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Nigeria: The Curse Of Oil

Documentary photo story posted on 3 August 2009 by John Densky

On the streets of lagos.

As of early 2009, Nigeria had an estimated 36.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, mainly along the country’s Niger River Delta and offshore in the Bight of Benin, the Bight of Bonny, and the Gulf of Guinea. Despite the enormous wealth of oil 71% of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and 92% live on less than $2 a day.

Transferring fuel from a crippled tanker at the bus stop.

Transferring fuel from a crippled tanker at the bus stop.

Royal Dutch Shell reported a profit of 27.6 billion dollars for the 2007 fiscal year. Oil has generated an estimated $600 billion since the 1960’s for Nigeria. Today the country remains amongst the top 20 poorest countries in the world.

Settlement in Ojota.

Settlement in Ojota.

According to the World Bank, around 80% of Nigeria’s oil and natural gas revenues accrue to just 1% of the population.

Settlement on Lagos mainland.

Settlement on Lagos mainland.

Currently, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world. While child mortality has improved in recent times in neighbouring West African countries such as Republic of Benin and Ghana, little by way of improvement has been observed in Nigeria

Life in the settlements.

Life in the settlements.

On the road to Owode.

On the road to Owode.

Physicians (density per 1 000 population) 0.28 (WHS 2007)°

Nurses (density per 1 000 population) 1.03 (WHS 2007)°

Midwives (density per 1 000 population) 0.67 (WHS 2007)°

Community health workers (density per 1 000 population) 0.91 (WHS 2007)^

Births attended by skilled health personnel (%) rural 27.1 (WHS 2007)°

Births attended by skilled health personnel (%) urban 58.8 (WHS 2007)°




So rampant is corruption in Nigeria that the list of those recently accused of engaging in bribery includes a U.S. Congressman (indicted after $90,000 of marked money was found in tinfoil-wrapped bundles in his freezer) and a Fortune 500 energy company (then run by soon-to-be Vice President Dick Cheney). Indeed, the Berlin-based group Transparency International has consistently ranked Nigeria among the world’s most corrupt countries.

It has been often reported that over 40% of the country’s oil revenues is lost to corruption. Most Nigerians would laugh at this figure. In an interview with a regional police official I was asked to name a country more corrupt. When it became obvious that I could not, the official informed me that the prevailing attitude amongst the NPF (Nigerian Police Force) was if you can’t beat them, join them. A recent public survey placed the NPF at the top of the most corrupt institutions in Nigeria.

Nigeria is run by an elite of millionaires so corrupt and ineffective they do not deliver even basic services such as running water and electricity. Despite this, bills for said services never fail to arrive. Disenchantment is rife, not least among the 85 per cent of the nation’s graduates who are unemployed. In such circumstances extreme solutions have their attractions.

The Nigerian Taliban provides a very exciting lead in to the events of the past week in Nigeria. Sadly though most of the articles fail to address the direct link between the corruption, grinding poverty and rise of radical and desperate ideas. The uprising in Nigeria’s north has more to do with the intense level of desperation and complete lack of faith in the government and security forces, than it does with the Taliban and al Qua’ida. Without very serious efforts to counter the rampant corruption and alleviate the poverty gripping almost 90% of the populous, Nigerians will face a very unstable future.

Rural Ogun state.


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  1. There are no oil-cursed politicians, governments or policymakers… there are only oil-cursed citizens.

    As a Venezuelan my heart cries out reading and seeing here of the sufferings of my fellow oil-cursed citizens. Any country where the government can be independently wealthy and does not need the citizens is as cursed as it can be.

    I am aware of the good intentions of organizations such as Open Society and EITI. Unfortunately since they believe they can help to manage the overconcentration of resources in the hands of a few they are just playing into the hands of the oil-autocrats.

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