Nigeria: The Influence of Fossil Fuel on Democracy

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From 1956, when oil was first discovered in commercial quantities at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, the Nigerian government has earned over $600 billion dollars from oil resources. The petroleum industry is a major obstacle to the organic growth of this great country. Some of its sways can be traced to political campaign donations that the industry makes to our elected representatives. The huge amount of money spent on lobbying government officials or influencing voters decision are courtesy of petroleum finances.

Since the 1999 elections in Nigeria, oil companies and their executives have contributed trillions of naira to political campaigns. In 2007, the same group of businessmen and government officials contributed huge sums of money to the presidential elections and ruling party in order to win favour. This pattern has continued all through to 2015 as a new ruling party and candidate emerged. It is widely believed that most funds were contributed by oil moguls and State Governors whose revenue sources are highly boosted by oil and gas exploration. Ninety-nine percent of the richest few in Nigeria have oil wells or oil companies in their portfolio including the richest black man in the world. Although Nigeria’s law caps election spending most parties do not openly declare amounts sourced during election campaigns.

Many of the influential individuals and companies lobbying politicians are among the reckless polluters in the world. Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, Petro China, Chevron, BP, NNPC, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and others keep recording huge profits while gas flaring, oil spillage and emissions continue unabated causing illness and environmental disaster including climate change. In Nigeria Texaco and Shell are responsible for the largest individual oil spills in the Niger Delta.

Fossil fuel can be attributed to various scandals involving politicians in Nigeria. The Farouk Lawan vs. Odetola saga; James Ibori vs Nuhu Ribadu bribery scandal is another indelible mark in our democracy. Sani Abacha alone stole almost 10billion dollars which were stashed away in foreign countries while Nigerians wallow in poverty. Then the Harliburton case, the petroleum subsidy debacle and NNPC failure to regulate the industry are some of the notorious problems driven by strong craving for fossil fuel money. Petroleum has enthused Nigeria’s undying corrupt system since 1960.

The oil and gas industry has also caused the death of many Nigerians over the years. The execution of the Ogoni nine including Ken Saro-Wiwa reverberates. From 1998 to 2008 over one thousand citizens died as a result of pipeline fire incidents, the Ijegun and Jesse explosions lucidly come to mind. Then the petrol tanker explosions which occur daily; Notably, Okobie in 2012 and Ibadan in 2000 which could be adjudge the most fatal, killing over hundred people and destroying about 200 cars. Most recently on 1st of May 2016 a tanker carrying petroleum products exploded in the city of Kano killing about four people.

Globally fossil fuel has caused wars and military invasions where peaceful resolutions could have resolved differences. Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, Libya and South China Sea are currently witnessing conflicts driven by the desire for oil resource control. Before then, we had the Iran-Iraq war of 1980s, the Gulf war of 1990s and the Sudanese Civil war which lasted for over twenty years. When we critically analyse these conflicts, it is evident that fossil fuel especially petroleum is a culprit.

Most third world nations basically depend on fossil fuel as a major revenue earner. It has to a large extent also hindered a clean energy transition across the world.  In Nigeria this particular source of cheap fund has continued to blind government from diversifying its economy like most developed economies. The only time such idea resonates is when oil prices drop to the extent it begins to affect the running of government. Nigeria has failed woefully to invest in infrastructure and other viable sectors which could have acted as a cushion in the turbulent periods especially in the wake of fall in prices.

Despite the revenue, extracting these fossil fuels have created damages to the environment which have made the poor people in the society to spend more on health and food.  The atmosphere is polluted with emissions while the land is damaged by oil spills. Studies have also shown that coal mining communities of Iva and Akwuke in Enugu State are exposed to health problems and loss of vegetation.

Gradually people in power are beginning to understand some of the negative influences of fossil fuel. Two world powers, the United States and China signed the November 2014 deal to cut carbon emissions. Both countries now believe that climate change is influenced by burning fossil fuel and thus to stem the rising global warming, emissions from carbon needs to be drastically reduced. India which is the biggest democracy and of course biggest polluter in the world under its present leader Narendra Modi has announced sweeping plans to increase solar power despite its plan to expand coal power plants. India clearly knows that fossil fuel has created enormous challenges especially in the health sector.  In 2015 more than 180 countries committed to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change and pursue a sustainable environment by transitioning from fossil fuel to renewable energy by 2030.

Climate change is causing more damages to the earth every day. Increasing heat waves, floods, earthquakes, drought, forest fire, sea level rise and wars are directly or indirectly influenced by climate anomaly facilitated by fossil fuel. Also, corruption is one of the basic challenges confronting democracies around the world particularly Nigeria; the oil industry is also a major influence.

For Nigeria to move toward democratic consolidation and good governance to take a deep root in our system, we must look beyond fossil fuel. Nigeria’s government and other democracies must find the will power to transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy.  NGOs, businesses, policy makers and the general masses must begin to take responsibility to protect our environment. We must join forces to help Nigeria break free from fossil fuel.

 

*Emeka Ulor is an environmental activist, Social Media Purveyor and a Climate Tracker Fellow.