Oil pollution in Nigeria: Capital pollutes and kills. Only the proletarian revolution will end this greedy and criminal system

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 15; Winter 2018)

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For decades, Nigeria has been ravaged by the exploitation of oil. The delta of the Niger River, in the South East of the country, is rich in oil resources. These have been exploited since the mid-1950s by European multinationals – mainly Shell but also the Italian ENI or French Total. The Nigerian State derives 70% of its revenue from the black gold, even if these last few months the production has severely declined due to guerrilla warfare – by the Niger Delta Avengers – which claims a greater share of the oil revenue for those regions of extraction. This oil is a strategic issue for the imperialists who plunder this wealth for their benefit. The 606 Delta oilfields provide 40% of total US crude oil imports.

Successive governments have focused on exporting oil. Not only has this been the source of widespread corruption but also of the collapse of the small industrial sector. Until the 1960s, the country’s economic activity was dominated by import-substitution firms, such as UAC (Unilever), which produced food and household goods, machinery, office equipment, vehicle engines, etc. Since then, the country has become a major importer, including fuels because Nigeria has few refineries.


The ravaged Niger delta


The Niger Delta is populated by the Ogoni people, who number between 500,000 and one million. This population is struggling to make their livings from the many mineral, fish and agricultural resources present because it is suffering a huge ecological and human disaster caused by oil exploitation. Hydrocarbon leaks and flaring (burning off waste) of petroleum gases have from the outset occurred frequently and then multiplied over the years. The Nigerian authorities have officially recorded more than 7,000 oil spills between 1970 and 2000. And between 2005 and 2015, more than 6,000 oil spills.

According to two major surveys carried out almost ten years ago, the quantities discharged are gigantic. According to a 2006 report by the World Wide Fund (WWF) UK, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, up to 1.5 million tons of crude – fifty times the Oil spill caused by oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska – had spilled into the delta in half a century. In 2009, Amnesty International calculated that these leaks represented the equivalent of at least 9 million barrels, or 10% of current world production.

The Ogoni land has experienced continuous oil spills – some observers say 300 per year! – which spread into these approximately 1,000 km2 of creeks cutting everywhere down through the delta.

The amount of oil that escapes each year from terminals, oil pipelines, pumping stations and oil platforms pollutes agricultural land, drinking water wells, fishing grounds, forests... Gas flaring in the atmosphere is so polluting that the palms are turning yellow.

Life expectancy in rural communities, half of which do not have access to safe drinking water, has fallen to barely 40 years from two generations ago.

A recent Swiss scientific study has shown that the exploitation of oil in the delta is directly responsible for the death of 16,000 infants every year! Scientists have found that exposing adults to oil spills for up to five years before a child is conceived greatly increases the risk of the newborn dying during the first twenty-eight days of life. And this, to the point of doubling the neonatal mortality rate to 76 deaths per 1,000 births or more in areas close to the source of the leaks.




Beyond the Ogoni Land, all of Nigeria suffers from oil pollution and risks. The information on accidents is very fragmentary but what is known sends shivers up the spine. For example, in 2006, the explosion of an oil pipeline killed three hundred people in Lagos, the country’s largest agglomeration (21 million) and one of the most important on the continent.

In addition, the large cities are affected by air pollution despite the country’s production of relatively clean crude oil. This quality oil is exported to European refineries, in Rotterdam, Amsterdam or Antwerp; but the type of gasoline imported into the country is one of so-called “African quality”: high in sulfur, benzene, lead, highly polluting components, it comes from so-called “heavy” oils which are cheaper, and, for economic reasons, the refining of which is “incomplete” (desulphurizing for example is expensive); additives such as lead are added to compensate for poor fuel quality. Result: the level of lead and other heavy metals regularly present in the atmosphere of Nigeria’s large cities are 15 times higher than the American standard defining a polluted site!

Of course, the capitalists derive huge profits from this situation. The absence of any respect for even elementary safety in production or the importation of low-quality fuels delights the multinationals, with Shell at the forefront.




The «Committee for a Workers’ International» is to our knowledge the only or one of the only allegedly revolutionary currents present in Nigeria with its section, the Democratic Socialist Movement. The DSM has embarked on the construction of a “broad party” (that is, without a precise programmatic line), the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), through which it seeks to have legal recognition in order to participate in the 2019 presidential elections.

The SPN-DSM sees the oil as a “collective wealth of the Nigerian people as a whole”, and it calls for its direct management by the bourgeois state – but led by “the government of the working and poor people based on a socialist program”. We already sense the good old social democratic program...

This “management for the good and benefit of all the people of Nigeria” would establish “a rational plan to create alternative and clean energy sources and restore the environment of the Niger Delta” (1)

Behind this ecologist-reformist verbiage hides (very badly) a complete prostration before capitalism and its servants. At no time does the SPN mention the clash with multinationals and imperialist states that would inevitably be provoked by the nationalization of the oil sector. At no time does the SPN speak of a seizure of power that can only be made by force and violence, at no time does it speak of a proletarian revolution.

The working class and the disinherited masses can expect nothing from the hypocritical humanitarian statements of NGOs or national-reformist illusions. They will find their only strength comes from their proletarian class struggle against the bourgeoisie, in union with the proletariat of other countries. This perspective cannot be immediate; it necessarily implies the rebirth of classist organizations to lead the daily struggle of defense against capitalism and the rebirth of the governing body of this struggle, the class party, communist and international, which unifies the working class across borders ethnic groups and nationalities and leads it to final confrontation with the bourgeois state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the only realistic prospect, in Nigeria and everywhere.




Despite the statements of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ecologists (including those who make “revolutionary” declarations), Marxists have always defended the environment in the face of the destructions inherent in the capitalist mode of production. In Capital, Marx denounced the effects of capitalism on agriculture: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the labourer” (Volume I, IV, ch. 15).

They have also defended “nature” in the face of the misdeeds of bourgeois society: “From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, [good fathers of families] they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition” (Volume III, ch.46).

A century ago, following the proletarian October, such a policy was initiated in Soviet Russia which was to – in the midst of the civil war – take emergency measures. A law of May 1918 limited the exploitation of wooded areas to preserve what today would be called biodiversity. In May 1919, a law limited the harvesting of certain game by limiting hunting seasons. Other laws protected fish resources by limiting overfishing. Other legislation was implemented to limit soil erosion or manage river basins.

Finally, the law of 16 September 1921, devoted to the protection of “monuments of nature” allowed the creation of natural parks protected from commercial exploitation. The first natural park in the world (Zapovednik – “nature sanctuary”) was created in the Volga Delta. In October 1925, a super-governmental agency was created: the Goskomitet, attached to the Education Commission and responsible for coordinating environmental conservation measures and programs. At the heart of its objectives: the development of natural parks devoted to basic research, but also aimed at informing economic practice or, simply, protecting endangered species. Starting from almost nothing in 1917, the area of Soviet natural parks already reached almost 10,000 km2 in 1925 and some 40,000 km2 in 1929 (the total area of Switzerland). They were not only sanctuaries but especially integral reserves, devoted to research, where all productive human intervention was (theoretically) excluded.

But Stalinism, with its policy of forced industrialization, completely reversed this orientation, ruining at the same time the proletarians, often subjected to forced labor, and nature. The near-disappearance of the Aral Sea is one of the most infamous consequences.




In Nigeria as elsewhere, capitalism pollutes and kills. It destroys not only human lives but also the environment. It produces for profit, not for human needs. It produces in an anarchic way without worrying about the future.

Only the proletarian revolution will avenge the innocent victims of this predatory and criminal system by putting it to death. Only the proletarian revolution is able to radically transform the relationship between man and nature, and to ensure a harmonious development of both.

Communism will create a world where material abundance will not compromise the future of natural resources and biodiversity. It is this world evoked by Marx in his Manuscripts of 1844, a world in which “is the complete unity of man with nature – the true resurrection of nature – the consistent naturalism of man and the consistent humanism of nature” (2).



(1) “Malabu Oil Block Fraud” socialistnigeria.org, March 29, 2017

(2) www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/comm.htm



International Communist Party



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