Coca-Cola exploits Nigeria, do you?

By Guido

You’re hot and thirsty. You’ve just finished four hours of studying calculus and psychology, and it’s 1 a.m. The obvious solution is to quench your thirst and resolve your discomfort and, hey, the water fountain just won’t cut it. So, the next-best choice available to you is to fork over the change to a brightly lit soda-vending machine. You walk downstairs and find yourself confronted by the seductively sweet image of red, blue and white wavy stripes. But, being aware of world events, you bypass the Pepsi machine and keep on searching for something else. Things are looking good: You showed your support for the people in Burma and refused to finance a company that supported their brutal police state’s heinous abuse of human rights.
Unfortunately, the red and white lines of the Coca-Cola machine don’t offer you any solutions or any comfort to your thirst or to the problems of labor exploitation. Here’s why. Three years ago, Nigeria, one of the most populous nations in West Africa, was in the process of creating a democratic government. Despite the efforts of thousands of people and the public outrage following his illegal actions, the demagogue of the day, General Sani Abacha, seized control of the government and the nation by swinging the hatchet of the armed forces at the democratic elements and people in Nigeria. The military annulled the results of the democratic elections on June 12, 1993, and within six months, General Sani Abacha declared himself the de facto dictator of Nigeria.
During his regime, he has nullified the agency of the regular courts, restricting their ability to question the actions of the government, while at the same time corrupting the judicial process and transforming the courts into his tools for eliminating opposition. He and his supporters have dissolved the remaining political parties, arrested and imprisoned political dissidents and have muffled any voice of pro-democracy opposition. Like any good dictator, he has waged a continuous and aggressive campaign to silence the alarms of community leaders and activists, trade unionists, human rights campaigners and journalists — and it doesn’t stop here.
Under the guise of covert military operations and often in clear view of the public, he and his cohorts have orchestrated a pervasive and effective means of repression designed to stave off resistance to the environmental and social damage caused by transnational oil companies.
They have forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in other parts of the country while an additional thousand have been forced to seek protection outside the borders of their native homeland. All these people have been stripped of their homes and their dignity. This full-scale invasion into the lives of Nigerians by General Abacha has resulted in the death of more than 3,000 Ogoni, and the unrelenting persecution of their community leaders and representatives. People are tried and hanged at the discretion of a military regime bent on the systematic destruction of Nigerian popular resistance movements. This group of thugs has attached a blue-dot special ticket price on Nigeria, her resources and her people.
Companies throughout the world have flocked to Nigeria, waving extra value coupons and voicing their all-too-willing ability to ignore the injustice that General Abacha, his cohorts and these companies are committing. Coca-Cola is one of these companies. It may not be the biggest investor in Nigeria; nor is it likely to be the most vocal or significant supporter of the military regime. However, it is there in Nigeria, showing the people how Coca-Cola always benefits from a bad situation. Within the last three years of General Abacha’s reign of Nigeria’s political and economic structure, Coca-Cola has enjoyed no less than a two-fold increase in market share. The lucrative nature of its investment in Nigeria has increased to such an extent that Nigeria is now the largest market in the entire continent of Africa.
At first glance, Coca-Cola’s involvement doesn’t sound all bad, and saving your money from a would-have-been Coke purchase doesn’t sound like it does the Nigerians a lot of good.
In fact, not buying that soda can doesn’t directly do much for the Nigerian people.
However, by denying Coca-Cola access to your money and your support, you deprive the company and General Abacha of increasing influence and opportunities for exploitation. Coca-Cola, through its Nigerian-owned franchise holder, sponsors and supports events and demonstrations organized by the military dictatorship of General Abacha. In order to invest and conduct business in Nigeria, Coca-Cola must interact and favor the interests of the military regime. By dealing with General Abacha and his subordinates in any fashion, the Coca-Cola company, the world’s most recognized business enterprise, gives legitimacy to his dictatorship.
By investing in General Abacha’s vision of Nigeria, this company gives him money to buy more weapons and ammunition to continue his purge of the Ogoni people. Coca-Cola is engaging itself in a very blatant political agenda by wedding its interests to that of a dictator. The leaders and shareholders of Coca-Cola have profited through General Abacha in the sale of a valueless and nutritionless soft-drink at the cost of an average day’s pay to the people of a high populated region where nutritional and financial resources are quickly disappearing from their grasp.
Coca-Cola has not spoken out against these human rights abuses. Despite the work of myriad resistance groups within Nigeria, and the declarations of several human rights and religious organizations, Coca-Cola refuses to recognize the error of singing “Always Coca-Cola” in Nigeria.
Guido Grasso-Knight’s column originally appeared in the May 6 issue of The Phoenix, Swarthmore College’s student newspaper. Most of the information was found thanks to the Free-Nigeria movement.