Sunday, August 19, 2007

Direct Action in Nigeria

The average Nigerian still survives on less than $2 a day, despite the country's $20 billion rise in oil exports to the United States over the past five years. This report reveals how the ordinary Nigerian endeavours to resist

The oil-pipeline fire burned strong for 45 days and 45 nights . It wasn't that no one could put the fire out. It was that no one would — not the oil company that owned the pipeline, not the government and not the villagers . Kegbara Dere villagers saw the fire less as an environmental crisis than as a negotiating tool — risking their health, land and even lives to grab their bit of the spoils from the multinational oil companies that rule the region. In the case of Kegbara Dere, it was village youths who confessed to sabotaging the line, and it was village leaders who refused to let the fire be extinguished without a payout. It takes planning and serious tools to sabotage an oil pipeline. Shell's Trans-Niger line is six feet below ground, with walls more than a quarter-inch thick.
The story of the latest fire in Kegbara Dere goes back to early May, when Komene and 39 other young men closed off pipe valves for six days to extract money from Shell. The closure cut output by about 170,000 barrels a day. The pressure from the stopped-up pipes was so intense that the ground shook. The rest of the village banded together to reopen the valves. Shell, in its turn, invited the youth involved to a training session on environmental cleanup in a fancy hotel. They expected lucrative cleanup contracts to follow. None did. So the young men, calling themselves "Militant/Commando 2000," sent a letter to Shell in early June warning "the situation would be bad" if the company failed to give them contracts. When no contracts came, the fire started.

"They promise that they are going to give us some contracts. They have not paid anything,"

Shell paid the village youth 100,000 naira ($800) to let the cleaners in. The men came with five big trucks to wrestle down the fire and suffocate the life out of it with spray. Finally the fire was snuffed out as the people watched.

Such fires are common — Royal Dutch Shell said it was hit by more than 16 fires in Nigeria between August 2006 and June 2007. At least six of those fires were on the Trans-Niger pipeline, which runs underneath Kegbara Dere.

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