The oppressive and repressive activities of the oil companies and the Nigerian State [sic] impact women first and foremost. During military occupation of communities, the women suffer psychologically, emotionally, and physically. They are raped and maimed. They suffer as their sons get arrested and killed…and feel it most when their brothers, husbands and lovers are tortured maimed and killed. The military and armed police have brutalized and sacked whole communities, assaulting and beating indiscriminately. The objective is to humiliate, intimidate, and eliminate all those who resist oil exploitation activities. ~ Emem J. Okan
On November 10, 1995, a small group of ten human rights activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa was led to a prison yard to face punishment for their crimes. Ken Saro Wiwa was executed by hanging. The Nigerian military wanted to make an example of individuals who might consider further protest of the destruction of their land, the poisoning of their air and water, and the theft of their natural resources, namely oil.
In September of 1999, a group of journalists with the Essential Action and Global Exchange spent ten days in the Niger Delta meeting with community leaders, residents, and state and local officials. According to the report that subsequently followed released on January 5, 2000, “There is a long and terrible record of environmental destruction and human rights violations in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria. The gross level of environmental degradation caused by oil exploration and extraction in the Niger Delta has gone unchecked for the past 30 years.” However, in spite of the atrocities committed by the Nigerian government, Shell, and other multi-national companies, the murder of Wiwa, environmental degradation, and civil unrest caused by oil exploration and drilling went unnoticed by Western audiences. Stories of celebrity drama continue to hold the attention of the American people, even as they pay close to three-dollars and fifty cents for one gallon of gas.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND has claimed responsibility for several bombings that have taken place in recent weeks that have forced oil conglomerates to shut down operations and have removed close to 164,000 barrels of oil a day from world markets. According to a recent article in the Tehran Times, “The latest wave of attacks and an eight-day strike by senior oil workers at U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil which ended on Thursday, had slashed Nigeria’s output by 50 percent, helping to push oil prices to new records.”
In an electronic communication released this week, the group stated, “The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem.”
In sharp contrast and in spite of the pleas of organizations and authors like Emem J. Okan, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, and the Council of Ijaw Associations Abroad, the administration of Bill Clinton continued to allow the use of private military contractors in the Niger Delta. Regardless of the fact that the use of private military personal has become the focus of recent US attention, Mother Jones Magazine points out, “The use of private military companies, which gained considerable momentum under President Clinton, has escalated under the Bush administration.” Part of this escalation took place in the Niger Delta where companies like Shell and Chevron hired private military for ‘security’.
To further the power of multi-national corporations and military contractors, Clinton joined with these companies to overturn laws that allow states to use “selective purchasing” power. According to Corp Watch, “Selective-purchasing laws are designed to force companies to choose between continuing to do business with repressive foreign governments and bidding on often-lucrative state or local government contracts.”
Most recently in a press release dated February 2008, the Clinton campaign has said about military contractors in Iraq, “From this war’s very beginning, this administration has permitted thousands of heavily-armed military contractors to march through Iraq without any law or court to rein them in or hold them accountable… We need to stop filling the coffers of contractors in Iraq, and make sure that armed personnel in Iraq are fully accountable to the U.S. government and follow the chain of command,” However, prior to Clinton’s most recent statement and in spite of sitting on Armed Services Committee no legislation has been presented by Clinton. When questioned about this contradiction, Clinton claimed she did not know about this problem, “Maybe I should have known about it; I did not know about it.” This in spite of well-documented human rights abuses around the world by the very contractors who contribute regularly to her campaign.
Juxtaposed with Clinton rhetoric is bill S.674: Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Act of 2007, submitted by Barack Obama in February of 07. According to the Obama campaign website, the bill would “require accountability and enhanced congressional oversight for personnel performing private security functions under Federal contracts, and for other purposes. The act would clarify the legal status of contractors, subjecting them to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to ensure that all contractors working in war zones – regardless of contracting agency would be held accountable under U.S. law. Passed in 2000, MEJA says that contractors for the armed forces can be prosecuted under US law for crimes committed overseas.”
The potential for the United States to regain the respect and admiration of the world is within our grasp. As some elder statesmen have pointed out, as long as the United States continues to build relationships with foreign nations whose records on the democratic process are abysmal, we will continue to pay the price. A price paid at the gas pump and in innocent blood.