By NJ Ayuk*
The recovery of the continent’s oil and gas sector requires the full cooperation of government and industry stakeholders to work together on lasting and impactful reform.
Nigeria has been attracting the world’s attention in recent months for all the wrong reasons.
Nigerians have taken to the streets to protest police brutality after social media users spread accounts of an unarmed youth being shot and killed by a police officer with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The protests quickly grew, from their epicenter in Lagos, into a nationwide plea to end government corruption and widespread human rights abuses.
Violent police responses have only worsened the situation: At least 69 people have died across the country since protests began in October.
Calls to #EndSARS on Twitter and other social media streams are emboldening more and more citizens to demand government action. As Ayo Sogunro, a prominent Nigerian author and human rights lawyer put it, “People want some kind of systemic reform that would not just address police brutality in the present, but would also ensure that it is possible in the future.”
Police brutality is not new, and SARS has been involved in countless other examples of human rights violations — but in the past, no one was held accountable for such incidents. Today, thanks to technology and social media, the problem cannot be ignored any longer. President Muhammadu Buhari has responded with promises to dissolve the special forces, and the world will be watching to see if he follows through.
Unfortunately, the violence on the streets of Nigeria only represents one example of human rights violations taking place across Africa, from mass displacements to abductions to terrorist attacks. At the same time, government failures to address these atrocities — along with systemic corruption in many countries at the local and national levels — impact millions of Africans.
These practices must come to an immediate halt, first and foremost because they are horribly wrong.
What’s more, on top of the devastating impact that violence and corruption have on lives, on families, and on communities, they also jeopardize our opportunities to harness our natural resources to their full potential. In a free-market society, international energy companies will choose to operate elsewhere if corruption and human rights violations make a country too expensive and too risky for operations. That will result in missed opportunities that African countries cannot afford to lose. Opportunities to strategically harness our petroleum resources to grow our economies and bring about a better, safer quality of life for Africans. Opportunities to minimize energy poverty. And opportunities to lay a strong foundation for a successful energy transition.
To build a better future for Africans, we cannot be lackadaisical about addressing corruption, violence, and unacceptable treatment of men, women, and children. In addition to being wrong on every front, the devastation these activities cause today also rob Africans of a better future.
Five Million Euro Smear Advocacy, Hired Guns on Black Lives are not Human Rights and Anti-Corruption campaigners.
As a student at the University of Maryland, I was proud of my association with Amnesty international on campus and became a card carrying liberal. As the President of my law school’s student government, I decided to go to Darfur, Sudan to work with the United Nations on Human Rights and rule of law issues. Human Rights are important, and we must defend our liberty and promote justice.
We must all have a commitment to good governance and ending corruption in our continent. We must also avoid using this issue to attack the integrity of hard-working Africans and their officials. The mere accusation of an African of corruption can be career ending in the energy sector and to my greatest dismay, western companies know it and they have no hesitation branding Africans as corrupt.
Last week, Centurion Law Group accepted to litigate against corrupt Spanish Police Commissioner now in Jail, Jose Manuel Villarejo whom according to the Spanish government and its prosecutors, solicited and received 5 000 000 euros to spy, manufacture, photoshop and push for a smear campaign against Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, his teenage children, and many African businesses.
The corrupt Jose Villarejo hired Delfin Mocache Massoko the founder of Equatorial Guinea’s blog Diaro Rombe, both with a history of anti-Semitism, set up on Joint venture for their smear campaign. These two twins of deception in search for credibility, then hired OCCRP with a clear intent of publishing the fruits from a poisonous tree into mainstream outlets like Le Monde in France and El Pais in Spain. We can do better this. Too many black lives at risk for these kind of games and it will be interesting to know how much each of these parties received from Jose Villarejo Diaro Rombe Joint Venture.
If you talk about Human Rights and corruption, then you make the poster boy of your campaign a serial plagiarizer Delfin Mocache Massoko and a convicted corrupt cop Jose Villarejo that manufactures evidence, how can anyone trust the fruits of a poisonous tree. This corrupt cop Jose Villarejo has done an amazing job in convincing everyone in Spain as the government indictment claims that he is a lying, perjuring, genocidal racist, and he has testified willfully false in many cases against black and Jewish officials, black and Jewish businesses, black immigrants, and high ranking officials.
I want to apologize to Africans, jews and the people of Equatorial Guinea for the actions for Mr Delfin Mocache Massoko. His ego, anti-Semitism and love for money betrays our African spirit of Ubuntu. To team up with Jose Villarejo in his spy expedition against Mr Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima is outlandish, unfortunate and unwarranted. This is not the human rights activism we deserve and certainly not the corruption advocates that we want.
We Cannot Continue This Lose-Lose Cycle
In many cases, human rights violations and Africa’s ongoing struggle with systemic corruption go hand-in-hand. I agree with the managing director of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, Anton du Plessis, who has written that corruption is the most neglected human rights violation of our time.
“It fuels injustice, inequality and depravation, and is a major catalyst for migration and terrorism,” du Plessis wrote in 2016. “In Africa, the social and political consequences of corruption rob nations of resources and potential, and drive inequality, resentment and radicalization.”
In fact, the UN Economic Commission for Africa has reported that the continent loses $50 billion a year to illicit financial outflows.
As du Plessis wrote, “Corruption discourages donors and destroys investor confidence, strangling development, progress and prosperity.”
And it makes it all the harder for African countries to create a better future for their people.
Staying Competitive in a New Post-Pandemic Reality
When Standard Chartered surveyed American and European CFOs and other senior finance leaders earlier this year about potential growth markets to enter, only 13% listed Africa as one of their top three choices, and a measly 2% said Africa was their first choice.
As Standard Chartered Vice Chairman, Americas, Jeremy Amias noted in an opinion piece about the survey, the vast natural resources in Africa and abundant natural resources tend to be overshadowed by concerns about instability — at least in the eyes of foreign companies and investors.
“Africa also has a reputation as somewhere it is difficult to do business – indeed, only two African markets, Mauritius and Rwanda, currently feature in the Top 50 in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business rankings (although it is worth recognising that no Latin American nations feature in this group at all),” Amias wrote.
This is a particularly bad time to be perceived as an overly risky environment. If we want international oil companies to continue operating and investing in Africa — and we do — we need to consider their unique challenges and motivations.
COVID-19 has caused a dramatic plunge in demand for energy. As a result, many producers worldwide are feeling the hurt. When the pandemic-induced crash in demand, coupled with the Saudi-Russian price war, pushed us into “negative oil” territory this past spring — with producers essentially paying buyers to take oil off their hands —a number of multinational oil and gas companies began struggling to stay in business. Capital expenditures plummeted. Exploration projects went on hold. Months later, the industry is still in survival mode. And when companies do resume exploration and production operations, they’re going to be looking for locations where they stand to make a profit. They’ll seek out countries that do not pose unreasonable risks and where their investments will not make them complicit in human rights violations. It’s up to us to ensure that companies find what they’re looking for in Africa. The recovery of the continent’s oil and gas sector requires the full cooperation of government and industry stakeholders to work together on lasting and impactful reform.
Strong, straightforward leadership must establish and enforce legislation that protects human rights.
We recently made progress on that front when the African Union established the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, which adds an enforcement arm to the continent’s human rights institutions. But there is still a great deal of work to do. As Halidou Ouédraogo, head of the Union Interafricaine des Droits de l’Homme (UIDH), a network of non-governmental human rights organizations in 50 African countries, told African Renewal Magazine, African judges are often reluctant (or unable) to rule against their governments. The judges may depend on ruling parties for their positions — and in some cases, face arrest or assault for challenging their government’s actions. If judges face those obstacles, imagine how difficult it is for citizens, or even communities, to speak up or seek justice.
We must continue working to protect — and empower — Africans. And we can find examples to follow. Namibia, for instance, has an ombudsman’s office authorized to investigate human rights complaints. It is not perfect, and far too many Namibians remain unaware of their rights or lack the financial means to pursue justice in court. But it is encouraging to see Namibia’s non-governmental Legal Assistance Centre working to address this through awareness programs and volunteer efforts to expand public access to the courts.
Your People Are Watching
At the same time, African governments must strive to be transparent and work to end corruption in all forms, from the exploitation of workers to bribery to fraud. The more transparent a country’s government is, the more attractive the country is to international oil companies. Investors are drawn to the security and stability that comes with such transparency. Countries governed transparently are typically less prone to violence and corruption, as leaders are beholden to the people who can see whether their actions and their words align.
Transparency reform also must include the extractives sector and oil money management. African governments should follow guidance from groups such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to establish best practices. Ultimately, a country’s natural resources belong to its citizens. Candidly showing how revenues make their way through the government and how they benefit the public goes a long way in fostering trust and acceptance of the operators. Rather than being wary and disdainful, an informed citizenry is more apt to support its leadership. Instead of feeling defensive and protective, a community is more likely to welcome drilling operations when it believes it, too, will ultimately benefit from the success of the extractions.
Ultimately, we must achieve what #EndSARS protestors in Nigeria are asking for — but on a much larger scale. African leaders must implement reforms that not only address human rights violations and corruption, but also ensure that they are not possible in the future.
Only then can we protect our people and communities. And only then will we be in a position to fully reap the benefits of a strategically managed oil and gas industry.