Nigera is Africa’s main crude oil producer. It is also the country which counts the most oil spills in the world. The Niger Delta, once an ecological sanctuary, has become a no-fishing zone because of the slicks that permanently poison its waters.
In May, when all eyes were on the oil gushing from a ruptured BP in the Gulf of Mexico, a spill at the other end of the world went virtually unnoticed. The story of ruptured wells and pipelines is a sadly familiar one in Nigeria, where Amnesty International, estimates that over 9 million barrels of oil have poured into the Niger delta over the last 50 years.
Although this figure is dwarfed by the estimated 30 million barrels of the BP spill, environmentalist groups in Niger are concerned by the media attention granted to one eco-disaster over another, longstanding one.
Shell Nigeria, the country’s most important oil company, has been blamed for the permanent damage caused to the delta. But the company retorts that most of the leaks were caused by saboteurs and opposition rebels, notably the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), nicknamed the “Robin Hoods” of the Delta.
Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and environmental groups have pointed to the fact that the government is the main shareholder in most local oil consortiums. Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s new president, has pledged to put a stop to the near-permanent slick in the Delta.