National Geographic : 2007 Feb
The government documented 6,817 spills practically one a day for 25 years-but analysts suspect the real number may be ten times higher. Wading through swamp waters discol ored by an oil spill, Chief Sunday Ugwu assesses the damage in Odiemerenyi. Companies usually offer compensation, but activists claim that payments are too low and don't reach the affected people. The meetinghouse had no electricity, but a battery-powered wall clock, the only decoration, showed that another day was ebbing away. Forced to give up fishing, the young men of the village put their hope in landing a job with the oil industry. But offers are scarce. "People from the outside get all the jobs," Harry said, alluding to members of Nigeria's majority ethnic groups-the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Fulani-who are the country's political and eco nomic elite. "We have diploma holders, but they have nothing to do." Grievances crowded the dim room. Bernard Cosmos, a strapping young man in a striped polo shirt, spoke out: "I have a degree in petrochem ical engineering from Rivers State University in Port Harcourt. I've applied many times with the oil companies for a good job. It's always no. They tell me that I can work in an oil field as an unskilled laborer but not as an engineer. I have no money to get other training." Isaac Asume Osuoka, director of Social Action, Nigeria, believes that callousness toward the people of the delta stems from their eco nomic irrelevance. "With all the oil money com ing in, the state doesn't need taxes from people. Rather than being a resource for the state, the people are impediments. There is no incentive anymore for the government to build schools or hospitals. 102 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2007 "I can say this," Osuoka said firmly. "Nigeria was a much better place without oil." Such a stark indictment would surely draw reaction from the government and oil com panies. But repeated efforts to arrange on the-record interviews with officialdom-oil company executives, the governor of Rivers state, the commander of the Joint Task Force, which is the military arm responsible for security in the delta-were foiled. Shell and Total, a French company, had offered tours of their facilities, but soon after I arrived in the delta, a spate of kidnappings of foreign oil workers, especially around Port Harcourt, prompted the multina tionals to restrict the movements of personnel.