Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on February 23, 2008

We had our second social event of 2008 at Jim s home in Seward Park. We had a nice turnout with approximately 40 guests to hear our guest speakers Sandy Cioffi and Tammi Sims. Thanks so much to Jim for opening up his home!


Keynote Speakers: Sandy Cioffi, with assistance from Tammi Sims.


First, a call to action! Sandy can use the assistance of inSPIRe members to bring attention to the crisis in Nigeria. Please visit Sandy s website and sign up to receive posts on the latest status of her efforts. ( She will contact you when action is needed, such as contacting our member of Congress to support her efforts. Robust support from inSPIRe with letters, emails and/or phone calls can greatly assist pushing our legislators to action! As always, thanks so much for getting involved!


Sandy Cioffi is a Seattle based film and video artist as well as a tenured professor in Seattle Central Community College's film and video communications department. Sandy has made a documentary on the people of the Niger Delta, Sweet Crude ( Sandy had first visited Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, in 2005 when she was hired to film the construction of a library there. Sweet Crude, now in post-production, is the story of people who are struggling to eat in a land with no more fish, to live with the constant threat of war, to survive and even thrive if non-violent political solutions can emerge in a hurry.


Sandy spoke with inSPIRe about Sweet Crude, about her experience in making this film, about what is happening today in Nigeria, as well as about actions and strategies for a successful resolution for the Nigerian people. Sandy has been working on this project now for 27 months. Tammi Sims joined Sandy in the discussion. Tammi is the Associate Producer of Sweet Crude.


Sandy began her talk with a few questions to gauge the knowledge of the audience in regards to Nigeria, the Niger River Delta and Western Africa. Our inSPIRe crowd had some knowledge, but it was mostly quite limited. As an example, only about 10% of us had heard about the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian author, television producer, and environmentalist. Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority whose homelands in the Niger Delta have been targeted for oil extraction since the 1950s. Initially as spokesperson, and then as President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental damage associated with the operations of multinational oil companies, especially Shell. On 10 November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders (the "Ogoni Nine") were executed by hanging at the hands of military personnel, igniting worldwide protest, including efforts by US diplomats such as Colin Powell.


It is estimated that Nigeria has more untapped, assessible oil off its coast than anywhere else in the world. This oil was discovered shortly after Nigeria gained independence from the British in the 1950 s. This timing was a bad omen, for at that time the new country did not have the infrastructure to support the ensuing oil rush. Nigeria became a kleptocracy. A kleptocracy is a government that extends the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class at the expense of the population. A kleptocratic government often goes beyond merely awarding the prime contracts and civil service posts to friends (a common feature of corrupt governments). They also create projects and programs at a policy level which serve the primary purpose of funneling money out of the treasury and into the pockets of the executive with little if any regard for the logic, viability or necessity of those projects. In the Nigerian version of a kleptocracy, the practice of buying off the opposition became normal operating procedure. For further information on this, you can read A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard W. French.


River deltas obviously contain extensive organic life. What is not obvious is that this life, after millions of years, turns into oil reserves. This is why many of the worlds oil reserves lie below some of our most formerly productive river deltas. Nigerian oil is sulfer-free, thus known as sweet oil . It burns very clean and is very efficient, thus highly valuable. Users of this sweet oil often feel good because it is less polluting when burned, but this doesn t take into account the environmental destruction that occurs to the delta areas when the oil is mined.


Nigeria has experienced a series of military dictators over the years. They have systematically signed multiple derivation laws that dictated the amount of the oil revenues that would go to the Nigerian people. Roughly 40% of the oil revenue goes to the oil companies and 60% to the Nigerian government. The largest oil companies in Nigeria are Shell, Chevron and British Petroleum as well as an Italian oil company, plus some smaller companies. The Nigerian people are suppose to get 13% of the oil revenues, and are fighting to get 25%, but actually receive only 1% to 2% of the oil revenue. Their demands are very pro-democracy and not at all extreme. They have brought many cases before international courts, of which almost all have been decided in their favor. However, these decisions are never inforced.


The Nigerian Civil War, better known as the Biafran War (July 6, 1967 to January 13, 1970) was a political conflict caused by the attempted secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. The conflict was the result of economic (mainly oil), ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria. Like many other African nations, Nigeria was an artificial construct initiated by European powers, which had neglected to account for religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences. Nigeria consisted of nearly 300 differing ethnic and cultural groups when it won independence from Britain. Of the ethnic groups that made up Nigeria, the largest was the largely Muslim Hausa in the north, followed by the Yoruba in the half-Christian, half-Muslim southwest, and the Igbo in the predominantly Christian southeast. Life in the north of Nigeria is difficult (lousy farmland, etc.), and the bulk of the resources are in the south, yet the power was held in the north, thus friction . The key point of this war that Sandy spoke of was that it was a classic case of outsiders, like the CIA, arming both sides to keep the conflict going and give western powers the ability to get at and control the oil reservers.


The devestation of the landscape due to the extraction of the oil has left the people of Nigeria without a food soucre or a way of making a living. Nigeria is in very serious trouble. The United Nations estimates that the population in 2005 was at 141 million, and predicted that it would reach 289 million by 2050. Nigeria has just recently gone underway a population explosion due to higher fertility rates and population growth. The United States Census Bureau projects that population of Nigeria will reach 356 million by 2050 and 602 million by 2100, overtaking the USA as the 3rd most populous country in the world. This growth, combined with the extensive environmental degradation, the corruption in the government and the military, the economic destitution of the majority of the people, leads to nothing short of a oh my God! current situation there. Sandy s question is where is the urgent attention and discussion of this in the governemnt of the United States? Why aren t we paying attention? Part of this is the classic it s Africa, so we don t care as much about them because they re black racist view. In Sandy s opinion, how things go with this Nigerian problem is a test ground as to how mankind will be able to survive going forward. If Nigeria is intractable, we re toast


What Nigeria needs is a combination of a Marshall Plan and the Good Friday Peace Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement was a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process. It was signed in Belfast on 10 April 1998 (Good Friday) by the British and Irish governments and endorsed by most Northern Ireland political parties. The concord was endorsed by the voters of Northern Ireland and Ireland in separate referenda on 23 May 1998.


Key in the peace process is discriminating between criminals and politicals . There will always be thugs in a complicated mess like this, as well as plain, bad people, and these types can t be legitimized or let off. Thugs need to go to jail.


Q Do woman enjoy any power in Nigeria?

A Not especially. It is common to see pregnant 12 year old girls, etc. Nigeria is not an easy place to be a woman. In 2002/2003 woman organized a protest where they took rafts out to the oil platforms, boarded them, then to get media publicity, took off their shirts! (which is a very outrageous act in Nigerian culture). CNN showed up! This action was extremely bold and dangerous, but the women of Nigeria felt forced to it.


The USA is highly dependent on Nigerian oil. On any given day, between 11% and 20% of the oil that we use is Nigerian. This could rise to 25% to 30% by 2030. The US uses more Nigerian oil then we use oil from Saudi Arabia! Thus, we are at extreme risk with the events in Nigeria, yet we have not taken a stance or focused attention. Bush was just in Africa and declared that we would not use our military to protect oil. There is some risk that our government will overlook the corruption in the Nigerian government and Nigerian military and use the US military to wipe out the Nigerian protestors, stabelizing oil flow to the US but not addressing the plite of the Nigerian people, and thus not really solving the problem but in the end only escalating it.


The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ("MEND") is a militant indigenous people's movement dedicated to armed struggle against the exploitation and oppression of the people of Niger Delta and the degradation of the natural environment by foreign multinational corporations involved in the extraction of oil in the Niger Delta and the Federal Government of Nigeria. MEND has been linked to attacks on foreign owned petroleum companies in Nigeria. MEND's stated goals are to localize control of Nigeria's oil and to secure reparations from the national government for pollution caused by the oil industry. The militants have bombed pipelines, triggering an international increase in the cost of oil. MEND has kidnapped many foreign oil workers. Violence and destruction by MEND in 2007 caused Chevron to shut down some oil production. MEND has yet to kidnap any locals, just the foreign oil workers. What they are trying to do is to get news coverage.


Sandy did not initially go to Nigeria to film MEND or the complicated mess that oil has brought to the country. She was hired by Global Citizen Journey to film people building a library in 2002/2003. When she was there, it was clear to her that she was filming in an area that was really a new militancy. It seems the militants wanted their own library! She became very interested in what was going on, and began this project.


When Sandy and Tammi are in Nigeria, they are traveling at ground level , which is something oil workers rarely if ever do any longer due to the danger. Sandy and Tammi face this danger, but feel it is worth it for the opportunity to tell this story and hopefully bring interest and resolution to the problems. When they travel, they do not want to be perceived as being part of the oil companies, so they do not travel with security but rather with locals, including young men from MEND. Sandy and Tammi have at times felt very fearful while in Nigeria, but reminded us that this is what the local women there face all day, everyday.


At this point, Sandy showed a 15 minute trailer of Sweet Crude. This short included footage of the terrible environmental degradation, the extensive poverty, the anger of the local people as well as their ogranizing efforts, the corruption, etc. It also showed the children and the impact all this has had on them. Today s children could become tomorrow s militants this is very sad. The majority of the people in the film are from the Ijaw tribe.


This clip also showed multiple shots of gas flaring , which is the burning off of the natural gas that is in the ground with the oil. Gas flaring is extremely harmful to the environment and now only occurs in Russia and Nigeria. When the gas is flared, only 90% of it is burned. The other 10% penetrates the environment, creating things such as acid rain. The Niger Delta has servere acid rain. Sandy spoke of the dramatic examples of the damage she saw first hand due to acid rain. Acid rain is killing the marine life, I.E., killing the souce of food for the 20 million people that live in the delta. If the flared gas was sequested and turned into liquid, which occurs in most places in the world where oil is mined, it would supply enough energy to power all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet to do this would be capital intensive, and until the problems are settled, it is not worth the risk of attacks on the infrastructure that would likely come, thus the oil companies just keep flaring the oil, wasting energy and polluting the environment.


Another environmental disaster has occurred from the flooding caused by the oil company s drudging. Drudging the delta results in the mixture of sweet and salt water, which then kills the marine life. The oil industry has no true clean-up standards.


MEND has been escalating their attacks. Surprisingly, the oil companies actually want to come to the negotiation table and solve the problems. It is not in the interest of the oil companies to have the people of Nigeria be treated so badly. But the oil companies can t look like they want to negotiate , for they don t want to anger the Nigerian government or the Nigerian military. The Nigerian government also would like to work this out. However, the Nigerian military does not. This is just an example of how very, very complex the situation is. There is a lot of money at stake. There are a lot of weapons involved. It s ugly.


Sandy has met with many US senators, including Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell from Washington State. She s met with the oil companies. She s met with many in the Nigerian government, including the Vice President of the country. She s been working extremely hard to engage power-players , whomever they might be to press for third-party peace talks. The release of Sweet Crude has been put off as she has been engaged with this diplomatic work.


Multiple other important organizations have been involved on this issue, including The Carter Center (Jimmy Carter s organization), The Elders (, and others. Maria Cantwell is taking this problem very seriously, but is still in the studying mode, not the action mode . Again, what is needed is the establishment of a third-party moderator, and action within the next six months to aviod a deeper disaster.


Q Why does the US government support the Nigerian military?

A The US doesn t really have a stated policy regarding the Nigerian military. This is not a case of it s not in our best interest so we re staying out of this , but rather a lack of attention. Since MEND uses guns and other weapons, and are Africans, they come across as terrorists to those that view them in the news. The USA is terror-phobic , and this leads to a difficult time for our governemnt to acknowledge the problems and take a fair and balanced response. Instead, a risk is the US government could put this into a war on terror category, support the Nigerian military as legitimate and work to kill the members of MEND as terrorists, not acknowledging that the civilians of the Niger Delta have been driven to their extreme actions after being abuse for over the past 50 years of oil explotation in Nigeria.


Q Oil production in Nigeria has been reduced from 2.5 million barrels of oil per day to 2.0 million barrels, I.E, production is down roughly 25%. It s been written that the reduction of Nigerian oil has been the driver of US gas prices going so high, and with the actions of MEND a further reduced supply could put the US in a recession. So, why isn t the US government paying attention and becoming active?

A Our senators really don t understand the reality or the issue. Racism, again, is a part of this Africa doesn t matter as much. The US doesn t really have an established foreign policy for Africa just ask the senators! But a risk is that we will suddenly get fearful and want to go in militarily, backing the government at the expense of the Nigerian people.


The key players in this, MEND, the Nigerian government, the oil companines, etc., have been working to set the groundwork for a peace treaty. They are looking for someone to blow away the barriers and allow fruitful discussions to begin. Sandy is trying to help with this. She will soon be meeting with former Secretary of State Madeline Albrecht.


MEND actually put a full page add in the New York Times asking for help from the actor George Clooney! And Clooney is interested in helping, using his celebrety to draw attention to the issue. Sandy s dream is to go on a fact finding mission to the Niger Delta with Madeline Albrecht, George Clooney and a few US Senators, then come home and go on Oprah so 30 million Americans can be exposed to this crises. She s actually been in discussions with the producers of Oprah.


Again, Sandy can use the assistance of inSPIRe members to bring attention to this issue. Please visit Sandy s website and sign up to receive posts on the latest status of her efforts. ( She will contact you when action is needed, such as contacting our member of Congress to support her efforts. Robust support from inSPIRe with letters, emails and/or phone calls can greatly assist pushing our legislators to action! As always, thanks so much for getting involved!

As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded. Sorry!

Many thanks to Sandy and Tammi for their informative and important talks!


Seattle Statue of Liberty Fundraising Libby Carr provided us with an update of efforts regarding the restoration of the Statue of Liberty on Alki: They are fundraising for a new base for our new lady. Information on how you can order a brick or otherwise donate to this effort up on their website: In the meantime, if you want to write a check right now, please send it to: SSLC/Urban Sparks, 4701 SW Admiral Way, Box 234, Seattle, WA 98116-2340

inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston for our next meeting, March 5th. To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to



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Sandy Cioffi (left) and Tammi Sims (right)


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