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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Cheney Nigerian Bribery Case Highlights Gap Between Rhetoric and Practice

Investigations in the US, Europe and Nigeria revealed that a corporation run by former US vice president, Dick Cheney, bribed public officials in Nigeria in return for lucrative oil and gas contracts during the 1990s and up to 2004. Halliburton admitted paying millions in bribes over a decade in return for contracts worth $6 billion. Cheney led Halliburton from 1995. Just this week he plea bargained his way out of Nigerian charges of corruption, agreeing to pay over $250 million in fines. Former US president George HW Bush and former secretary of state James Baker III intervened on his behalf.

A Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, was fined $579 million in the US after an investigation by the US Department of Justice in 2007 over their bribery of Nigerian public officials.

Readers will also recall that Cheney, upon taking up the vice presidency in 2000, stepped down from Halliburton and related companies. Yet, it is also well known that Halliburton went on to win billions of dollars of 'no-bid' contracts in the Iraqi oil sector. These contracts were not won in open competition.

US claims to be promoting democracy and good governance in Africa and other parts of the third world are undermined. Corruption is said to be one of the key factors that holds back economic and political development, preventing the institutionalisation of the rule of law. Cheney, a champion of both democracy and good governance, showed how hollow such principles can be when it comes to naked corporate self-interest. He also shows that the American state and corporations, so closely identified with one another particularly in the era of free markets and globalisation, operate in tandem to secure their interests. This was nicely expressed by secret US embassy cables that quoted a Shell executive in Nigeria to the effect that the corporation had infiltrated every relevant department and agency of the Nigerian state. In another cable, reproduced by USBlog a few days ago on this site, assistant secretary for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, noted the necessity for further cooperation between the US state and foreign oil corporations to "develop" Nigeria in order to prevent instability, disorder and possibly violent Islamist extremism.

Earlier this year, Shell was fined $30 million for paying bribes to Nigerian customs officials.

The 'scramble for Africa' of the 1880s and 1890s among European powers is back on with a vengeance in Nigeria, which has enormous oil and gas reserves. After Saudi Arabia, Nigeria possesses the largest untapped oil reserves in OPEC, the oil producers' cartel. The money to be made from liquid gold is incredible and dazzles oil companies and their shareholders, exposing their claims to corporate social responsibility as overblown to say the least. In one quarter alone in 2008, Shell made worldwide profits of $8.7 billion.

Establishing itself more firmly in Nigeria, before the Chinese move in, is a key US state priority. They are doing it to "save" Nigeria from itself, from ending up in 25 years as "another Pakistan". Nigeria supplies about 10% of US crude oil imports, thereby earning 40% of its revenues from that market alone. 98% of Nigeria's export earnings derive from oil. In the process, both are wrecking the environment and enforcing mass suffering on the peoples of Nigeria, the vast majority of whom live in dire poverty, in a land of plentiful natural resources.

It is unsurprising that a resistance movement is growing stronger in that country. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), among others, referred to as "militants" by Shell officials in secret US embassy cables, demands that foreign oil companies and the Nigerian state share the benefits of the country's oil wealth with the people. The Nigerian state has paid off its international debts and has financial reserves of over $50 billion. Hardly any of it reaches ordinary Nigerians due to corruption within the Nigerian government and its regional authorities. According to Human Rights Watch, the governor of of Rivers State awarded himself a travel budget of $65K per day and a daily allowance of $92K for other expenses. Expect more "militancy".

Amnesia on US and other imperial powers' and corporate behaviour is stunning. America's roles in funding, through Pakistani auspices, the Mujaheddin of Afghanistan against Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s, which flooded the region with weaponry, is forgotten. The Taliban resulted. That the elites who dominate Nigeria, and who collect hundreds of millions in tax revenues from oil and gas production, were those favoured by the departing British colonialists in the 1960s, is now forgotten. The only facts recalled are that Nigeria was a prosperous colony under British rule; it's gone 'down hill' ever since, demonstrating the need for continued Western influence. 50 years after "independence", the Nigerian state and its foreign corporate allies, with strong Western states' connivance, is on the verge of violent revolt and implosion.

What Johnnie Carson complacently predicts might happen in 25 years' time, without greater US intervention - that Nigeria will be socially and economically polarised and politically unstable - is already happening. It is unfortunate that even experts on Africa cannot, or refuse to, see that Nigeria's condition is down to foreign governments and corporations, in alliance with Nigerian parasitic elites. They are not the solution; they are the problem.

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