Blood Flows With Oil in Poor Nigerian Villages
January 1, 2006 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Blood Flows With Oil in Poor Nigerian Villages An insightful NYT article on "the desperate struggle of impoverished communities to reap crumbs from the lavish banquet the oil boom has laid in this oil-rich yet grindingly poor corner of the globe" Ok, so the quotes a little heavy handed but the pic on the 2nd page speaks volumes.
posted by Mr Bluesky (24 comments total)
the pic on the 2nd page speaks volumes.

Whoa. No kidding.
posted by Auguris at 5:35 PM on January 1, 2006

Blood Flows With Oil in Poor Nigerian Villages....
posted by Mr Bluesky at 5:17 PM PST - 1 comment


Woman marries dolphin
posted by soiled cowboy at 5:24 PM PST - 13 comments

posted by p3on at 6:17 PM on January 1, 2006

"The United States is becoming increasingly dependent on oil from a region beset by official corruption, tottering governments, violent criminal syndicates and religious and ethnic strife..."

I was just working on a post for my blog about oil and West Africa, Mr Bluesky. It fits nicely here, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 PM on January 1, 2006

On the other hand, p3on, that might indicate that people are actually reading this story...
posted by maryh at 7:48 PM on January 1, 2006

Sometimes I wander what's the porpoise of posting. Hehe.
posted by Mr Bluesky at 8:07 PM on January 1, 2006

Sigh..such as spell checking "wander" for "wonder"..f$#%! (Hey but now I'm up to 6 posts now..this threads on fire!)
posted by Mr Bluesky at 8:08 PM on January 1, 2006

This is awful, but what can we do to change it? I mean that as a serious question, not a rhetorical one. If we deny Shell our business, are there any petroleum companies with clean hands for us to patronize? Unfortunately, I doubt it.

It would be great to be able to avoid oil entirely, but that's a near-impossiblity in modern life. Not only is it needed for vitually all travel, but it also goes into fertilizer for the foods you eat and most platics too.

Oil isn't the only commodity giving rise to these kind of brutal tactics in the developing world. Diamonds and other gems, precious minerals, and anything else where huge profits can easily be monopolized by a small group of people often result in this kind of exploitation and conflict.
posted by H-Bar at 11:05 PM on January 1, 2006

I don't think global capitalism free market style is going to work... at least not in this day and age. People in poor countries are too easy to take advantage of or "exploit" if you will.
posted by j-urb at 11:11 PM on January 1, 2006

On second thought who is to say that it hasn't worked... My living standards (a US resident) make me well off. So maybe it has worked, but not on a global scale.
posted by j-urb at 11:15 PM on January 1, 2006

I've been to Lagos on business more times than I care to remember - I'm on my second, multiple entry visa now. I've also been "upcountry" several times. I certainly haven't seen it all, but even so I can tell you that Nigeria is an incredibly poor, corrupt and violent place when compared to other developing nations.

My last two trips, upon leaving the airport the police, seeing a white face, stopped my car and tried to rob me. Murtala Muhammed airport is several miles out of town, and you have to traverse a long, deserted road through the jungle, passing several police checkpoints. Out in the middle of nowhere at 3AM, heavily armed cops with automatic weapons tossing your luggage all over the road and complaining loudly about "a problem", you quickly get the sense that anything can happen down there.

Hotels fequented by westerners - the Sheraton in particular - sport high walls topped with razor wire. Even so, every floor has a guard sitting 24/7 near the elevators to escort you to and from your room. The rooms not only have signs on the back of the doors with the usual fire evacuation map, but also feature a prominent warning never to open your door if someone knocks, but to instead call security and ask them for help. I pile a bunch of furniture in front of my door when I sleep.

One time my driver forgot his ID and the hotel wouldn't let me leave with him until I signed a waiver of liability. Driving into the hotel is an experience; it's everyone and everthing out of the car. They poke at your luggage, look in the boot, open the front hood, and sometimes even use a mirror to inspect under the vehicle. Nice.

Life is cheap down there; one of my colleagues saw a car mow down a pedestrian. The car stopped, two guys got out, systematically went through the unfortunates pockets, tossed the body over a low wall and drove off. He won't go back, the experience shook him so much.

Power cuts are endemic. Every bank that I've visited has large diesel generators to compensate for the crappy infrastructure; corruption takes it's toll.

I've got a lot of empathy for the folks living there. They are doing the best they can but everyone in the food chain above them has their hand out, taking whatever they can get.

I've been to lots of other African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries, and have never felt the same level of tension I've experienced while working in Nigeria. I just got back from holiday in Bombay, for example, and walked about there very late at night talking to people, no problem at all. I've spent lots of time in Cairo visiting the Islamic quarter, chatting with folks at all hours of the day and night, and never felt uneasy. I would never try this in Nigeria.

No, I'm afraid Nigeria is in totally different space. It's a wonderfully beautiful country, rich in natural resources with very warm and welcoming people. I've seen so many beautiful things there: children playing naked in the rain, fishermen tossing their nets in the morning, women walking amoungst stopped cars, selling refreshments stacked on their heads to parched drivers, I have so many wonderful images from that country.

It's unfortunate that far too many of the folks in power are very, very corrupt and just out for themselves.
posted by Mutant at 11:24 PM on January 1, 2006

My dad's building a mansion in Nigeria, for about $80k.
posted by delmoi at 11:45 PM on January 1, 2006

I've never been to Nigeria, however My dad's girlfriend's daughter has been there and said it was "just like the US". nice suburbs and stuff.

She lives in Texas though.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 PM on January 1, 2006

This is awful, but what can we do to change it?

I know, it looks too big to fix. But there are many *many* things we can begin to do to reduce our dependence on a substance whose flow is in large part controlled by obviously corrupt and amoral people in specific government and multinational organizations. One place to start by finding out what your country/state/neighborhood is doing to encourage renewable energy sources and boost efficiency, and begin writing letters and making phone calls to speed that process along.

Don't kid yourself: There are lots of people working on this issue and lots of ways ordinary citizens can get involved; you don't have to just throw your hands in the air, accept the current level of violence underlying your energy use, and do nothing. Be a little imaginative. Do a little research. The options start multiplying very quickly after that...
posted by mediareport at 12:14 AM on January 2, 2006

Anyone interested in Nigeria should read Teju Cole, a report on a visit home by a Yoruba who's been living in the US for years. It corroborates Mutant's grim portrait:
My aunt explained what was going on. Policemen routinely stopped drivers of commercial vehicles at that spot to demand a bribe. The officer who was being told off had drifted too close to his colleague’s domain. The clustering was bad for business- danfo drivers got angry if they were charged twice. All this took place under a hoarding that said “Corruption is Illegal: Do Not Give or Accept Bribes.” And how much of the government’s money, I wondered, had the contractor siphoned off into his private accounts when he had landed the lucrative contract for those billboards?

It is one thing to be told of the “informal economy” of Lagos, and quite another to see it in action, to see the way it puts pressure on all who are involved in it. Some fifteen minutes before we reached Ikeja bus-stop, we had passed a toll-gate on Airport Road. It, too, was in the shadow of a large billboard condemning corrupt practices and urging citizens to improve the country. Toll at the booth was set at two-hundred naira: this was advertised and understood. However, enterprising drivers, such as ours, knew that they could get through the toll gate if they paid just half of that. The catch was that the hundred naira they paid went straight into the collector’s purse. “Two-hundred you get ticket stub,” our driver said, “One hundred you get no ticket. What do I need ticket for? I don’t need ticket!” And in this way, thousands of cars over the course of a day would pay toll at the informal rate, lining the pockets of the collectors and their superiors. The demand from the immigration officer, the toll-booth story, the Ikeja police: I had run into three clear instances of official corruption within my first forty-five minutes in the country.
Read it soon, because he's planning to take the site down at the end of January (don't ask me why).
posted by languagehat at 5:25 AM on January 2, 2006

Yeah, Nigeria has a huge corruption problem, it's almost comical, but it's a huge structural problem. People over there view taking a bribe the way people here might download music or pirate software.

The real problem, I think, is trying to graft western culture onto a society where bribes are seen as totally normal and routine.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 AM on January 2, 2006

"...trying to graft western culture onto a society where bribes are seen as totally normal and routine."

Yeah, I'd have to agree with this. It's a real nightmare trying to negotiate deals down there when almost everybody involved is trying to cut something on the side that will go straight into their own pocket. The concept of employees providing a service to a company in return for a fair salary is just the start for these folks. Many seem to believe the opportunity to take a little of whatever cash might pass by them while on the job is part and parcel of the employer/employee relationship.

Some of them just don't get it when we make it clear we don't play that game, and they keep trying ad-nauseam. The folks that have been educated in England or the US won't try at all, or will quickly back off once you make it clear, but pretty much anyone else in Nigeria has a completely different sense of entitlement to what we would call dirty money.

On the plus side I have nothing but good stuff to say about the airport; the bad old days of customs officials confiscating whatever they wanted from your person or luggage are long over.

But, on the other hand, the airport is run by a joint venture between BAA and Accenture.
posted by Mutant at 7:40 AM on January 2, 2006

i had a Nigerian friend a few years ago. I don't know what happened to him. He claimed to be related to the last Nigerian royal family, and that her sister was married to the governor of an oil rich province. you should've seen how this guys spent money.

He used to spend at least 200,000 dollars a month pretending to be am american rapper. his favourite was snoop dog back then, but he really looked like 50 cent (back then we didn't have a 50 cent). His weekend routine was going around driving in his car (of course, with a driver), picking up fat ass white girls in the burbs on Fridays, then taking them to the mall shopping all day, diidy-style. Then spending the friday and saturday nights partying with them in the clubs and or his flat. he would call me around brunch time on sunday to say "hey man the bithces letft me and they stole my vault... i let the driver go last night. can you come and get me? im soo hungry... can you take me out for breakfast until i make it to the bank tomorrow?"

in my head i would connect the dots between the misery of people that his well connected parents were exploiting, and the hoochies who would steal the rest of the cash from his place. and no matter where the wealth came from, it would always end up disappearing in North America.
posted by sundaymag at 9:56 AM on January 2, 2006

While I don't know about your taste in friends, that was an astounding story.
posted by maxsparber at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2006

Many thanks, mr bluesky. I was feeling irrationally peppy today and that jolt of reality took care of it.

sundaymag, I almost wish you were (rather ineptly) satirizing Nigerian spam, which is what I originally thought. That would demonstrate something ugly about you personally, whereas the actual story -- combined with mutant's account and Cole's quote posted by languagehat -- is far uglier, far bleaker.

Other links for context and uplift:

• On November 10, 1995, Nigerian writer and anti-Shell activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed; there's a brief tenth-anniversary interview with his son here.

• Say "Biafra" and MeFites of a certain age will respond "Jello;" if pressed, they may vaguely remember hearing about something called the "Biafra famine" (possibly jumbled up with Play-Doh/Mrs. Beasley sense-memories which may be best explored with professional assistance). Of course Biafra is, and always has been, a real place, with real conflict over its government. This Reuters article gives some background, while this describes the ongoing protests.

• [insert a local news segue from yet more remains pried out of the hometown serial killer's lint trap to a water-skiing squirrel who's developed bursitis] Life Turns Man Up and Down reprints several pamphlets published in Nigeria in the late '60s/early '70s, all offering the inside dope on, as the subtitle says, "High Life, Useful Advice, and Mad English." The editor argues that the highly flexible use of language in the pamphlets is analogous to the inventiveness of the Elizabethan era. Could be, but I need no linguistic permission slip to savor sentences such as, "She had been chasing around the romantic seaport of Lagos, with her flareful flush of romance. ... It was time for love to roar on the air, and equally, the time for Rosemary to travel on a journey from Lagos to the East." A compilation of reviews is here.
posted by vetiver at 5:55 PM on January 2, 2006

Buddy of mine Pierre Tanjay from Camaroon said there are some problems there as well. Apparently from coffee.
As it happens, it's the #2 international commodity in the world behind oil. Lots of farmers aren't allowed to farm food and staples. Just echoing H-bar's comment that oil isn't the only commodity giving rise to these kind of brutal tactics in the developing world.
Seems like this is just anarchy tho.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2006

Wow, truly honored to have some of the aforementioned comments on this post. As one who is guilty of the occasional squirrel on water-skiies post, it's great to see the depth of the MeFi community
posted by Mr Bluesky at 7:59 PM on January 2, 2006

One of my best friends has been working at an orphanage for children affected by AIDS (parents have died from it and/or child is HIV positive). She was visiting friends in Nairobi but when the family that was supposed to pick her up at the airport arrived, they were attacked by 3 men with assault rifles. They stole the car, all of the luggage, wedding rings, wallets, travel papers, plane tickets, everything. A guard was shot in the elbow; my friend was able to patch him up a bit before they took him to the hospital. I think it's been a month or so since it happened. They gave up on replacing the tickets and had to buy new ones.

When I was much younger, actually, I lived in Zambia myself. My dad was helping to supervise a leprosy clinic. I don't remember very much of it at all, but I do remember my parents only really looking worried when we had to enter Lusaka, the capital. I got the impression that the bush was a much safer place to be. There was still the ever-present danger of misunderstandings turning violent, but in the small villages, it's not all about the every man for himself rampant greed that's always one step away from complete and utter anarchy. Africa seems to be one of those places where the old adage that there's safety in numbers is pretty much false.

At this point, I'm reasonably sure that Africa will not really become civilized within my lifetime.
posted by sporkmonger at 1:20 PM on January 3, 2006

youre telling me it's not good to have a rich Nigerian friend once in a while?
posted by sundaymag at 12:26 AM on January 4, 2006

Nobody's reading this thread anymore, but I have to make sure this anecdote from Teju's blog (the one I recommended above) doesn't disappear with the site. The scene is a family gathering celebrating a forthcoming wedding; Teju has asked his companion about an "ample woman with a regal presence" seated "near the high table":
-She lost her husband, Tolu said.

-Oh, yes, that I think I heard about that. How sad.

-Yes, but the really sad thing is the way it happened.

Tolu then began to tell Teju what had happened. The rhetoric and rites of the introduction went on around them. [...]

-It was armed robbers, Tolu said. This was in 1998, about three years after you were last home.

The woman was extraordinarily beautiful. Her skinned glowed with warm ochre tones, and her eyes flashed intelligently each time she spoke and laughed. Teju observed her intently from where he sat. He estimated she was about fifty-five.

-The men came into their house at night, an armed gang. Woke up the parents, their children, the househelp. They have two kids.

-And they shot him?


Those home invasions had been extremely common in Lagos in the 1990s, and they still happened, though less frequently. The Coles had had two encounters with armed robbers. Once, when Teju was still home, the men had gotten into the compound but had been unable to break down the reinforced doors leading into the house. The whole family had huddled in the toilet of the master bedroom while the robbers threatened from outside. They kept at it, ramming the massive front door repeatedly, until it was almost the break of day. Only then,thwarted, did they give up and melt away with the shadows. The Cole family, emerging from behind their barricades long after the sun had risen, found drops of fresh blood on the concrete along the walls surrounding the house and near the front door. One of the robbers had been injured scaling the broken-glass-topped fence.

They, or some others like them, came back a few years later. This was after Teju had left for America. Dayo and Tolu were still at home. And this time, they got in. Mr Cole had been punched, and Dayo had been slapped. All the electronics, jewelry and money in the house was taken. For many years afterwards, Mrs Cole couldn’t sleep through the night. Mr Cole’s gun, never fired, was still never fired, but it became an ominous presence in the house.

-They cleaned out the house, but when they were leaving, they forced Mr Adelaja to come with them.


-They locked him up in the trunk of his car, and drove around to the neighbor’s house. When they got there, they dragged him out and made him speak into the intercom. “It’s your neighbor please. I need some help. Please open the gate.”

This was at two in the morning. Mr Adelaja was the kind of man you opened your gate to, at any time of day. A respectable man, well-known in the neighborhood, well-liked. And that way, the robbers gained access to the neighbor’s place, cleaned out his house. Then, they dragged him along too, left his wife and daughters weeping and pleading. So now, there are two men in the trunk of the car.

And the men in the trunk can hear the armed robbers discussing their strategy. They can hear them saying, well these guys have seen our faces and heard our voices. We’re going to have to kill them.

And then they come round, and they open the trunk, and they shoot Mr Adelaja. The neighbor, they leave alive, perhaps hoping to use him as bait for some more houses.

But not long after that, they run into a police checkpoint. Panicked, they jump out of the car and disappear into the woods. And what do the police find in the abandoned car. Two men. One still alive, his neighbor’s blood all over him.

Tolu shook his head. Teju’s eyes smarted, and he looked at Mrs Adelaja again, in whose radiance he could see nothing that looked like grief and nothing that looked like humiliation. But this was what those bastards had saddled her with for the rest of her life: a memory of the man she loved forever tied to the degradation of one night.

Teju mused on how they would have gone to bed that evening like any other aging married couple, perhaps with tender words, or perhaps in the midst of some minor tiff, with no thought of the violence that would tear them apart. He imagined her in the weeks and months afterwards, her beautiful face disfigured by sorrow. And then the gradual courage to continue, the strength she had to find for herself and for her children. Fortitude beyond imagining. And not a trace of it on her face, seven years on.
(Here's the link, though it will only work through the end of January.)
posted by languagehat at 7:13 AM on January 8, 2006

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