When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua on Wednesday August 12, she will discuss what we at Justice In Nigeria Now, a San Francisco based solidarity organization think are some of the most important and interconnected issues facing the country today: electoral integrity, corruption and the Niger Delta. We hope she sends a strong message that reform in all three areas is necessary for Nigeria to continue functioning as a State and to continue as a key U.S. ally.
Nigeria is known for its fraudulent elections and politicians who employ armed thugs to ensure votes are cast in their favor. The Nigerian government faces a crisis of credibility that has the potential to become volatile, if members of minority communities and residents of the politically disenfranchised economic engine of the Delta continue to feel that they do not have any real power or say in their own governance. In fact, the armed insurgency that gained world attention by disrupting oil operations in the Delta has its roots in the gangs armed by political candidates. Electoral integrity and the ability for all citizens of Nigeria's democracy to participate meaningfully should be high on Secretary Clinton's agenda.
Legendary for its high levels of corruption, Nigeria must institute real reform. For those living in the Niger Delta, corruption means that the majority live in poverty while the approximately $700 billion in oil revenues earned over the last fifty years was split between the Nigerian government and the oil companies, with which the government partners. Although the Nigerian government claims to send a small percentage of its oil revenues to the communities where it is extracted, and although oil companies claim to provide local community benefits, the majority of those living in the Delta's oil producing communities live on less than $1 per day and have seen their living standards decline over the years. Secretary Clinton must insist that the Nigerian government institute measures to ensure greater transparency and accountability, which are critical to ensuring that the country's revenues benefit the many and don't just line the pockets of a few. Ultimately, U.S. businesses will also find it easier to operate in a less corrupt environment.
The Niger Delta and its oil resources fuel the Nigerian treasury, which depends upon oil for 80% of government revenue. The oil of the Delta is important to both countries. In 2006, more then 40% of Nigeria's oil was exported to the U.S. and it represented 15% of the U.S. supply. However, a political militancy has reduced Nigerian output for the last few years. Output has been even more dramatically reduced since May of this year when militants began blowing up oil installations in reprisal for an ongoing series of attacks by the Nigerian military claiming to be rooting out militants, but destroyed local villages and displaced, killed and injured innocent civilians who still cannot return home. The political militancy of the last five years arose after 45 years of peaceful protest by villagers yielded no major improvements for local communities whose quality of life was decimated. When Secretary Clinton meets with President Yar'Adua it is imperative to U.S. economic and energy security, to the stability of Nigeria and to the lives of those who live in the Delta that she urge President Umaru Yar'Adua to:
- Withdraw the Nigerian military forces from the Niger Delta and institute an official ceasefire;
- Initiate third party monitored diplomatic talks that include all stakeholders;
- Allow free and unfettered access to all parts of the Delta by journalists, humanitarian aid groups and human rights organizations;
- Make real investments in the development of the Niger Delta and rebuild villages destroyed by the recent military attacks.
Electoral integrity, transparency and accountability and addressing the root cause of the troubles in the Niger Delta are interconnected issues that we applaud the Obama administration for publicly stating are on its agenda. JINN hopes that in her discussions regarding the Niger Delta that Secretary Clinton recognizes the imperative of seeking long term solutions that will meet the real needs of villagers in oil producing communities while once again increasing production output and oil revenues.
This piece was co-written by Laura Livoti, Founder, Justice In Nigeria Now