Resisting Ecocide: Crimes and Rents

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Ecocide, Governance, Human Rights, Niger Delta Crisis
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It is interesting to know that the Niger Delta is listed third out of ten hotspots of ecocide in Polly Higgins’ Eradicating Ecocide. I have written a review of the book on this blog for two reasons: its project represents the amalgamation of my three main research interests namely, corruption, institutions and green economics, and it is a very interesting visionary book. The fact that the region has been classified as an ecocide hotspot saves me the need to describe the monstrous environmental and human degradation going on there in the name of Nigeria being a “middle-income nation” and doubling as an “improving nation” within the provisions and expectations of “transparently globalised profit-seeking”. Transparency for what it is worth washes its hands of a lot of things and especially ecocide.

Ecocide in the Niger Delta is a stark reflection of the staple corruption that sadly afflicts Nigeria. Ecocide resulting from activities of extractive industries generates large profits for companies as well as lucrative rents and bribes for the ruling elite and their supporters who facilitate or ‘promote’ the nefarious activities of the companies.  When profit making is illegal it is crime but when it is legal it is a rent. Acts of ecocide are thus a necessary “spin-offs” of rent-seeking in this context, well in Nigeria. While several authors try to distinguish between corruption and rent-seeking, they are both perpetrated in the same arena with the same intentions and outcomes, and under the same conditions. Higgins is actively seeking to transform a popular rent into a popular crime in the near future using the legal infrastructure and mechanisms of the United Nations.

The legality or quasi-legality of irresponsible profit seeking within Nigeria’s border has permitted oil companies operating in the region to ruthlessly adopt the mission statement of “internalise the profiteered benefits into our coffers, externalise the cost of ecocide to the land and inhabitants”. Genocide against the people of the land, particularly under the reigns of Gen Sani Abacha, Gen Abdul-Salaam Abubakar and Gen Olusegun Obosanjo has become a “necessary” adjunct to the interest oil companies perpetrating ecocide in Niger Delta. Furthermore, ecocide in the region has caused the exploited peoples of the land to take up arms in defiance to the cost of ecocide that blights them and proceeded to fight mini-civil wars against state and company. Such conflicts have resulted in instances of genocide against the people at the hands of a better equipped national army that take orders from the power elite who have a unrelentingly desperate interest in keeping the oil money flowing into their private accounts by supporting oil companies no matter the cost of ecocide. We can see clearly why Higgins classifies ecocide as ‘crime against peace’, ecocide is not peaceful and neither are the means in perpetrating it. The government is more responsible for ecocide in the Niger Delta than the oil companies because it can say NO to operators perpetrating ecocide, but it chooses not to. It must be noted that governments of Third World nations who say NO to oil companies can easily be toppled and replaced by one that will say YES to them; the is one of the functions of power elites. The power elite of Nigeria get their wealth directly or indirectly from the workings of ‘oil rentier state’. The rich and comfortable (i.e. less than 2% of the 160 million citizens) are rentiers or proxy rentiers with close ties to the government as insiders or influencers of insiders; they are the real problem. One wonders if the Niger Delta people really know who responsible for their tragedies?

Irresponsible profits are always tempting and hard to prohibit, so no beneficiary will give up access to such without a fight especially when the process or means has been previously legal. But big players will always fight from behind the scenes by creating regulatory, legal and political resistances and stumbling blocks to anything that threatens their incomes and power. Who will resist laws that effectively eradicate ecocide in the Niger Delta or elsewhere in the world if they become robustly enforced on an international level by the United Nations which Polly Higgins is actively pursuing with the support of the government of Ecuador? If we use Mancur Olson’s logic, the main resistance to eradicating ecocide would come from a crop of special interest groups such as corporate leaders, top government officials, influential politicians, industry unions and leading free-market ideologues. These special interest groups tend to rewrite laws to suit their needs or prevent legal or regulatory changes that go against their privileges. And they are very able or generous enough to get what they want no matter the government in power. The resistance would be simply a means to maintain the profits, power and influence of the interest groups but in the name of the market, economic growth miracles and increasing utility. So how would ecocide be resisted?

Again using the logic of Olson, the resistance against ecocide law will come in two phases. Firstly, there would be pre-ratification resistance. This would involve the special interest groups lobbying their guynes in the UN and in national governments to water down, obfuscate, confuse, complicate or inflict hernias on the law before it is ratified so industries can continue perpetrating old, new or future forms of ecocide. Secondly, there would be post-ratification resistance which would again involve the lobbying of international and national lawmakers but this time to “deregulate” ecocide laws for one noble reason or the other as a front for seeking or maintaining irresponsible profits. Post-ratification resistance would also entail corporations (with the help of governments as exemplified by the Niger Delta and Nigeria) that will simply disobey the laws and spend years in the international courts fighting the allegations of violations while still making profits out of ecocide. Perhaps the most effective resistance against ecocide would be ideological. The ideology of neoliberalism and consumerism would be updated to include persuasive arguments at everyday folk that will inform them that their rights, freedom, choice, well-being and utility depend on “limited ecocide”. Limited ecocide is like saying being “a little bit pregnant” which has no meaning of any kind. It also may be the case that only very large corporations would have the capability to perpetrate ecocide after the UN has fully criminalised it just as rich nations can invade sovereign poor nations as they will even though it is criminal to do so under international law. And that would be a problem.

If there is the existence of corruption in government there will also be incidents of ecocide where the land can be destroyed for resources. Perhaps the eradication of both corruption and ecocide are complimentary to each other; and this may add to the complexity of eradicating both problems. A fusion between anti-corruption and eradicating ecocide might produce some interesting, restorative and humane outcomes for humankind and its future, hopefully, especially in Niger Delta and the other main ecocide hotspots with corrupt governments.

Comments
  1. Ruke says:

    I see Polly Higgins the author of Eradicating Ecocide is in Cancun, Mexico. I hope she argues the case over that there the only international law in the Niger Delta is draconian corporate law and state-corporate martial law. Our people are dying again, dying for an industry inimical to their existence. Before we unnecessarily burden Higgins in Cancun with requests and hopes for our own good, I wonder how many Nigerian and Niger Delta environmentalist are there fighting along side her for our justice? Any on-line lists anywhere?

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  2. Ruke says:

    The Niger Delta is a hotspot for ecocide, eh? I that news? In the definition of ecocide it should include “it is a way of life”. the military and militants have resumed fighting and oil drilling is expanding. Bunkering is going on in broad day light. Those who want ecocide to stop should equip the militants with sophisticated weapons, I did’nt really mean that – just venting my personal frustration with the deepening unending problems of the Niger Delta crisis. The situation is totally hopeless – more profits and rents on the one hand – more suffering and deprivation on the other. It is a big shame.

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  3. Ed Mancur says:

    Over the last 24 hours, there has been a new military offensive on camps and villages in the Niger Delta, in Delta State. More genocide in support of ecocide? Pie in the sky when die? I’m not waiting. Never underestimate those in power especially when the are deaf, mad and greedy.

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  4. Parris says:

    @Bala – thanks for your comment. Let us wait and see if micro and macro would make the necessary difference we all want to see in our craped country.

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  5. Bala Aliyu says:

    @Parris: On a micro level I fully agree with you but on a macro level the things discussed are inter-ralated and complex as in the case of ecocide, corruption, economy, politics, governance, international law etc. I also agree stopping ecocide should not wiat for anti-corruption to get its act together.

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  6. Parris says:

    I am not an expert on the environment or anti-corruption but from my experience working as a technician in oil services companies I feel the ecocide and corruption should be kept separate. We have seen that sometimes when progress of one thing depends on progress in another, nothing happen in both cases. I feel that stopping ecocide is more important than stopping corruption.

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  7. Pat says:

    When the wikileaks storm blows over will we not return to business as usual. Wikileaks will only make the powerful more discrete and even more ruthless in future. Scandals blow over and the public is very fickle especially in advanced nations.

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  8. bala says:

    I think the wikileaks exposure will make eradicating ecocide and corruption all the more possible.

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  9. Ed Mancur says:

    Looking at the the revelations made by wikileaks over the past few days on how the ruling elite actually govern the world and its resources, I seriously doubt if anti-corruption or anti-ecocide laws will stop large-scale exploitation and destruction of the Earth any time in the near future. The ruling elite just don’t care about anything but their wealth and power.

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  10. bala says:

    I truly appreciate the relationship between ecocide and corruption that is expounded in this post. I do not think Niger Delta people don’t know that the same people who cause and commit corruption in the country are the same who are responsible for ecocide, it is just that they are helpless. If ecocide eradication law can stop the destruction of land and lives then it may also greatly reduce corruption in Nigeria where the resources curse is prevalent. That is my contribution.

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  11. Bernard says:

    Whatever it takes to solve the Niger Delta crises and the like elsewhere in the world I am in total support of it.

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  12. Ed Mancur says:

    No disrespect but you guys are saying exactly what I am saying. We should not tout ecocide eradication as a savior to peoples of the world till it has been implemented and tested. I’m not against ecocide eradication and would support if I can because it could change the world and life in the Niger Delta but lets us wait for that to happen first.

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  13. Pat says:

    @Ed: what have the Niger Delta people got to lose if the put their faith in international ecocide law as a means to solve their problems? I would like you to present a better alternative to the eradications which we can all support.

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  14. Jim Bolz says:

    Why do we not give the proposed international law of eradicating ecocide a chance to be debated and implemented before writing it off? That previous international laws have not lived up to expectation in the eyes of most does not mean international laws in future can not work effectively as expected. Any good law should be well supported and I think most reasonable people will agree.

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  15. Ed Mancur says:

    I hope the gospel of ecocide you seem to believe so much does not give people who have been given messianic hopes in the past more false hope. How can we be sure that ecocide will change things in the Niger Delta?

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