"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Saturday, August 11, 2007

World Link: Educating Nigeria into Development

Today, governments are too distracted fighting wars, gaining power, and earning profit to invest sufficient time and energy towards improving today’s world problems; it is the responsibility of the people to see that changes are made. Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of deeply committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. The profit-driven agreement between multinational oil companies and the Nigerian government poses serious danger to the livelihood of the people of the Niger Delta and continues to threaten the stability of the region. However there is hope. With awareness beginning to spread to the international community, there is increasing pressure on multinational oil companies to adhere to environmental and social standards paralleling those of their mother countries. Individuals and small groups of citizens are sharing their innovative ideas and are working collectively for societal wellbeing. Some examples are starting non-profit organizations and developing action plans concentrating on little steps to eventually make it to the finish line.

The Niger Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands. It is the site of most of Nigeria’s biodiversity, and is also the area where the main oil reserves are found. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1974, oil production for export has been the main economic activity, totaling 80 percent of the government’s budgetary revenue. However, the gross level of environmental degradation caused by oil production has been ignored for the past 30 years and has robbed Nigeria, one of the richest countries in terms of natural resources, of both life and livelihood. Oil companies claim that their operations adhere fully to the highest environmental and health standards, but evidence shows that oil production in the Niger Delta is a direct contributor to pipeline leaks, acid rain, and gas flaring. Polluted water has made farming and fishing impossible and has caused a scarcity of clean drinking water, making malnourishment and disease common among the local community. Respiratory problems, coughing up blood, skin rashes, tumors, gastrointestinal problems, and different forms of cancer, were commonly reported ailments in many communities.

Another problem that the Nigerian people face is the illicit use of land by the oil companies. The construction of oil facilities destroys natural habitats of species causing a drastic loss of biodiversity. Oil production has resulted in many hardships for the local community including the loss of property with the Land Use Act enabling he government to transfer the ownership of land for “public interest”, a high inflation, and an increase in prostitution leaving many children fatherless. Women can no longer survive economically by performing their traditional roles so they turn to prostitution, raising health problems and lowering education and power among women.

The oil industry has expanded in Nigeria at the expense of other previously important production sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing. This has created regional imbalances and an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth between different sectors of society, deepening the potential for conflict in this complex multi-ethnic nation. Ethnic minorities are often excluded from political participation and feel hostile towards those reaping the benefits and robbing them of their culture, identity, and basic human rights. Organized protest and activism by affected communities regularly meet with military repression, sometimes ending in the loss of life. In some cases military forces have been summoned and assisted by oil companies.
The problems that exist in Nigeria fuel off of one another: the corrupt government strips the people of any economic opportunity, which causes ethnic and hierarchal tension, fueling the health and education problems because women are forced to leave school for a life of prostitution. This causes an unorganized and angry society, in turn feeding the ineffectiveness of the government. Although closed cycles are generally impossible to resolve because there is no clear point of departure, I will concentrate my development project on education and its critical role for successful development in Nigeria.
Obtaining sustainable and relevant education is arguably the most important issue that needs to be addressed in Nigeria. Education spans all areas of development, as well as increases minority representation because civil society is able to actively participate in politics and influence government policies. When education goes up, many other developmental impediments lower drastically.

Alongside Amnesty International, a presently active NGO in Nigeria, I would like to develop an organization using the 4-D cycle of discovery, cream, design, and destiny that will enable the people of Nigeria to interact more with the international community, in the hopes of developing a network of global collective intelligence. World Link connects people from Nigeria with individuals in the developed world through letters, e-mail, and Web 2.0 with an aim for personal exchanges to learn and teach each other about the world community. This exchange provides double benefit; not only do the people in Nigeria become more aware of life possibilities and the world dynamics that influence their own lives, the people in the developed world are able to better understand the lives of those living in the developing world and will be more willing to put in the effort and time to talk to the exploitative multinational oil companies to change their policies. World Link’s vision contains short, medium, and long term goals that will ultimately result in the emergence of Nigeria as an affluent African country, characterized by active citizenship, economic prosperity, and social acceptance. These goals include:

Short Term:
· To link Nigerians with individuals in developed countries through letters and email
· To provide a cross-cultural base where Nigerian people of different ethnic groups are able to come together in a peaceful environment
· To begin to educate Nigerians about the importance of active citizenship and public health (i.e. AIDS, prostitution, family size, nutrition)
· To raise awareness in the international community about the exploitative practices of multinational oil companies, and increasing public pressure for them to change their policies
· Press for legislation to require all oil companies to fully disclose their operations and intentions to all stakeholders, as well as to independent observers

Medium Term:
· Having civil society and minority groups in Nigeria represented in politics
· Stop the practices of AGOA (The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act) that directly exploits African countries, and increase support for the HOPE for Africa Act, which will require U.S.-based corporations to operate by U.S. standards, and contains enforcement mechanisms
· To enable Human rights monitors and agents of the press to be granted free passage throughout Nigeria, as well as access to those records needed to document reported killings and other human rights abuses.

Long Term:
· To see a transparent, democratic government containing representation from all ethnic groups
· Acceptance of cultural diversity by the Nigerian people
· To optimize human capital to be able to start their own businesses, create employment, and alleviate national debt and poverty.
· Create a strong network to the international community to begin working together to develop other countries in Africa.
· Expanding World Link to connect the developed world with other developing countries.

World Link approaches the project with an optimistic outlook; however there are a number of critical success factors that need to be addressed before any of our goals can be met. First, the Nigerian government must commit themselves to the integrity of the Niger Delta and a higher living standard for the Nigerian people. The Nigerian government should guarantee that oil operations in the Niger Delta are carried out in a way that does not threaten the lives of local residents, nor does it harm the rights of local communities. They must invest more in human capital in order for the people to develop the economy, create employment, and lower debt. In addition, multinational oil companies must operate with transparency and enable independent monitoring of their activities. The oil companies must open their records to their stakeholders, as well as to local, national and international NGOs, and independent monitors. Records that must be made available include those related to their investments in Nigeria, environmental performance, and agreements with local communities. Quantum acting and planetary citizenship is becoming increasingly important for corporate survival, so acting in a responsible way that will benefit society as a whole and increase the effectiveness of the company. Finally, civil conflict must be resolved in order for society to move forward at a peaceful and steady rate. Ethnic conflicts are likely to improve with a higher level of education and a better understanding of different cultures.

World Link is a project primarily focused on connecting the developed world with the developing world to allow for a better understanding of different cultures. With a partnership with Amnesty International, World Link wants to educate the international community to raise awareness about the problematic issues present in Nigeria today—providing a personal link to the lives of the Nigerian people. Human rights is a strong focus of World Link. Raising the level of education will enable civil society to participate in the political process, ensuring that the Nigerian government is fair, accountable and monitoring the rights of the people and communities. In the future, World Link hopes to spread its contribution throughout the developing world and uniting the global community into one network of collective intelligence.

No comments: