Niger Delta Blues

The nickname “black gold” has always been apt when dealing with oil. But dreams of riches and development have been masked by the murky nature of money flows connected to it. Nigeria in particular has been blessed and cursed with its abundant oil supplies. With the second largest GDP in Africa, Nigeria still has 46% of its population below the poverty line. This is despite the oil and gas sector representing 35% of the Nigerian economy, according to OPEC. The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture has even asserted that the oil and gas sector has been distorting the Nigerian economy. Recent revelations have shown that corruption in the oil sector is still rampant. The question becomes what pressure can be brought on the industry.

Lamido Sanusi, former Nigerian central banker and whistle-blower

Recently, Lamido Sanusi, the Nigerian central bank president, was suspended and removed from his position by President Goodluck Jonathan. Sanusi’s suspension was prompted by the revelation that $20 billion in oil revenue was not accounted for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The revelation created enough of an uproar that a forensic audit has been called for to try and account for the missing money. This is on top of the fact that a month earlier, the NNPC was selling kerosene to marketers at one-third of the international price, allowing them to mark up kerosene to Nigerian citizens 300-500%. The mark-up is the difference between 140-160 naira per liter ($.85-$.97) and 40 naira per liter ($.24).

In the past, Nigeria tried to tackle the issue of corruption and the lack of transparency in the oil sector by establishing the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in 2007, which is the local adaptation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). NEITI is mandated to audit the extractive industries, and provide transparency and accountability. It is comprised of representatives from the government, oil industries, and civil society. While the cooperation of national governments and NGOs is a laudable achievement, the voluntary nature of the EITI has been criticized.

Shell and the Niger Delta

International NGOs, such as Oxfam and Publish What You Pay (PWYP), feel that the standard adopted by extractive industries should also be backed by a legal enforcement framework. EITI has also been criticized for the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the EITI framework. EITI can be considered a top-down reform, and the governments and extractive industries still have more power than the CSOs, creating pressure for the CSOs to go along with the EITI process, according to Kees Visser at the Focus on the Global South. There is also the question of which CSOs are chosen to be represented. EITI has also not been shown to reduce the Corruption Perceptions Index. In Nigeria, the NEITI has published audits, which have had no effect on laws,  because dissemination is not simple in a country with low internet access. There have also been representatives of NGOs who were actually single person self-promoters.

With the doubt cast over the EITI, the question remains on what model civil society in Nigeria should use to ensure that all Nigerians benefit from their extractive industries. While there is a local chapter of Publish What You Pay, coalitions in Ghana and Uganda could serve as templates for counterbalances to the government and industries. The Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas (CSCO) in Uganda and the Ghana Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas are both large coalitions of CSOs: 40 in CSCO and 120 in Ghana compared to 19 in PWYP. Both coalitions use the expertise from individual CSOs to issue media campaigns and community interaction to pressure governments to keep oil and gas taxes and concessions transparent. In Ghana, the Civil Society Platform on Oil and Gas issues “Readiness Report Cards” and actively contributes to the Public Interest and Accountability Committee and proposed laws through the committee. The Ghana platform is funded by various international donor agencies, such as USAID and the EU, and therefore have the backing of powerful partners. Both of these countries have only recently discovered oil, so it remains to be seen how successful these coalitions will be in exerting pressure. For the most part, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Teach a Man to Fish, or Track an Illegal Fisherman

Africa is a continent of vast natural resources, and the West African coastline is no exception. Large portions of the West African population rely on the coast for their livelihoods. In the region, 1.6 billion tons of fish, estimated at a value of $3 billion, is caught off the coast of West Africa. This figure directly or indirectly employs over 3 million people, and represents up to 10% of GDP in countries, such as Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone. It is also estimated that up to two-thirds of the animal protein consumed in coastal West African states is fish, highlighting its importance as an economic and nutritional resource for West Africans. Unfortunately, Africa is also a continent used to exploitation from people outside of their borders. In West Africa, this has manifested itself in the form of massive trawlers, particularly from Europe and Asia, appearing along its coasts.

Traditional West African pirogue in front of a Spanish trawler

These trawlers are largely involved in what is known as IUU fishing, or Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing. This is a more comprehensive way of thinking about fishing, as it involves not only the act of fishing, but also the illegal trade of the fish and the demand by consumers for those products. The trawlers usually fish in areas near the shore and then either mix them with legal catches in the Canary Islands or in refrigerated vessels known as “reefers”. The effect of IUU fishing in most of these countries are unsustainable practices of overfishing. It also takes away the livelihoods of some of the poorest people on earth. Illegal trawling has been estimated at $1 billion, while the Ivory Coast reported in 2010 that their catch was down by 30%. The end destination tends to be vessels from China, South Korea, Belize, and the EU, with 25% of European fish coming from West Africa.

Haidar el Ali, the Senegales Fisheries Minister

It has been difficult for the West African governments and their populations to cope with the international trawlers. Corruption is a big issue with the granting of licenses for some of these vessels. Even when caught, most of the captains or crew members offer policemen and fisheries officers a bribe to look the other way, typically in the thousands of dollars according to a source in the Guinean military. These West African states also tend to be weak in the international arena. The largest fine ever levied against one of these trawler operators was $1 million by Liberia in 2013. However, according to the Senegalese Fisheries Minister, Haidar el Ali, these vessels can haul in 3,000 tons of fish with an estimated value of $100,000 in one trawl, highlighting how weak a deterrent some of these fines can be.

Map of West Africa

Even against these long odds, governments and civil society organizations are starting to turn the tide. Greenpeace has been active in mobilizing Senegalese fishermen against the Common Fisheries Practice of the EU, which defines how EU fishing vessels are allowed to operate worldwide, particularly by pushing the cancellation of subsidies for fishing fleets far from EU shores. Furthermore, 29 fishing licenses were cancelled in 2012 in Senegal after 52,000 small-scale fishermen threatened action against both the illegal fishing fleet and the government over alleged impropriety of the granting of licenses. The aforementioned Mr. el Ali has also been more active in his pursuit of justice, seizing vessels and establishing fines for repeat offenders. Internationally, there has been a call by the former UK foreign secretary and current president of the International Rescue Committee, David Milliband, to an international ocean-police force to stop the estimated illegal fishing of $10-24 billion worth of fish worldwide. At a more practical level, the Environmental Justice Foundation has raised money to equip local fishermen in Sierra Leone to track illegal trawlers and identify them so that they can be passed on to EU and African authorities, while pushing South Korea and Panama to act on vessels under their flags. The actions of illegal trawlers have been extremely problematic for the West African population, but continued action and coordination of governments, along with continued success by civil society organizations there may be hope for West Africans along the coast.