MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is on assignment.
It may have been a paragraph in your hometown newspaper, a couple of seconds on the news last week. A pipeline explosion near Lagos, Nigeria killed as many as 200 people, many of whom were siphoning gas from industrial pipelines into their own cans and bottles. Most of the people were so badly burned, authorities delivered them into a common grave. They said the families wouldn't be able to recognize them anyway.
It was a horrific incident, but it was by no means, the first. Over the last eight years, nearly 2,000 people have been killed in Nigeria, when the gas they were siphoning off industrial pipelines caught fire. The first question, of course, is why? Why would people in oil-rich countries risk so much for a few buckets of oil?
But the next question is for the rest of us. What does this have to do with the U.S.? Well, Nigeria is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the U.S., and some administration officials would like that relationship to grow, in order to lessen U.S. reliance on the Middle East. But what would that mean? Does more oil mean more U.S. involvement in insuring social justice and good government? Should it?
Today, we will take a close look at oil and politics in Nigeria. We will speak with Nigeria's Minister of Finance, an oil industry analyst, a human rights activist, and our own correspondent. And we also hope to talk with you.
Do U.S. oil companies have a responsibility to improve the quality of life in countries in which they operate? Should the U.S. government play a more active role when the governments of oil-producing countries are ineffective? Or do you just have questions about life in the oil-rich Delta region?
Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later in the program, flooding in New England: how one school is racing to save precious books and buildings from the water. But first, Nigeria and oil. We will be joined shortly by the Minister of Finance from Nigeria. And, eventually, NPR's own West Africa correspondent in Lagos, Nigeria.
But first, we are joined now by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
I'm sorry if I'm mispronouncing your name.
But she is the finance minister for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She is the first woman to hold that position. She's also a former vice president of the World Bank. She joined us by phone from the Sofitel Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where she's attending an Africa Development bank meeting.
Welcome, Minister. Thank you so much for joining this program.
Ms. NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA (Finance Minister, Nigeria): Thank you.
MARTIN: Minister, why are people siphoning off gas from these pipelines?
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: Well, I think the accident that occurred from the siphoning, is a very unfortunate tragedy for the country. But it is that, an accident. And, of course, you know, people say that they are siphoning gas because they are poor, and so on and so forth. We do have our problems in the country, but I don't think that that is any call for that type of behavior. We've tried, previously, to educate people, that this is not right thing to do, because it's so dangerous.
But I want to tell you that, you know, the other day they also showed people siphoning gas in California. They're siphoning gas from peoples' cars. You know, are you also going to say that, you know, that is because the U.S. is mismanaging its economy? Or California is being mismanaged? I think that it's a phenomenon when oil prices are high in most countries. And the people are trying to get around this. I don't think it's the right thing to do.
MARTIN: Are these individuals siphoning off gas? Or are they organized in some way?
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: No, they are not organized. This was an unfortunate thing, that the pipeline is one that is on the surface. And maybe that is something that should not have been done that way. Maybe it should have been buried, because it exposes it to this kind of tampering.
MARTIN: Do you feel that - you mentioned the analogy to, sort of, California. And you're saying that folks are doing this because they feel that - I assume that you're making that comparison because you're saying that, when people feel that they are not getting their just do, or they simply can't make it, according to the rules - the kind of established rules of order - that they kind of take matters into their own hands.
Do you feel that this is a widespread view in Nigeria, that somehow the average person simply cannot cope? And therefore, they have to go outside, you know, ordinary means, in order to function. Do you think that is a widespread feeling?
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: No. That is not a widespread feeling. And I don't think that the action of a few people, who it's - as I said, it's an unfortunate tragedy for us, and it shouldn't have happened. Should we spread to the behavior of Nigerians? 99.9 percent of Nigerians are hard working people - whether they are poor or relatively better off - and honest citizens, who do not go about tampering with things in the way that was done.
It is not a widespread feeling. Things are not easy in the country. But people are working hard to do that. And I'm just saying that this analogy in California, it was shown that people were also tampering to siphon off gas from cars. It is just not good behavior. It's not because, you know, people are poor, or they feel they can't make it, that they're doing that.
There are many poor people in the villages and rural areas. They don't go destroying things and doing illegal things, just because of, you know, the situation of things. You know, that is not the value, the kind of values we have in the country. And 99.9 percent of Nigerians do not behave that way, and do not support this.
MARTIN: You would agree though, wouldn't you, that I think Nigeria is still -that the average citizen still is not benefiting, as much as perhaps, as I'm sure you would like, from the oil wealth that is flowing into the country? Would you say that that's a fair statement, that they're still...
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: No, let me say this.
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: It is very true, that in the past, we mismanaged our resources. But for the past three years, the government has been implementing a very rigorous reform program that is showing results. We've been turning the economy around. We've been fighting corruption. President Olusegun Obasanjo focused on this issue of fighting corruption. An independent survey showed that in areas of public contracting, in the oil sectors, and so on, we're having results.
Please let me mention, that Nigeria is the first oil-producing country who joined the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. And has, on its own, gone beyond that to audit their accounts of the oil sector, the past four years. And has put the result on the website, www.neiti.org, for the whole world to see how we are running our oil sector: physically, what has been produced; financially, the flows that have come into the country; and the processes, how the oil sector is managed.
And we have found, of course, there are some weaknesses in the way that it is managed. But 98 percent of the resources have been accounted for. And the other two percent, we are looking into whether there are discrepancies between agencies that are reporting, or if it is something else. No other country has done this.
MARTIN: You have been...
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: Nigeria has turned over a new leaf. We are implementing this program. The economy grew at 6.3 percent last year. And, you know, we are looking to create more jobs. So we are diversifying away from oil into agriculture. In fact, the non-oil sector grew by eight percent. So if we continue this trend, that we intend to do, we will help to create more jobs for our own unemployed youth, and so on.
We admit we are a country is still poor, and needs to go a long way. But we are completely turned around the management of the country. And I think this needs to be recognized. You know, people continue harping on the fact that Nigeria corruption. We will not allow ourselves to be defined by this, because we've changed, and the world needs to recognize it.
In the Niger Delta, there's a genuine problem that has accumulated over the years, of people who did not receive the true dues in terms of socioeconomic programs, both from their past government and from oil companies. And now, this present government has truly recognized this, has put forward a program to massively focus on developing the place, socio-economically. We have...
MARTIN: Minister, let me ask you this...
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: ...everybody - sorry?
MARTIN: I just wanted to ask you this: What do you think the most significant problem is now? What do you think the greatest obstacle is now, to achieving a greater social equity in the recent… You say - you feel that you have made good headway against endemic corruption, that's what I've heard you to say over the last few minutes.
So, what do you think is the greatest obstacle now? Are there - is it that… Is it that local officials need to be more accountable; state officials need to better use the resources that are coming in? Or is there an attitude that, sort of the deck is so stacked that people don't yet believe that the reforms have been implemented? Is it they don't have confidence? What do you think the greatest obstacle is against the kind of improvements that you want to see?
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: No, the greatest obstacle that we face is - I don't think it's an obstacle, it's an opportunity. The greatest challenge we have is to sustain these reforms and make sure that - continue to push them down so that people begin to feel more and more of the benefit.
You have to remember that Nigeria was under military, non-democratic, rule for a long time and investments were not made in infrastructure, and other things that were needed to make the lives of the people better. Now we have been implementing this, rigorously, for the past three years. But we cannot solve two decades of poor management in three years. But we do want the world to recognize and give credit for what is being done...
MARTIN: What support...
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: We are gradually...
MARTIN: Mm hmm.
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: ...getting down to the communities. I think the - we need to work better with the communities, the states in the area. All arms of government need to work, hand in hand, with the communities. You must recognize one thing: investments in the Niger Delta are not - takes a lot of money and we have to devote those resources.
We are - for example, one of the major roads that people in the Delta have said they want. I'm from Delta state, one of the Delta states, so I can also speak to it. It is the East West Highway, which will cost $2 billion to build, because the soils in the area are very difficult to work with. We are focusing on building that. It will take a lot of resources.
And the idea that Nigeria is so rich because it's getting all this oil, let me just give you a few facts. In 2004, we made $25 billion, net. after you subtract what we need to reinvest back into the oil sector. For an entire country of 150 million people, this boils down to $0.50, per Nigerian, per day. Please remember, Nigeria is a very large country.
Last year, we made $45 billion, net. This is about a dollar, per person, per day. So the idea that, here is this country making vast amounts of money and not using it well, that was in the past. Now we are doing our best. We're accounting for - the resources are coming transparently(ph). And we are realizing that we have to focus much more on infrastructure, much more on education, much more on health.
We got debt relief, recently, from the Paris Club. So we exited - our $30 billion debt is gone. We are taking the resources that would have gone to service debt, to focus - to put into areas of education, maternal mortality, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS...
MARTIN: Minister, Minister, I'm so sorry to have to cut you off. You've been most generous with your time. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you.
MARTIN: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the finance minister for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She joined us by phone from the Sofitel Hotel in Ugudugu, Burkina Faso, where she's attending an African Development Bank meeting.
We're talking about Nigeria, how oil there, fuels politics and life, and why we need to care. And we're taking your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail, the address is email@example.com.
I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington.
Nigeria is one of the U.S.'s top oil suppliers, but it can be a dangerous place to do business. Today, we're talking about Nigeria and oil: the politics, the economy, and how it affects Americans. You can read more about how oil money is changing Nigeria at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org.
Our guests are NPR West Correspondent Ofeibia Quist-Arcton and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the finance minister for the Republic of Nigeria, whom we just heard from.
Do you have questions about Nigeria, its oil production, about life in the oil-rich Delta region? Do U.S. oil companies have a responsibility to improve the quality of life in countries in which they operate? Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we're joined now by Ofeibia Quist-Arcton. She joins us from the BBC Studio in Lagos. Welcome.
OFEIBIA QUIST-ARCTON reporting:
Thank you very much, indeed.
QUIST-ARCTON: Sorry to be late.
MARTIN: Well, we're happy to have you whenever you arrive. Were you able to hear our earlier discussion with the finance minister, any of it?
QUIST-ARCTON: I heard some of the interview with Ms. Okonjo-Iweala - not the whole thing, but the last five minutes - yes.
MARTIN: Well, I did want to - I do want to talk about the political developments this week, which is something we did not discuss with her. But before we do, I just wanted to ask you to react to her main points, which were that Nigeria has this reputation for corruption and that the current government is getting a handle on it. Do you believe that that is a point of view that is shared by most Nigerians - to the degree to which you can - feel you can accurately assess that?
QUIST-ARCTON: To a very small degree. I think people do say that the new government under President Obasanjo, since he came to power in 1999, has tackled corruption. But corruption, being endemic in Nigeria; institutional, at a petty level, at all levels of government.
Many Nigerians will tell you they haven't done enough, that what they have done has not even scraped the surface. And that right now, many Nigerians feel and analysts say, that the corruption campaign is being leveled against President Obasanjo's political opponents, rather than those who it should be trying to bring to book: those who are ripping the country off.
So yes, compared with military dictatorship - and Nigeria for most of its 46 years, since independence from Britain in 1960, has had a huge corruption problem. So, compared to the bad old days of the military regime, perhaps things have improved, but not as much as they should have under a democratic dispensation for the past seven years.
MARTIN: Ofeibia, back up for just one second, because many people, I think, would have the question, you know - why, if Nigeria is oil rich, are people still so poor that they will resort to siphoning off gas from oil pipelines? Now, you know, the minister suggested that these are just sort of isolated incidences of - I will use this word, she did not - of sort of hooliganism. People are just, you know, lawbreaking.
But it is my understanding, that many observers of the region feel that it is not just that. So the question, I think, we would have is: why, if the country is oil-rich, are people still poor?
QUIST-ARCTON: Michel, let me just point out that there are just two types of oil theft. There's the crude oil theft, and that's in commercial quantities. They call it bunkering, here in Nigeria. And that's when, literally, barge loads of crude oil are filled up and spirited away from Nigeria's waters. Now the government is accusing the militants - who are demanding more political and economic control of the Niger Delta region, the oil-producing area - they are blaming them, calling them rascals and thieves, blaming them for bunkering.
Now that is wholesale theft of crude oil. But in the explosion, the fuel pipe explosion on Friday, here in Lagos - and Lagos is, you know, hundreds of miles away, thousands of miles away from the Niger Delta, the oil-producing region -many people say these are ordinary Nigerians. And that it's not pillaging, it's poverty. It's because they're poor that they will risk their lives to punch holes into high-pressure, crude oil lines and fuel lines, to try and steal - if you want to put it that way - fuel and gas so that they can either sell it on the black market, and make money, or use it for cooking.
I mean, Nigeria is a country that produces oil, but has huge problems providing gas for its people to drive cars, and motorbikes, and other things. And they have huge fuel strikes. So there are enormous contradictions in this country, of the very, very wealthy - a very small minority - and the very, very poor. And many of those poor people live in the oil-producing areas, in the Delta.
So whether or not the government says the militants are in fact, thieves; stealing crude oil, a lot of Delta people sympathize with these militants. Because they feel that, by either taking foreign oil workers hostage - as they have in the past, kidnapping them - although releasing them safely; targeting foreign oil instillations and facilities, blowing them up, and so on; and cutting production of oil by a quarter, since the beginning of the year - there is some sympathy. Because they feel these boys, as they call them - the militants of the Niger Delta - have put their agenda on the international radar, because oil matters, because oil matters to the U.S., to Britain, to the European Union, to everybody. People are listening.
MARTIN: Would you just set the scene...
QUIST-ARCTON: On the other hand...
MARTIN: Just hold on a second, Ofeibia. Could you just help us picture this, for example, because I think some people here are having difficulty understanding how any one could pilfer gas from an industrial pipeline. I mean, the U.S. is an oil-producing country, or it has been, and I'm not sure that many people in this country have ever seen a pipeline.
So how is it possible that individuals can just walk up to a pipeline and siphon it off, however they manage to do it? Are they just lying about, visible? Are they just poorly defended...
QUIST-ARCTON: Oh yes.
MARTIN: ...help us see this.
QUIST-ARCTON: Oh yes. The net - I mean, there's a web of pipelines throughout Nigeria and much of it is above ground. Perhaps in the U.S., you'll have to tell me, these are underground pipes. But here, in Nigeria, many of the fuel pipelines, many of the crude oil pipelines, are above ground level.
When I went to investigate the blast, on Friday. I got here and went on Sunday, there was this charred pipeline. I mean, everybody could see it. It's just there, right in front of you. This was a tiny island, the beach was - the sand was completely blackened, charred.
There were still body parts and burns around. People literally drill holes into this pipe. And then, when everybody sees the ruptured pipe and the oil literally gushing out, they rush to them with their jerry(ph) cans - 10 liters, 10-gallon jerry cans - fill them up, and then will ride on dug-out canoes on the lagoons, and sometimes even on the open seas, to take the fuel that they have acquired, either to their villages or for sale. It's - I know it sounds pretty incredible, but that's precisely what happens.
QUIST-ARCTON: And it's not the first time.
MARTIN: Ofeibia, there was significant political news this week. Will you bring us up to date, briefly, because we want to bring some callers into the conversation. But, what happened this week in the Nigerian Senate, and what's the significance?
QUIST-ARCTON: Of course, very briefly. President Obasanjo campaigners, for the past year or so, have been trying to get a constitutional amendment to the '99 Constitution, that would allow a third presidential term. At the moment, the constitutional - the constitution has a two-term limit. That comes up next year, in elections.
Now President Obasanjo has not himself said, whether or not, if the constitution had been changed, he would seek reelection next year. But his supporters have launched a determined and very vigorous campaign. There has been an equally vigorous campaign from the anti-third term campaigners, saying, this is bad for democracy. Two terms is enough, let someone else lead.
That campaign wad defeated in the senate this week, when the senate rejected the bill that would have allowed a constitutional amendment. So that briefly is it. But this is something that has dominated politics and dominated Nigerian life, for at least the past 12 months.
MARTIN: Let's go to Baltimore, Maryland, and Daytona(ph). Daytona, what's your question?
DAYTONA (Caller): Yes, hello.
DAYTONA: Yes, hi.
MARTIN: Daytona, what's your question?
DAYTONA: Oh, okay, yeah. My question was for the Nigerian Finance Minister...
MARTIN: Well, she's no longer joining us, but Ofeibia perhaps, can answer this. So, please go ahead and see whether we can help you in some other way.
DAYTONA: Okay, well I was just going to ask, what is the consequence of - what are the consequences of the Obasanjo government not getting a third term, as far as economic policies are concerned?
MARTIN: Okay, Ofeibia. I'm sure Ofeibia can answer. Thank you, Daytona.
QUIST-ARCTON: I can tell you from the Nigerian point of view, depends who you speak to. Those who are President Obasanjo's supporters say, by killing this bill that might've allowed him to win a third term in office; it means that all his liberal economic reforms, I'm sure the ones the minister was talking about, may end. Because President Obasanjo's vice president, who seems to have joined the opposition, although they come from the same party, is one of those who's saying no to a third term.
Now, those who say they're - other people that (unintelligible) govern Nigeria, we can't have what we had in the past, people just going on ad infinitum, say we need fresh leadership. President Obasanjo may have done his best, but it's now time for someone else to govern Nigeria.
And it had gone on and on with the same person in another four years, when it comes up to election time, they will hear again that the government's economic reform program has not been completed and somebody in office, President Obasanjo or others, asking for now a fifth term. And that is a no-no for Nigeria.
MARTIN: Ofeibea, thank you so much for joining us.
MARTIN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, she joined us from the BBC Studio in Lagos. And now, to help us put Nigeria and its oil into international context, we're joined by Monica Enfield, a manager at PFC Energy; a consulting firm specializing in the international oil and gas industry. She joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome.
Ms. MONICA ENFIELD (Manager, PFC Energy): Thank you.
MARTIN: Step back a minute. How much oil does Nigeria have? How does that compare to the other oil-producing countries that perhaps Americans might be more familiar with, like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
Ms. ENFIELD: Well, Nigeria is among one of the top five exporters of crude to the United States. It is the largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan in Africa. It produces nearly - over 2.5 million barrels a day for 2006; and that's a total of - Sub-Saharan total production is about 5.9 million barrels per day.
Nigeria is very important to the United States, because not only is it a very large producer but it also is a large exporter of crude to U.S. markets. And it's also very important because it's a new source of production coming from deep water fields in Nigeria satisfy global demand, not only in the United States and in Europe, but increasingly Asia, China and India.
And from a commercial aspect, Nigeria has been a place where U.S. oil companies have been able to invest for decades, namely ExxonMobil, Chevron, but also smaller companies such as Devon and Conoco-Phillips.
MARTIN: Have these - has Nigeria been a consistent supplier?
Ms. ENFIELD: Yeah.
MARTIN: I mean, has it been able to continue to export, despite the political instability that they've experienced over the years? Political turmoil, I should say.
Ms. ENFIELD: Yeah, as you mentioned earlier, Nigeria is among the top five exporters to the United States after Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela. But the reason why Nigerian crude is especially important is the type of crude that Nigeria produces is classified light sweet, meaning that when you refine it in U.S. refineries, you get a very high yield of clean products, which are gasoline and diesel, which is what we use here in this country.
So Nigerian crude is desired on a global market, because it's a very specific type of crude; it's used in U.S. refineries, and last year, as we saw with the outages after Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, Nigerian crude was able to substitute a lot of that crude production that was out. So very important to U.S. refining, refiners.
MARTIN: Let me just pause briefly to say, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Monica, do - are the oil companies concerned about this phenomenon of these pipeline explosions?
Ms. ENFIELD: Yes.
MARTIN: What is their analysis of why this is happening?
Ms. ENFIELD: Well, certainly oil companies, U.S. and European alike, are worried about their social license to operate in the Niger Delta, as well as around the world.
Just to put it in context, you know, Shell Oil Company has been there since the 1950s, and many of these companies have operated and produced oil and extract oil throughout various periods of Nigerian history, some were more violent than others. The Bakassi - I'm sorry, not the Bakassi Rebellion, but other periods of Nigerian history.
They are concerned now, because there seems to be a lot more militant and criminal activity. These are no longer just groups that are willing to attack you in a speedboat, but have much more sophisticated weapons. And the volumes that they're able to impact are much higher than in the past. For example, since January and February, some attacks that occurred in Bayelsa State, there are over 500,000 barrels a day of production shut in, still. This is in contrast to a few years back, when these levels were about 125, 150,000 barrels per day.
So, from a global oil market standpoint, we have such tight capacity around the world; 500,000 barrels is a lot of oil to be out.
MARTIN: Do U.S. corporations feel a pressure to improve the human rights or the sense of social equity in Nigeria as a way to forestall these attacks, or at least to try to stop these attacks?
I mean, there's a bumper sticker that you often see around town, it says, you know, if you want peace, work for justice. And is there a sense among corporations that perhaps they might have to do that, whether or not they consider that their core responsibility, just in order to protect their business?
Ms. ENFIELD: Yes, and I would say that they've been doing this for a few years now. I know that Chevron has spent at least $45 million in community development programs alone in Nigeria over the past 20 years. So there's a company that has been in the Niger Delta for that long. And everything from schools and roads and hospitals, but this is a new and sophisticated approach, doing much more comprehensive programs. For example, the River State Development Initiative, which brings the U.S. government, U.K. government, World Bank, other organizations together, to do a much more comprehensive and macro approach to development. I think they all realize this, but this certainly isn't their core of expertise. Their expertise is the oil and gas industry, not social development. But it is something that the oil companies are taking very seriously.
MARTIN: Are they asking the United States government to do anything, either diplomatically or politically - to participate in helping them protect their investment in the country?
Ms. ENFIELD: Well, I think the U.S. government has their own initiatives. I don't want to speak for an oil company, but the U.S. government certainly is working with the Nigerian Navy to help better protect shallow and deep water areas, their Coast Guard and their Navy to help combat these militants, as well as generally improving governance in the region. But, as far as I know, this River State Development Program is the first time that so many actors are brought together. It includes the U.S. government, the USAID, and the oil companies.
MARTIN: I'm sorry, tell me more about this. It's an effort to what, sort of target development in this area? How effective do you think this initiative has been, or is it just too soon to really assess?
Ms. ENFIELD: It's just now getting off the ground, but past initiatives, everything from the Niger Delta Development Initiative and others, have not been terribly successful because of reasons such as corruption and others. So I think a lot of people are looking to this to be a new initiative - led by the Governor, Peter Odili, and others. But it's still too soon to tell.
MARTIN: When we come back from a short break, we'll talk more about Nigeria and oil and how it affects us. Plus, the floodwater is receding in the Northeast and New Englander's are assessing the damage. If you were affected by the flooding, we want to hear from you. The number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK.
I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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MARTIN: But first, Nigeria's oil, a blessing and a curse.
Our guests are Monica Enfield. She's a manager at PFC Energy, a consulting firm specializing in the international oil and gas industry. And now, we want to bring in another voice, Christopher Albin-Lackey, a Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch. And he's joining us from his office in New York.
Christopher, thank you for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER ALBIN-LACKEY (Researcher, Human Rights Watch, Nigeria): Good afternoon. Thanks.
MARTIN: What role do you think the oil industry - I don't mean the industry, in terms of sort as corporate entities, but the dominance of oil as a part of Nigeria's economy. Does that - how does that affect the human rights situation in Nigeria?
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: I think most people agree that that fact lies at the heart of many, maybe most of Nigeria's human rights problems.
MARTIN: Why is that?
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: As oil's come to dominate the economy and has returns far greater than any other kind of economic activity in the country, it's sort of generated pressures that have led the political system in the country, as a whole, to become centered around struggle for control of a piece of the cake, as it's often referred to in Nigeria, that comes from having control over a piece of the oil sector of the economy.
MARTIN: What do you mean? Are you saying that there's just so much money to be had? In a way, it's like the - like the - like the illicit drug industry in some other countries, that it generates so much money that it becomes irresistible to various political factions, what have you?
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: Well, it's also the source of revenue that is less accountable than other forms of government revenue might be. It's not raised or taxation. Most people in Nigeria don't have any very clear idea of how much money is actually involved. The politicians throughout Nigeria, especially at the state and local level and especially in the Niger Delta, have a richly-deserved reputation for siphoning off huge amounts of money that, if they were put into development projects or other worthwhile initiatives, it would have a huge impact on the ordinary lives of many Nigerians.
And discontent over that state of affairs, especially in the Delta, where most communities find themselves with almost nothing in the way of amenities that should be provided by government, but, at the same time, are consciously aware of just how much money is being generated from the ground beneath their feet. That state of affairs has fueled a huge amount of discontent that has led to some of the violence in the region and has been, in some cases, exploited by political leaders and others to create more problems, still.
MARTIN: Let's take - let's bring in a caller at this point. Let's go to Boston and Gerald(ph). Gerald, what's your question?
GERALD (Caller): Yes.
MARTIN: Gerald, what's your question?
GERALD: Okay, my question, yeah, I'm very glad you guys took my call. I have a question, but I'll put it in first like a comment. Why do the American corporations, the oil companies from America, couldn't do the right thing? For example, put the oil pipeline underground. Your guest said correctly that there's no way you can see any pipeline in America; they're all underground. And again, why can't they just foresee? You know, look at Texas, Dallas and Houston. You see the effect of - or the result of oil being over there. Why can't Niger Delta (unintelligible) say, enough is enough. Give us some, you know, (unintelligible) down there.
MARTIN: Okay, Joe. Thank you so much for your question.
Christopher, I think I'm going to ask you this question, simply because it's kind of posed as a question of why - I think I would cast it this way: Who would be accountable for asking the oil companies to do this? I mean, isn't that a governmental responsibility? And if so, are they not - do they not see themselves in a position to make demands of this type, to ask for greater safety safeguards, or things of that sort?
And, Christopher, I'd like to hear from you, and then I'd also like to hear from Monica on this point.
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: I think there are two sides to the answer to that question.
On the one hand, it's quite clear that, historically, oil companies operating in Nigeria have not done enough to stand up to meet their own responsibilities, in terms of ensuring that the impact of what they're doing on the communities in the Niger Delta is as minimal as possible in terms of its environmental impact and other negative consequences.
But, at the same time, you're right, it is the responsibility of the Nigerian government, at the end of the day, both to see that oil companies are regulated and also to see that the proceeds of the oil industry are reinvested into communities in a way that addresses some of the underlying social causes of all of the problems there.
And I think that while it's perfectly right to call attention to some of the failings of the oil companies in Nigeria, at the end of the day, none of these problems can be solved until government in Nigeria - and not just the federal government, but at all levels - takes it's own responsibility more seriously in that regard.
Ms. ENFIELD: I was just going to add that, in the case of the product pipeline in Lagos, it's a series of islands and so forth, so it's also a limit on geology and geography. The Niger Delta, where the bulk of oil production comes from, is a series of mangroves and swamps and so forth. Many of those pipelines are above ground simply because they can't be below ground given the nature of the area.
But I do agree with the previous guest about the level of environmental regulation. It could be improved, and if you have a system there - you have a series of institutions and regulations, and you tell the oil companies to do this, then they can do it. They do it in other countries around the world.
MARTIN: Christopher, we're down to our last couple of seconds, but I wanted to ask you, what would - let me phrase the question this way. Some analysts suggest that the drive to democratize in Nigeria has also been a mixed blessing in the same way that the oil wealth has been a mixed blessing, in that the increased political competition has encouraged some sort of political actors to siphon off oil wealth to support their kind of political regimes, or to kind of to enhance their own sort of political standing.
I mean, that that's kind of part of it that this sometimes takes a violent turn. If that's the case - if you agree that that's the case, is there any appropriate role for outside entities, outside governments, to help this process along, to create a more appropriate form of political competition?
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: Well, I think there's some truth in that, but I don't think it's right to say that democratization in Nigeria is a mixed blessing. The problems that you're pointing out really have to do with the limitations - the limits on the extent to which the country actually has started to become more democratic.
As you point out, there are political leaks at all levels of the country that are, themselves, directly involved in the illegal oil bunkering trade in Nigeria, and involved in finding ways to try to protect their own interests in that trade. And to the extent that political competition has helped to fuel violence in the Niger Delta, which it certainly has, that's a reflection of very undemocratic politics, of a style of politics where the person with the most money and patronage to distribute, and unfortunately the most muscle, is often the one who emerges triumphant in any political contest.
MARTIN: And briefly, Christopher, because we're really are just down to our last couple of seconds. Is there anything that the U.S. or the U.N. or other outside entities can appropriately do to support democratization or appropriate political development in Nigeria?
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: Yes, there's room for support; more importantly, I think, there's a need for more pressure. Western governments have, historically, not done enough to pressure Nigeria into democratizing more quickly - in a more real way, because so much attention is focused on western interests in the oil industry. It tends to distract attention from more fundamental issues.
MARTIN: Christopher Albin-Lackey is a Nigeria Researcher at Human Rights Watch; he joined us from his office in New York. Thank you so much.
Mr. ALBIN-LACKEY: Thank you.
MARTIN: And Monica Enfield is a manager at PFC Energy, a consulting firm specializing in the international oil and gas industry; she joined us here in studio 3A. Thank you, also, for joining us.
Ms. ENFIELD: Thank you.
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