It was the late 1950s when the British colony of the South Protectorate of the Nigeria was booming with potential following the discovery of petroleum in the region. To harness this potential, in 1958, the Royal Dutch Shell Company began operations promising to stand by its company values, mission and vision in Ogoniland.
Ogoniland, Rivers State, Nigeria has a population of approximately 500,000 people living in area of 650km2, resulting in a nucleated settlement. The Ogoni people found their living by fishing and farming, however their lifestyle would have been under threat by oil exploration. When Shell began its operations, the indigenes of Ogoniland had no control or say in the use of their lands, at the end they were left with lands devastated by oil-related activities. Almost sixty years on, the debate rages on as to who the blame falls to, Shell or The Nigerian Government?
The Case Against Shell
One of the four mission statements of the Royal Dutch Shell Company states that the company believes in:
“Conducting our business in a safe, environmentally sustainable and economically optimum manner”.
The company also prides itself that its core values comprises of “honesty, integrity and respect for people”. The statements made have held true if the company had not been inactive and careless when it came to coexist with and protect the Ogoni people of Nigeria.
On the arrival of Shell, the people of Ogoniland must have been ecstatic at the news. Their chiefs and rulers impressed by Shell’s standings in the global market, their willingness to conduct business in a sustainable manner and the promise of infrastructural development. This was a chance for a rural community to partake in the economic boom the country was about to receive. However, a few years down the line such dreams and aspirations couldn’t be further from reality.
Environmental issues began to crop up ranging from oils spills to devastating gas flaring, the Ogoni people were living in a nightmare showcased as a dream by Shell. Their lifestyle was being threatened as their lands were stripped of their environmental resources and people who were already living on less than US$1 per day were faced with more poverty, health issues and civil unrest. At this point the Ogoni people must have been wondering what was going on.
One of the reasons was that, as the first company in oil exploration in Nigeria, regulations were moulded in Shell’s favour such that it was more profitable and indulged in their wrongdoings. For example, the ineffective and vague gas utilisation plan stated in Section 51 of the 1969 Petroleum Act which justified their gas flaring in Ogoni. With focus purely on financial gain, civil relations between Shell and The Ogoni people had deteriorated completely. Civil unrest escalated as the chiefs and rulers were shown “respect” by Shell as they lived lavish lives and used their financial clout to oppress their own people.
To absolve themselves of any wrongdoing, Shell continually stated that they had paid their dues through taxes and levies to the government. Also, stating that they had nothing to do with bribes paid to local rulers to defuse any uprisings. For all the talk of visions and missions, when Shell was required to act they remained silent and when they did act, they pushed blame to the government. Does that showcase the virtues of “honesty, integrity and respect” to the Ogoni people?
“We either win this war to save our land, or we will be exterminated, because we have nowhere to run to”
Above is the rallying cry of the leader of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People), Ken Saro-Wiwa. This statement was made during several, peaceful marches to create awareness of Shell’s environmentally unsustainable practices. With the global clamour, Shell, should have intervened, rather doubled it down on its cowardly and greedy stance. From an engineering perspective, it is unethical for shell to have had so many oil spills and to have adopted a care-free attitude to gas-flaring in the first place. As MOSOP’s influence grew, with Shell not intervening and the government restless, The Ogoni nine were executed by hanging in 1995 on allegations of murder, by the Nigerian government to halt MOSOP’s progress.
By then Shell had left Ogoniland but not without leaving behind a legacy as black as the oil they are so proud to produce.
The Case Against the Nigerian Government
On the other hand, it is appalling to note that the government failed its core duty to protect the fundamental human rights of its citizens. The government had rather gone against this core responsibility, by using security forces to incite violence in what was intended to be non-violent protests by MOSOP.
A law was enacted by the government in 1979 stating that every natural resource within the country is owned by the federal government, and revenues generated will be equally distributed within all the states. However, history highlights that down the line this was not the case but for a few people; the government officials. They were the only ones enriched, while the people of Ogonliand, where the oil was drilled, were impoverished.
In 1990, per the ‘Bill of rights’ sent to former Military Head of State General Ibrahim Babangida and the Armed Forces Ruling Council, the people of Ogoniland demanded a payment of about $20billion for the petroleum oil drilled from their state and the damages caused by pollution over 30 years. If the government was being paid about $11million a day, is it still Shells responsibility to ensure the welfare of the occupants of Ogoni? the answer is quite obvious, no.
There was no contractual agreement between Shell and the people of Ogoniland, rather Shells legal relationship was with the government. Shell is a profit oriented business, which had obeyed the rules and regulations by paying the government taxes, royalties, levies, and oil spill penalties, leaving it with no obligations towards the Ogoni community. It is therefore solely the government’s responsibility to meet the demands in the ‘Bill of rights’, which they clearly not interested in. Based on this attitude, the government’s integrity should be questioned.
The oil export makes up about 80% of the Nigeria’s revenue. When Shell halted their production in Ogoni, one of the revenue stream of the corrupt government officials involved had been lost. Following their success with Shell, the influence of MOSOP was growing and this intimidated the Nigerian Government. The government, being anxious, looked for an opportunity to put an end to MOSOP. With the death of four Ogoni chiefs who were publicly against MOSOP, the government took the opportunity to have their pound of flesh. Hence nine MOSOP leaders were arrested and sentenced to death.
The situation made way for policies called ‘wasting operations’ in which the military raided Ogoni villages killing hundreds and displacing thousands from their homes. The government also fabricated stories, relating the killings to ethnic clashes, while in reality it was the armed forces. This was a strategy implemented by the government to instigate fear among the people. This is unethical, as it violates human right.
Group 67: Naomi Babalola, Ayodele Ogunye, Mohammad Afifi, Oweikeme Cole