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Yet Another Report Lambasts Shell Nigeria

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Shell Nigeria By Jerome Mwanda
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

NAIROBI (IDN) - "We help to meet the world's growing energy needs in economically, environmentally and socially responsible ways," claims the oil giant Shell on its website. But a new report avers that it has been doing just the opposite: triggering devastating oil spills, indulging in the illegal practice of gas flaring, and crassly violating human rights in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria by paying money and awarding contracts to armed militants.

A new report titled 'Counting the Cost,' implicates Shell in cases of serious violence in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region from 2000 to 2010, detailing how Shell's routine payments to armed militants exacerbated conflicts and led to the destruction of Rumuekpe town.

The report published in London by a coalition of local and international non-governmental (NGO) organisations, led by the London based NGO, the Platform, comes within a few weeks of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) publicising its findings that looked into the ecological impact of oil spills in Ogoni.

UNEP found that Shell has fallen below its operating standards and covered up the full extent of its pollution. It recommended an initial fund of $1 billion to start the clean-up process in Ogoni. The full cost of cleaning oil spills in the Niger Delta is, however, estimated to be up to 500 times higher.

The report by the NGO Platform accuses Shell – with headquarters in the Dutch capital, The Hague – of collaborating with the state in the execution in 1995 of writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Ogoni tribe.

The coalition backing the report includes Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Social Action, Spinwatch and Stakeholder Democracy Network.

According to the Nigerian Tribune, Shell was said to have paid $15.5 million to the eight families in settlement, and key documents implicating it never saw the light of day during the trial.

Shell has, however, disputed the report, defending its human rights record and questioning the accuracy of the evidence, while pledging to study the recommendations, according to its London office, the Nigerian Tribune reported.

Key findings of the report include testimonies of contracts that implicated Shell in regularly assisting armed militants with lucrative payments, such as an alleged transfer of over $159,000 to a group credibly linked to militia violence in late 2010.

Shell was also alleged to have, from 2006 onwards, paid thousands of dollars every month to armed militants in the town of Rumuekpe, in the full knowledge that the money was used to sustain three years of conflict.

One gang member, Chukwu Azikwe, told the NGO Platform, the newspaper adds, that "we were given money and that is the money we were using to buy ammunition, to buy this bullet, and every other thing to eat and to sustain the war," adding that his gang and its leader, S. K. Agala, had vandalised Shell pipelines.

Ransom

"They will pay ransom. Some of them in the management will bring out money, dole out money into this place, in cash," he said.

Platform alleged that in Rumuekpe, "the main artery of Shell's eastern operations in Rivers State," Shell distributed "community development" funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer.

By 2005, Edu's monopoly over the resources of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) was reported to have sparked a leadership tussle with Agala's group, with the latter reportedly forced out of the community and a number of people killed.

The allegations, according to Platform, were largely substantiated by a Shell official, adding that a manager with Shell confirmed that in 2006, one of the most violent years, Shell awarded six types of contract in Rumuekpe, says the newspaper.

Rumuekpe is just one of several case studies examined by the report, which alleged that in 2009 and 2010, security personnel guarding Shell facilities were responsible for extra-judicial killings and torture in Ogoniland.

In the meantime, a Nigerian environmental activist, Sunny Ofehe, standing trial in The Netherlands for alleged plot to bomb pipelines in the Niger Delta, has cried out, saying "I am not a terrorist or suicide bomber."

In an e-mail made available to the Nigerian Tribune, Ofehe, who is also the founder of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign, said his travail was traceable to the parliamentary testimonies he gave at the Dutch parliament about degradation of Niger Delta environment by Shell Oil and other oil majors.

"I have been campaigning against environmental devastation of our people's environment for many years and testified at the Dutch Parliament against Shell in a parliamentary hearing, where Shell was summoned to defend its practice in the region," he said.

Less than a month after the hearing, he added, "a team of about 30 policemen came to my house and arrested me on trumped-up charges and I was detained for 14 days before being released, but remained a suspect; when they could not establish a case against me, they came up with a new charge of conspiracy to commit terror act by blowing oil pipelines" belonging to Shell in the Niger Delta.

"I became the first person to be charged under this law since it came into effect in 2004. I appeared in court for the first time on September 5 and we now have a new hearing date of December 5, 2011," the Nigerian Tribune quoted Ofehe saying.

Global Implications

The report finds that:

- Shell’s close relationship with the Nigerian military exposes the company to charges of complicity in the systematic killing and torture of local residents.

- Testimony and contracts seen by Platform implicate Shell in regularly assisting armed militants with lucrative payments. In one case from 2010, Shell is alleged to have transferred over $159,000 to a group credibly linked to militia violence.

- Shell’s poor community engagement has provided the "catalyst" for major disruption, including one incident that shut down a third of Shell’s daily oil production in August 2011.

- In the absence of proper supervision and controls, Shell contractors, including multinationals like Halliburton, Daewoo and Saipem, have replicated many of Shell's mistakes.

"Shell's conduct in the Delta has local and global implications. Basic company errors have exacerbated violent conflicts in which entire communities have been destroyed. Billions have been lost in revenues to the government and oil companies, sending shockwaves through the global economy," says the report.

These are not new phenomena, it adds. In 2003, a leaked internal report denounced Shell for its active involvement in the Delta conflict. Then, as now, Shell pledged to improve. But NGO Platform's report finds that Shell has not taken the necessary steps to de-militarise its operations in the Delta, resolve long-standing grievances and respect the human rights of local communities.

The eight cases in this report are the thin end of the wedge. Many further cases of human rights abuse are associated with Shell’s operations in the western, central and outer Delta regions, as well as with Chevron, Eni and other oil companies and private military and security contractors (PMSCs), says the report.

Platform visited the Niger Delta in September to October 2010 and conducted over 50 interviews with women, 'youth', elders, community leaders, ex-militants and human rights defenders. Platform interviewed the families, victims, witnesses and perpetrators of human rights abuses, oil company employees, contractors and academic experts. Due to the risk of reprisals, Platform has changed or withheld the names of some informants.

Where available, hospital records, contracts, court documents, photographic evidence and other forms of documentation have been relied on. Media articles, academic publications, company records and NGO reports have also been used for reference.

The report points out that in a country where access to justice is denied to many, moments of accountability are rare. But on two recent occasions Shell’s operations in Nigeria have been the subject of international scrutiny, raising legal, financial and reputational risks for the company.

On June 8, 2009, Shell settled a landmark U.S. lawsuit brought by nine plaintiffs from the minority Ogoni region of the Niger Delta. The case accused Shell of colluding with government forces in crimes against humanity and gross human rights abuses, including the execution of writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists on November 10, 1995. The Wiwa v Shell lawsuit cost the company more than the $15.5 million settlement it eventually paid out. Shell’s reputation and brand, valued at $3.3 billion in 2008, suffered substantially. [IDN-InDepthNews - November 8, 2011]

Picture: Shell Nigeria | Credit: priceofoil.org

2011 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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