By Emma Amaize,Regional Editor, South-South
The Federal Government may sanction Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) if it heeds the call by the Ogoni people in Rivers State, Niger-Delta, for the revocation of the license granted the Anglo-Dutch oil giant to carry out oil exploration activities in Nigeria, following the revelations by the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, that the company polluted their land and caused life-threatening health hazards.
Former president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Ledum Mitee, who made known the position of the people, said the only option was for the company to commence, without delay, a remediation exercise in Ogoniland, and not to infuriate the angry people the more with comments that the pollution was caused by a third party.
Ogoni people also lashed out at the Federal Government whose reaction to the UNEP report was that it would study it before knowing the next step to take, saying that the government has not been fair to them. It is believed that up to $30 billion had been garnered from oil operations in Ogoniland before things went sour.
Mitee said it was appalling that government was spending billions of Naira on programmes for communities whose youths (ex-militants) carried guns against it for abject neglect and plundering of their land, while in respect of the Ogoni people, who opted for non-violent protests, it had done nothing and that, after buying some years in which it brazenly continued with its inaction on Ogoni land, it was still talking about studying the UNEP report before determining the next line of action.
He said that the former MOSOP leader, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, and other Ogoni leaders, who were executed in 1993, have been justified by the UNEP report because the battle for which they were killed was their quest for recognition that Ogoniland had been devastated and despoiled and appropriate remedial measures should be taken.
According to him, the late Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the government for alerting the international community to the plight of his people and leading non-violent protests against it, spoke and wrote about all that is contained in the 2011 report, nearly two decades ago and that what was required now was action, not words.
Since 1995, about 17 years ago, when Shell officially pulled out of Ogoni land following mass protests by the people against its operations, both sides have been quiet until the recent scientific environment assessment report on oil spills in Ogoniland was released by the UNEP.
Meanwhile, a group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, which once dragged the Federal Government to court over the health hazards oil pollution had caused the people of the Niger-Delta, has vowed, this time, to file an action against government before the ECOWAS Court over the UNEP findings on the environmental assessment of Ogoniland.
SERAP’s Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mummi, said the UNEP report clearly supported its case of complicity of the government in oil pollution and the resulting violations of the human rights of the people of the area.
His words, “The UNEP report clearly contradicts the arguments put forward by government before the ECOWAS Court. We shall be filing action soon on the UNEP report before the ECOWAS Court in support of our case on the complicity of the government on oil pollution and the resulting violations of the human rights of the people”.
The up-to-the-minute UNEP scientific assessment of oil operations by Shell in Ogoni land, Rivers State is spine-tingling, given the hawk and chicken relationship between the Anglo-Dutch oil firm and the people of Ogoni, over the years.
For the Ogoni people, the report, which pointed out how public health was endangered in at least 10 Ogoni communities where people were drinking water contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons; a community where families were drinking from wells contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at 900 times recommended levels; among other things, was just a confirmation of what the people already knew about their elongated affliction in the hands of Shell and government of Nigeria.
Rising from an emergency meeting of MOSOP, penultimate Thursday, the current president, Dr. Goodluck Digbo, said Ogoni people protested against the report, November, last year, when they got information that UNEP was secretly preparing a report on oil pollution in Ogoniland after purportedly meeting with 23,000 Ogonis, who attended a session with the international group. MOSOP also said it had conflicting statement of UNEP team leader, Mike Cowing, on the genuineness of the report.Startlingly, the report, based on examinations of some 200 locations over a 14-month period, talked about scientists at the site which lay close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline, finding oil slicks eight centimeters thick floating on the water, ostensibly form an oil spill that occurred more than six years ago. It said Shell had created public health and safety issues by failing to apply its own procedures in the control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure.
However, UNEP asserted that local people were sabotaging pipelines in order to steal oil and, to tackle the pollution caused by oil operations, the report estimated that it could cost $1bn (£613m) and take 25-30 years to complete.
According to the group, “The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health”.
Shell is not currently exploring oil in Ogoni land because of the massive protests and reprehension that followed the 1993 killings of Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders. It effectively pulled out in 1995. The conspicuous indictment of the company by the UNEP, is, to an Ogoni man, a proof that the protests were not a witch-hunt exercise.
UNEP spokesman, Nick Nuttal, told the BBC’s Network Africa that the study was not intended to “blame any particular stakeholder operating in Ogoniland”.
In the opinion of the Director, Global Issues, Amnesty International, Audrey Gaughran, “This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards” .
Fresh anxiety over FG, Shell retort
With Shell out of production in Ogoni land for approximately 17 years and measures taken by it to douse tension after the death of Saro-Wiwa, it was thought that tempers would have died down, but the release of the report has opened old sores.
The report noted that oil spills were continuing in Ogoniland, years after the company ceased to be active in the area, and the presence of huge volumes of hydrocarbon in the soil putting the health of the community members at risk.
It recommended the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland with an initial capital injection of $1bn, which would be contributed by the oil industry and the government.
The report also recommended the creation of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority to oversee the implementation of the recommendations; an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre to provide training and promote shared learning in environmental monitoring and restoration; and an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland with an initial capital injection of $1bn contributed by the oil industry and the government.
The Director, Environmental Policy Implementation Division, Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, who formally presented the report to President Goodluck Jonathan, said the environmental assessment of Ogoniland was the “most comprehensive and complex assessment ever undertaken by UNEP.”
The Chairman of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Ogoniland, Archbishop Mathew Hassan-Kukah, urged the President to implement the report’s recommendations.
“Now, the next phase, which is the implementation of the recommendations, falls to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, Hassan-Kukah said.
FG, oil companies will meet on way forward – Jonathan
Speaking after he received the report, Jonathan said the Federal Government and oil companies operating in Ogoniland would meet to work out ways to implement the recommendations.
The Minister of Niger Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe, had, while playing host to top officials of Shell who paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja, said the Federal Government would study the United Nations report on the Ogoni oil spill and meet with Shell and other oil companies on how to clean up the area.
Also, the Dutch Royal Shell Sub-Saharan Africa Vice President, Ian Craig, and other top executives met with the Minister of Environment, Hajiya Hadiza Mailafiya, in Abuja, to seek possible ways of partnership, as it concerns environmental degradation through oil exploration in the Niger-Delta.
Most of the spills caused by sabotage, oil theft- SPDC
Managing Director of SPDC, Nigeria, Mr. Mutiu Summonu, declined comments when approached by newsmen on the UNEP report after the meeting, but, in a statement later, he said, This report makes a valuable contribution towards improving understanding of the issue of oil spills and the environment in Ogoniland and we pledge to work with the government, UNEP and others on the next steps.
I agree completely with the UNEP report that we also need the authorities to take concerted action to curb the illegal activities, in particular oil theft and refining, that are exacerbating so many of the environmental and social issues. Unless these activities are brought to a halt, any action we take will be of limited impact.
While SPDC acknowledges that spills are a problem elsewhere in the Niger Delta, Ogoniland poses unique challenges and is not typical of oil and gas operations in Nigeria. SPDC has not produced oil and gas in Ogoniland since 1993 after withdrawing staff and stopping production in the face of violence and attacks on staff. Since then access to maintain its dormant facilities and respond to oil spills – mainly caused by sabotage and theft – has been difficult.
Importantly, the report identifies eight emergency measures. SPDC will support the government, UNEP and others in implementing these measures as soon as possible.
The report also makes three recommendations that relate specifically to SPDC. SPDC supports these recommendations and makes the following additional comments:
“SPDC is already reviewing its remediation practices across the Niger Delta and looking to involve independent international experts in assessing how it can improve. The company is also examining ways to bring third party verification to the oil spill investigation process, bringing further transparency to the assessment of causes and volumes”.
SPDC is committed to developing an asset integrity management plan for Ogoniland which will require support from communities and from the government given the unique challenges regarding access since 1993.
As an illustration of what can be achieved when access is granted, SPDC has modified more than 100 non-producing wells in the area to make them more difficult to tamper with. This was achieved with the cooperation of both local and federal governments and the Ogoni communities.
“SPDC will play its part in working with the regulators and the industry on remedial intervention and target values”.
But the reactions of the Federal Government and SPDC to the affair further incensed the people. Mitee told Sunday Vanguard he was shocked that after buying time for four years or so to come out with a report that the result was already known, the Federal Government was talking about studying the report before commencing clean up, saying it was a reflection of the value government has for the life of its citizens.
He said commencement of remediation exercise does not require any third party consideration as Shell stated, but immediate remediation exercise because the lives of people were involved.
“A country that spends billions of Naira on appeasing violent members of the society should not find it burdensome to spend billions on non-violent member”, the former MOSOP leader said.
“I also find the report of the attitude of Shell towards carrying out immediate remedial steps as callous and insensitive. The minimum I expect from Shell after this report is to apologize to the people and continue remedial measures. The law of the land under which oil companies operate does not say that they should not carry out remedial measures even if pollution was caused by a third party, but they are hiding under third party to allow the destruction of Ogoni people”.
“You can imagine the damage that had been caused to Ogoni land for the UNEP report to say that it will take up to 30 years to undone the havoc, which means that every Ogoni that is alive today is living with the burden for the next 30 years unless the appropriate things are done, while the unborn ones will still bear the risk because they would be exposed to the hazards in the next 30 years. Can you see that every Ogoni man is at risk?”.
According to him, a sensitive company should not be emphasizing involvement of a third party in a pollution that has destroyed the lives of the people and their means of livelihood, particularly at a time like this, but, should be concerned about immediate clean-up, having denied responsibility all these years and bought additional years to postpone the evil day.
No doubt, the effect of pollution on Ogoni land is massive. A medical doctor and human rights activist from the area, Dr. Owens Wiwa, said, “We cannot drink water from the streams, you can’t drink rainwater and there is no pipe-borne water. Our right to drinking water has been taken away by the company, our right to farming has been taken away by the company, and our right to clean air has also been taken away by the company”.
FG should approve $100 bn
In its reaction, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said the $1bn restoration fund was negligible and should be increased to $100bn.
ERA/FoEN, in a statement, said it welcomed the report and said that the environmental assessment of Ogoniland, despite its short comings, had not only vindicated it worst fears about the state of the environment in the area and the entire Niger Delta, but also showed “Shell’s atrocious breach of minimum requirements of the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for Petroleum Industries in Nigeria and its own standards”.
The Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, said, “The UNEP assessment with documented evidence of widespread pollution in Ogoniland is not at all surprising. It has only vindicated our position that Shell, and not the people, is wholly responsible for this environmental assault.”
Shell denies influencing UNEP report
SPDC, nevertheless, debunked the claim that it conspired with the UNEP to produce a report, saying, in a statement, “UNEP is completely independent from Shell, and Shell has had no involvement in their activities on compiling this report.
The Nigerian government, UNEP and SPDC agreed that the SPDC joint venture (JV) would fund the UNEP report. Each joint venture partner contributed a proportion according to their equity in the JV.
Thus, the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation effectively pays 55 per cent and the other partners 45 per cent between them. SPDC’s involvement in the report begins and ends with the funding of it”.