Solidarisk forvaltning av Oljefondet

Emem J. Okon, er fra Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre i Nigeria. Organisasjonens arbeid retter seg mot utvikling av kvinnelige lederskikkelser og for kvinners rettigheter, samt mobilisering for sosial rettferdighet og demokrati. I denne artikkelen skriver hun om hvordan Oljefondet kan virke for folket i Niger-deltaet.

Making the Norwegian Petroleum Fund work for the Niger delta

Barn i Nigeria
Foto: Sigurd Jorde, Utviklingsfondet

The situation in the Niger Delta is an incredibly complex one. The most publicly visible cause of the current conflict is disputes over oil in the region. The oil industry in Nigeria is presumed to be the most polluting industry in the world. In Nigeria, a total of 764 incidents of oil spills were reported in the period of 2006-2007. Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) topped the chart with 264 incidents and 22,095.62 barrels spilled into the environment; ExxonMobil reportedly spilled crude oil in 257 incidents and 544.75 barrels, while Chevron came in third with 125 spills. Shell recorded 78 spills within the same period[1]. The year 2008 marked 50 years of oil extraction in Nigeria.

In 2002 oil and gas exports accounted for more than ninety-eight per cent of export earnings and about eighty-three per cent of federal government revenue. In 2007 alone, Nigeria earned a total of US$ 55 billion. This made Nigeria 4th in terms of earnings among OPEC members for 2007. The Niger Delta crude oil reserve is put at 36 billion barrels while there is an estimated reserve of 100 – 170 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.[2]

Social Movements, civil society organizations, as well as local communities object to the devastating impact that the presence of oil companies has had on the environment and livelihoods. They are also in disagreement about the way in which oil revenues are unfairly distributed to benefit the public. There are significant actions, some of them violently, targeted against these foreign oil companies. Shell in particular, has been the main target for these activities in the Niger Delta.

The Niger Delta no doubt is heavily invested in the oil industry, but has experienced prolonged economic deprivation. The situation is that indigenous people cannot tap into the benefits of oil because they do not have the skills, and knowledge and capital resources to do so. More so, the governments in the region have treated issues of good governance with levity. Therefore, the people of the Niger Delta now suffer exploitation, not only from oil multinational companies, but also from government negligence. Presently a new dimension of oppression has been added to it, the oppression from the criminality of violence and conflict. The burden of oil on the population of the Niger Delta, and especially women, is enormous.

The oil industry has diverted attention from the agricultural enterprises in the region which generated foreign exchange earnings in the 1960s, despite the fact that the people, especially women are still predominantly farmers and fisher folks. These occupations have been displaced by the oil industry, which have caused pollution and degradation of viable farmlands and waterways. Informal enterprises have thus become the primary source of livelihood, though characterized by low productivity and wages.

The Niger Delta crisis has become much more complex. There is the ethnic conflict; cult rivalries; oilcompanies/host communities; government negligence; militant groups/government; militant groups/oil companies; inter political parties conflict; intra party conflict and; government sacking of whole communities among others. The resultant consequences include destruction of local economies, poverty, unemployment, hunger, anger, low self esteem, bitterness, frustration, desperation, fear, tension and more conflicts. Companies are accused of polluting the waters through their activities, thereby threatening local fisher folks; flaring gas leading to acid rain as well as various other significant human rights violations to suppress dissent in the region. Some have reported that Multinational Companies, such as Shell, operating in the Delta have imported the arms used by various factions within oil producing communities.[3]

In response to the situation several civil society and resistant groups have sprung up, working to address the issues. The activities of the groups have been violent at some point, while others apply non-violent strategies. Government attempts to resolve tension in the Delta region through military force has not proved successful in the past, with civilians often bearing the brunt. Examples are the Odi genocide in 1999, Umuechem massacre, the sacking of Iko community and the mayhem in Odioma, to mention a few. A recent Human Rights Watch report details the brutality with which security forces have attempted to suppress the uprisings in the Delta Region but also call for oil companies to take more action against these atrocities as well.[5]

In the midst of these complexities, how can the Norwegian Petroleum Fund (NPF) be used to address the situation, should the FUND support development objectives in the Niger Delta?  If by development objectives we refer to projects such as construction of health centres, classroom blocks, provision of water boreholes as well as skills acquisition activities, then the Fund will not make any meaningful impact in the Niger Delta. The ethical guidelines for the administration of the Fund should focus on investment that will promote good environmental practices in Nigeria.


The administration of the Fund in solidarity with the South should be geared towards promoting a healthy and sustainable environment; support of local advocacy actions to hold government accountable; promoting corporate social accountability and building local capacity for environmental management.

In the first instance, there is a need for consultations with the population of the Niger Delta to ascertain the means with which to achieve the administration of the Fund. The consultation should be carried out with local communities and with civil society organizations. During these consultations, adequate information should be provided about the Norwegian Petroleum Fund and the experiences of the extractive oil industry in Norway. This will give the people ample opportunity to appreciate the Norwegian experience in order to take informed decision whether or not to adopt it in the Niger Delta.

While one cannot rule out collaboration with government, efforts should rather focus on capacity building strategy to share with the Federal government of Nigeria as well as the state governments in the Niger Delta region, on how to manage the oil revenue to benefit the people of the Niger Delta; the nature of the relationship between the oil companies and the government that will empower the Nigeria government to regulate the activities of the oil companies. Presently, it appears the oil multinationals are more powerful than the Nigerian government, judging from the way the government seems unable to put a stop to gas flaring[5].

Exchange programmes where indigenous people from the Niger Delta can go to Norway to study the relationships between communities and oil companies could be encouraged. The people would also study strategies for mobilising local communities for action. This will be adopted to address violent approaches to negotiating and discussing with oil companies.

The NPF can maintain a close and regular political dialogue with the Nigerian government in relations to the business of oil and the relationship between government, oil companies and the local communities.  The dialogue shall primarily be held between the Federal government and the association of civil society groups. The process should encompass all matters of mutual concern. The Fund should encourage political dialogue between the Nigerian government and the people of the Niger Delta.

The governance issue is a priority. The Fund could be used to promote good governance.  Promoting the rule of law and tackling corruption are important tasks for the Nigerian government. The Fund can contribute to the enhancement of the rule of law in Nigeria and the establishment of the necessary preconditions for a safer environment. Partnership with government could also promote strengthening institutional capacity to reduce proliferation of small arms in the region.

Part of the governance intervention would be supporting the Nigerian Electoral Cycle to ensure transparent and credible elections by strengthening the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s capacity; providing advisory and technical assistance; and by enhancing civil society’s contribution to the electoral process through grants to civil society organisations. This intervention includes both a pre-election, election phase as well as a post-election phase. The process of electing leaders determines the kind of leaders that will emerge from the process. The need for a good governance structure can only be achieved if the process of electing the leaders is transparent and credible.

I will end by emphasizing that there is a need for an intensive civic education and enlightenment in the region for a social re-orientation and transformation. We need to develop a new consciousness in the region, and this cannot be attained with a one off intervention. It has to be a conscious, consistent and continuous effort over a long period of time.

[1] Nnimmo Bassey. The Worst Oil Model. Durban, south Africa, September 2008
[2] Ibid
[3] ibid., p. 79.
[4] Human Rights Watch, Oil Companies Complicit in Nigerian Abuses [on-line]
[5] The oil companies seem to hold the aces, they have refused to end gas flaring by continuously shifting the dates to end gas flare. The ruling by Benin High court pronouncing gas flare illegal is yet to be adhered to.