Monthly Archives: February 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Libya Through the Lens


Yuri Kozyrev / Noor For Time

Yuri Kozyrev / Noor For Time

The Libyans have spoken and the writing is on the wall. Move along Gaddafi.



Somebody’s Got to Say It (2): 50 Years of Catastrophic Oil Spills In Nigeria Must Stop Now !

I firmly believe that the first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists.

According to a recent story reported by AllAfrica Global Media, the Nigerian government is embarking on an initiative to establish a  “regulatory framework for the oil and gas industry, to deal with catastrophic oil spills in the country.”

My immediate reaction is one of shock that a country ranked 16th highest oil-producing country in the world, according to CIA World Factbook (2008), and extracting 1.8m barrels of crude oil a day, does not already have a robust regulatory framework in place to monitor and manage oil spills.

The Nigerian government has tasked a forum of oil and gas stakeholders with the responsibility of delivering the regulatory framework. Addressing these stakeholders at a safety workshop on oil drilling, held in Abuja,  the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, made the following remarks:

“Your recommendations at the end of this forum may invigorate the process of establishing the body. Nature has been very kind to us in this part of the world but we should not overlook the necessity of putting adequate plans in place to overcome any natural challenge that might arise at any point in time.”

I wonder what specific “natural challenge ” Mrs. Alison-Madueke was referring  to? Was she insinuating that oil spills are caused by natural disasters? Well, if she was, it does not wash. According to Amnesty International, the oil spills in Niger Delta region of Nigeria  result from:

“corrosion of oil pipes, poor maintenance of infrastructure, spills or leaks, human error and as a consequence of deliberate vandalism or theft of oil.”

Oil spills have catastrophic effects on marine life, wild life, drinking water and the general health of the people who live in the vicinity of oil drilling activity. Sadly, since oil production commenced in Nigeria in 1959, this has been the fate of the  Ogoni people of the Niger Delta.  Moreover,  it is this environmental damage and economic injustice that the late environment activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, spoke out against and for which he and eight other activist were executed by the Nigerian military government  in November 1995.

I am appalled by the Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s remarks that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill ( aka BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill) necessitated the safety workshop in Abuja and the need for the regulatory framework on oil spills. How disgraceful ! What an insult to the Ogoni people;  the families of the slain Nigerian activists; the memories of  the slain activists; and the countless  others across the world advocating against environmental pollution.

It is worrying that Mrs. Alison-Madueke is more concerned with the recent oil spill in the US – a country that has stringent environment laws which are effectively enforced –  than the 300 oil spills occurring annually in the Niger Delta according to Amnesty International.

Before the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst oil spill in the history of oil drilling was the Exxon Valdes oil spill in 1989.  The Exxon Valdes oil spill resulted in a leak of 25-32 million gallons of oil compared to the 206 million  gallons of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to the CNN clip at the end of this post, oil spills of a similar magnitude to Exxon Valdes have occurred every year in Nigeria for the past 50 years.  This is alarming.

While Shell is responsible for the environmental pollution of the Niger Delta region, successive Nigerian governments are not without blame. Why previous Nigerian regimes never publicly held Shell accountable for its reckless venture in the Niger Delta remains a mystery.  In my opinion,  in a country rife with bribery and corruption,  the effectiveness of the new oil and gas regulatory framework, will hinge not only upon the robustness of the framework itself, but to a large extent its ultimate enforcement.

Given that the Minster of Petroleum Resources, is a one-time Executive Director of Shell,  is this a case of setting a thief to catch a thief ?

In  1995,  Ken Saro-Wiwa was awarded the Goldman Environmental Award in the US.  As he was incarcerated at the time, his son Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr accepted the award on his behalf.  Excerpts of his acceptance speech, smuggled out of prison and  read by his son at the award ceremony, follow thus:

“I submit that we have every reason to be emotional in our struggle for the sanctity of our environment. The environment is man’s first right. Without a safe environment man cannot exist to claim other rights,  be they political, social or economic.”

I applaud Amnesty International for its campaign to make Shell accountable for the human rights impact of its operations in the Niger Delta. Please  sign up with Amnesty International to help fight social injustice, not only in Nigeria, but wherever in the world it rears its ugly head. United we stand, divided we fall.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words: Bahrain Protests

Hasan Jamali / AP


Joseph Eid /AFP/Getty Images

What a wind of change breezing through the Middle East.

Valentine, My Valentine

Valentine’s Day is fast upon us and men are expected, as usual, to spend more than women on flowers, gifts, cards and other related sundries. According to the National Geographic, a total of $14.7b was spent on  Valentine’s Day, in the US in 2009, and approximately $14.1b in 2010. Significant figures no doubt.

Over the years, Valentine’s Day has evolved from being a celebration of love for couples, to a celebration of love for all relationships. The video posted below (from shows the origins of Valentine’s Day.

If you observe it, have a great Valentine’s Day. If  you don’t,  have  a great week ahead.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Princess Kate: Roughing It With the Windsors

Everyone appears to have something to say about the forthcoming wedding of William and Kate. Be it the mystery of the wedding dress, the potentially jinxed engagement ring, or the fact that the Queen will not meet Kate’s parents before the wedding, there surely is no shortage of opinions.

Very little, if anything at all, appears to have been written about how Kate is likely to adapt to royal life.  Some people do not even believe that the Royal Family wholeheartedly accepts Kate as  she is not of royal or noble blood.

So how many people are likely to be in this marriage? 2? 3? The whole country? What about the men in “grey suits,” did they survive to fight another day? Better still, what will Kate do for the next 30 years or so before she becomes Queen? For someone young and educated, will Kate get personal fulfilment from playing modern-day Florence Nightingale?  And how will she deal with the ever intrusive press? Let’s just say, the journey of a thousand miles sometimes begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tyre.

If the details of earlier failed royal marriages, as played out in the press, are anything to go by, the success of this union will definitely hinge upon the Royal Family and their courtiers taking a back seat and allowing William and Kate to chart their own marital course.

My royal survival tips for Kate stems from the need for careful consideration of the following:

Where to live:

There is much speculation over where William and Kate are likely to live after their wedding. Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have been mentioned as possibilities. Given that William is currently based at RAF Valley on Anglesey, were his works as a search and rescue pilot, the couple may initially live in or around Anglesey for a few years.

Now, let’s disregard Anglesey for a moment and pretend that the choice is really between Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace.  Buckingham Palace, being the main London residence of the Queen is also the main hub of the Royal Court. For this reason, in my opinion, the spotlight will very much be on Kate in Buckingham Palace, which she may find a tad claustrophobic, to say the least.

Kensington Palace on the other hand is generally considered “out of the way.” Although some royal courtiers live in Kensington Palace, its layout and the fact that it is not one of the Queen’s UK residences, makes it atmospherically condusive compared to Buckingham Palace. Consequentially, Kensington Palace gets my vote.

Who to trust:

There is no foolproof way of recognising who is dependable and who is not. However, once Kate becomes a fully “signed up” member of the Royal Family, she will need to be careful of who she chooses to trust.

A considerable proportion of stories about the Royal Family, in the press , are actually sold to the tabloids by Royal Household staff. This same group of staff are well aware of the tabloid going rates for stories involving the Royal Family. It is disgraceful that people seek to benefit monetarily from betraying those who trust them.  Whether it is serving Royal Household staff or former staff selling stories of the Royal Family to the tabloids, it is outright treachery.  I also think it is appalling that former Royal Footman and Butler, Paul Burrell, amassed a healthy pension fund, by betraying royal trust.

The embarrassment caused by the Countess of Wessex, in 2001, when she was secretly taped during a discussion with an undercover reporter posing as a sheikh, is another example of trust issues Kate may find herself exposed to.

Dealing with royal protocol:

Royal protocol is the standard rules of appropriate behaviour, dress and  general good form within the royal court. As there are a considerable number of complex points of protocol, understanding and observing them may initially prove a daunting task.  Hopefully, William will make sure that Kate gets the support she needs in this area. However, in the interim, providing Kate remembers to avoid discussing politics, sex, money and other members of the Royal Family in public, she will be fine.

Michelle Obama: spontaneous show of affection or breach of royal protocol ?

Dealing with royal courtiers:

The royal courtiers are the lubricating oil of the royal machinery.  The royal courtiers, which includes Heads of Branch, Private Secretaries, and Ladies-in-Waiting, are a formidable group within the Royal Household. They advise and influence the Royal Family on a host of subjects.

Apart from Ladies-in-Waiting, who are mainly titled women of noble breeding, royal courtiers are, put rather bluntly, hired hands employed by the Royal Family to support the monarchy. It is an open secret that some of these hired hands have almost become more royal than the royals themselves. It is the  self-important types from among the royal courtiers that Kate may eventually have problems with. Those who follow royal stories will remember that the Late Princess Diana and the Duchess of York didn’t particularly see eye-to-eye with some of the “men in grey suits.”

In my opinion, Kate’s artillery for wading off any potential hostile advancement of royal courtiers lies in the Prince of Wales’ acceptance of her as a suitable daughter-in-law despite her non-royal and non-noble background.  If the Prince of Wales genuinely approves of Kate, she has nothing to fear from the chesty peacock courtiers.

If I had to choose one royal courtier I have a lot of respect for, it will have to be Sir Michael Peat. Sir Michael, who announced in January that he will be leaving the Royal Household to return to the private sector, was the Queen’s Keeper of the Privy Purse from 1996 -2002 and the Prince of Wales’ Private Secretary from 2002. He is truly a gentleman and  a decent role model. And I wish him the best for the future.

Happily married: King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan

Despite the much publicised failed marriages of members of the British Royal Family to commoners, these types of marriages can and do work. The marriages of Carl Gustaf and Silvia of Sweden, Abdullah and Rania of Jordan and Mohammed and Lalla Salma of Morocco are testament to this.

Agreed, it may take a lot of work to eventually gain the acceptance of members of the Royal Family and their courtiers, but maybe it is a price worth paying for falling in love with a royal. Kate will definitely need a strong and flexible character to rough it with the Windors.