Vultures do not need an invitation before they gather wherever carcasses are found. In my land, surging crude oil prices birthed inordinate dreams: of booming production and the accumulation of crude wealth among political ‚lites with a legendary capacity to guzzle cash faster than American SUVs guzzle gas.
Welcome to Nigeria, the nation that best illustrates the contradictions of being a producer of crude oil but an importer of petrol and diesel. As the world's economic crisis bites, Nigerians wait to see who will be bailing out whom: the masses drowning in rising tides or the fat cats flailing fat arms in receding seas of dollars.
When commercial extraction of crude oil began in Nigeria in 1958, the nation was producing 4,000 barrels per day. This climbed over the years to the current daily 2.2 million. Apart from fuelling climate change, crude oil exploitation in Nigeria has fuelled corruption, poverty, disease and violence - to mention a few.
Daily revelations of underhand dealings in our oil business leaves little room for optimism that we can ever drill our way out of the murky terrain of over-dependence on oil. Indeed, it appears that desperate days are around the corner. With oil prices fluctuating, it is time the voices of the Nigerian masses are heard. While the falling price elicits cautious relief among net oil-importing poor nations, for oil-rent-dependent countries such as Nigeria, it is a cause for panic.
On a recent visit to Awoye, a coastal community in Ondo State, I met with a despondent population. Ten years ago the Nigerian military, working in co-operation with Chevron, attacked unarmed protesting youths here, killing two and wounding many others. Ten years later, these folk's cries for environmental justice remain unanswered - despite a trial in San Francisco, brought against Chevron by victims of the attack. Decades of oil extraction for these people have meant living with the threat of sea-level rise, regular pollution from oil spills, coastal erosion and incursion of salt water from the sea into fresh water systems through canals opened for Chevron's operations. With no fresh water and highly polluted swamps, oil has exposed local people to extreme pressures in their daily struggles for survival.
Plans to dig deeper into offshore and onshore fields portend nothing beyond futility. But the people of the Niger Delta have the answer. A 75-year-old veteran community organizer Comrade Che Ibegwura, who had heard much talk about carbon capture and sequestration technologies to make fossil fuels "cleaner", put it plainly: "We are offering the world a foolproof solution that needs no technology at all. Simply leave the oil in the ground."
In a recent meeting in Durban, South Africa, activists and community people from Nigeria and other oil-producing and emerging oil countries across Africa echoed this sentiment, resolving that enough is enough and crude oil found on the continent should be left unexploited.
The Niger Delta was portrayed as the worst-case scenario and a warning to aspiring oil nations. Those living in this savagely exploited environment are crying for the land, the waters and the air to be detoxified. This is a matter of common sense and the only route for the survival of the peoples because their livelihoods are so closely tied to the environment and its carrying capacity. With polluted streams, creeks and rivers, fisherfolk are condemned to tend nets that catch nothing but clods of crude. With polluted lands, farmers contend with wilted crops and barren barns.
Social service infrastructures such as school buildings, healthcare centres and roads mean little in this toxic environment. "I would rather be healthy and stay healthy, than remain sick and have a beautiful health centre to lie in" says Murphy Akiri, a community activist.
Ogoni activists attest that since protests drove Shell out of Ogoniland in 1993 and their oil has been left underground, their environment has enjoyed a slow process of restoration. The rest of the earth now needs such a Sabbath from the claws of oilrigs.
The future of crude oil is already history. Oil has only been "cheap" because environmental costs have been left out of the accounting books. Poor communities have been saddled with subsidizing the cost of oil for a greedy, insatiable world. It is time for the world to make a decisive move to renewable energy. Indeed, if the amount of cash doled out by the industrial nations to bail out their banks were invested in renewable energy, the positive impacts would reverberate in hope across the world.
Leave the oil in the ground. Simple.