Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oil is Nigeria's Problem?!! News from an Alternate Reality

It's in today's news: "World's most valuable resource, a curse for most Nigerians" (CNN (December 11, 2008)).

The CNN home page headline and teaser is more explicit:

"Oil a curse for most Nigerians

"Trash litters Nigeria's cities. Electricity is sporadic at best. There is no clean water. Medical and educational services are limited. Basic infrastructure is severely lacking. These are not conditions that should plague one of the richest oil states in the world. But corruption often prevents government money intended for local projects from reaching its intended destination...."

The home page copy may have changed by the time you go there, but the article should be the same. It paints a grim picture of what life is like for most Nigerians.

And, judging from the headline, the problem is oil. Not corruption. Not crooks in government and business. Oil.

To CNN's credit, the phrase, "big oil" does not appear once in the article. In fact, CNN's Lisa Ling writes, "Oil companies are only part of the equation. The other is the Nigerian government...."

That breath of common sense appears in the third paragraph, and wafts through the rest of the article.

However, the two headlines, "Oil a curse for most Nigerians" and "World's most valuable resource, a curse for most Nigerians," seem to focus on the perils of oil. Not human weaknesses and failings. (It reminds me of some intensely religious types who equated wealth with evil and poverty with virtue: This was before the Prosperity Gospel caught on.)

I don't see a problem with a nation having an enormously valuable natural resource. Greedy leaders keeping the wealth for themselves, and mismanaging the country in the process: That's a problem.

It's All About Oil

That's another phrase that isn't in the article. That's the idea, though.

After describing the bloodshed from local warfare, we read, "The battle is over oil -- one of the world's most valuable resources. But to most Nigerians -- oil is a curse."

Oil is a curse. Not greed. It says so, right there in the news.

Right after "But to most Nigerians -- oil is a curse" Environmental Awareness shows up. Also Apathy:

"It has provoked an environmental disaster of monstrous proportions. Since the 1970s, the United Nations estimates there have been more than 6,000 oil spills in the Niger Delta -- that is equal to more than 10 times the amount spilled from the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Yet, there is no international outcry and rarely are the spills reported, even to most Nigerians. They are still happening and the consequences are nothing short of devastating...."

As the slogan said, 'Apathy is Rampant, but Who Cares?'

I'm not trivializing the importance of three decades of oil spills in a river delta.

On the other hand, I don't see oil as the problem. Corrupt and greedy leaders, yes. Mineral resources, no.

A News Article Blames Corruption on Oil: So What?

The point of all this is that CNN, like quite a few other news sources, doesn't - in my opinion - lie or distort the news. On the other hand, CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other major American news services seem unaware that they're seeing the world through a sort of intellectual filter.

Ideas and causes that were very now, very wow, in 1967 aren't quite as, well, relevant, as they were forty years ago.

I have trouble believing that a nation's leaders steal from their people because there's oil around. It seems more likely that, if Nigeria didn't have oil, its leaders would be hoarding the profits from the Nigerian peanut industry and goat hide exports. Which, come to think of it, they probably are.

But, an article about peanut companies cheating the little Nigerian out of a share of the wealth wouldn't have the same impact.

The point of this post is that it's a good idea to read the whole article. And, do a little research before taking the headline and lead paragraph at face value.

Between a journalistic need to put drama over reality, and the American news media's apparent failure to take the passing of bell bottoms and disco into account, what's in the news sometimes seems to be coming from another, and much groovier, universe.

In the news:
Actually, CNN isn't doing too badly, keeping up with the rest of the world. a chain of major newspapers has gone bankrupt. Conventional wisdom says it's the Internet: I have another possible cause in mind.
Excerpt from the CNN article:

"PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (CNN) -- Trash litters its cities. Electricity is sporadic at best. There is no clean water. Medical and educational services are limited. Basic infrastructure is severely lacking.

"These are not conditions that should plague one of the richest oil states in the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars has been made from the Niger Delta's oil reserves and many people have gotten very rich. Conversely, the average Nigerian has suffered as a result of the country's oil prosperity. The United States Agency for International Development says more than 70 percent of the country lives on less than a dollar a day -- the population is among the 20 poorest in the world.

"Oil companies are only part of the equation. The other is the Nigerian government. Transparency International, a global organization intent on stamping out corruption, has consistently rated Nigeria's government one of the most corrupt in the world.

"Nigeria's federal government and oil companies split oil profits roughly 60-40. The money is then supposed to make its way down to the local governments to fund various projects. Somehow, little money actually reaches its intended destination. Nigeria's own corruption agency estimates between $300 billion to $400 billion has been stolen or wasted over the last 50 years...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.