BY Clara Nwachukwu, Ikechukwu Nnochiri & Kunle Kalejaye
LAGOS — Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD, have recommended that Shell must pay at least $1 billion to begin the clean-up of pollution caused by oil spills in the Niger Delta.
But Shell in a quick response, said it would only “pay appropriate compensation, the level of which is currently the subject of UK legal proceedings.”
A new report by the two groups: The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta, released yesterday, focussed on the ongoing devastation caused by two major oil spills at Bodo, Ogoniland, in 2008, and which have never been cleaned up.
The UN Environment Programme, UNEP, in a report on the Ogoni oil spill released in August, found that oil pollution over many years had resulted in such devastation that it would take more than 25 years for Ogoniland to recover. The UN recommended setting up an Environmental Restoration Fund with an initial amount of US$1 billion, with further funding to follow.
Other than setting up a Presidential Committee on the subject, the urgency of the situation is lost on the Federal Government.
Shell in its response, however claimed: “We are already implementing many of the recommendations in this report (UNEP),” without giving further details.
Last week, the Anglo-Dutch company during an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, claimed it had started the supply of water in some of the affected areas.
But Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria noted that “Shell’s failure to promptly stop and clean up oil spills in Bodo has devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people.”
Bodo is a disaster that should not have happened, yet it is one that due to Shell’s inaction continues to this day. It is time this multi-billion dollar company owns up, cleans up and pays up.”
The True Tragedy report recalled that in 2008, two consecutive spills, caused by faults in a pipeline, resulted in thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a town of some 69,000 people. Both spills continued for weeks before they were stopped. No proper clean up has ever taken place.
“The situation in Bodo is symptomatic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act – or fail to act – without fear of sanction. An independent, robust and well-resourced regulator is long overdue, otherwise even more people will continue to suffer at the hands of the oil companies,” said Patrick Naagbanton, CEHRD’s Coordiantor.
Ironically, Shell, which recently reported profits of $ 7.2bn billion for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster. Human rights activist, Ledum Mitte, once told Vanguard that such compensations were “highly insulting.”
Ongoing damage to fisheries and farmland has resulted in food shortages and higher prices in Bodo. Residents told Amnesty International and CEHRD how they struggle to make a living and have serious health concerns. Alternative jobs are not easy to find. Many young people have been forced to look for work in Port Harcourt, the state capital, 50km away.
One fisherman from Bodo, said: “Before the spill, life was easy. The people could live from the catch of fish…After the spill, everything was destroyed.”
After trying for years to secure clean up and proper compensation from Shell, the Bodo community took their fight for justice to the UK courts earlier this year. The court action is ongoing, but has brought a measure of hope that the situation at Bodo may be resolved.
Amnesty International also challenged Shell’s claim that “efforts to undertake cleanup in Bodo have been hampered by the repeated impact of sabotage and bunkering spills,” describing it as “a completely untenable position.”
The oil company, the biggest operator in Nigeria estimated that about 4,000 barrels in total were spilled in the Bodo community in 2008, on account of operational issues, even as it quoted the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that over 150,000 barrels of oil a day are stolen in the Niger Delta.
Accepting responsibility for the spills, and commitment to “clean up all spills that come from our facilities carried out cleanup operations in Bodo,” Shell urged Amnesty International to be more sympathetic. “If Amnesty really wanted to make a difference in the Niger Delta, it would join with us in calling for more action to address this criminal activity, which is responsible for the majority of spills.”
Government agencies, notably, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, were also strongly criticized in the report for their failure to enforce regulations.