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Thursday, May 30, 2024

It’s not just Shell and IOCs, it’s also the govt

Since the inception of Shell’s oil activities in the country, there have been several lawsuits against them. These could most likely factor into their reasons for selling off their onshore subsidiary to the Renaissance consortium.

Osagie Okunbor
Mr. Osagie Okunbor, Managing Director, The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) and Country Chair of Shell Companies in Nigeria

According to Amnesty international in a 2016 press release: “Shell’s failure to maintain and protect pipelines may leave it liable to a raft of compensation claims from dozens of Niger Delta communities.”

One of these lawsuits is Ogale and Bille v Shell case. The Ogale and Bille communities in Rivers State, Nigeria, are pushing Shell to take responsibility for damages resulting from long-term oil pollution caused by the company’s activities.

This pollution has severely affected the communities’ rural economy, particularly affecting their access to clean water, destroyed or contaminated agricultural lands, and devastated fishery resources, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) studies dating back to 2011.

The battle against the multinational company began as soon as Bille and Ogale residents sought relief in 2015. Their claims despite the cleanup effort immediately after reports of damaged farmlands and health hazards had critical areas mostly remain unrepaired. A predominantly recurring phenomenon in Nigerian society is the collective signing of petition by affected community members to demand for environmental justice.

In the Ogale and Bille v Shell legal battle, the oil spillage occurred years before legal action was taken. This is an indication that the Nigerian government shows serious disregard for environmental rights of its citizens and environmental preservation. If the relevant regulatory bodies are effective, there wouldn’t be a long-standing case of unabated oil pollution in different communities and communities would never have to sign petitions to demand remediation.

There are two pressing issues relating to Shell’s and IOCs operations that relevant stakeholders in environmental justice space should be aware of. One is their green-washing tactics; Shell often provides misleading and inaccurate reports like in the Bonga oil field case where they underreported the magnitude of spillage.

This is a serious issue especially in Nigeria with ineffective regulatory agencies and no legal framework making accurate and quality reporting of environmental and sustainable report a necessity. The pattern is clear, it’s not just Shell or the IOCs, it’s also the government. The Nigerian government is the “foundational enabler” and the citizens are just disposables.

The second is deliberate obfuscation or I’ll like to call it “muddling the narrative” Shell has a reputation for peddling the narrative that oil sabotage and theft is the major cause of oil pollution in the Niger Delta. How do they do this?

When you have the money, you have the solution. Shell, through their financial prowess, can influence the media. Since they can have a frog-like grip on the media, they muddle and peddle whatever narrative they see fit.

Shell have argued that the reason for oil pollution in the Niger Delta is majorly due to sabotage and theft. In order for this to be a viable response, there has to be verifiable report on the state of Shell’s facilities and equipments, and data on spillage due to operational error. We cannot rely or trust the report available on Shell’s website, there has to be third party scrutiny.

Shell started to publish their oil spillage reports since 2011. Spill occurrences prior to 2011 are lying in the dark. Independent bodies like the CEHRD and Amnesty international whom have independently assessed the truth-value of Shell’s oil spill report have found them to be inaccurate and flawed.

In 2011, the UN Environment Programme identified that: “Government officials are at the mercy of oil companies when it comes to inspecting oil sites.”

When the government is weak on environmental protection, all forms of environmental vices are excusable. A possible solution is first to make the publishing of accurate and independently verifiable sustainability and environmental report a legal and corporate requirement, is this too much to ask for?

No. if the right of individuals and communities to a serene environment that ensure their optimum health and livelihood is a priority for the Nigerian government, then it is not so much of a demand.

Second is to strengthen surveillance system and regulatory bodies with a high level of independence. An effective surveillance system gives timely notice on areas affected by industrial activates and an independent regulatory body will be able to verify companies’ sustainability report and be able to act.

By Greatson Odion

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