When a civilian government was reinstated in Nigeria in 1999, many of those living in the Niger Delta region, the source of Nigeria's oil wealth, hoped that a "democratic dividend" would end decades of neglect they had suffered under successive military regimes. From the early 1990s a cycle of protest and repression had led to the militarization of large parts of the delta, notably in Ogoniland, a small area of Rivers State where demonstrations leading to the closure of oil production had led to a five-year deployment of a special military taskforce to the area and the 1995 execution of nine minority rights leaders, including author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The situation has eased under the new government, and in particular Ogoniland is no longer occupied. But there is still widespread deployment of army, navy, and paramilitary Mobile Police at oil facilities across the delta. In November 1999, five months after the new government headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo took office, soldiers destroyed the town of Odi, in Bayelsa State, killing hundreds of people. Though the past three years have seen no incident of similar seriousness in the delta area, past human rights violations by the security forces have gone unpunished and new abuses related to oil production continue to be committed. Moreover, though vastly increased sums of money are flowing from the federal government to the delta region, under a new "derivation formula" that requires at least 13 percent of the oil revenue to be returned to the states where it is produced, ordinary people living in the delta see little if any benefit from these funds.
These incidents are just a small sample of the frequent confrontations between communities and government representatives or oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, and among the oil producing communities themselves. Sometimes these incidents reach the international news-such as the July 2002 ten-day occupation of ChevronTexaco's Escravos export terminal by a group of hundreds of women demanding that ChevronTexaco give greater benefits to their community-sometimes they do not even reach Nigeria's national media. The environment of the Niger Delta, and the difficulties of transport and communication in the mangrove forest areas, where telephones are not accessible to most people, means that often information is late and unreliable. Impunity for abuses-too often the norm in Nigeria-is thus even more likely in the delta. There have not been any attempts to investigate or prosecute those who were responsible for hundreds of deaths and massive property destruction in Ogoniland and Odi.
The federal government has tried to respond to discontent in the delta region by setting up a Niger Delta Development Commission with the mandate to develop the oil producing areas. At the same time, it has successfully challenged in the Supreme Court the right of the coastal states to receive money from offshore revenue under the "derivation formula" thus reducing the amounts that would otherwise be transferred to those states. A proposed bill to reverse this decision is unlikely to become law before the 2003 elections change the political landscape. In any event, the states and local government authorities in the delta region have showed themselves largely unable to spend effectively the increased sums they are receiving. As a result, discontent among the people of the delta remains high, both with the government and with the oil companies. Conflict related to local government, state, and federal elections that will take place during 2002-2003 has already been more bloody in the Niger Delta than elsewhere in Nigeria. Occupations of oil facilities and other protests directed at the oil companies continue unabated. Responding to the threat to oil production, the federal government also appointed a committee to look into security issues in the delta. Despite a mandate that focused on the need to protect oil installations, the committee made recommendations that addressed the broader issues, including the politically sensitive questions of increasing the revenue paid to the oil producing states and repealing laws that give the federal government control over land and mineral resources. The federal government has yet to act on the committee's report, which has not been officially published.
The oil companies work in a difficult environment in Nigeria, both physically and politically. The political environment is one in which the Nigerian government has failed to ensure that the people who live in the oil-producing areas actually benefit from the oil. But the oil companies are also seen by the residents of the delta to have failed to give back anything for what they have taken out and to be complicit in human rights abuses carried out by government security forces that are deployed to protect their facilities. They are thus targeted for protest by the communities in which they work. Responding to these protests-which range from politically motivated occupations of their facilities that close down production to essentially criminal hostage-taking for ransom-the oil companies now have quite extensive programs for community development projects in the "host communities" for oil facilities, make substantial payments for allowing oil work to be carried out both to local government authorities and to other interest groups in the areas they are working, and frequently hire youth as "ghost workers" or for "surveillance contracts" in order to satisfy a demand for employment that cannot be met in this capital- rather than labor-intensive industry. In other cases, they hand out cash payments, sometimes to legitimate representatives of the communities where they operate as compensation, for example for spills, but often to individuals or groups who have gone into hostage-taking or oil facility occupation as a means of earning a living. These payments, even the best intentioned, have themselves generated problems. The companies have in most cases taken insufficient care to monitor the use made of their money; in particular, to ensure that it does not reinforce factional violence within a community or between one village and the next. In addition, they continue to fail to monitor closely security force activity at or near their facilities or where work is being carried out on their behalf, or, in many cases, to intervene with the authorities when abuses are committed.
Given the complex realities of the Niger Delta-community dissatisfaction, weak and unresponsive government, security force abuses, and inter-community violence fueled, in part, by oil company and government resources-a more comprehensive approach to the problems in the oil producing communities is needed. Respect for human rights has hardly improved there since 1999, despite the presence of a civilian government and the public commitment by many of the oil companies working in Nigeria (especially Shell) to improved engagement with issues of corporate social responsibility. Local and state governments should be held fully accountable for their inability or unwillingness to effectively utilize revenues, and the federal government should seek to achieve a negotiated solution to the fundamental demands of the peoples who live in the oil producing areas of Nigeria. In addition, the federal government must ensure proper discipline over the security forces and hold them accountable for abuses. Oil companies should broadly assess their interactions with the communities where they work, including employment policies, relations with the government authorities and security forces, community giving, and community relations generally, in order to ensure that they are not exacerbating problems in the delta. Given multiple failures by the bodies involved to fulfill their obligations adequately, external pressure is needed as well. The role of the international community has not been as forceful as it could, or should be.
1 The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing Communities (New York, Human Rights Watch, January 1999). See also, "Crackdown In The Niger Delta," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, May 1999; "The Destruction of Odi and Rape in Choba," background briefing, December 1999; and "Update on Human Rights Violations in the Niger Delta," background briefing, December 2000. All available at www.hrw.org/africa/nigeria.php.