Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
The governments of the United States, Britain and the European Union (EU) have defied calls for oil sanctions on the brutal Nigerian regime, choosing instead to put their economic interests above the democratic and human rights of the Nigerian people. Buoyed by the decisions, the military regime on November 26 announced death sentences against a further 19 leaders of the Ogoni people.
Pressure has been growing for effective sanctions since Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni people were hanged on November 10. Saro-Wiwa led a militant campaign against Shell oil company operations in Ogoniland which have caused massive environmental degradation. Despite initial reluctance, South African President Nelson Mandela has called for the US and Britain to isolate Nigeria's dictatorship with oil sanctions. Solidarity and environmental groups in South Africa and Europe have launched campaigns to boycott Shell products.
On November 22, US administration officials said a US ban on Nigerian oil imports would be "counterproductive''. Quoted in the Washington Post, they said Nigeria was a "key trading partner'' and a market the US was "reluctant to close the door [on] completely''. The US has announced a ban on military sales to the regime.
Members of the EU on November 20 refused to back an oil embargo or a freeze on European bank accounts and personal assets of members of the Nigerian military and government. Instead, they announced a tightening of an arms sales ban first imposed in 1993. The British and Dutch governments - the two countries where oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is based - played the leading role in blocking sanctions. Only Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland and Denmark are reported to have backed the embargo.
Britain, the EU and the US have significant economic interests in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country. Their refusal to impose meaningful sanctions is recognition that the military regime of General Sani Abacha is considered a reliable ally of Western governments and big business. Irrespective of Western governments' rhetoric about human rights and democracy - largely made to placate popular concern at home - the protection of economic interests dominate their policies.
Britain, the Netherlands and the US are Nigeria's main investors. Britain is Nigeria's main trading partner, exporting 458 million worth of goods last year, and has 3.4 billion invested. While the oil sector absorbs most of this investment, Unilever (Anglo-Dutch), Nestle (Swiss), Guiness (Irish) and Standard Chartered Bank (British) are leading non-oil investors. Unilever's Nigerian turnover is 55 million a year. Guiness has announced a 45 million refit of its four Nigerian breweries.
Oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria's exports and 80% of the military regime's revenue. The US is the biggest importer of Nigerian oil, followed by Germany, France and Spain. Anglo/Dutch Shell produces 50% of that and Shell's Nigerian operations produce 14% of its world oil output. Just days after Saro-Wiwa's execution Shell announced it would proceed with a $3.8 billion natural gas project. French-owned company Elf and Italian-owned Agip are partners in the project.
In the Nigerian oil sector, US-owned Amoco announced in October plans to expand its operations. In September, Texaco (US) announced it would spend US$200 million on oil exploration and production in 1996. Mobil and Chevron (both US-owned) began a huge gas project earlier this year. British Petroleum and Esso (US) also have major investments there.
The arms embargo, first imposed after the jailing of opposition leader and winner of the 1993 general election Moshood Abiola, have been ineffective. Prior to its imposition, the Nigerian military went on a spending spree buying British heavy weapons. The restrictions did not cover existing contracts which resulted in Britain's Vickers delivering 80 battle tanks worth 150 million pounds earlier this year. The ban also excluded "non-lethal" equipment, resulting in the export of rubber bullets and CS gas to the Nigerian police this year.
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