance, which sustains systemic poverty in developing countries. (Onibokun and Kumuyi 1996)

The time has not yet gone; Nigeria can still learn from Asia and China. Much of the coastal Asia that is enjoying the fruits of economic development now wallowed in dire poverty in the not too distant past. China has doubled its living standards in less than ten years. India is now on the same course. If a country like India that was viewed as a hopeless case of suffering and extreme poverty is now a competitive threat in the IT sector, then Nigeria has a lot to learn from it.[11]

Poverty in Nigeria becomes more evident when the distortion becomes so pronounced that people, groups and countries lose their capacity to adapt, change and survive peacefully. This is evident in case of many Nigerians who risk their lives to tap gas pipelines that pass through their communities and steal fuel for money.[12] Not only do they risk arrest, but many have died in explosions they caused while trying to puncture pipelines transporting volatile gas. A list of such pathetic incidents might bring the issue to sharper focus:

  • In October 1998, more than 1,000 people died and hundreds were injured at Jesse, in south-eastern state of Delta;
  • In June 1999, at least 15 people were burnt to death in a pipeline explosion at Akute-Odo in southern Ogun state;
  • In February 2000, at least 17 people died in a fire started at a pipeline near Ogwe in the eastern part of Abia state;
  • In March 2000, at least 50 people were burnt alive when a pipeline caught fire near Isioma in Abia south-western state;
  • In June 2000, at least 28 people died in a fire caused by a pipeline explosion at Okuedjeba, near the southern Warri oilfield;
  • In July 2000, about 300 people died at Warri, Delta state, in a fire caused by a pipeline explosion;
  • Again in the same month of July, 2000, at least 40 people were killed when a pipeline burst and caught fire in Afrokpe in the Warri area and about 15 more were killed the next day in a second blast in the same area;
  • In November 2000, about 60 people lost their lives when a damaged pipeline exploded near the port of Lagos;
  • In November of 2001, another 15 people died and several others and seriously burned in a pipeline blow-up at Umudike in the south-eastern state of Imo;
  • In September 2002, several people died and many were injured at Akute-Odo in southern Ogun state as a pipeline caught fire after they had vandalized it;
  • In June 2003, about 125 people were killed in a pipeline explosion in the village of Ovim in Abia state;
  • In September 2004, at least 60 people burnt to death as a result of pipeline busting in Lagos;[13]
  • In December 2004, at least 20 other people died in Lagos from the same cause;
  • In May 2006, about 200 people lost their lives at Ilado near Lagos when gasoline from a ruptured pipeline caught fire. (BBC News 2006)

The impact Oil Industry in Niger Delta

Brief recount of the history of oil exploration in Nigeria

The earliest known incidence of search for hydrocarbons was more than a hundred years ago in 1906 when Nigerian Bitumen Company had drilled, though unsuccessfully for bitumen northeast of Lagos. Nothing much happened during the next thirty odd years till Shell D’Arcy Company was given exclusive rights in 1937 for oil exploration throughout the length and breadth of the country. It took another twenty years for Shell-BO to discover commercially exploitable oil deposits in Niger Delta and with the first oil shipment in 1958 (at a rate of 6,000 barrels per day); the oil sector began to assume an increasing importance in the nation’s economic life.[14] In 1961, the first export terminal was constructed by Shell-BP at Bonny, Rivers State. This was followed by the commissioning of the Trans-Niger pipeline in 1965 that increased manifold the evacuation of crude oil from the oilfields situated in what was known at that time as the Bendel State. However, these rapid strides in the field of oil exploration were drastically cut short by the Civil War that halted all efforts till 1970 when the flames of the war finally subsided. The end of the civil war saw massive investment in oil extraction related activities that saw a huge surge in oil production that reached a level of 1.5 million barrels per day in that year and by 1971 Shell’s second Export Terminal at Forcados was commissioned to further enhance crude export. It might be of academic interest to note that the price of crude oil at this time was about $2.00 per barrel.

Though initial forays were made by made by Shell, other oil companies as Mobil, Gulf (now Chevron) Texaco, Elf and Agip entered the scene from 1956 onwards with Gulf bringing its first field on stream in 1965. The production levels continued to increase unabated and in 1974, immediately after the first world oil price increase, and with intensified drilling and production activities, Nigeria reached its peak oil production of 2.2 million barrels per day, of which Shell produced 1.4 million barrels.[15] This high level of production was more or less sustained until 1980 when the world oil price reached $35 per barrel, though the number of barrels sold was much reduced.

Nigerian oil and gas industry has now reached a stage where it can play a key role in the world energy supply for several decades to come as the country has an abundance of both proven and undiscovered reserves of high quality oil which can be exploited at relatively low cost compared with other major oil producing countries. (Omene 2002)

Environmental hazards related to oil exploration

There are certain some hazards and risks to the people and the environment that are intimately associated with oil and gas exploration and production activities.[16] Such risks to the environment usually take the form of:

  • Seismic Operations: It is claimed that seismic activities generate vibrations that can adversely affect buildings. The seismic waves generated and the chemicals used can also deplete aquatic life in the rivers and streams.
  • Well Blow-outs: Sometimes due to overpressure of the reservoir or due to human error, a blowout can occur despite wellhead pressure control systems. During such incidents, soil and water can be contaminated.
  • Fire: The emission of flammable hydrocarbon during production can result in fire outbreaks.
  • Flaring: The flare scorches the surrounding lands and this can render them infertile, while light from flares retard photosynthesis with the resultant reduction in farm crop productivity. Increase in temperature of the surrounding river waters can impact the aquatic life and ecosystem. Global warming from gas flaring can result in saltwater incursion into fresh waters. Also, the health implications of gas flaring for human beings include sleeplessness, and breathing problems.
  • Pollution: Pollution can occur due to human error, sudden rupture of pipelines, or instrumentation failures.
  • Sabotage: Spillages due to sabotage sometimes occur. Apart from compensation expectation, the resultant spills create a lot of environmental problems and pollution.
  • Noise: Noise effects even during drilling can scare and displace wildlife. Most of the oil industry plants and operations can be noisy.[17]

Bonny – a fishing community in Niger Delta

The havoc environmental pollution has been wrecking in the entire Niger Delta can be properly understood if attention is turned on the rural fishing community on the Island of Bonny in the Eastern Niger Delta.[18] The author feels that a detailed descriptive study of one community would help to put the basic problems that affect almost all the local inhabitants of the Niger Delta in proper perspective and draws heavily from the seminal work done in this regard by Alicia Fentiman. (Fentiman 1996)

Geographic and Demographic Overview of Bonny Island

Bonny island is situated within the within the tidal mangrove swamps of the Eastern Niger Delta. Tributaries of the Bonny River dissect the flat surface of the island, creating swamps and creeks that are bordered by mangrove trees. Much of the land is uninhabitable; fresh water resources are scarce.[19] The population is clustered mainly in Bonny town and a number of adjoining villages and several fishing ports that are safely nestled in numerous meandering creeks and waterways that crisscross this region. Oloma is one such village around Bonny town. This town is approximately 50 kilometres southeast of the industrial and commercial centre of Port Harcourt.

Oloma is populated almost entirely by Ibani-Ijo community while there is a settlement of Elem Kalabari to the west, the Okrikans to the north, and the Andoni, Opobo, and Ogoni to the east. (Jewett 1988)

History of Bonny

Fishing has traditionally been the main source of livelihood of the Ibani community that lives in the village of Oloma. Over and above the fish that was abundantly available in the numerous creeks salt was evaporated from the sea water trapped in the roots of the mangrove tree. Ibani community traded their merchandise of fish and salt with the hinterland agriculturists and this internal trade network was well established and fully functional decades before European contact and provided the mercantile infrastructure on which the success of Bonny’s European trade was founded. Being crucially located[20] surely helped Bonny to gradually develop into a fulcrum of a two-way trade between the Ibo hinterland and the Ibani, on the one hand, and the Ibani and European traders on the other. Food, livestock, and, most importantly, slaves that came from the hinterland markets were brought to Bonny to be traded. The growing European demand for slaves assured the role of Bonny traders as middlemen in the West African-European trade. This lasted until the 19th century. (Alagoa, Long Distance Trade and States in the Niger Delta 1970)

With the abolition of slave trade in the 19th century merchants turned their attention to palm oil which found a huge market in Europe due to Industrial Revolution that was taking place there. Palm oil was a very effective and convenient lubricant for machinery as well as for making soap and candles. Bonny did not let this opportunity go by and prospered as one of the main centres of palm oil trade and such was its success that Bonny and Kalabari areas became known as the “Oil Rivers.”

20th century however saw a gradual decline of Bonny as coal was discovered in commercially viable quantities further inland and a new mainland port was constructed by the British colonialists to exploit better the new coal fields. Port Harcourt, a new industrial city 50 kilometres up Bonny River, was founded in 1913. In 1916 there was great exodus from Bonny and by 1930 the town was said to be in a state of decay and utter stagnation (Webber 1931) and by 1938 moves were made to abolish the third-class township that was accorded to Bonny.[21]

Discovery of Oil: Revival of Bonny

Initially the oil companies had built a temporary export terminal at Port Harcourt[22] but only small tankers could visit that terminal and even then they could load only half their capacity because of the low draft that was available at the port. Bonny thus became the ideal alternative because of its strategic location[23] and its unique capability of being able to cater to both inshore and offshore loading facilities. Shell Petroleum Development Company realised the unique geographical advantage of Bonny and by 1961 had completed the first phase of the Bonny Terminal and kept on adding more terminals throughout the sixties.

The establishment of the oil terminal had a tremendous impact on the infrastructure of Bonny Town.[24] New buildings were constructed and Bonny had a new post office, a divisional office, a branch of the Pan African Bank, a police station, and maritime clearing and forwarding houses. A new hospital was also built and communication between Bonny town and Port Harcourt improved dramatically. Though intermittent, Shell also started supplying electricity to the town. But the most unexpected sector to gain from the new found prosperity on account of oil was education and in 1966, Shell helped to fund new departments in Bonny secondary school. In 1977, the Finima Girl’s Secondary School was opened, which provided further education for females. In addition, a teacher training college was re-established, and it at once became an important educational centre. (Green 1982) Though Bonny remained indebted to oil industry for its phenomenal improvement, the lives of average inhabitants of Bonny, especially those who resided in the coastal fishing villages, deteriorated sharply due to extraction of crude oil. (Prins [ed.] 2001)

Adverse impact of oil industry on Bonny

Oil has an overwhelming presence in and around Oloma; the canalization and dredging of creeks by oil companies have significantly altered the landscape and pipes meander throughout the swamps, with signboards scattered throughout the area alerting villagers of “danger.” [25] To add to the already all pervading presence of oil, sea trucks pass daily to and from the flow station located at the end of the creek; and gas flares emit light 24 hours every day. But it was not so, at least not before Shell started dredging the creek. Rampant soil erosion swallowed the beautiful sandy beach and now houses and playgrounds are also gradually becoming prey to this silent killer. But the most important issue is fishing as a way of life is becoming more and more difficult for this predominantly fishing community as it is very fast becoming an uneconomic activity with each passing day. Some of the problems these fishermen encounter are:

Damage by Sea Trucks

Sea trucks continuously ply along the creek to and from the flow station located at the end of this waterway. The pilots of these sea trucks, it seems, have no concern about the fishermen or the oil multinationals have not paid sufficient attention in sensitising these pilots towards the needs and requirements of the poor fishing folk for whom this creek and its fishes are the only source of livelihood. Rapidly plying sea trucks do not bother to adhere to the speed restrictions and very often tear fishing lines, nets, and traps laid by the fishermen and the wake left behind by these trucks often cause the light and flimsy canoes of these fishermen to capsize.[26] In addition to these irritants, noise created by these sea trucks scare away whatever little quantities of fish that still might have remained in these creeks. (Wilcox and Powell 1985)

Spillage of oil and resultant pollution

Oil multinationals have consistently tried to make everybody believe that the main reason for low fish yields are over-fishing and overpopulation but the fishing community strongly believes that oil pollution has damaged their fishing economy beyond redemption. Fewer people reside in the community than in the past and fewer people take to fishing as the only means of livelihood. These oil companies dump all their waste products into the rivers thus polluting the waters and killing the fish and making lives of fishermen even bleaker and forcing them out of their traditional dwellings to urban centres in search of livelihood. (Alagoa and Tamuno, Land and People of Nigeria: Rivers State 1989) This has created another rather unusual problem. A greater burden has been placed upon the women because of the massive outward migration of men and each day, women spend hours in the mangrove swamps gathering shellfish such as winkles and mangrove oysters and other forms of shellfish to quench their hunger.[27]

It must however be admitted that there is not much scientific data examining the impact of oil pollution on the aquatic life. At the same time one should not lose sight of the symposium, “The Mangrove Ecosystem of the Niger Delta”, held in Port Harcourt in 1980, where several scholars researching in different disciplines discussed and shared information on the changes in the environment on account of oil exploration and broadly agreed that oil was a major factor contributing to the destruction of marine life. It was demonstrated by several scholars that crude oil contains compounds that are toxic to marine organisms and contribute to extensive mortality in finfish, shellfish, oysters, and birds. This was observed in the Apoi and Ojobo areas. (Odu and Imevbore 1985)

A study in Bonny River examined oil pollution and the brackish environment.[28] An experiment that examined the effect of crude petroleum oil and refined oils on aquatic organisms confirmed that crude oil and refined petroleum products in high concentrations were toxic to marine life. By comparing different types of fish and shellfish, it showed that some species were more resilient than others. Data revealed that shrimps were more susceptible to pollutants, followed by oysters and fish. Periwinkles were the most tolerant. Tainting of the flesh confirmed that the effect of oil spillage was lingering. Even small, though continual, spills affected the productivity of the water. It also showed that pollutants had a pronounced effect on the growth and reproductive capacity of organisms. (Onuoba 1985)

An oil spillage in Nembe in 1995 illustrates the problems with which oil producing communities must contend when there is a spillage. It was reported that an oil spill had occurred from an Agip oil pipeline. For several days, the oil flowed freely into the creeks and mangrove forest. The area went up in flames one night when a woman on a late-night fishing trip mistakenly set off the fire with her lantern. The fire destroyed much of the aquatic life in the area. In addition, farm crops were destroyed. (Agbese 1995)

A problem that many communities face during oil spillages is that many of the oil companies are unwilling to pay compensation during spillages because they believe that they are caused by sabotage. The communities, however, stress that many of the spillages are “legitimate” – not caused by sabotage, but instead by poorly maintained and faulty equipment. It is therefore necessary to monitor the areas regularly and to act immediately during spillages.[29]

It might be of interest to recollect that Shell Oil Company was compelled to shut down its operations in Ogoni in 1996 as a result of a high-profile protest campaign against it. The Nigerian government again ordered Shell in mid-2006 to resume oil production in Ogoni within one year or lose its concession. This necessitated a visit by a team of oil spill experts from the United Nations Environment Program to assess the impact of oil pollution on the region. A report compiled by World Wildlife Fund-UK (WWF UK), the World Conservation Union and the Nigeria Conservation Foundation, concluded that pollution is destroying the livelihood of 20 million people in the region and about 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilt in the Niger Delta over the past 50 years. The report says oil spills have done colossal damage to the fragile mangrove forests and wiped out rare species, including primates, fish, turtles and birds. The delta is now considered one of the five most polluted spots in the world.[30] The report concluded that the damage done by oil and gas production was one of the factors responsible for the instability and violence in the region, including the sabotage of oil facilities. (Costa 2006)

Gas Flaring and Pollution

Large quantities of methane gas are associated with oil. During oil production, this gas is burned off at flow stations above the oil wells. This introduces sulphur dioxide and oxides of carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere. The impact of this on the environment has not yet been substantiated. However, it is said that this could contribute to global warming. (Waribor 1976)

Nigerian authorities also admit that the country loses about $2.5 billion annually to gas flaring, while thousands of people in and around the oil-rich Delta region live in grinding poverty. The authorities have promised to set a deadline for oil firms operating in the area to stop the practice. Environmental watchdog groups say the flaring of gas has further polluted the region’s water, air and farmlands. They also report a significant increase in birth defects. Mike Karikpo, programs manager with the group Environmental Rights Action, however is rather sceptical about promises made by Nigerian authorities.

He recalls several instances of setting deadlines for gas flare-out in Nigeria right since 1965 and none of them had been met and he feels that the government and the oil companies are busy playing the blame game, pointing at each other for not doing what they are supposed to be doing.[31]

He is rather scathing in his remarks about the government and the oil companies and suspects both the parties benefit from flaring and it is basically a symbiotic relationship that benefits the government and oil companies. (Offor 2008)

Land Filling

Quite a few creeks and waterways have been filled up by the oil companies for laying pipelines and this has severely disturbed accessibility of numerous hutments and small villages and most of these villagers have been denied an alternative route to reach Bonny Town. The alternative route provided a safer option to reach Bonny town during monsoon when Bonny River becomes very rough and dangerous.[32]

Canalization also damages the environment. Oil companies create canals to either drain out an area for drilling and lying of pipes or create channels to transport drilling and other oil production equipment to the site. The channels alter the ecology of the area; they can also alter the flood pattern of the delta by resulting in perennial flooding of the otherwise well-drained plains as was observed in many areas in the Niger Delta. (Ekoriko 1996)

Erosion

The local inhabitants are of the firm opinion that the continual to and from movement of sea trucks along the creek and dredging of the land and waterways have significantly contributed to the erosion of the land. In Oloma, several households lost their fertile farmlands due to erosion and the sandy beach that used to be in front of the village has eroded away even after a sand-bank was designed to prevent further erosion. The embankment was promised for several years and finally in 1984 it was indeed built by a contractor who bagged the government contract. But like many other public constructions in corruption infested Nigeria, this embankment also did not last.[33] It got washed away during the rainy season and instead of benefiting the community and improving the situation, it worsened the scenario. Gaps in the embankment became dangerous for children and adults walking on the sandbags and several of them ended with broken legs or twisted ankles. (Fentiman 1996)

Dredging

Local fishermen of this area drag a net along the creek bottom as the most effective Indigenous fishing method. But after oil companies have emerged on the scene it is difficult, rather impossible for fishermen to catch fish in such a manner because the creeks have been dredged as a part of oil exploration and the water is now too deep to stand in, making this form of fishing obsolete. Dredging also destroys valuable freshwater and mangrove vegetation, which can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem because aquatic organisms depend on them for food and shelter during part or all of their life cycles (Wilcox and Powell 1985). Also, during the dredging process, oil is spilled into the water and burning of fuel releases carbon, sulphur, and nitrogen oxides into the aquatic environment thus causing severe water and air pollution. (Odu and Imevbore 1985)

Oloma and Social Change

The Land Decree Act of 1978 caused many communities throughout the Niger Delta to lose their valuable farmland. On top of that, oil production contributed to the contamination of whatever land that still remained with them. Though there is no doubting the fact that inhabitants of Oloma suffered in many ways when parts of their land were taken away, they have suffered more by losing the access and rights of way to their creeks and waterways. Further, the destruction and contamination of their productive resources have contributed to vast changes within the economic, political, and social structure of the community. As members of the community are forced to migrate because their resources are destroyed, various changes are taking place within these institutions.[34]

Unrest in Niger Delta

Many analysts feel that ownership of land is the main reason for the continuing political unrest in this region.  The Land Decree Act of 1978 automatically transfers title to any land where oil is found to the federal government without adequate compensation to the landowners. This gives the federal government the right to enter into an unholy alliance with multinational oil companies in the name of joint venture operations at the exclusion of the people.

Is Federal Government a party to the nexus?

The result is that the federal government and the multinational oil corporations share the resulting revenue on a ratio of 60:40 percent with nothing left for the original landowners.[35] This fraudulent and complex economic arrangement is based on much deeper and extremely sinister issues of ethnicity and tribalism. There are 250 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, with the Yorubas, Igbos and the Hausa/Fulani of the west, southeast and the north comprising the majority tribes. The minorities of the Ijaws, Itsekiris and other nationalities inhabit the oil rich Niger Delta region. However, most members of the government are from majority tribes that do not populate the Niger Delta and these people have created a formula for sharing the revenues from oil production that favours other regions, further increasing the poverty in the delta and creating anger and conflict between the delta tribes themselves. Trust amongst the tribes has been eroded, while hatred and suspicion have grown, as they are made to believe that they are enemies to one and another by the divide and rule and the divide and exploit attitude of an insincere national government and its dubious multinational collaborators. (Bisina 2005)

Non-recognition of Minorities and Indigenous People

The situation is made more volatile since Nigerian constitution does not recognise minority and indigenous rights though Chapter 2 of the constitution purports to confer equality on all citizens of the country irrespective of ethnic origin, sex, religion, and political opinion. The Nigerian constitution only deals with general question of non-discrimination but does not deal with the problem of vulnerable group like the nation’s minorities. There is no mention of minority and indigenous peoples’ rights in the constitution.[36]

A direct result of this lack of protection is Nigeria’s human rights crisis   that has arisen from the treatment meted to the mosaic of distinct minority and indigenous nationalities that straddle the length and breadth of the Niger Delta River where the nation’s exploration and exploitation of crude oil takes place.

Right from its onset, the oil industry in Nigeria had operated under the protection of certain security arrangements requiring the Nigeria Police to send officers to the oil companies as supernumerary police or spy police. These security officers had been implicated in abuses against local community members where they operate involving crimes like torture, arbitrary arrests and detention and rape.[37]

However, the response of the government took a new dimension in the wake of the decade long upsurge in agitations by the Niger Delta peoples. The standard response of the government had been the militarization of the area in order to crush community protests so as to ensure the protection of oil facilities and the continued flow of crude oil. This militarization has resulted in indiscriminate arrests, torture, rape and the extrajudicial execution of peoples in the Niger Delta. This is contrary to the principles of increasing the wellbeing of the people of Niger Delta and avoidance of adverse impacts. (The Niger Delta Civil Society Forum 2008)

Militancy in Niger Delta

Such a backdrop of corruption, nepotism, forgery and blatant show of force by governmental agencies had made Niger Delta into a lawless zone where militant youths disrupted oil production activities at will and communities frequently engaged, with little provocation, in destructive inter and intra community clashes[38]. Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and other activists called for the Nigerian federal government to regulate the oil exploration, drilling, and processing activities of Shell Oil and other oil manufacturers in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria. This included enforcing standards on the location of oil drills, proper disposal of oil wastes, and appropriate clean-up procedures in the event of spills. The activists also asked that a larger share of the profits from the oil industry be directed to the oil-producing regions of the country. They also wanted local government leaders to be included to a larger extent in the planning and decision-making of future oil explorations and expanded activities related to current oil drilling and processing. They usually threaten oil companies and their employees to leave their region. At times, they hold foreign oil workers hostage and have sabotaged major oilfields. These militants also provide security for the oil-smugglers who are believed to exchange oil for weapons from Eastern Europe. They claim that they have had enough of the exploitation of their resources and wanted to take total control of the area to get their fair share of the wealth. (M. Olusakin 2005)

The Niger Delta crisis is a serious matter that requires serious policy and committed and courageous leadership to resolve. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta threatened some rocket attacks. (The Guardian 2006) But there was no tangible, realistic and genuine efforts made by the government of the country to untangle that crisis.[39]

As mentioned earlier, the people of Niger Delta have been suffering from environmental degradation and pollution through oil spillage and gas flaring. The Commissions established by the government (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992, replaced by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000) have not made any noticeable socioeconomic impacts in the region. (ANEEJ 2004)

 

However, before passing a blanket judgement on governmental efforts, it would be fair to quickly browse through the details of the brief of NDDC and what it could achieve. This of course is not an attempt to whitewash the role played by Nigerian Government in tackling the crisis in the Delta region. Rather it is an attempt to remain fair and not be swayed by the high voltage rhetoric employed by all the concerned parties.[40]

Niger Delta Development Commission was charged with the responsibility of promoting sustainable development of the Niger Delta. Specifically, the functions of the NDDC included the following:

  • Formulate policies and guidelines for the development of the Niger Delta area;
  • Conceive, plan and implement in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programs for sustainable development of the Niger Delta area, in the fields of transportation, including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications;
  • Cause the Niger Delta area to be surveyed in order to ascertain measures which are necessary to promote its physical and socioeconomic development;
  • Prepare master plans and schemes designed to promote the physical development of the Niger Delta area.[41]
  • Implement all the measures approved for the development of the Niger Delta area by the Federal Government and the member States of the Commission;
  • Identify factors inhibiting the Development of the Niger Delta area and assist the member states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta area;
  • Assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the Niger Delta area by oil and gas producing companies and any other company including non-governmental organizations, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilized;
  • Tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger Delta area and advise the Federal Government and the member States on the prevention and control of oil spillages, gas flaring and environmental pollution;
  • Liaise with the various oil mineral and gas prospecting and producing companies on all matters of pollution, prevention and control; and
  • Execute such other works and perform such other functions which, in the opinion of the Commission, are required for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta area and its people.(Niger-Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc.) Act: 2000 Act No. 6: Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2000)

The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) placed great emphasis on human development based on the conviction that any development must begin with the human being who otherwise could become opposed to the development process[42]. It had developed various programs to facilitate this. Some of the achievements of NDDC are: Over 100,000 treated for various illnesses; 5,000 enrolled in computer training classes; 417 classrooms built; desks and tables provided for those classrooms; science equipment provided for local schools; 50 health centres constructed and many similar projects. Though these were mere drops in the ocean when compared to the yawning requirements of the area and NDDC was superseded by Consolidated Council on Social and Economic Development of Coastal States of the Niger Delta (COSEND) — a new development institution recently established by the Government of Nigeria to drive the development of the Niger Delta region — one has to admit that NDDC was not a mere spectator in the ongoing happenings in the Delta region. (Ebeku 2008)

It might seem a misnomer if it is said that the crisis in the Niger Delta is not complex by itself. But the actual fact is the approach to resolving it has made it complex and dangerous. The people are not asking for anything out of the ordinary. The region that is home to Nigeria’s oil wealth remains the most impoverished community in the nation. Reports note that they lack basic infrastructure – good network of roads, health care facilities, good schools and portable water. The spate of sad images of the poor quality of life in the creeks that are periodically shown to the world on CNN (and in the newspapers) highlight that the oil wealth is not being used to develop the area.[43] The successive governments have collected billions of dollars from the land over the decades, but little (if any) has been invested in the area to improve the people’s living conditions. Is there anything wrong in investing some money that is realized from the oil extracted from the region to improve the people’s living conditions? [44]

The main causes of Niger Delta crisis include greed and selfishness, deprivation and poverty and social injustice. (Oyadongha 2006) The simple meaning of social justice, according to experts, is that the same contribution equals the same benefit. A person’s “benefit” equals his or her “contribution” and no community should be given more when it contributes less or be given less when it contributes more. The Niger Delta, however, is contributing a lot to the economic well being of Nigeria and it is getting nothing, but destruction, in return. Without social justice there will be no peace in the Niger Delta and socioeconomic development will continue to elude the region. Social justice, as experts say, is an important ingredient for “socioeconomic development.” It creates a healthy, harmonious, and reliable social psychological atmosphere that stimulates economic development. And because of social injustice the entire nation is slowly becoming politically and economically very unstable. (Boothroyd and Nam 2000)

But this crisis has not shown any signs over the years that it would be resolved. Some thought it would end with the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogonis on November 10, 1995. But what followed was a worldwide condemnation of the Nigerian authorities and a genuine concern for human rights abuses in that country.

The condemnations notwithstanding ground reality has changed very little over the years and as the situation stands, the country is, losing several billions of dollars to the massive destruction being credited to the activities of saboteurs, or militants (depending on which side of the divide you are) in the region, by blowing up oil installations belonging to major multinational oil companies.[45] As a result, Nigeria is having a daily shortfall of almost a million barrels crude oil production from its quota to OPEC. This will have a massive implication on the annual budget of the country as the government will be forced to undertake a huge amount of deficit financing in order to keep up to the budgeted expenditure.

The situation is compounded by the fact that Labour Unions, under the aegis of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), led Nigerian workers to draw the attention of the federal government to the deplorable plights of workers in the face of the current global economic meltdown and made several demands on the government, some of which are, an increase in workers’ salaries, a reversal of the deregulation of the downstream sector and the adoption of the Justice Uwais’ recommendations on electoral reforms. But as long as the crisis in Niger Delta continues the demands and expectations of Nigerian workers and the rest of the populace can hardly be met. Nigerian economy has become too lopsided with over 95% of foreign exchange earnings coming from the crude oil produce of Niger Delta.[46]

But in all probabilities it has not been a correct (at least economically) decision to order a military invasion of the creeks in Niger-Delta by the Joint Military Task Force (JTF), in the quest to flush out militants operating within the bowels of the oil rich region of the country. It is true that military officers were massacred, and those responsible for it must not be allowed to go free, but the process of apprehending the criminal elements responsible for this wicked act should follow an intelligent, systematic and calculated procedure. Had this been an American issue, on US soil, the FBI and CIA would surely have played predominant roles in thwarting the efforts of these militants, while ensuring that minimum “collateral damages” are incurred. Nigerian lives, whether they are of Niger-Deltan’s, Fulani or Yoruba are just too sacred and valuable to be lost and neglected in a struggle that truly centres on them. (Eseku 2009)

Pat Utomi in his article has clearly demonstrated there is a fair amount of consensus that the crisis in the Niger Delta is a cumulative consequence of six major factors. These are: the challenge of minority rights in a multi-ethnic country; a history of poor or bad governance; the allure of crude oil stealing; the challenge of principles-based nation-building with regard to fiscal federalism; and the ‘criminalization’ of politics. Then there is the enclave nature of the oil economy, which limits the trickle-down of benefits to the community.[47]

It will surely sound sweet music to multinational oil companies that Niger Delta crisis predates the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in the Delta.  Long before Shell Oil made commercial finds in Oloibiri in 1956, many of the minority peoples who dominate the Niger Delta had petitioned the British Colonial administration with concerns that they were being marginalized by the ethnic majority groups.  The petitions resulted in a commission of inquiry.  One outcome of the work of the Willinks Commission was the setting up of a Niger Delta Basin Authority to drive economic development. This initiative quickly fell into neglect and deprivation became the symbol of the region. The extraction of wealth from the earth beneath the Delta benefited the Nigerian government and the oil producing companies. At the same time, it despoiled the region’s environment and took away traditional means of livelihood from the region’s young people who were offered no employment alternatives. Their plight became a cause celebre in the quest for civil liberties and fundamental human rights.[48]

As if that was not enough of a burden, bad governance at the state and federal levels meant the region lacked the most basic infrastructure, while communities needed only look across the fence to the ultramodern facilities enjoyed by mainly foreign employees of the oil companies.  Widespread corruption in the institutions established in response to agitation for justice and fairness in the region rendered these efforts utterly ineffective. A central question has been determining who should be held accountable. The people of the region have usually held the operating companies to account, while the oil firms insist that they are victims and that the governments to whom they have paid taxes should be responsible for development.  While the debate went on, the people of the oil-rich Delta remained among the poorest people in the world. (Afiesiama 1985)

The anger of the region is further inflamed by the fact that the federal structure agreed upon at independence was an entrenchment of the principle of being a subsidiary, with an understanding that resources belong to the federating states who then contribute 50 percent of revenues from mineral resources for maintenance of the central government. Under military rule this basic understanding of the essence of the Nigerian Federation was systematically turned on its head without consultation or debate.  At one point, less than one percent of oil revenues, in real terms, accrued to the sub-national oil-producing units by the derivation principle. With greater freedoms and the advent of civilian, democratic rule, these inflamed passions and resentments were predictable and more forcefully expressed.[49]

Large scale stealing of crude oil, in which powerful politicians and senior military officials were known to be implicated, further aggravated the sense of injury felt by the people in the Niger Delta. The dominant feeling was that while they dealt with the pains of poverty, actors from outside the region engaged in rapacious conspicuous consumption from resources of the Niger Delta.

The introduction of violence as an instrument of securing legitimate political power has complicated the scenario even more. Thugs and gangs of political enforcers have proliferated in the region.[50]  This phenomenon, which has been dubbed the “criminalization of the political process,” is currently on ‘exhibition’ at the Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It has led to proliferation of arms in the region and the emergence of warlords supported, at least initially, by the actions of politicians and government officials. Many of these actors, with no strong political convictions, add to the criminal elements compounding the activities of the political militants. (Utomi 2008)

It is no small wonder that passions run pretty high on the highly emotive issue of the crisis in Niger Delta. Very often racially loaded comments are made by people in responsible positions and those comments have far reaching implications on the political careers of these highly placed individuals. A recent case involved Van Jones, Environmental Adviser to United States President Barack Obama. He had commented that oil companies are killing “blacks” in Nigeria. His remark about Nigeria was in reference to environmental degradation in the Niger Delta caused by multinational oil companies. [51]

The Washington Times reported that Jones had also in the past made comments claiming an ecological apartheid in which white polluters; white environmentalists were steering poison to minority communities. Such a racially loaded statement is bound to raise a lot of political storm especially when United States has an African-American as President in the White House. (Ohia 2009)

Jones had to resign his post in the face of rising tide of criticism and many observers feel that he was forced to relinquish his post by the President himself as he did not want to provide additional ammunition to all those that were opposing tooth and nail his policies of Health Care reforms. The present project does not deal with the intricacies of Washington politics but the incident involving Van Jones indeed brought in sharp focus the deep lines that divide the stakeholders in this problem.

Legal resistance against environmental pollution

Apart from militant outbursts, legal resistance has also been another channel through which Nigerians have expressed their anguish over the systematic environmental destruction of their territories that multinational oil companies have been indulging in for decades.[52] A Nigerian High Court had upheld on 19th May 2006 an order asking Royal Dutch Shell to pay $1.5 billion in damages for pollution in the oil-producing Niger Delta region. The oil giant was directed to pay the money to ethnic Ijaw communities in the state of Bayelsa. A group of Ijaws had earlier approached the court of law seeking compensation for what they called the devastation of their area’s environment because of oil drilling. (US Fed News Service 2006)

In a report filed on 30th July 2001, Xinhua News Agency had stated Sola Ebiseni, commissioner of the Ondo State for environment and natural resources, had claimed in state’s capital Akure that Seven out of every ten persons living in the oil rich coastal area of Nigeria’s southern state of Ondo have fled due to the pollution of the environment and the source of livelihood of the remaining people was under severe threat.[53] Faced with an acute environmental crisis Nigerian government ordered the oil companies operating in Nigeria and to take full responsibility of clearing the mess they caused during the operations. The Nigerian Government also called for an elaborate conference of stakeholders on the Nigerian environment from September 18 to 20, 2001 in the capital Abuja. According to a statement issued by National Coordinator of the summit Bolu Jonh Folayan, the summit, a private/government sector coalition to make the Nigerian environment safer, was supported by the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Power and Steel, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and other major stakeholders. However, in spite of such high power presence, the summit ended in a bout of finger pointing and passing of pious resolutions without any clear cut fixation of responsibility. (Xinhua News Desk 2001)

Former chairman of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, on a temporary exile in the United States, has urged the United States government to expand its crime law to enable it nail high level Nigerian recipients of bribe, who usually enjoy a safe haven within the country. During a testimony before the House Financial Services Committee of the US Congress in Washington DC, he argued that while the responsibility to solve this problem ultimately lies with Nigeria, the US could help to narrow the operating space for what he described as “high-stakes elite bribery”, with an expanded law that would rein them in, irrespective of their country of origin.[54] In an effort to put the issue in sharper perspective, Ribadu reminded the Congress that the culprits of the infamous Halliburton/KBR corruption scandal had faced severe consequences including the payment of killer fines up to the tune of $600 million. However, their Nigerian counterparts are still walking free because of poor law enforcement and the fact that the US lacks jurisdiction to rein in those individuals. Same is the case with the Siemens scandal that is yet to produce any conviction or sanction from the Nigerian side. But if and when the perpetrators of this sort of crimes are nabbed across borders, he argued that the lack of hiding place will stop them in their tracks. Ribadu further claimed that Nigeria has lost some $440 billion between 1960 and 1999 to corruption; a figure, he said, is six times higher than the Marshall Plan amount needed to rebuild devastated Europe after World War II. Putting forward some telling statistics,[55] Ribadu claimed that former Governor of Plateau State Joshua Dariye was found to have 25 bank accounts in London alone, acquiring some 10 million pounds in benefits through criminal conduct. Also former Governor of Bayelsa State D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha had banks traced to Cyrpus, Denmark, US and Bahamas. He had property valued about 10 million pounds in London and another valued at 10 million rand in Cape Town, South Africa. (Ikokwu 2009)

How unsafe it is to reside in Niger Delta

Shell, which produces more than half of Nigeria’s oil, and hence one of the prime polluters of environment in the Niger Delta region, has countered condemnation of pollution by pointing out that the Delta has many other environmental problems as overpopulation and land degradation. (Alagoa, The Development of Institutions in the States of the Eastern Niger Delta 1996)

But a report by World Bank environment specialist David Moffat and Professor Olof Linden of Stockholm University, published in Ambio, the magazine of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, claims that even official statistics suggest that every year the delta is polluted by 2.3 billion cubic metres of oil from some 300 separate spills, almost one a day, but that the true figure may be 10 times higher. The report also exploded the oft repeated claim by oil companies – much trumpeted by Shell in the row that had followed the killing of writer and environmentalist Saro-Wiwa and eight fellow Ogoni activists in November 1995 – that they have improved the lives of the people by investing in local communities.[56]

The report concluded that the impact of these initiatives had been “minimal”. The report confirms that that gas flaring from oil production in the area emitted some 35 million tons of carbon dioxide and 12 million tons of methane a year, making it the world’s largest single contributor to global warming. This report goes on to describe how by building canals and roads, largely to service the industry, the oil industry has precipitated some of the most extensive environmental degradation in the region.

The report describes in vivid detail how the oil companies and government construct roads that block streams, creating stagnant ponds of water, killing forests and flooding fields and fertile plains. These roads also give loggers better access to the area’s fast-diminishing forests. This report also goes on to admit that though oil provides more than 80 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange, nearly three-quarters of the people of the Delta live in rural communities characterised by a lack of development, stagnant agricultural productivity, negligible opportunities in urban areas, rapid population growth and tenuous property rights.[57]

And, one must make a special mention of the fact that this is one of the first few reports that stated that while income in the area is below the national average, health is “substantially worse” than in the rest of south-east Nigeria. Tests have found 85 per cent of drinking water samples polluted by sewage, and water-related diseases account for four-fifths of all the illness. It might be of some solace to those who feel disturbed by the environmental pollution unleashed by Shell and other multinational oil corporations upon the hapless inhabitants of Niger Delta that The Royal Geographical Society had voted way back in 1996 to dump Shell as one of its sponsors because of its activities in Nigeria. At its annual conference on 5th January 1996, members of the 160-year-old society voted by 157 to 10 to remove Shell as one of its four corporate patrons because of disquiet over the company’s environmental and political record. (Lean 1996)

According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, researchers at Lagos University had conducted several studies and had come to the stunning conclusion that more than 25 percent of Nigerians are at an increased risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic chemicals from crude oil pollution, Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). [58] They are also at the risk that PAHs can be genotoxic, that is, the damage caused can be inherited. Previous studies have already indicated that PAHs caused a decrease in sperm count and fertility in crude oil polluted environment of the Niger Delta. PAHs are known to be acutely lethal in low concentrations and chronically lethal in sub-lethal concentration. Toxic effects observed due to PAHs include decreased body weight, enlarged liver with cell oedema and congestion of liver parenchyma and inflammation of kidney cells. Several related studies have also confirmed that exposure to Benzo(a) Pyrene (BaP) increases the risk of cancer. BaP is a five-ring PAH, belonging to the alternant class of PAHs. It is known to be a ubiquitous environmental carcinogen.

Chimezie Anyakora, Ugochukwu Obiakor, Funke Babalogbon and Herbert Coker of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Lagos had carried out an extensive investigation on auto mechanics and found that 25 percent of exposed subjects (auto mechanics) were found to contain one PAH or the other while one out of eleven unexposed subjects (students) had PAH in their blood sample. A second study published in American Journal of Environmental Sciences by Chimezie Anyakora, and Herbert Coker of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Lagos, concluded that people of the Niger Delta are at a higher risk of cancer because high concentrations of this toxic chemical were found in the fishes they eat.[59]

Oil spills have become a regular feature in the deltaic region with the then Texaco Overseas Nigeria Unlimited Funiwa blow-out and Mobil Nigeria crude oil spill in the late 1990.  Since then, most oil spills which run into millions of barrels are concentrated around oil floating stations, oil wells and crude oil pipelines which crisscross the entire offshore region of the Niger Delta region.[60]

Mid 2007 sabotage of Warri-Kaduan crude oil pipeline that is the main channel (having a capacity of 110,000 barrels per day) for transporting crude from the Niger Delta region to Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemical Company Limited caused massive oil spill and pollution in Chanomi Creeks in Delta State. (Xinhua News Desk 2007)

Oil and Health

There is absolutely no doubt that oil has spelt doom in the lives of the original inhabitants of the delta region. These victims of environmental degradation are denied the basic right to health as envisaged in “The Right to Health”, Fact Sheet No. 31 published by Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Office at Geneva.

Key aspects of the right to health

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights had mentioned health as part of the right to an adequate standard of living (art. 25). The right to health was again recognized as a human right in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[61] In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the right to the highest attainable standard of health by WHO and by the Commission on Human Rights (now replaced by the Human Rights Council), which in 2002 created the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. These initiatives have helped clarify the nature of the right to health and how it can be achieved. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2008)

The right to health is an inclusive right and goes beyond access to health care and the building of hospitals. It includes a wide range of factors that can help us lead a healthy life. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body responsible for monitoring the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, calls these the “underlying determinants of health”.[62] They include:

  • Safe drinking water and adequate sanitation;
  • Safe food;
  • Adequate nutrition and housing;
  • Healthy working and environmental conditions;
  • Health-related education and information;
  • Gender equality.

(The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966)

Misconceptions about right to health

One should also steer clear about certain common misconceptions about the right to health while discussing this vital component of human rights. The right to health surely does not mean the same as the right to be healthy. Rather, the right to health refers to the right to the enjoyment of a variety of goods, facilities, services and conditions necessary for its realization. So, a state is morally and ethically respoinsible to provide its citizens all the facilties and provisions that are necessary for them to enjoy unfetterd right to health.

The fact that the programme to ensure right to health has certain tangible deadlines to be met does, however, never means that State is under an immediate obligation to ensure that such deadlines are met.[63] The State must make every possible effort, within available resources, to realise the right to health and to take steps in that direction without any delay. Here, of course, comes another stipulation that prevents all those States that are not that much enthusiastic about implementing this right from escaping the responsibility. A country’s difficult financial situation does not absolve it from having to take action to realize the right to health.

Link between right to health and other human rights

Member States of United Nations feel human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. This means that violating the right to health may often impair the enjoyment of other human rights, such as the rights to education or work, and vice versa. (World Conference on Human Rights 1993) On the other hand, right to health is also dependent upon many other human rights as rights to food, to water, to an adequate standard of living, to adequate housing, to freedom from discrimination, to privacy, to access to information, to participation, and the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications. It is common knowledge that ill health is associated with the ingestion of or contact with unsafe water which in turn is linked to lack of adequate hygiene, lack of sanitation and poor management of water resources and systems. Just in case a small bit of statistics helps the case, it may be recounted that most diarrhoeal disease in the world is attributable to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. In 2002, diarrhoea attributable to these three factors caused approximately 2.7 per cent of deaths (1.5 million) worldwide. (Environmental Burden of Disease Series, No. 15 2007)

Right to health as enshrined in International Human Rights Law and Constitutions of several countries

There are several international human rights treaties that recognise the right to health.[64] They are:

  • The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: art. 5 (e) (iv);
  • The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: art. 12;
  • The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: arts. 11 (1) (f), 12 and 14 (2) (b);
  • The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: art. 24;
  • The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families: arts. 28, 43 (e) and 45 (c);
  • The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: art. 25.

The right to health is also recognized in several regional instruments, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, known as the Protocol of San Salvador (1988), and the European Social Charter (1961, revised in 1996). The American Convention on Human Rights (1969) and the European Convention for the Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) contain provisions related to health, such as the right to life, the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the right to family and private life.[65]

The right to health is also enshrined in constitutions of some countries[66]:

Constitution of South Africa (1996):

Chapter II, Section 27: Health care, food, water and social security:

“(1) Everyone has the right to have access to health-care services, including reproductive health care; sufficient food and water; […]

(2) The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of each of these rights.

(3) No one may be refused emergency medical treatment.”

Constitution of India (1950):

Part IV, art. 47, articulates a duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health: “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties…”

Constitution of Ecuador (1998):

Chapter IV: Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 42:

“The State guarantees the right to health, its promotion and protection, through the development of food security, the provision of drinking water and basic sanitation, the promotion of a healthy family, work and community environment, and the possibility of permanent and uninterrupted access to health services, in conformity with the principles of equity, universality, solidarity, quality and efficiency.”

Right to health: how far it is honoured in Niger Delta

In spite of so many legal provisions it is unfortunate that hardly anything is being honoured in Niger Delta.[67] We have already discussed how oil spillage has not only polluted water in creeks and made them unfit for human consumption but also killed or infected the fish in those creeks. The pollution from spillages have also rendered fertile agricultural lands completely barren and forced large scale exodus from this region. The air pollution through flaring has also increased chances of contacting cancer and this region has become a virtual death trap for all those who are forced to reside in this condemned zone. (Charlick 2001)

In a news report in TendersInfo Edwin Clarke, an undisputed Ijaw leader claimed that there would no lasting peace in the Niger Delta region unless oil companies pay to the indigenous communities a sum of $100 million as compensation for almost 14,000 cases of environmental degradation that these companies are guilty of.[68] He further accused the Nigerian Government of not being serious about ending gas flaring as is evident from the fact that while all other governments have cut off date for gas flaring to come to an end, Nigerian Government has no such strictly enforceable cut off date and the earliest date by which one hopes it would finally end in Nigeria would be 2020. (manish03 2008)

Is there a way forward?

Though it is practically impossible to untangle the mess in Niger Delta unless environmental pollution perpetrated by oil companies is brought to a near complete halt, the government should make every effort to encourage private investment in agriculture and agro-industries by providing incentives, including tax breaks, finance credit and extension services. Also, inclusion of women would help in the process of negotiating and inculcating a positive peace agenda as that would introduce gender sensitivity.

Apart from the oil industry, there are numerous practices that impact on the Nigerian environment. Apart from the oil companies’ activities having a great impact on the environment, the following also impact the environment:

Bush burning, extermination of wildlife by hunters, rain, drought and desertification, deforestation, flooding and erosion, industrial pollution and contamination of water bodies, vehicular emission and noise pollution, toxic wastes and dumping of hazardous chemicals, emissions from mechanic workshops, sewage and municipal solid wastes disposal problems, winds and other natural disasters.[69]

A desirable outcome for the Nigerian people and the current government is a strong diversified economy able to generate employment and sustain livelihood for its citizens. The focus should be on increasing the productivity of agriculture, diversifying export earnings, increasing the utilization of industrial capacity, and providing gainful employment for its population. (Horton 2001)

According to Dr. Pat Utomi an administrative solution would be the construction of a major East-West highway through the region that will not only open economic opportunity to the community but will also improve access to prospecting areas for oil companies who have shown an interest in co-funding such a project in the past but have seen the federal government renege on its part of the proposal.[70] It is part of what will provide the thawing of the frost to allow meaningful dialogue to begin. This along with adequate funding and educated civil society monitoring of Niger Delta Development Commission, and an agreement in Abuja to return to the founding principles of the Nigerian federation will ensure that energy security and peace and development in the region is achieved. Local economic advancement and energy security are twins that should travel together for sustainable success. (Utomi 2008)

 

 

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Alagoa, E. J. “The Development of Institutions in the States of the Eastern Niger Delta.” Journal of African History; 12,2, 1996: 269-278.

Alagoa, E. J., and T. Tamuno. Land and People of Nigeria: Rivers State. Nigeria: Riverside Communications, 1989.

ANEEJ. “Oil of Poverty in Niger Delta.” African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, 2004.

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Glossary

  1. Rapporteur – somebody who is appointed to investigate a subject and deliver a report on it
  2. Hausa/Fulani – a term used to refer collectively to the Hausa and Fulani people of West Africa. The two are grouped together because their histories have been largely intertwined since the Fulani War. For example, when the Fulani took over Hausa city-state of Kano during the Fulani War, the new emirs ended up speaking the Hausa language instead of Fulfulde.
  3. Yoruba – They are one of the largest ethno-linguistic or ethnic groups in West Africa having around 120 million individuals. Most of these people speak Yoruba language and constitute approximately 21% of the total population of Nigeria.
  4. Igbo – They are also referred as Ibo(e), Ebo(e), Eboans or Heebo and are an ethnic group living chiefly in south-eastern and south Nigeria. They speak Igbo but quite a substantial number of members of this ethnic group can speak fluent English too. They are among the largest and most influential ethnic groups in Nigeria.
  5. Sharia – It is the body of Islamic religious law. The term means “way” or “path to the water source”. It is the legal framework within which the public and private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islamic principles of jurisprudence and for Muslims living outside the domain.
  6. Ijaw – They are a collection of people (also known by the subgroups “Ijo” or “Izon”) who reside mostly in the forest regions of the Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States within the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Some are also natives of Akwa-Ibom, Edo and Ondo states of Nigeria. Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far west as Sierra Leone and as far east as Gabon along the Western Africa coastline. They are believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of southern Nigeria.
  7. Ogoni – They are one of the many indigenous peoples in the Niger Delta region of southeast Nigeria. They number about a half million people and live in a 404-square-mile homeland which they also refer to as Ogoni, or Ogoniland. The world came to know of these people after a massive public protest campaign against Shell Oil, led by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).
  8. Itsekiri – They are also known as Jekri, Isekiri or Ishekiri) and are an ethnic group of Nigeria’s Niger Delta area, Delta State. They number roughly 450,000 people. Though small in numbers they are considered to be a highly educated ethnic group and endowed with a rich cultural heritage.
  9. Ken Saro-Wiwa – He was a was a Nigerian author, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people. He was initially a spokesperson and then President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). He led a non-violent campaign against Shell and was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian Government. At the peak of his non-violent campaign, Saro-Wiwa was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995 by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, all on charges widely viewed as entirely politically motivated and completely unfounded. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations.

[1] The multinational companies do have a responsibility towards the inhabitants of Niger Delta and cannot engage in mindless destruction of environment simply to pump up their bottom-line.

[2] The situation has become an intractable mesh of conflicting economic interests mostly of those that do not inhabit the delta and thus the only sensible option of clearing this mess is to adopt a human rights approach that would attempt to uplift the lot of the local inhabitants without attempting to do the impossible, i.e. balancing the conflicting economic claims of concerned stakeholders.

[3] Violence begets violence and world history has ample examples of the futility of trying to suppress legitimate demands of ethnic people through governmental or administrative terror or violence. Such attempts only steel the resolve of the local people and incite them to adopt means they would have abhorred under normal circumstances.

[4] It is these ethnic groups that formed the three basic power centres in modern Nigeria that resulted in a consequent perpetual tug of war between them for national supremacy.

[5] An over-dependence on oil began in right earnest from this point of time.

[6] Economic disparity, a lack of proper education, and a religious divide fanned by rabid fanaticism, combined together to form a deadly potion for instigating fratricidal violence.

[7] It is the body of Islamic religious law dealing with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues.

[8] This religious dichotomy has also contributed to the sharp north-south divide that has been the bane of the country ever since the modern state of Nigeria came into existence.

[9] These figures only show how skewed Nigerian economy has become. A near complete dependence on oil has made this country completely subservient to the whims and fancies of oil multinationals irrespective of the growls and whimpers occasionally heard from their leaders.

[10] Poverty becomes really ironical when viewed in the Nigerian context. Here is a country that has natural resources that would put similar countries to shame, but it has simply squandered those resources by allowing oil multinationals to conduct “on rent” production and has remained satisfied with the meagre amount of royalty that these oil giants throw at it.

[11] It is highly improbable though that the present leadership in Nigeria would actually walk down the difficult path of industrialisation as both China and India did.

[12] Acute financial distress coupled with loss of traditional means of livelihood has forced many local inhabitants of the Delta region to stoop to stealing in order to survive.

[13] At times, the human aspect of the tragedy gets lost in the barrage of figures.

[14] Though it took a pretty long time for the oil companies to strike oil, once they could do so, it was a pretty smooth and increasingly rewarding journey for the multinational oil giants.

[15] Nigeria was gradually making its presence felt among petroleum producers of the world.

[16] Oil exploration has long been one of the worst enemies of environment and extraction of this non-renewable source of energy has created an unimaginable mess in Niger Delta.

[17] Every single variety of pollution mentioned here has the potential of damaging beyond recovery the fragile eco-system that is generally prevalent in deltaic regions of the world.

[18] The author feels that the best way to focus on and highlight a problem is to concentrate on a case study. This gives more genuineness and immediacy to the problem and readers can also associate themselves with the problem at hand more easily. Oloma is simply a representative of the malaise that has spread wide and deep in oil rich Niger Delta and has heaped untold misery on hapless inhabitants.

[19] This obviously makes it one of the most difficult places to stay.

[20] Bonny proved beyond all doubts the age old wisdom that cities grew not because of their citizens but because of their geographical location.

[21] It was indeed a sad day that Bonny had to see after experiencing so much importance during its heyday. But this decline was only temporary as it revived its glory, thanks once again to its unique geographical location when oil was struck in Niger Delta.

[22] Commercially viable export of crude oil required smooth access by massive oil tankers. Port Harcourt was too far inland to make this feasible. Technically perhaps it was not impossible but the enormous expenditure that the oil companies would have had to incur by dredging round the clock to maintain sufficient draft made it a completely uneconomic proposition.

[23] Bonny extracted every bit of advantage that it possibly could from its unique location and in spite of temporary setbacks it regained its position of preeminence as soon as oil was struck in Niger Delta.

[24] It would surely be unfair if no mention is made of the benefits that have accrued to Bonny town as the oil companies increased their presence.

[25] It has indeed become really dangerous for indigenous inhabitants of Bonny to continue surviving purely through their traditional occupation of fishing.

[26] The fishermen have no option but to accept their bad luck and remain mute spectators to such destruction of their hard earned property.

[27] The impact of oil is not restricted to environmental pollution only; it causes disruptions in family and social lives too.

[28] This path breaking study has nailed the excuse very often spouted by multinational oil companies that irrespective of how dirty it might look to a casual observer, oil spillages do not actually harm aquatic life to that extent the anti-oil lobbies want the world to believe and accept.

[29] The most virulent problem in Niger Delta is possibly the mutual distrust that persists between multinational oil giants and local inhabitants of this region. While the oil majors consider the local inhabitants as a perpetually whimpering and complaining nuisance that occasionally turn violent and disrupt smooth extraction of crude, the locals consider these multinational giants as usurpers who had bribed the powers that are in control in Lagos to plunder the natural wealth of this region. This plunder becomes all the more pathetic as the local populace faces all the negative effects of oil extraction without getting a chance to enjoy the benefits.

[30] Though it was apparent to all those who bothered to be worried about the pitiable condition in Niger Delta, perhaps a report by internationally acclaimed experts was needed to put the final seal of condemnation of Nigerian authorities.

[31] These environmentalists have enough reason to be indignant and sceptical about any attempts made by Nigerian government towards cleaning up the environmental mess in Niger Delta.

[32] As it is the region is extremely inhospitable and if the available communication routes are snatched away, it becomes even more difficult for the local inhabitants to survive.

[33] Corruption at various levels of administration has become one of the worst malaises to have hit these impoverished people.

[34] This happens to be “unseen” impact of oil exploration in Niger Delta. The age old social structures are gradually breaking down and slipping away from sight. These original inhabitants of the Delta region are being silently coerced to leave their habitat of numerous generations not by any foreign occupation army but (and that is most painful) by their own government. The devious government is suitably assisted by a thoroughly corrupt police force that is more eager to fill its pockets through undue gratification rather than apprehend true criminals who cause untold hardships to thousands of helpless and powerless tribes who are numerically in a minority in their own country.  

[35] Such an inherently flawed sharing system automatically creates misgivings and a sense of being wrongly cheated and hoodwinked in the minds of large number of people. This vast army of disgruntled people would initially suffer all such devious machinations and forgeries in silence. But, once their limits of tolerance are crossed, a violent backlash becomes the only plausible outcome.

[36] Such a statement on equality and non-discrimination does not carry any worthwhile meaning.

[37] Oil multinationals have spawned a culture of subterfuge, corruption and violence in Niger Delta that have destroyed the simplicity that was the hallmark of these uncomplicated fishing tribes that inhabited the numerous villages dotting the shoreline.

[38] Violence seems to be the only alternative to the hot headed local youth who feel discrimination can only be ended with the help of a gun.

[39] The Nigerian Government must take some positive steps towards solving the crisis instead of spending money in killing its own people.

[40] This happens to be one of the greatest problems faced by any independent researcher. There are so many interested parties and they are so vociferous about what they feel should be the right course of action that very often truth takes a backseat amidst the prevailing high decibel diatribe.

[41] Numerous Master Plans and Schemes had been devised for the last half a century but all these plans (before this commission was instituted, that is) failed to pay adequate attention to the human factor of the crisis in Niger Delta.

[42] This happened to be perhaps the first governmental acknowledgement of the seriousness of the human factor and a concerned attempt towards viewing the entire issue through a humanitarian prism.

[43] Though there are quite a few observers that are of the opinion that media has actually sensationalised the issue instead of directing world opinion towards practical options of solving the Delta imbroglio, it cannot be denied that concerted exposure of the issue has not allowed it to fade from Western consciousness.

[44] This has been the cry of inhabitants of the Delta region for the last half a century.

[45] It has become a free for all situation in the Niger Delta.

[46] This has been one of the gravest mistakes of all the rulers that have ruled this country irrespective of whether they got power through democratic means or through military coups.

[47] This makes crude oil extraction one of the most vilified industries in the world.

[48] Many a drawing room in plush homes of Europe and United States reverberated with “sympathies” for Delta people and numerous remedies were put forward, often in an inebriated state.

[49] That surely does not mean military dictatorship is a better option than democracy.

[50] Musclemen and corrupt politicians have one thing in common – both want to fish in troubled waters.

[51] Such a provocative statement spewing that much vitriol was surely not expected from a man occupying such an important position no matter how strongly he might have felt about the issue.

[52] All Nigerians are not militants; quite a large number among them would genuinely love to follow the rule of law.

[53] This was not something that the world did not know; it was only that the high and the mighty had started taking note of the abominable environmental conditions in coastal Nigeria.

[54] If this can actually be implemented, the criminals will not have a single place to hide anywhere on the earth. They would then, quite obviously, think several times before getting involved in criminal activities.

[55] These statistics are genuinely telling. Anyone would be scandalised on coming to know of corruption of such an abominable scale.

[56] The multinational oil companies had been playing this nasty game ever since they started exploring for oil in the Niger Delta region. Armed with enormous financial muscle, they have hired best lobbyists and spin wizards and also have won over quite a few media houses. All these three different types of publicists have worked overtime to convince the rest of the world that these multinational oil companies have in fact already done and are in the continuing process of uplifting the standards of living of all those who inhabit the Niger Delta. These publicists never let go a single opportunity to rub in the additional information that had there been no oil companies, these hapless inhabitants of the Delta region would have been forced to lead lives utter poverty and degradation. Thankfully however, due to the efforts of a handful of environmentalists and human rights activists, the nefarious designs of these multinationals have repeatedly been brought to light. 

[57] Such reports truly nail the lie that is being peddled by the oil companies and their cohorts. In fact such reports have been instrumental in making the world aware of the rape of environment that is being systematically done in the Niger Delta for decades on end.

[58] It is rather difficult to imagine that one fourth population of a country are exposed to such a fatal disease as cancer simply because of one reason – oil exploration. This also brings in genuinely sharp focus the abysmal realisation that the human cost of exploring oil is really too massive to allow such mindless destruction of Delta environment irrespective of how vital it is for the Nigerian economy to survive.

[59] The water these Delta inhabitants drink and the food they consume have all been polluted to such an extent that they actually harm themselves as they consume items that are supposed to provide them nourishment. But these people hardly have an alternative other than consuming whatever is available in that region.

[60] No matter what these oil companies would like us to believe, they simply cannot deny that oil spill is a normal working hazard in any area where oil exploration is conducted. This becomes even more acute if such a spill takes place in water since the possibilities of the hazardous spilt material spreading far and wide increase as oil gets carried long distances with river tides and sea currents. The situation in Niger Delta has become so acute partly because large tracts of this area consist of marshy land and mangrove clusters.

[61] The inclusion of right to health in basic human rights is truly a momentous step as it firmly confirms that every human being has a right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health without distinction of race, religion, political belief and economic or social condition. Health has been described as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

[62] It entered into force in 1976 and by 1 December 2007 had been ratified by 157 States.

 

[63] This must not be either misinterpreted or misread to mean a state can escape its responsibility by citing the excuse of lack of adequate funds.

[64] It must however be clearly understood that these treaties and covenants will be valid in any country’s court of law only if these covenants are incorporated in the legal framework of these countries.

[65] These regional instruments, once again, will be valid in all the stakeholder countries only if these provisions are incorporated in their legal jurisprudence. Else, they will be mere pious utterances without any legal teeth. It has been observed that many stake holding nations do not hesitate in putting their stamp of approval in similar multinational declarations, but hardly ever incorporate them in their legal framework, thus rendering them completely ineffective.

[66] These countries have indeed taken the right to health seriously and genuinely intend to implement it in their respective countries. This is evident from the fact that they have incorporated these rights, not in the legal jurisprudence, but directly in their constitutions. It is quite obvious that anything which is enshrined in the constitution of a country has much more legal teeth than something that is enacted as a law by passing a resolution in the House of Representatives. This is so because, it is much easier to amend a law passed by the House of Representatives, but it is very difficult to amend a constitution.  

[67] Niger Delta is a place where right to health is given the shabbiest possible treatment. The worst part of the whole issue is; right to health is violated with absolute impunity and total disregard for the human beings who suffer because of such a gross transgression of one of the basic rights of every human being.

[68] Honestly speaking, this also appears to be one of those political leaders who are busy fishing in troubled waters of Niger Delta taking advantage of the enormous faith and support they enjoy from their followers.

[69] While discussing pollution in Nigeria one should not lose sight of some of the other contributors that cause substantial pollution in the country. Though there is no denying the fact that oil is by far the single most ubiquitous pollutant, it allows an independent observer to be more impartial if additional information about several other sources of pollution is available.

[70] Construction of highway through the Niger Delta region might actually become a two-way sword as oil companies will then be able to venture right up to the deep interiors of the region quite easily. This might very well result in an even more unbridled and rampant pollution of the entire zone.

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Biblical Films

Filed under: Personal Thoughts,Political Musings,social awareness — niranjanchatterjee @ 10:56 pm

Biblical films are more related to pomp rather than any serious spirituality

The decade of fifties saw a flurry of Biblical films that captivated audience imagination in a vice like grip while running to packed houses for months together and filling in the coffers of the producers like never before. Right from 1949 that saw the release of ‘Samson and Delilah’, the spectacle continued in ‘Quo Vadis’ and ‘David and Bathsheba’ each following the other in quick succession in the year 1951 which witnessed the release of both these films. ‘The Robe’ came two years later in 1953 and all time favorite ‘The Ten Commandments’ set the auditoriums in ruptures in 1956 with another film of epical proportions, ‘Ben-Hur’ almost repeating the feat of its immediate predecessor in 1959. This decade saw some of the most breathtaking spectacles enacted on silver screen and have left an indelible impression on our collective imagination and psyche. Easter weekends almost seemed incomplete without a mandatory viewing of at least one of these Biblical spectaculars. But a nagging doubt still remains: do these films really give a fillip to our latent spirituality or do they simply remain at the levels of audiovisual extravaganza that they were possibly meant to be. 

There is no doubt that Hollywood surely had business in mind when these films were made (though there could be other reasons too, but they were way secondary to the profit motive of producers) and producers might have thought that a mix of ancient fables of pomp and glory of Rome and Egypt might be made all the more attractive if wrapped up in a superficial package of Biblical tales. The promise of extravaganza would certainly attract average cine goers who throng the theaters in search of entertainment and the hint of Bible would also ensnare the religious and spiritual minded who would have otherwise given the film a go by. Such a unique opportunity of captivating almost entire population was perhaps too lucrative a proposition for the Hollywood mandarins to ignore.

This thesis will most certainly be debated by those that feel that these films indeed resurrected our interest in the Biblical period and rekindled the dying embers of spirituality that were threatened first by the economic hardships of Great Depression and then by the orgy of destruction of World War II. But an analysis of the most representative film of this period – ‘The Ten Commandments’ –  encourages one take a contrarian view.

Cecil B. DeMille, the soul behind this epic film, was no doubt a religious person as he felt that every individual was “entrusted at birth with a precious fragment of the Divine Mind to develop for good or evil” (Hollywood Citizen News 1958) . But he felt that in order to assist a person in choosing the good over evil, the evil should be painted in its most tempting colors as was evident in the scene of almost a group orgy at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses is alone at the top of the mount collecting the Ten Commandments. We see voluptuous semi-clad women sensuously cavorting while their lustrous manes swayed from side to side and fountains of wine being sprinkled from overflowing carafes, all set in a riotous flood of bright colors made all the more enticing by the beats of thumping pulsating music. Evil never appeared so tempting, did it? With the audience leering at semi-exposed female forms and cheering lustily at each audacious and raunchy dance moves, the producers sure laughed all the way to their banks and in the midst of this din and bustle one completely forgot the Biblical dictum ‘Meek shall inherit the earth’! (Harvey 1966)

When Moses descends from the mount and castigates the frolicking masses in a stentorian tone he sounds almost as hollow as a modern day evangelists who come on television suggesting us to leave our sinful materialistic ways and return to the inviting arms of Christ. Indeed, Charlton Heston sounded almost comical, especially in the midst of so much gaiety, and was almost an unavoidable impediment as audiences would surely not have complained had the dancing and drinking continued for another hour.

We might look at another example of how tempting evil could be if we focus on the lascivious mannerisms of Nefertiti. She is the temptress who tries to weave her magic of lust and physical pleasures around Moses in a bid to hold him back. She cannot think of anything beyond lust and carnal pleasures and as Moses spurns her, the only explanation for Moses’ behavior that comes to her mind is the presence of another woman in his life. However much does DeMille try to paint her in shades of grey, her physical charm and raw innuendoes of carnal invitations always engross the audience feel really letdown as she gradually disappears from the centre stage of action. A question that almost inevitably crops up in the mind of every rational viewer is the necessity of introducing a vamp in the screenplay in the guise of Nefertiti. Following the age old time proven grammar of commercial cinema where the hero remains impervious and unaffected by the guiles and seductions of the eternally devilish vamp, Moses also renders the popular dialogue “there is a beauty beyond the senses,” almost in cue with what another hero in another romantic film would have done. The spirituality of Bible remains an orphan lost in this unabashed display of pleasure and pomp!

Any film requires a villain too; a person who would be almost an equal to the hero with the only difference being in the latter’s obeisance to evil while the hero remains steadfast in his pursuit of the good. The film enlivens up at the continuing duel between the hero and the villain. ‘The Ten Commandments’ too has a fabulous villain in the form of Ramses who is equal in every respect to Moses except his lack of belief in the ‘real’ God.  The pomp and splendor of Pharaoh’s palaces and swagger and flourish of Ramses surely makes an engaging spectacle and when Moses wins his battle over the latter purely on the strength of his virtue and nothing else, it becomes another example of wish fulfillment of ordinary people that throng the theaters to see on silver screen what they always dream about but are never ever able to taste in real life. Such tales of wish fulfillment have been a staple diet of commercial cinema since its very inception. ‘The Ten Commandments’ was no exception to this category and had its fair share of various ingredients to lure audiences to the cavernous darkness of cinema halls. Religion was simply a convenient label that DeMille wrapped on his product to make it look even glossier and force some members of the audience to become misty eyed.

Any discussion of ‘The Ten Commandments’ will remain incomplete if a reference to the famous scene of crossing the Red Sea is not made. Parting of the Red Sea was made out to be the focal point of the entire film; a final proof that the will and power of God is beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. But the scene gets reduced to some not at all convincing special effects and almost childish attempts to raise the tension through overwhelming and exceedingly loud music. God surely is nowhere to be found in the entire sequence and while some part of the audience sits wide eyed in wonder, the other more discerning part guffaws silently at the commercial clumsiness of the whole scene. (Bergman 1971)

Thus, it can be conclusively stated that Biblical films and especially ‘The Ten Commandments’ has very little spirituality in it and is nothing better than a visual and musical feast with religion used only as a convenient prop.

References

Bergman, Andrew. We’re in the Money. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Harvey, Cox. “How to Kill God.” Look 30, October 18, 1966: 104.

Hollywood Citizen News.March 24, 1958: 14.

Bauman, modernity and holocaust

Filed under: Personal Thoughts,Political Musings,social awareness — niranjanchatterjee @ 10:54 pm

Bauman – his life and times

Bauman, a Polish Jew has had a very colourful life that covered a wide assortment of jobs that included active military service in Soviet Army. He was a communist right through his youth and rose steadily through the ranks in military intelligence service till his father (he was also a non-practising Jew) approached Israeli embassy for emigration to Israel. Though Bauman never shared his father’s Zionist ideology he had to face the brunt of official apathy towards Jews and was all of a sudden dishonourably discharged from service. This quite obviously caused a severe strain in the relationship father and son.

Out of job, Bauman had enough spare time in his hands and completed his masters in philosophy from Warsaw University where he remained as a lecturer till 1968. With the outbreak of public protests in Poland against the ruling communist government and subsequent fanning of anti-Semitic sentiments by the government to deflect public criticism, Bauman shifted to Leeds University after briefly teaching in Tel Aviv University.

Bauman faced anti-Semitic sentiments twice in his life and both were from non-Nazi state machinery. This experience led him to form an opinion that modernity, bureaucracy and social exclusion creates a situation where an extreme phobia against those social groups that cannot be neatly categorised and slotted into predetermined and well established hierarchical superstructure prevalent in the society. This in essence is the beginning of a potential holocaust that will inevitably result if this xenophobic attitude towards those social sub-groups that cannot be effectively analysed according to existing social norms is not brought under control. Such social mores can be brought under control only if the authority is aware of the potential dangers and initiates strong measures to counter such a mass phobia against so-called outsiders. History, however, has witnessed several instances of cynical exploitation of the deep seated distrust among Europeans against so-called killers of Christ by governments of several European nations, Poland and Soviet Russia being the main culprits, to further their narrow and selfish class interests. Bauman has worked extensively on these issues where he has clearly laid bare the intrinsic interconnection between modern society where people wilfully forego several facets of personal freedom (both in the realm of actions and in thoughts) and the inherent distrust of the ‘outsider’ who does not conform to the established mores of the society. His contention is that mass extermination of ‘outsiders’ is an inbuilt mental precondition of modern man. Jews have always been the classic example of ‘outsiders’ in Europe and have been subjected to government sponsored persecution through ages with such mindless cruelty reaching a nadir with holocaust during Second World War.

The connotations of the term Holocaust

At this stage perhaps one needs to get a clear notion of what exactly a holocaust is. When in the later stage of Second World War it came to light that Nazi Germany has embarked on a systematic annihilation of Jews with a view to ethnically cleanse the society of Semitic population, the use of this biblical term was thought to be appropriate as there did not exist any term that would succinctly describe this mass murder of an entire tribe. It was no wonder that there did not exist any term as never before in the history of mankind was such a well planned genocide ever executed by any authority in any corner of the world.

Nazi rulers contended that the lives of the Jews, much like lives of Gypsies, homosexuals and those who were mentally ill or retarded, were devoid of any positive value and were leading a life that was unwertes Leben (a life unworthy of living). All these categories did not qualify to be members of the Neue Ordnung and thus did not deserve to live.

Bauman contends that holocaust and anti-Semitism has not died down with the fall of Nazi Germany. The phobia of interacting with anyone who cannot be categorised with consummate ease and the all consuming desire to instil an absolute and preordained sense of order and harmony in social structure is so overwhelming in modern societies that another holocaust can happen anytime in any part of the modern world.

The world has indeed witnessed many well planned genocides after the one perpetrated by Nazi Germany. The Kurds in Iraq, southerners in the Sudan, Tutsi in Rwanda, Hutus in Burundi, Hindus and other Bengalis in East Pakistan, the Ache in Paraguay were victims of genocide during the second half of twentieth century. The overwhelming cruelty in genocide is reflected in classifying a group as evil and mere membership of that group becomes a sufficient cause for getting earmarked for capital punishment with neither any scope of putting forward arguments in self defence nor any chance of judging the merits and demerits of each case individually. The denial of the victim a right to respond or appeal against the punishment being meted out makes a genocide or holocaust so odious, reprehensible and utterly abominable.

Modernity and Holocaust

The difference between mass murders and holocaust is apparent to any student of holocaust.

The sheer number of people that were exterminated by the Nazis implied a well planned state involvement. Nearly six million Jews were annihilated by the Nazis. If a hundred Jews were killed per day it would have taken at least 200 years to kill such a large number of people. But it took less than two years to conduct this pogrom of unimaginable proportions. This simply was not the result of mob fury or massive backlash but was the handiwork of modern technological inventions, meticulous division of work, subordination of individual ethics and morality to societal definition of moral and immoral (much akin to subordination of individual goals in favour of group goals that always happens in a corporate setting), strictly overlooked and managed by an efficient and goal driven ambitious bureaucracy. The holocaust was thus made possible by the efficiency of a modern state that had all the trappings of enormous regimented power and the focus to achieve a well defined target. (Goldhagen, 1996)

There is popular notion among many historians that there was a complete breakdown of all norms of civilisation in Nazi Germany that allowed such a monstrosity as holocaust to happen. But Bauman analysed the whole scenario and concluded civilisation was never temporarily suspended in Germany through sustained anti-Semitic propaganda.

Civilisation, according to Bauman does not necessarily impose the pacifying shackles of morality on us without which, many would love to believe, all humans would be raving ranting beasts ready to pounce one another and tear each other into shreds. Morality, according to Bauman, has a biological origin whereby we feel “animal pity” towards a fellow sufferer; civilisation actually tries to overcome this sense of morality instead of instilling it and lays down its own set of rules that suit the convenience of those in power and authority. These rules might be extensions of existing norms of “animal pity” but, more often than not, rules formulated by civilisation run at right angles to the biological manifestations of morality. If this was not the case, so many organised mass slaughters of human beings could never have taken place in an otherwise civilised world many years after the embers of Second World War had died down and remnants of Nazism buried deep down under a resurgent and unified modern Germany. (Bauman Z. , Modernity and the Holocaust, 1989)

Actually ordinary Germans were kept in dark about both Kristallnacht and the infamous Final Solution. Himmler had reportedly complained that though more than eighty million Germans agreed on the basic premise of exterminating Jews for the overall benefit of German race, each one of them thought that the better elements among the otherwise damned clan of Jews should be saved and every German had a personal plan of saving those Jews that were supposedly better than the average Jews. (Bauman Z. , 2000)

Civilisation attempts to do things on a grand scale and the bureaucracy involved in Final Solution successfully managed to distance the actual act of mass murder from those that perpetrated it by distributing the blame across so many persons that each one of them never felt the “animal pity” they should have felt had they personally slaughtered even a single Jew. The moral vacuum created beneath a verbose technical and bureaucratic vocabulary to enable normal human beings to murder fellow human beings was possible because of a civilisation that ensured each member did what the authority thought proper. (Bauman Z. , Modernity and Ambivalence, 1991)

Bauman thus contends that holocaust can take place anywhere anytime as long as civilisation exists. Indeed Bauman and his fellow travellers believe that morality precedes civilisation and has an existence independent of all forms of civilisation and continues to survive in spite of best efforts of all forms of civilisation to completely crush it. (Bauman Z. , The Holocaust: Fifty Years Later, 1993)

 

Reference

Bauman, Z. (2000). Ethics of Individuals. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 25(1) , pp. 83-96.

Bauman, Z. (1991). Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman, Z. (1989). Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bauman, Z. (1993). The Holocaust: Fifty Years Later. In D. Grinberg (ed.), The Holocaust Fifty Years After. Warsaw: Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw.

Goldhagen, D. (1996). Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Boston: Little Brown.

American Fifth Column – A Study of Fifth Columnists in America

Filed under: Personal Thoughts,Political Musings,social awareness — niranjanchatterjee @ 10:50 pm

American Fifth Column

Fifth Column – A Definition

This word had its origin in Spanish Civil War when an army general said that he had a fifth column working inside Madrid as he led four columns of troops towards that city. This expression is generally ascribed to those groups of people who collude with external enemies to bring about a downfall of their country of residence. When we talk of American fifth column we generally refer to those groups or people who work towards undermining the very basic foundations on which the entire American society is based. Thus, any person or group of persons residing in America and wanting to harm the tenets of personal liberty, democracy, free market and entrepreneurship – the vital pillars of American society, can be termed as fifth column.

Setting out the perimeter of discussion

United States has been involved in a global war on terror since the demolition of twin towers of WTC and the term fifth column has of late acquired a more pointed and specific accent to refer to all those that have sympathies for or support by providing propagandist assistance, logistics or financial help to the jihadists and all other so-called liberals and ultra leftists that have a common professed aim of destroying United States of America.

Though the jihadists and the ultra leftists have practically nothing in common, they are united in their shared hatred towards America whom they view as a greedy superpower that is determined to establish its hegemony across the globe and lay sole claim to the world’s stock of petroleum – the crucial source of energy in modern day world.

A point that needs to be highlighted and emphasized at this juncture is that a fifth columnist must essentially reside in America and be a US citizen. So, in our subsequent discussion we will restrict ourselves to only those persons that satisfy this basic criterion.

But before we focus on specific individuals and groups, we should get a clear idea about the activities that these fifth columnists resort to on furthering their agenda and the platforms they use for this nefarious objective.

Iraq War – A convenient platform used by American fifth columnists

A distinction must be made right in the beginning between an individual’s right to freedom of speech and the freedom to air one’s opinion about the Iraq war and the diatribe and innuendos that are being systematically and viciously aired by these despicable fifth columnists.

As an independent American, a person has every right to feel that the country simply waded into the Iraq conflict without showing enough patience or without properly exploring other peaceful alternatives. Or, a person has every right to subscribe to the opinion that the entire military adventure was a very big mistake that distracted both, focus and resources from the more important and urgent task of hunting out bin Laden and destroying the international terror network of Al Qaida.

As a result of this undue haste and gross mistake in taking foreign policy decisions, America is now precariously poised with twin wars one of which it could have very well avoided.

If an American holds this view, it can never be construed that this person is anti-American or does not have the best interests of the country in mind. On the contrary, this person might be a true patriot who never thinks of even the slightest harm of homeland and genuinely feels that the Iraq imbroglio has been an unwelcome strain on America. Such a person can never be labeled a fifth columnist. (Perazzo, Platforms of the Enemy, 2007)

How can we identify a fifth columnist?

Those that detest Iraq war have full freedom to publicly air their opposition but if they liken United States with Nazi Germany and try to paint both countries with the same brush, then surely there is a genuine problem with such persons as they are attempting to denigrate the very country that has provided all the facilities and infrastructure for their progress and development. Some of these people even go to the extent of sympathizing with the opponents of United States and try to describe them as oppressed and wronged against rather than evil people that are actively planning for the downfall of the homeland.

By cunningly trying to garner sympathy for those being punished by America for their wayward and potentially harmful activities, these Americans actually try to create an impression in the minds of the general public that as America is the illegitimate aggressor, it deserves to be defeated and truth and rectitude will prevail if indeed it happens. Sustained anti-American publicity of this nature is bound to have some effect on the public psyche and sooner rather than later some people will actually start believing in such type of insidious propaganda.

People that are involved in such type of anti-American activities are members of the fifth column and keep on acting surreptitiously but continuously towards defeating the very country where they live.

These people usually try to paint themselves in pristine white color and attempt to position themselves as champions of human rights. You will always find them championing the cause of the so-called downtrodden irrespective of whether the downtrodden have broken the law of the land or not. And , there is one other trait that is common to all these fifth columnists, that is, all of them have hugely “loud” voices and have enough contacts in the media to make themselves heard all over the place. These people assiduously cultivate these contacts and make full use of them to mislead and confuse the general public.

You will always find these fifth columnists right in the first row of any meeting in support of illegal immigrants waxing eloquent on their plight and urging the government to step forward and save them from imminent extinction. You may even find these chatterboxes breathing fire and brimstone in an anti-gun rally and you would most surely find them in all rallies convened to protest against the Iraq war.

Psychology of Fifth Columnists

But you may wonder why these people, otherwise perfectly normal, should engage in such illogical and patently dangerous activities. The answer to that pertinent question of yours is these people have been indoctrinated in the principles of socialism and communism and they feel that the entire capitalist structure of the United States is an evil system that is based in oppression and denial of rightful dues of the toiling masses by those handful that own the means of production.

Jaundiced as these people are owing to their indoctrination in the perverted philosophy of socialists and communists, they simply do not acknowledge the simple and well established fact that the prosperity and abundance in the United States have come from the honest labor and unwavering entrepreneurial spirit of its founding fathers. The sincere toil and perspiration of the earliest settlers was carried on through generations of honest Americans and that has resulted in this country becoming the strongest and most prosperous in the whole world. Its foundations were built on enterprise and not on deceit and theft as these leftists would want us to believe.

The most disconcerting fact is that these fifth columnists have spread their evil network far and deep and happen to dominate the education system of the entire country and are busy indoctrinating impressionable minds in the senseless logic of socialism and communism. They are very stealthily and on the sly systematically altering the history of our nation to deliberately stymie the genuine story of how free spirit and enterprise built the America as it is today and are peddling their pet and highly convoluted theories of “cultural diversity” and “social awareness”. These fifth columnists are very difficult and hence are the most dangerous of the lot. It becomes almost impossible to identify a Ward Churchill or a Jay Bennish and even if identified it becomes extremely difficult to take punitive steps as they are almost immediately enveloped by their fellow fifth columnists in an artificial halo of a martyr being persecuted by an all powerful, insensitive and remorseless system. So, the basic issue that these fifth columnists are working against the country and should be severely punished gets buried under the rubbles of propaganda hyperbole.

Things have become even more dangerous as these days these leftists have found an unlikely ally in rabidly fundamental Islamic jihadists that consider America as the epitome of evil and blame it for all the problems that plague the world. These jihadists hiding in their caves in remote areas in Afghanistan-Pakistan border are continually plotting the downfall of this great nation in cohort with the fifth columnists that are safely cocooned within the free democratic environment of American society all the while pretending to be champions of human rights and flag bearers of cutting edge progressive philosophy.

The reality on the ground and immediate Steps that need to be taken

So, with external enemies going from strength to strength (some say that these jihadists have already acquired the “dirty bomb” and are simply waiting for an opportune moment to set it off to create a holocaust that would mightily dwarf the death toll during demolition of twin towers in 2001) and fifth columnists sitting pretty, America indeed has very little time to wake up to this imminent danger and act proactively and decisively.

In a newspaper report a few days ago one came to know that CIA has warned President Obama about the danger that can emanate from British born Muslims that enjoy a visa less entry in United States. Though one has got nothing against this system of visa less entry in United States which is also mutually provided by Britain and, more importantly, Muslims per se are in no way disruptive and have criminal intentions (in fact, a huge majority among them are highly contributive citizens to all communities they reside in) still some of the fringe elements have very deep ties with jihadists and they may freely enter United States to let loose the fury of hell as they had done about a decade ago. What exactly should be done to avert this tinder box situation is surely the job of state leaders and central administration but one thing is absolutely sure – America is no longer safe and all efforts must be done to save the homeland. The danger is no longer the hallucinations of a few xenophobic minds; it is very real and imminent if a lid is not put on it right away.

It is a well documented fact that Imam Umar Abdul Jalil, a chaplain in Gotham jail tried to incite and mislead a meeting of Muslim students in Tucson by wrongly informing them that Muslims were being subjected to physical torture in New York City prisons. In his speech he also tried to equate White House with Nazi Germany’s headquarters and spewed venom against the state of America.

Even if the diatribe against White House is allowed and tolerated under the pretext of freedom of speech, can the willful incitement of young American Muslims against the state be excused? Surely not, most right thinking and patriotic Americans would say, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg after suspending (with pay, could you believe it!) Jalil briefly for a fortnight reinstated the rogue chaplain saying that we should not become xenophobic in our war on terror and must never trample upon multiculturalism which happens to be one of the foundation stones of the throbbing and vibrant American society.

While nobody has anything against multiculturalism, one must draw a line if someone tries to take undue advantage of the inherent openness of American society and tolerant American attitude and tries to drive in wedges and create fissures in this multihued kaleidoscope that is famously described as the ‘melting pot’. The likes of Imam Umar Abdul Jalil must be stiffly penalized to prevent this type of subversive activities else America will have to deal with repetitions of catastrophes as the destruction of WTC.

Al Qaida has long considered American prisons as fertile grounds for fresh recruitment and a recent discovery of a prison-based terrorist cell in Torrance, California proved to be true what many people had feared so long. A homegrown jihadist would be able to slip through dragnets meant to spot and isolate foreign jihadists and it would be that much easier for Al Qaida or Lashkar e Taiba to materialize their heinous plans on American soil.

These American jihadists have formed an organization called Jamiyyat Ul Islam is Saheeh that has the professed objective of destroying military bases, churches and government offices in and around Los Angeles. The leader of this organization is Kevin James who had converted to Islam in 2004 while in jail. His close associate Haney Washington got freed in parole in later part of 2004 and committed no less than eleven robberies in southern part of California to raise the funds necessary to carry on their nefarious activities.

While doing a thorough investigation about the roots of this jihadist cell, federal agents found that Kevin James and his associates were influenced in jail by government employed Muslim chaplains professing allegiance to the radical strain of Islam patronized by Saudi Arabia. Without going into any sort of discussion about the merits and demerits of this particular school of Islam, one can come to at least one conclusion and that is, prison inmates should be shielded from the influence of Muslim chaplains to prevent growth of any more homegrown jihadists and government should do a really thorough background check of these chaplains before employing them. These people are a danger to the American society and should be dealt with accordingly.

Instead of trying to adopt a holier than thou approach and waving the flag of First Amendment in an attempt to don the cloak of the greatest liberal of them all, administrators and lawmakers should burn midnight oil to chalk out the exact details of how to tackle the external enemy, ordinary citizens should from now on be extra vigilant about the nefarious designs of the pernicious fifth columnists, resisting them and exposing them whenever possible. It might lead to a lot of hue and cry, especially given the enormous clout these traitors have in the media, but honest and sincere American citizens should not be deterred by it and carry on their rightful fight to save the homeland.

This is no way is an incitement to unlawful violence or an attempt to forcibly silence these traitors as that would go against the tenets of a free society that we are so proud of. This wakeup call is actually for all of us so that we can face the divisive propaganda of these groups and not only be not swayed by it but also frame suitable responses wherever possible.

The Muslim chaplains and the newly converted Muslims can be identified and suitable steps might be taken to tackle them but the fifth columnists that remain firmly ensconced in American society enjoying all the benefits this great country has to offer while working assiduously against it need further alacrity to be unmasked. These are the people that are at the forefront of all so-called liberal forums and always the first to uphold the rights of the downtrodden. These people are held in high regard by the society, or should I say, media and any word spoken against them is treated with a chorus of disdain by fellow travelers of these peddlers of hatred. So, it is necessary for all right thinking Americans to have a clear idea about who these fifth columnists are. There are of course scores of others that are equally pernicious, but an effort has been made to highlight those that stand out by their acts of anti-Americanism. (Howard, 2005)

Profiles of American Fifth Columnists

There are quite a few high profile fifth columnists holding forth in American society and it would do no harm if the general public also gets to know the real face behind the façade that they so carefully put on during interface with public.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, an elite professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, is possibly the most cited academic on this planet and is one of the leading lights of American intelligentsia. While no one can cast the slightest aspersion on his erudition, the fact remains that by his words and pen he happens to steadfastly denigrate the open and capitalist nature of American society.

He is treated as a demigod by his followers and rock bands as “Rage Against Machine” and “Pearl Jam” venerate him in the same way as Beatles used to revere Maharshi Mahesh Yogi during their interaction with this god man. Radio producer David Barsamian leads the group of blind followers in elevating the professor to the level of supreme preacher, ultimate philosopher and the final arbiter and fountainhead of all knowledge available under the sun.

Many people are at a loss to bridge the almost unfathomable gap between Chomsky’s academic excellence in charting new territories in his chosen field of linguistics and the equally pathological hatred embedded in his anti-American socio-political ideas. Chomsky very cleverly made use of his legendary academic status to cross over from hallowed portals of academia to cast his spell over the unsuspecting public.

He first bared his fangs of anti-Americanism with his near pathological aversion of American policies and created a niche for himself with ferocity he showed against the Vietnam War. Gifted as he is with sharp intellect and loaded with unquestionable erudition, his sharp pseudo logic held the public in thrall as his pen proceeded with spewing anti-American venom behind the façade of a lover of peace and a confirmed anti-war (wherever it may be, not Vietnam War in particular) personality.

A series of articles in some of the most revered and influential dailies and periodicals during this period cemented his place as the foremost fifth columnist that had perfected the art of putting an intellectual veneer on his ulterior motives.

His true colors came to the fore when he unabashedly supported the perverted and oppressive regime of Pol Pot that perpetrated genocide in Cambodia in the seventies as United States withdrew its forces from Indochina. Though ground realities and other details indisputably point to the fact that almost 25% of the population of Cambodia had perished in hands of the communists, Chomsky steadfastly denied that a holocaust had taken place and had the temerity to trivialize the entire catastrophe by claiming that only “a few thousand” had been killed. Using his phenomenal intellectual acumen, he even tried to provide respectability to Pol Pot regime by equating this genocide with the executions that were done by resistance movements in Europe during Nazi domination.

One feels appalled by the level a demented intellect, hell-bent on furthering his pet agenda – however farfetched and divorced from reality it may be, can stoop to when one witnesses Chomsky’s futile and shameless attempts at exonerating one of the most hated criminals of this century. In fact Chomsky did what none else would have dared to even think of doing. Revisiting the issue in 1988 he claimed that whatever happened in Cambodia was the handiwork of United States and gave Pol Pot and his regime a clean chit. His formidable intellect was again on show as he misused it to string up one skewed piece of logic after another to present an apparent water tight case in his support. This apparent show of intellectual honesty and impersonal detachment makes him the most formidable fifth columnist ever to have walked the domain of United States.

The duplicity prevalent in Chomsky’s character came out in the open in 1980 when he openly supported Robert Faurisson who was terminated from his service at University of Lyon because of open anti-Semitic views and denial of the existence of holocaust during Nazi domination of Europe. He went to the extent of labeling Faurisson as an apolitical liberal who based his work on solid facts and impersonal analysis and cannot be termed anti-Semitic by any stretch of imagination.

Such blatant violations of the very basics of truth had lowered Chomsky’s position to a great extent but after the horrific incidents of 9/11, leftists took the opportunity of putting Chomsky back on the evil pedestal that he once occupied and his recent work “Hegemony or Survival” that saw the light of day in 2003 trumpets his favorite theme that America in its blind desire of dominating the world is causing the oppressed of the world to rise in protest and acts like 9/11 are manifestation of the frustration and pent up anger against America.

Any person has a right to his opinion, but what one wonders at is the chorus of support such demeaning ideas get from so-called educated American intellectuals. Pulitzer prize winning author Samantha Power while writing in The New York Times praised Chomsky’s work as thoroughly instructive and eminently sobering as if Chomsky happens to be the ultimate oracle of truth.

Chomsky had once earlier misused his intellect to support Pol Pot, he did it again while supporting the perpetrators of 9/11 when he said that the devastation they brought on was nothing compared to what Bill Clinton did when he bombed a factory in Sudan in 1998 as a response to Al Qaida bombings of US embassies in that region. One marveled at the ingenuity of an intellect hell-bent on misrepresenting facts and giving them a spin when one realized how two completely disparate incidents were compared and one of the most heinous crimes ever to be perpetrated against US was given an aura of legitimacy.

Carrying on his crusade against America (while ironically enjoying all the benefits and freedom of a democratic society) Chomsky went on to describe American response in Afghanistan as a well calculated step to cause genocide of more than 4 million Afghans and also predicted that there would be widespread famine in that region on account of faulty US policies. Now that all his forecasts were proved wrong he did not even have the basic honesty to come forward and accept that his prognosis was wrong.

Chomsky has traveled widely in Muslim world and has even been to the capitals of Pakistan and India and wherever he went he never stopped his anti-American diatribe. According to him the events of 9/11 are not the handiwork of fundamentalist jihadists committed to the destruction of America and its tenets of freedom but the first step taken by the Third World in its protest against imperialist tendencies of United States. Chomsky actually considers it as the first ray of light and views it positively as the beginning of the end of the so called American hegemony over all other powers of the world.

Chomsky has quite obviously endeared himself to the arch enemy of United States – bin Laden who had gone on record praising the professor as “one of the most capable citizens” of United States.

Chomsky must have gone over the moon after receiving this accolade. At least now he can be sure that his role as a fifth columnist has indeed touched a peak that none else before him could have dared to touch. (Salvato, 2007)

Michael Moore

The other most high profile fifth columnist is film maker and author Michael Moore. He is a pathological American hater who never lets go an opportunity to bash America and its principles. While on a tour in Cambridge to promote his book he openly told the august audience that he feels ashamed to have come from a country that has brought untold misery and suffering to rest of the world. While in Germany he penned an article in renowned periodical Die Zeit where he openly exhorted the Germans to rebel against American hegemony and said it would be a shame to the entire German race if they allow themselves to be led by such an ignorant bunch of people as the Americans are. (Perazzo, 2005)

As the brave American forces were fighting insurgents in Iraq, Moore refused to label them as insurgents; instead he described them as truly patriotic Iraqis that have risen in revolt against the occupation army led by the United States. Moore in his feverish fervor of anti-Americanism sees in these rabid insurgents, the foot soldiers of an impending revolution against the tyrannical hegemony of United States and is confident that their numbers will steadily increase till United States is forced to beat a hasty retreat. At times it becomes really difficult to fathom the hatred this person has against his homeland.

Moore tries to ignore a very harsh reality that stares in the eyes of every American day in and day out since the pogrom of 9/11 and that is we are living out our life while being in the crosshairs of Islamic jihadists’ guns trained against this country. He denies the existence of terrorists and in an interview given to Michigan Daily in October 2003 very bluntly said, there simply is no terrorist threat against the country and this bogey of jihadist threat happened to be the biggest lie invented by the administration.

Moore should consider himself to be infinitely lucky that he is a citizen of United States. Had he been a citizen of any totalitarian country like China or a fundamentalist regime like Saudi Arabia, he would have been in his grave long time ago, either hanged or shot dead by a firing squad on charges of high treason.

Moore has benefitted immensely from the fruits of capitalism – his net worth according to most conservative estimates exceeds $50 million, yet he never balks at denouncing capitalism as a sin and never ever shudders at the enormity of the hypocrisy that is highlighted in the contradiction of his words and his extravagant lifestyle. Shame is possibly a word which does not exist in his dictionary.

We have so long heard Moore and more often than not preferred to ignore his raves and rants as that of a deranged personality but when the defense attorney of the Bali bomber who had killed more than 200 people read out from Moore’s book “Stupid White Men” in order to justify the hatred that criminal had against all things American, we are forced to sit up and take notice of the harm this person is doing to America and its citizens.

It is no big wonder that Moore and his likes will strongly oppose the Patriot Act which every right thinking American thought to be the only proper response to the situation prevailing immediately after the 9/11 incidents. In his book “Dude, Where’s My Country”, Moore gives full vent to his anger against Patriot Act and goes to the extent of denigrating it as a completely unwarranted attack on civil liberties of American citizens. He reiterated his claim that there is no terrorist threat to America and Patriot Act is just a neo Nazi ploy to subjugate the ordinary American citizen.

Other Miscellaneous Fifth Columnists in United States

But Moore is not alone in his diatribe against the United States of America. There are quite a few similar voices that seem to echo his sentiments.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the founder of International Action Center which acts as an umbrella organization for a host of sundry anti-war groups. Clark has constantly condemned all wars that America has fought right from Vietnam War to the Iraq War and his organization has consistently backed anti-American organizations and individuals the most prominent among them being Libya’s Moammar Qadaffi, Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, one of the prime conspirators in WTC bombing of 1993. Clark also offered voluntary legal counsel to Saddam Hussein after his capture in the hands of American led forces.

Another American fifth columnist is Alexander Cockburn, a regular contributor in the leftist mouthpiece Counter Punch. He has stooped to the level of terming American operations in Afghanistan as the “Tenth Crusade” slyly implying that the entire operation is in fact an act of aggression rather than in self defense.

Our list will remain incomplete if mention is not made of the radical attorney of the National Lawyers Guild, Lynne Stewart who thinks that the incident on 9/11 was a case of directed violence (as opposed to anarchist violence) against World Trade Centre, the most visual symbol of capitalism by those that have been oppressed and exploited by the capitalist and imperialist aspirations of United States. She exonerates the jihadists that have declared war against United States as not terrorists but forces of national liberation. She was arrested in 2002 on charges of providing material support to an Egyptian terrorist group having close links with Al Qaida. After long legal wrangling she was finally convicted in 2005 and as expected she has no remorse for what she had done.

References

Howard, P. (2005). A Fifth Column in the Prisons? Retrieved 2009, from City Journal: http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_2_sndgs04.html

Perazzo, J. (2007, May 21). Platforms of the Enemy. Retrieved February 11, 2009, from FrontPageMagazine.com: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=7C4AE1E5-8E6C-4D0B-9413-E4E40F65DC27

Perazzo, J. (2005, March). Who is the Fifth Column? Retrieved February 11, 2009, from Discover the Network: http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=146

Salvato, F. (2007, May 4). The “Fifth Columnization” of America. Retrieved February 11, 2009, from The Fifth Column: http://bsimmons.wordpress.com/2007/05/22/the-fifth-columnization-of-america-2/

June 11, 2010

Transform Seoul as the center for world peace

Filed under: Personal Thoughts,Political Musings,social awareness,Uncategorized — niranjanchatterjee @ 11:57 am
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It might sound rather utopian, but if Seoul can indeed be converted into the center for world peace it would have numerous trickledown social and economic benefits that might not be so obvious to a casual eye. As the world revolves around commerce and profit, it would surely be more prudent to discuss the economic benefits first as that would ensure an eager audience right at the outset.

If Seoul becomes the center of world peace, it would almost automatically be the place where good human beings from all over the world will congregate, for the simple reason that all those who are good essentially love one another and believe in harmony, peace and prosperity, not only for their kith and kin but also for all humans living in each and every corner of mother earth. This would give Seoul a unique distinction of being the repository of good human beings and would cast an irresistible spell to people living elsewhere to make a trip to Seoul and experience this new phenomenon first hand. As a side thought it must also be mentioned that since South Korea is still technically at war with North, the concept of international peace would immediately ring a bell not only in every Korean citizen but also all peace loving people across the globe. That would most certainly result in a constant flood of tourists which would allow the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to reach its ambitious target of attracting ten million foreign tourists without breaking a sweat.

As anyone having the slightest idea about the economic impact a booming tourism sector can have on the overall economy of a country would admit, if Seoul can indeed project itself as the center for world peace, South Korean economy would receive a boost that no amount economic planning or foreign assistance has ever been able to generate in its entire checkered history.

If these economic benefits do not seem enough of a reason for declaring Seoul as the center for world peace, just pause awhile and ponder on the social benefits that can be derived from such a declaration.

Parts of Seoul, especially those parts that house ancient palaces and museums, can be closed off to the daily hustle and bustle of urban life and a Peace Plaza  be constructed. Tourists from all over the world can come to Seoul and stay in a luxury hotel at the Seoul World Peace Plaza, visit the Gwanghwamun World Peace Square, walk through the Namdaemun World Peace Gate, and then stroll along the Cheonggye World Peace Stream.

If sections of this world peace complex are auctioned to individuals and groups who would be responsible for maintenance and upkeep of their sections, Seoul would undoubtedly become the cleanest place on earth. But what would be the motivation of these volunteers, you might argue. Well, the only and perhaps the strongest motivation would be a realization that they, along with numerous other global citizens, have become an inseparable part of a global movement for universal peace. As they would saunter along the banks of the sparkling Cheonggye World Peace Stream, they would surely feel a sense of elation and an oneness with the rest of humankind while browsing through the names of all those that have joined them in maintaining that part of the stream in the name of world peace.

August 6, 2008

CPM takes the first step towards extinction

Filed under: Political Musings — niranjanchatterjee @ 5:33 am

It is with a bledding heart I am writing this post.

I have been a witness to the rise and consolidation of CPM in West Bengal through the last three decades and now I am also witnessing how this once- upon-a-time party for the masses is gradually and inexorably sliding down the path of extinction. It is indeed no small mercy that Harkishen Singh Surjeet is no more to witness this tragic harakiri. I really feel sad for Jyoti Basu, he must be wondering whether he has outlived more than he would have liked to.

With the reins of this grand party at the hands of a person who has never ever won a public election and does not know what realpolitik is, CPM is caught in a bind with no pragmatic Deng Ziao Peng in sight to bring the politbureau back to its senses.

The General secretary of the party had made it a personal issue (though he mouthed a lot of dogmatic mumbo jumbo) with the Congress over nuclear deal and has made himself and the party a laughing stock to the whole nation. Else how could he bend over backwards and shake hands with Mayavati – a person whose entire politics is based on narrow confines of caste and who even her “trusted” commanders don’t trust? And, look at those hangers ons – the CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP!

These fringe parties have practically no independent existence in West Bengal and can do precious little against the diktats of Biman Bose, converner of Left Front in the state. They are extremely frustrated and are trying to create some importance of their own by pumping up Prakash Karat to take suicidal decisions. After all, as long as CPM remains strong, these parties can not even dream of a really independent existence. So, they are going all out to weaken CPM – all in the name of leftist integrity and principles.

When a rank commoner like me can understand this why can’t the rank and file of West Bengal wake up to this nefarious conspiracy. What has happened to the famed Bengal line within the party? Have they all fallen asleep? Else how could the issue of Somanth Chatterjee escalate to a full fledged fiasco?

What’s worse I find Biman Bose raving and ranting that all those who dare to break party discipline are not welcome to stay within its ranks. Whose party is it anyway? Surely not that of Prakash and Brinda Karat and those comrades from south who come to power every alternate term in Kerala by teaming up with the rabidly communal Muslim League (it takes on a new name every now and then, but is the same old poisonous wine packaged attractively in ever changing bottles).

This the party of Jyoti Basu, Pramode Dasgupta, Namboodripad and surely A.K.Gopalan. This is not a party of a handful of crazy and egotitstic doctrinaires who don’t hesistate to enjoy all the fruits of US opulence while routinely condemning it.

If the party has to survive, Bengal line must assert itself and the likes of Prakash Karat should be shown the door. Yes, none other than Biman Bose should take initiative and stop this quixotic charge towards the dustbin of history.

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