Oil pollution, corruption contribute to hostage-taking in Nigeria

In Nigeria, oil, corruption, pollution, and violence have produced a drama rich with 21st-century portent. Last week, militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich delta region took four Western oil workers hostage. Their demands include more local control of Nigeria’s massive oil wealth — the proceeds of which typically end up in the pockets of crooked leaders — and $1.5 billion from Royal Dutch Shell in compensation for pollution in the delta, like the big pipeline rupture last July that oozed contamination over farmers’ fields and a fishing stream near the poor village of Iwhrekan. Villagers accuse Shell of sending thugs to ransack Iwhrekan after villagers chased off the company’s chosen cleanup contractor — charges the company denies. The Nigerian government and Shell reportedly want to pay the ransom and get back to business as usual. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, and is the fifth-largest supplier of America’s imported oil.