Divesting International Oil Companies (IOCs) in the Niger Delta should be held liable for nearly six decades of ecocide in the region as precursor to remedial actions and compensation, the government of Nigeria has been urged.
This formed part of the recommendations by a group of stakeholders who met at the “Community Dialogue on Unmasking IOC Divestments in the Niger Delta” on Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. The forum was organised by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).
The gathering, which observed that the global environmental justice community campaign for divestment of public finance, loans and subsidies from extractive industries has been replaced, abused, and misrepresented by all divesting IOCs in the Niger Delta to the detriment of local communities, underlined the need for a better understanding and deepened community engagement on the global environment justice community definition of divestments vis-à-vis the model of the IOCs in the Niger Delta.
While urging communities to embrace of the “Leave the Oil in the Soil” campaign, participants called on the Federal Government to compel divesting IOCs to honor Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs), Global Memorandum of Understandings (GMOUs), and other agreements entered with communities.
Furthermore, the IOCs were told to decommission their “toxic” assets and carry out remedial actions monitored by independent bodies and civil society in the communities, which they want integrated and made the central focus of ongoing divestment processes.
The forum also suggested:
- Strengthening of communities and civil society struggles and voices for environmental justice through capacity building and awareness creation trainings, which should include peaceful engagement, sharing experiences and learnings to engage the process;
- Demilitarisation of Niger Delta communities that are legitimately agitating for a safe environment for their development;
- Prioritisation of women and women concerns in ongoing divestment discussions and decision-making; and,
- Investigation and reportage of IOC Divestments and other underreported issues of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.
The forum was informed by inherent concerns about the unease and confusion in Niger Delta communities over their exclusion in the ongoing divestment processes of IOCs in the region.
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Chima Williams, briefed participants about the ERA/FoEN engagements on unmasking IOC divestments and the fact that divestment has become a major issue as oil majors flee their onshore facilities and go offshore where they evade monitoring.
Williams said that the exclusion of communities and community concerns are crucial to the discussion on how to address the underlying issues hence the decision to hold the dialogue in Bayelsa, adjudged the most oil impacted state in Nigeria.
Academics in attendance who also spoke to the issues are Professor Sofiri Joab-Peterside from Department of Sociology, University of Port Harcourt; and the Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Otuoke, Bayelsa State, Professor Teddy Alias, whose intervention weighed heavily on impacts of Shell’s activities in Otuagbagi in Oloibiri Kingdom.
Participants lamented that the oil and gas industry in Nigeria has only brought untold hardship on local communities through oil spills, gas flaring and other pollutions that have ruined lives, land, and livelihoods of indigenous people.
They also frowned at the fact that, in the divestment processes, the IOCs deliberately ignore MOUs and GMOUs agreed with oil-bearing communities, saying that there is a complicit silence by the Nigerian state and the regulatory agencies as IOCs dictate the terms of divestments.
They added: “The divestment processes have largely weakened local struggles for environmental justice. It has equally divided communities. Domestic oil companies have inherited and continue the tradition of impunity and lack of accountability to local communities.
“Though all community people of all classes have suffered exclusion in the divestment processes, women and children suffer profoundly because the ongoing processes further aggravate their non-inclusion at all levels of engagement.
“Media spotlight on oil and gas matters has largely ignored divestment and other matters crucial to the communities of the Niger Delta.”