New Internationalist

Shell’s environmental guilt confirmed

Environmental devasation in the Niger Delta

Photo from Effizee.com

10 November 2011 will mark the 16th anniversary of the execution of Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the then Nigerian military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. Saro-Wiwa was one of the founding members of the MOSOP [Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People].

MOSOP and Saro-Wiwa were the first Niger Deltans to openly and forthrightly call for political autonomy and resource control, through the document known as the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Article 4 details the environmental destruction of Ogoniland by operating oil company Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary – Shell Petroleum Development Corporation [SPDC].

Fifteen years ago, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr and the families of the eight Ogoni men who had been murdered with him by the Nigerian state in 1995 sued SPDC for human rights abuses against the Ogoni people, for arming the Nigerian army and for being complicit in the extrajudicial killing of the Ogoni Nine. On 9 June 2009, the case was settled out of court to the sum of $15.5 million for the families.

The above case is just one of over 1,000 cases brought against Shell in the past 30 years. In 2002, Esther Kiobel, along with 12 other Ogonis, sued Royal Dutch Shell for being complicit in the murder of the dissidents including Saro-Wiwa. The case was dismissed by the US courts, which ruled that they did not have jurisdiction on ‘alleged violations of international law by corporations’. In June of this year, the village of Bodo filed a class action suit against Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC over a four-month oil spill in 2008.

‘As of May 2009, the site of the spill had still not been cleaned up and there was controversy over the clean-up contract,’ an Amnesty report said. ‘On 2 May 2009, eight months after the spill, Shell staff reportedly brought food relief to the community, which they rejected as inadequate.’

Finally, after 50 years of oil production in the Niger Delta, thousands of oil spills, untold damage to the local ecological system and human rights violations, Royal Dutch Shell is having to admit to its terrible actions. Two recent reports have now confirmed Shell’s environmental guilt and their role in fuelling violence in the region. A report by the UNEP [United Nations Environmental Programme] made official what activists in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta have been saying for years – that Royal Dutch Shell and SPDC have polluted the lands.  

This week a report by Platform London, ‘Counting the Cost’, found that between 2000 and 2010, Shell fuelled violence in the Niger Delta by paying huge contracts to armed militants. One of the towns mentioned in the report is Rumuekpe, which I recently visited. I spoke with women activists from the town, who told me how militants paid by oil companies had terrorized the town to the point when everyone had to flee, abandoning their homes, property and farms, and seek refuge in nearby Port Harcourt. During the period of terror some 60 people were known to have been killed. What is left is a ghost town. On the day we visited, the women and I were fearful that we were being watched and it was too dangerous for me to stay for any length of time or walk through the town centre. The women also pointed out that in those towns and villages which did not have oil, people lived in peace, confirming for many that it was the oil and the oil companies who were responsible for the violence and militarization of their town.  

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