1. The volume of oil discharged by the two major oil spills in August and December 2008 in the Niger Delta was as large as the volume of oil spilt by the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska in 1989. This accident is considered as one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Why has the environmental disaster in the Niger Delta never reached the same level of relevance?

The global neglect of the environmental disasters that oil companies continue to wreak on the Niger Delta is a big scandal. The deafening silence over this level of ecological assault makes some of us reach the conclusion that human and environmental rights are only important when abridged in rich, powerful countries. Where these abuses occur in less powerful nations, especially in far off places, the offending companies earn accolades at home when they haul in their plunder to feed high consumption requirements. No questions asked. It is a replay of the abuses entrenched from colonial past, the  ugly face of imperialism.

2. The United Nations Programme for the Environment report, published in 2011, records up to 50 years of pollution in the Niger Delta and concludes that it will take more than 30 years to clean the polluted areas. Can we speak of devastation in the Niger Delta?

The UNEP report is a big indictment of Shell and of the Nigerian government. It is running to a year since the report was issued (4 August 2012) and the Nigerian government has remained absolutely mute on the matter. Shell, the major polluter of Ogoniland, on its part must be celebrating on the silence of the government. Meanwhile the people continue to wallow in pollution and are barely hanging on to life. The UNEP report indicated that it would take that long to restore the Ogoni environment, yet the task has not started. One would have thought that the urgency indicated by the report would make the polluters commence the decommissioning of their aging facilities from the region, followed by the needed cleanup.

Fifty-four years of oil exploitation in the Niger Delta have translated into gross pollutions. The UNEP report covered only a fraction of the Niger Delta where oil extraction was forced to stop in 1993. When we consider the level of pollution accumulated before that date and compare this to the larger Niger Delta where pollution continues unchecked, it is clear that this part of Niger is a disaster zone. There is an average of one new oil spill per day and gas flares in the oil fields roar on routinely pumping toxic elements into an already degraded environment.

3. The report points out that the concentration of hydrocarbons in groundwater reaches one million micrograms per litre, despite the Nigerian legislation establishing only 600 micrograms. It also outlines the Nisisioken Ogale community, where pollution by benzene —a carcinogenic substance— is 900 times higher than the limits recommended by the World Health Organization. Who is responsible for this and why is it consented?

The UNEP report indicated that all water bodies in Ogoni are polluted with high levels of hydrocarbons and other elements like benzene. The major culprit is Shell, of course. But the particular case of Nisisioken Ogale appears to have emanated from pipelines of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

We note that the report stated that the oil giant, Shell, failed to meet the minimum requirements of the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industries in Nigeria (EGASPIN); it also failed to operate according to international standards and in addition failed to meet its own minimum operational standards. Shell operated on double standards in their operations in Ogoniland and we can extrapolate this to cover all their areas of operation in Nigeria.

4. More data. According to Idris Musa, director of the authority responsible for the management of oil accidents (NOSDRA), more than 3,000 oil spills have been registered in the Niger Delta since 2006. How many more spills are needed before those responsible are held accountable?

Sadly it appears that things must get completely out of hand before the Nigerian State responses. 3000 spills! More have been added since that tally was made. NOSDRA is the agency that ought to ensure that there are adequate response to oil spills. The truth is that the agency is handicapped by a lack of equipment and tools for the tasks.  Sadly, they often have to depend on offending oil company assistance to monitor the fields.

The perceptible response we have seen from the oil majors is a gradual shifting to the offshore to avoid contact and possibly avoid responsibility for the ecological crimes they have committed onshore and in the middle of communities. Unfortunately, their shift offshore has so far meant spreading the disaster. Why do I say this?

Shell recorded a major offshore oil spill at their Bonga FSPO in December 2011 claiming that 40,000 barrels were spewed into the Atlantic. While that incident was causing ripples on the waves, AGIP recorded a spill at Okpotuwari and Ondewari Communities and left it for several days before clamping and stopping the spill.  On 16 January 2012 Chevron had a major gas rig explosion followed by a fire that raged for over a month before it went out. While the fire raged, dead whales and dolphins washed ashore indicating a massive decimation of smaller aquatic life forms.

Other significant spills include ones that occurred on Shell’s trans Niger delta pipelines and which spewed close to 400,000 barrels of crude oil at Bodo City, Ogoni in two spills in 2008 and 2009. And we do not have to limit our memory to a decade. In 1980 later, Texaco (Chevron) had a major spill at Funiwa and in that incident spewed 400,000 barrels of crude oil into coastal waters and destroyed 340 hectares of mangrove forests.

A rupturing at Shell’s Forcados terminal in 1979 dumped 570,000 barrels into the estuary and adjoining creeks. And the current spill going by satellite images is heading towards Forcados. At one point up to 400 square miles of the ocean was covered by this spill. The environmental and livelihoods destruction of oil activities cannot be continued this way.

Again I say that it is a scandal of epic proportion for the world to be mute and the Nigerian regulatory agencies merely watches, while these horrors are replicated daily in the oil fields of the Niger Delta.

5. What is the role of the Shell Petroleum Development Company in the Niger Delta? How long have they been there and what are they accused of?

Shell is the most dominant player in the oil industry in Nigeria. At one point in history, the entire Nigerian territory was an oil concession to Shell. This means that every player in the field today is simply drilling in fields released by Shell. It is that serious. It must be stated that the arrangement in Nigeria is such that Shell and other oil companies operate in what is termed Joint Venture partnerships with the NNPC and the NNPC holds the majority shares in these alignments. Fact is that the companies, like Shell, are the operators, the drivers, they call the shots. Shell in Nigeria is as old as the industry here.

6. If the legislation in force in Nigeria obliges oil companies to take measures to clean up spills regardless of the cause, why are those rules not being complied with?

We ask the same question. Why are the laws not being enforced? We have an interesting situation here. At a time Nigeria had a Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) that regulated the environment and set standards. Today we have the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Agency (NESREA), an agency that more or less replaced FEPA. However, the oil and gas sector is excluded from NESREA’s oversight while at the same time oil companies are represented on the board of NESREA! This suggests that the oil sector is largely unregulated and can do as they please especially because the Nigerian state depends on the operators for her foreign exchange earnings.

7. What actions should be launched by the Nigeria Government to halt abuses and provide justice?

All the Nigerian government needs to do is to enforce laws regulating the sector. Take for instance gas flaring, which was was confirmed unconstitutional and an abuse of human rights in November 2005 in a  High Court ruling on a Shell gas flare at Iwherekan. That judgment has not been enforced till date and the flare remains in that community. There is also an urgent need to review some of the laws that make it difficult for citizens to enforce their rights through the courts. There is an urgent need to reinforce the law prohibiting gas flaring. There is also the urgent need to have a Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that revises the current lax regimes to curb unbridled exploitation and corruption and to ensure justice and equity in the oil and gas sector.

8. How much can sabotage, theft and illegal oil refining be blamed? How does the Government of Nigeria pursue this ? And Shell?

The level of oil thefts in Nigeria go far beyond what can be blamed on local communities. The illegal refineries provide a cover for oil companies to blame local people for polluting their environment and this appears to be a key reason why the menace is not being fought. Companies like Shell need such distractions so as to claim that the locals cause the pollutions we complain about. They have seen this as an avenue to engage in oil pollution tourism whereby they fly foreign and local journalists over the bush refineries for the purpose of shifting the blame.

When did the bush refineries become a major issue? Only a couple of years ago. Oil theft and oil pollution go back over decades!

Moreover, from official admissions, between 300,000 and 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen daily in the oil fields. This cannot happen within international connivance and dimensions.

It is interesting to note that all these do not affect delivery of expected export volumes of crude. We surmise that the volumes being stolen or spilled are well allowed for by the oil companies who, according to  Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) reports, do not reveal the volumes of crude oil and gas they actually extract in Nigeria.

9. The UN has recommended the establishment of a fund for the restoration of the environment with an initial sum of one billion dollars, to which additional funds should follow. What is Shell's response?

I think Shell should answer this question. Their penchant is to always avoid responsibility. But you should ask them this question.

10. A cable released by Wikileaks, dated 20 October 2009, states that Shell told US diplomats that the company had "people into all relevant Nigerian ministries" and as a result they had "access to everything being done in those ministries". In another cable, dated 2 February 2009, close ties between Shell and the Governments of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are mentioned. It refers the launch of a "programme in which a Dutch diplomat works at the headquarters of Shell in the Hague and a British diplomat works in Shell's London offices". What responsibilities do the successive United Kingdom Governments have and what recommendations do you have for them?

One  key reason why  oil sector runs wild is that it infiltrates public offices where  it  ensures that its personnel engages in a game of musical chairs, sitting in high offices and ensuring they get away even with murder. The fact that this arrangement extends to the governments of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom shows the power of Shell to fly above the law and dictate the tune as they please. Shell has effectively colonized these governments and the recommendation is that the governments of the Netherlands and the UK should break the umbilical cord that ties them so intimately to Shell. Otherwise they should know that they are complicit in the abuse of the Niger Delta.

11. Women rarely participate in the negotiation on compensations and they may receive nothing of the agreed amount. Tell us about how women face the consequences of pollution.

Women are more vulnerable to impacts of environmental degradation caused by oil pollution. Traditional gender roles and property ownership rights are skewed against women. However, the Niger Delta women are major players in the defence of their environment. This has been seen in direct actions adopted by the women while protesting the loss of their livelihoods due to the criminal pollution of their communities.

Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Reddit!! Mixx! Free and Open Source Software News Google! Live! Facebook! StumbleUpon! TwitThis Joomla Free PHP

Photo Speak

ERA has recently received information that a group calling itself the "Niger Delta Coalition in the Diaspora" is still engaging itself in activities and communications giving the impression that it is linked with Environmental Rights Action (ERA).

This group issues out communications using ERA's headquarter address and mail box. We have never had any ties with this group and any views, comments or opinions expressed by them is not endorsed or authorized by any member of management or staff of ERA.

Green Hotlines
Green Hotlines
Is there a spill, pipeline rupture, fire, gas flare, water, land or air pollution in your community or one you know about? Do you need assistance to respond, and prevent future occurrences or have you noticed any activity that threatens the environment?

In the event of any ecological disaster or threat to the environment, call our toll-free GREEN LINES:  08031230088 & 08031230089

Warning: require(/home/waleseun/ [function.require]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/waleseun/ on line 89

Fatal error: require() [function.require]: Failed opening required '/home/waleseun/' (include_path='.:/usr/local/lib/php:/usr/local/php5/lib/pear') in /home/waleseun/ on line 89