NIGERIA: The Curse of the Black Gold

In 1956, oil was discovered along the Niger Delta in Nigeria. It was from this point that this nation began to experience enormous wealth, exporting millions of barrels per day around the world.

Map of Nigeria

Oil rich Nigeria is located in the western region of Africa.

The greatest appeal was that the sweet and low-sulphur liquid called Bonny Light was easily refined in to gasoline and diesel. Nigeria in a matter of years became the largest producer of oil in Africa and Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s oil-hub was soon discovered to be in the middle of oil reserves bigger than the United States and Mexico.

It has been over half a century since oil was discovered in Nigeria and despite the immense wealth the country has enjoyed, many have declared that ‘Nigeria was a better place without oil.’ (Durigbo, E (2005) p 9) Living standards in the nation have fallen, environmental decay has come about over time, corruption is rampant and finally fighting between civil groups and civilians has ensured that violence is widespread. Fighting between militant groups, government forces and oil companies mining in Nigeria has been ongoing since the 1990s. Tensions between oil companies and minority ethnic groups living along the Niger Delta are yet to cease as a consequence of these groups feeling exploited.

A further problem in Nigeria exacerbating the already conflict ridden country is the theft of oil, known as ‘bunkering.’ 10% of the oil exported from Nigeria every year, which equates to several billion dollars is due to theft. (Walker, A (2008) [Accessed 16 June 2010] It is thought that the government is wary to stop such operations in the fear that it will lead to further fighting and conflict. Local officials are said to be making so much money from the illegal theft of oil that they will revolt if it is stopped.

Many Nigerians are now convinced that economic and political development will only be achieved when the extraction of oil is no more. This is unlikely to be in the imminent future as the nation is thought to have 30 billion barrels in reserve. (Bremmer, I (2009) [Accessed 16 June 2010]) Oil in Nigeria not only accounts for approximately 95% of the countries export earnings but 80% of its total revenue. (O’Neill, T (2007) [Accessed 16 June])

The Government’s budget is filled with what is known as petrol dollars, but despite this, Nigerians are among the poorest and most violent on the continent. According to the World Bank, most of Nigeria’s oil wealth is siphoned off by 1% of the population (this 1% are mostly those in positions of power), leaving more than half of the country to live on less than a dollar a day.

It is well known that militants regularly attack the oil companies, which are presently in Nigeria. Royal Dutch Shell is currently the largest operator in the Niger Delta, and research has alleged that they are exploiting the instability in the region by covering up oil spills and the environmental destruction that they are causing. It has been estimated that around 13 million barrels of oil have been spilt in the Delta with there being 2,000 current spills, a majority of which have been caused by Shell. (Howden, D (2009) [Accessed 16 June])

This damage is helping to fuel the violence as the livelihoods of people are being destroyed through polluted water and crops. The Delta is now considered to be one of the five most polluted areas in the world. It has been concluded that the “(Howden, D (2009) [Accessed 16 June])

After 50 years of oil, this is the state of a shanty town in Port Harcourt. (Photo from National Geographic)

Source: ResourceAfrica

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