Last night I had the opportunity to see the film ‘Sweet Crude’ with a panel discussion afterward.  The film is about the struggle of the people of the Niger Delta to get their government to listen to them about the damage the oil companies in the region are doing to their communities.

A little background before I continue: Oil companies moved into the Niger Delta shortly after Nigeria gained independence in 1960 from the British. Since then, the environmental damage to the area has been extensive — fish are no longer in the rivers, acid rain falls regularly as a result of the gas flares. Since the oil companies’ arrival, the people of the Niger Delta have protested in non-violent ways modeled after the work of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.  The Nigerian government responded with force, killing non-violent leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and many others in the process.  As a result some of the young men from the region have formed MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) which has resorted to using force.

Members of MEND say they only use force to attract attention to their group — that the government has responded to their peaceful protests with force so they are responding in kind.

MEND has also been successful in reducing the amount of gas flares in the area and bringing in some infrastructure like water pumps and schools.

Ok back to the film.

The film, directed by Sandy Cioffi, was the story of the people of the Niger Delta.  Through interviews with leaders of the youth movement, MEND, and the women’s groups protesting the oil companies, and even with workers of the oil companies themselves, the film paints the picture of three groups who have not been able to come together to talk peacefully and an international community that refuses to pay attention.  When MEND reached out to members of the international press, they were painted as ‘the new African terrorists’ and their message was lost in supposed ties to Al-Qaeda.

Cioffi said that she intended her film not to lay blame at the feet of the Nigerian government, MEND, or the oil companies, but at the feet of the international community who has done nothing.  The people of the Niger Delta are some of the poorest of the poor — sufferers of the ‘Resource Curse’ where the people with the most abundant resources are the poorest and have no control over those resources.

Right now, Publish What You Pay is working to help citizens of resource-rich areas/countries gain control of those resources and use the revenues to alleviate poverty and grow the economy.

So what can we do?

Right now the Energy Security through Transparency Act of 2009 is in the Senate.  This bill would require extractive companies to publicly disclose their payments to foreign governments in the hope of reducing corruption and making the distribution of revenue fairer.

Want to know more?

Check out the Citizen Report Card for the Niger Delta and if you get a chance to, check out the film ‘Sweet Crude’ by Sandy Cioffi.