Here is a textbook example of lazy western journalism.

The Guardian recently published an article on Boko Haram. However, the lead image they used was from the Niger Delta. The image is of a pipeline explosion and people on a canoe. I’ve been around my fair share of photo and newsdesk editors, so I know how they think. The writer of the article probably had nothing to do with the image, that was most likely an editor’s decision. The editor probably only used this image because it has an explosion, even though the explosion has nothing to do with Boko Haram and the location of the pictured explosion is not even in the same region of Nigeria where Boko Haram operates. It’s literally at opposite ends of the country. But any picture of an explosion will do.

This is what happens when you don’t have diverse newsdesk editors. No Nigerian (or anyone with a cursory knowledge of Nigeria) would make this kind of mistake.

The same thing goes on with white journalists who are supposed “West Africa experts”, yet they don’t know the difference between Nigerian and Nigerien. Despite these constant mistakes, these white people all have jobs. There are black people who have been fired for far less.


Poison Fire (2008)

Documentary on the devastating effects of the continuous oil spills, environmental pollution and community neglect in the Niger Delta region.

There have been 5, 000 major oil spills in the Delta 50 years, according to the film.

See for more details on the film.

The Cost of Oil to Nigeria

“Nigeria is the world’s 8th largest producer of crude oil, yet remains one of its poorest nations — an estimated 70 percent of its 150 million residents live below the poverty line. The environment is paying a steep price as well. An estimated 500 million gallons of oil have spilled into the delta — the equivalent of roughly one Exxon Valdez disaster per year,” according to The Atlantic. The American magazine has printed 31 images (from various sources) that illustrate the negative effects of oil production, both “legal” and illegal, on the environment and the people of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. So bad is the practice of gas flaring that the flares are so prevalent, the Niger Delta appears brightly lit (the lower left) in a detail from a NASA image of the Earth taken at night. Below is that image and a few others from the set.



Poison Fire - A short film about the Niger Delta region in Nigeria.


The Niger Delta is an environmental disaster zone after fifty years of oil exploitation.   One and a half million tons of crude oil has been spilled into the creeks, farms and forests, the equivalent to 50 Exxon Valdez disasters, one per year. Natural gas contained in the crude oil is not being collected, but burnt off in gas flares, burning day and night for decades. The flaring produces as much greenhouse gases as 18 million cars and emits toxic and carcinogenic substances in the midst of densely populated areas. Corruption is rampant, the security situation is dire, people are dying.  But the oil keeps flowing.

Poison Firefollows a team of local activists as they gather “video testimonies” from communities on the impact of oils spills and gas flaring. We see creeks full of crude oil, devastated mangrove forests, wellheads that has been leaking gas and oil for months. We meet  people whose survival is acutely threatened by the loss of farmland, fishing and drinking water and the health hazards of gas flaring. 

We also meet meet with Jonah Gbemre, who took Shell to court over the gas flaring in his village and won a surprise victory in the court.

Ifie Lott travels to the Netherlands to attend Shell’s Annual General Meeting. She wants to ask a simple question:  Is Shell going to obey the court order and stop flaring?  There is a demonstration outside  the meeting hall. Shell’s CEO shows up for the photo op and shakes her hand, and she meets the MD of Shell-Nigeria, Basil Omiyi.  She asks him about the spills and the flaring. He patiently explains Shell’s policies and efforts for social development, but what he says is at odds with reality on the ground.

Back in the Delta, Ifie returns to the communties and shows the taped interview with Omiyo to the victims of the oil industry…

Shell ignored the federal high court ruling. The oil companies continue the illegal gas flaring. Shell has set its own “flares out” deadline to end of 2009. But they have kept saying “next year” for a decade, and in the Delta nobody believes them.

Meanwhile, the oil keeps flowing.

Poison Fire

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a decision by a lower court that denied a hearing on the merits of an infamous “torture suit” against Royal Dutch Shell Plc for its alleged actions in Nigeria at a time when government was violently suppressing citizen protests in the Niger Delta.

Families of seven of the Nigerians executed by the government of Pres. Sani Abacha for organizing against Royal Shell claim that the oil company colluded in torture and paid for weapons and soldiers to end the opposition to oil exploration in the region between 1992 and 1995.

The plaintiffs in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell) were the relatives of playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dr Barinem Kiobel and other Ogoni leaders imprisoned, tortured and executed in the mid-1990s. Their crime was protesting the environmental devastation associated with Shell’s long tenure in the region.

Judge José A. Cabranes of the Manhattan-based federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, writing for the 2-1 majority, ruled that transnational corporations who participate in gross human rights abuses cannot be held responsible for torture, genocide, war crimes and the like because, as corporations, their activities fall outside the jurisdiction of international law.

[read more]

Nigeria is the largest oil-producing country in Africa and the continent’s biggest supplier of crude petroleum to the United States. More than 2 million barrels of oil are extracted from the Niger Delta, the main oil-producing region, every day. This output is achieved through operations that are racked by pollution, corruption and violent economic dispute.

Samuel James, a New York City photographer, traveled to Nigeria in 2012 to document the ongoing environmental and social problems tied to the country’s oil industry. For his series The Water of My Land, James went deep into the creeks of the Delta to document the illicit theft and refining of crude oil by locals who are drawn to illegal activity against a backdrop of dire poverty in the region.

“Billions of dollars of oil are pumped out of the delta each year but the economic conditions on the ground have really remained the same. There’s been little effort to develop these areas in which the oil is being extracted,” says James, who laments the fact that not enough of the profits from oil have been used to improve basic services such as roads, healthcare and education.

“The local population has been pushed to the wall. Bunkering is very hot and very toxic. It’s not work anyone would want to do. I’m just trying to make that point.”


Why Goodluck Jonathan still has some supporters despite his public blunders

Let me just say that this is my opinion. I believe it to be an informed one.

Goodluck Jonathan has been thoroughly (and rightfully so) taken to task by Nigerians for his abysmal handling of the Boko Haram kidnapping of over 200 school girls in Chibok, Borno state.

What many Nigerians fail to realize is that despite his immense public blunders, President Jonathan still has sizable support in the Niger Delta. The ethnic groups individually in the “South-South” region of the Niger Delta might be small, but collectively they are a lot. These small groups have felt ignored and slighted for years by what they perceive as dominance and monopolization in Nigerian politics and discourse by the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbos. The feeling of abandonment many of the smaller groups perceive is very real. This sentiment has left a lot of people even more ethnocentric, and for this reason, they will support someone from their group, no matter what. Supporting someone from your ethnic group first is the story of Nigeria. It has very little to do with public policy. Your political leanings are just window dressing. Many people are voting for politicians because of where they are from, not what they are doing.

When I peruse facebook where many of the Nigerians I know are from Rivers State and Bayelsa State, the support for Goodluck Jonathan is very strong. It has nothing to do with his politics. They look at him as a brother. He is one of them. They feel that for far too long, Nigerian leadership has been in the hands of Northerners and Yorubas. So this is their turn to have one of their own in power and they want to ride it until the wheels fall off because an Ijaw man as President might never happen again. This is not to say they aren’t disappointed in him. Many are, but they will still vote for him because they don’t think a President from a different ethnic group will tend to their issues. Going by history, they are not wrong. Hence Jonathan is seen by many as their only hope for some attention and aid in their area, which he has given them. It’s his area too. Past leadership has ignored the Niger Delta entirely. Jonathan is not doing a great job for the Niger Delta, but compared to past leadership, he hasn’t completely ignored them. The rationale is that a little help is better than the usual no help.

Let’s also remember that Jonathan only came into office because President Yar’dua died in office. It was a technicality. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. His supporters in the Niger Delta feel like this is their only opportunity for representation, which is why they still support him despite his many public failings. Northerners wouldn’t have voted for Goodluck Jonathan en masse and people in the Niger Delta know this. This is what is at play here. The only time when people not from the South-South agreed overwhelmingly with a policy by President Jonathan was when he signed the anti-gay bill. It’s kind of sad that the country was only united for something like that.

Many in the South-South region are mired with their own issues regarding the Niger Delta’s exploitation via gas and oil exploration. The region has been totally destroyed and their wealth and livelihood is gone. The feeling of abandonment by leadership brought about the rise of the Niger Delta militants. At the 1:20 mark of this video, they mention that a hungry man is an angry man and then show the Niger Delta militants. Nigeria is a nation with multiple tiny nations within it. I don’t think people outside the South-South zone of the Niger Delta fully understand how angry many in the region are, especially after decades of outside leadership dictating what happens on their land. They feel like nothing much has been done about it and all their riches and mineral wealth has been pilfered by outside leadership who are complicit with western multinationals exploiting their land. They feel that Boko Haram is not their issue and that it is a Northern Nigeria issue. In the eyes of many there, Northern Nigeria might as well be on the moon. It’s a completely differently reality to their own reality. I can only speculate that President Jonathan might feel this way too, which is why he has dragged his feet on the matter. I do not for a second believe that if over 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Bayelsa, that it would have taken him over 2 weeks to even address it. He would have been on it immediately.

What I keep trying to explain to my South-South brethren is that Goodluck Jonathan is not the president on the Niger Delta. He is the president of Nigeria. All of it. Furthermore, unless he deals with Boko Haram, it will only be a matter of time before they start heading further down south. That will happen. National security is paramount. Any hole in the system, no matter how far away it is will get wide enough that it is eventually going to reach you. Close that hole before he gets so big that you’re unable to control it. When I’m critical of President Jonathan, I’m jokingly reminded that the reason why I’m not a supporter of his is because I’m only “half Ijaw”, and that being half Igbo is the reason why I have turned my back on “my brother”, President Jonathan. I’ve gotten into heated arguments regarding my disdain for President Jonathan. I want a better Nigeria, and Jonathan is not the person for the job.

Boko Haram is not just a Northern Nigerian issue. It’s a national problem, with many accomplices behind the scenes. Boko Haram has infiltrated all levels of government and military. The system has been compromised. Some of the people in power are complicit because they work in tandem with Boko Haram. Not much press outside of Nigeria was given to the news of 18 Nigerian soldiers being put on trial for aiding Boko Haram last year. As we all know, soldiers take direct orders. Fela called them Zombie for a reason. This is bigger and deeper than it appears to be, and I worry when I see all these trigger happy, invasion promulgating westerners wanting to crush “Islamist” terrorists without fully understanding the situation here. This is a complicated matter. These attacks continue to get more coordinated, grander and auspicious. That can’t happen without aid and complicity from some people in power.

Of course, political discourse will always get steered by Nigerians who simply want one of their own in power because different groups were used as buffers against each other by the British colonials and that sentiment is still in play to this day. The is the lasting legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Thank you British Empire.