Tag Archives: Ogoniland

No Clean-Up, No Justice: Ogoniland, Nigeria

The UN Environment Programme in 2011 proposed the creation of a $1 billion fund to repair the damage done by decades of crude spills in the Ogoniland area in southeastern Nigeria. However, progress has been poor and the little work that has been done is sub-standard, advocacy groups including Amnesty International reported in June 2020.  “Research reveals that there is still no clean-up, no fulfillment of ‘emergency’ measures, no transparency and no accountability for the failed efforts, neither by the oil companies nor by the Nigerian government,” the groups said.

Shell’s Nigerian unit pumped oil in Ogoniland until 1993, when the company withdrew amid increasing protests against its presence. Even though the Hague-based company no longer produces crude in the area, a joint venture operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company, or SPDC, still owns pipelines that crisscross the region.

A government agency responsible for overseeing the clean-up, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, known as Hyprep, was finally set up in 2017 after several false starts, but it’s failing to deliver. …“Hyprep is not designed, nor structured, to implement a project as complex and sizable as the Ogoniland clean-up,” the report cites UNEP as saying in 2019

Excerpt from Clean Up Oil in Nigerial Lacks Progress, Bloomberg, June 18,, 2020

Left to their Own Bad Devices: the Future of Ogoni Land in Nigeria

The decades-overdue clean-up of Ogoniland, after years of oil spills from the pipelines that criss-cross the region, is finally under way. But the billion-dollar project — funded by Nigeria’s national oil company and Royal Dutch Shell — is mired in allegations of corruption and mismanagement.  “We are not pleased with what is going on,” said Mike Karikpo, an attorney with Friends of the Earth International and a member of the Ogoniland team that negotiated the creation of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (Hyprep), the government body running the clean-up… 

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer, pumping out about 1.8m barrels per day. It provides roughly 90 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange and more than half of government revenues.  The clean-up began only the summer 2019, about a year after the first of an expected five tranches of $180m in funding was released to Hyprep. Mr Karikpo complains of a lack of transparency, alleging that planning, budgeting and awarding of contracts took place behind closed doors. Work started at the height of the rainy season, washing away much of the progress as contaminated soil collected for treatment was swept back into the environment…

Ogoniland, like the broader Niger Delta, has become more polluted and development has stalled, with little to show for the billions of dollars in crude that has been extracted. Critics have now accused Hyprep of being, like much of Nigeria’s oil sector, a vehicle for political patronage and graft. This year 16 companies were awarded contracts for the first phase of the clean-up, which — to the consternation of critics — focuses on the least contaminated parts of Ogoniland.

An investigation by the news site Premium Times found that almost all the companies were set up for other purposes, including poultry farming, car sales and construction, and had no experience of tackling oil pollution.  Meanwhile, insiders have questioned Hyprep’s capacity to handle such a massive project…

Shell and Hyprep have rejected the criticism.  Shell, which closed its Ogoniland operations in 1993, said it accepted responsibility “for spills arising from its operations”, but that some of the blame for the pollution must go to thieves who illegally tapped into pipelines and makeshift refining operations in the Delta’s creeks

Excerpts from Craft and Mismanagement Taint Nigeria’s Oil CleanUp, Financial Times, Dec. 29, 2019

A Swamp of Oil Pollution: Ogoniland

Status of Cleaning up Oil Pollution in Ogoniland, Nigeria:

According to the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the clean-up of Ogoniland is bugged with identity crisis, procedures, processes and overheads. Perception of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability, complex decision making, internal crisis of choice between Ogoni and the Niger Delta….The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland in August 2011 after series of protests of oil spillage in the community that culminated to the death of Ken Sarowiwa and eight others.  The report  made recommendations to the government, the oil and gas industry and communities to begin a comprehensive cleanup of Ogoniland, restore polluted environments and put an end to all forms of ongoing oil contamination in the region…

Pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas, sediments and swampland.  In 49 cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 metres. At 41 sites, the hydrocarbon pollution has reached the groundwater at levels in excess of the Nigerian standards permitted by National Laws..

Excerpts from Ogoni: Cleanup Exercise by Authorities Questioned by Civil Society Groups, UNPO, Mar. 12, 2019

9 oil spills per month: Niger Delta

The oil-rich Niger Delta has generated billions of dollars for Shell over the past 60 years, but the company’s operations have been plagued by sabotage, theft and oil spills that ravaged the local environment.  Though Nigeria was one of its most prolific regions for crude production in 2015, Shell has sold off tracts of onshore oil fields. Its new focus—sealed with the mammoth $50 billion acquisition of BG Group PLC this year—is deep-water wells off the coasts of the U.S. and Brazil and a historic shift toward natural gas that puts it at the forefront of oil companies offering a more climate-friendly image to investors.

The hearings in London’s High Court on November 2016 represented an early test for cases brought by the community of Ogale and a group from the Bille Kingdom. The communities are hoping to hold Shell accountable for environmental damage they claim has been caused by spills from infrastructure operated by Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC.  Shell is expected to argue that only the subsidiary should be held liable and that the cases should be heard in Nigeria, SPDC’s base and where the incidents took place…

But the communities and their lawyers say seeking justice in Nigeria won’t hold Shell responsible for the actions of its subsidiary and is extraordinarily difficult...“You cannot fight Shell in Nigeria,” the king of Ogale, Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, said in a phone interview. “Shell is Nigeria, Nigeria is Shell.

It is a point Shell has already contested in The Hague, where four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth successfully appealed a ruling that was largely in Shell’s favor in 2015, allowing them to pursue a case against the company in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the company said it experienced on average nine oil spills a month caused by sabotage or theft, with a handful of additional spills caused by operational issues. An uptick in violence this year has knocked important export terminals out of action for months at a time, though divestments onshore have helped reduce the overall number of spills Shell has recorded…

The company has already paid out £55 million, or roughly $80 million, to compensate another Niger Delta-based community in a settlement reached last year after they brought a separate lawsuit in London. In that instance, Shell admitted the spills were caused by operational failures.

Excerpts from Shell Fights Lawsuits Over Environmental Record in Nigeria, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 19, 2016

The Niger Delta Avengers

Leaders from Nigeria’s Niger Delta called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pull the army out from the oil hub, order oil firms to move headquarters there and spend more on development to end militancy in the region.  Buhari met leaders from the southern swampland for the first time since militants started a wave of attacks on oil pipelines in January 2016 to push for a greater share of oil revenues.

At the meeting in the presidential villa in Abuja, Niger Delta leaders, joined by representatives of militant groups, gave Buhari a list of 16 demands to pacify the impoverished region where many say they do not benefit from the oil wealth…

The delegation leader said oil firms should move headquarters to the region so unemployed youths – who often work for militants – could get more jobs. Foreign firms active in Nigeria are often based in the commercial capital Lagos.  The Niger Delta leaders also asked for more funds for the development and an amnesty plan for former fighters which Buhari had planned to cut.

The attacks, which put four key export streams under force majeure, had led production to plunge to 1.37 million barrels per day in May, the lowest level since July 1988, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), from 2.2 million barrels in January 2016.

Nigeria agreed on a ceasefire with major militant groups in 2009 to end an earlier insurgency. But previously unknown groups have since taken up arms after authorities tried to arrest a former militant leader on corruption charges.  Under a 2009 amnesty, fighters who lay down arms receive training and employment. However, of the $300 million annual funding set aside for this, much ends up in the pockets of “generals” or officials, analysts say – an endemic problem in a country famous for graft.

Any ceasefire would be difficult to enforce as militants are splintered into small groups of angry, young unemployed men even their leaders struggle to control.

A major group, the Niger Delta Avengers, had initially declared a ceasefire in August 2016 but then claimed another attack in October 2016 .

Excerpts from Niger Delta leaders want army out, Reuters, Nov. 2, 2016

Ogoni versus Royal Dutch Shell

The widow of a Nigerian activist is planning to sue Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch courts alleging the oil company was complicit in the execution of her husband by the Nigerian military in 1995, court documents filed in the United States/Esther Kiobel has filed an application in New York to secure documents from Shell’s US lawyers, which she could use in the Dutch action.

The filings with the US District Court for the Southern District Court of New York said she planned to begin the action before the end of the year.“Ms. Kiobel will demonstrate that Shell encouraged, facilitated, and conspired with the Nigerian government to commit human rights violations against the Ogoni people,” a memorandum in the application filed last week said.
Kiobel previously took her lawsuit to the United States but the US Supreme Court ruled in 2013 the case could not be heard because the alleged activities took place outside the country.

In 2009 prior to that ruling Shell had agreed in the United States to pay $15.5 million to settle lawsuits related to other activists executed at the same time as Barinem Kiobel, including author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.    [three separate lawsuits were brought by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa].

The Nigerian military cracked down heavily on local opposition to oil production by a Shell joint venture in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s. Kiobel alleges that Shell provided support to the military in its crackdown.  A Dutch court ruled in December that Shell may be sued in the Netherlands for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, although it did not say Shell was responsible..

Excerpts from Shell faces possible Dutch lawsuit over Nigerian activist’s execution, Reuters, Oct. 18, 2016

Corruption Begets Corruption: Nigeria Oil

Dead fish wash up on the once-fertile shores of creeks around Bodo, a town in the Niger delta, that are covered with crude oil more than six years after two massive spills. Locals have only now received compensation from Shell, the oil firm responsible for the leaks. For the first time in half a decade, fishermen have cash to start businesses, repair their houses and send children to school… “Look,” says the chief of a tiny town called B-Dere, just a few miles from Bodo. He gestures to the deathly-black banks still bearing the marks of the slicks. “There is nothing to drink, nowhere to fish. What good has come from it?”

The cash that the oil industry provides has greased Nigerian politics for decades. Gross mismanagement and corruption in the industry are the causes of much of the inequality and discontent with the ruling party in an economy that is not just Africa’s largest but that ought to also be one of its wealthiest…

Nigeria pumps something like 2m barrels of oil a day. These account for most of its exports and about 70% of government revenues. But official figures are as murky as its polluted creeks. Volumes are recorded only at export terminals rather than at the wellhead, says Celestine AkpoBari of the Port Harcourt-based advocacy group, Social Action. Were a proper tally kept, he says, corruption would be exposed on a scale that would shock even the most cynical Nigerian.

It seems likely that more than 100,000 barrels of crude are stolen (or “bunkered” in the local parlance) every day, at a cost to the state and investors of billions of dollars a year. Politicians, oil workers and security forces are said to be behind the complex cartels that steal, illegally refine and sell crude oil. They have amassed almost unimaginable wealth in a country where poverty is still rife.

Oil’s taint has seeped into almost all levels of government and business. Yet the central problem is found in the petroleum ministry, which wields vast unaccountable power. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state-owned behemoth, is responsible for all aspects of the industry, from exploration to production and regulation. It is among the most secretive oil groups in the world, and is “accountable to no one”, says Inemo Samiama, country head of the Stakeholder Democracy Network, a non-profit group.

In 2013 the former governor of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, alleged that $20 billion in oil revenues was missing from state coffers. He was fired for his troubles soon after. …

Even where cash has not been nicked, it has often been squandered. Take the Excess Crude Account (ECA), a sovereign-wealth fund intended to cushion Nigeria’s budget against falling oil prices. Most of it was spent over the past two years, despite oil prices being relatively high for most of that period.

The industry itself is in as sorry a state as the government’s finances. Although oil practically gushes from the ground in parts of the delta, oil output has been stagnant for years and billions of dollars of investment are stalled because of uncertainty over a new law for the industry.  This is holding back Nigeria’s economy almost across the board. Because the industry has failed to build the infrastructure to pipe gas to domestic consumers such as power plants, much of it is simply flared and burned: Britain reckons that some $800m worth of Nigeria’s gas a year goes up in smoke. The country is also chronically short of fuel even though it has four state-owned oil refineries. Because of poor maintenance and ageing equipment they operate at well below capacity, forcing Nigeria to import about 70% of the fuel it needs. There is little incentive for reform since the government pays hefty subsidies to NNPC to keep on importing…

But a starting point should be to halt subsidies for fuel imports. At a stroke that would undercut a major source of corruption and crime (both on land and at sea) that spills into neighbouring countries, the destination for smuggled consignments of cheap Nigerian fuel. It should also take a close look at NNPC, which should not be allowed both to participate in the market and regulate it. Some of its assets could be privatised. The ruling party and opposition are considering both….

For communities in Ogoniland, the most pressing problem is cleaning up. Shell has promised to mop up the mess around Bodo, though the process has yet to start. Compensation is one thing, Bodo residents say, but what they really want is their livelihood back.

Nigeria’s oil: Crude politics, Economist,  Mar. 28, 2015, at 54

Multinational Corporations in US Courts: Kiobel v. Shell

The Alien Tort Statute (ATS)… grants American district courts jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or of a treaty of the United States”. At the age of 190 it sprang back to life on April 6th 1979, when it was used to allow two Paraguayans to sue a former Paraguayan policeman in an American court for acts of torture committed in Paraguay.Since then, roughly 150 lawsuits have been filed against American and foreign corporations for actions committed around the world. Four local plaintiffs used the ATS to sue Unocal in a federal court in Los Angeles for human-rights violations allegedly committed during the construction of an oil pipeline in Myanmar. A human-rights organisation used it to sue Yahoo on behalf of two Chinese democracy activists for actions committed in China by a subsidiary. ATS suits against DaimlerChrysler and Rio Tinto, among others, are pending. Though most ATS cases have been dismissed or settled, the costs of settlements can be high and the negative publicity damaging.

Multinational companies will therefore cheer the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Kiobel v Royal Dutch Petroleum (Shell), released on April 17th, 2013. It dramatically limits the ability of plaintiffs to file suit against corporations in American courts for actions committed abroad.  The ruling stems from a case brought in New York by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs living in America. They allege that Shell was complicit in human-rights violations—including murder, rape, theft and destruction of property—committed by Nigeria’s armed forces in the region of Ogoniland. A federal appeals court dismissed their suit, arguing that the ATS provides no grounds for corporate-liability lawsuits. But as the 150 ATS suits show, other courts have disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in order to settle the question.

In an earlier ruling, in 2004, the court cautiously ruled that the ATS permitted lawsuits for “a modest number of international law violations”, such as piracy and crimes involving ambassadors, which would have been recognised when it was adopted. The court’s Kiobel ruling goes much further. It holds that the ATS does not apply to actions committed by foreign companies, and noted a strong presumption against applying American law outside the United States, “There is no indication,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice, “that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms”.  In a separate concurrence, four of the court’s liberals took a slightly softer tack, arguing that the ATS should allow suits that prevent America from becoming “a safe harbour…for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind”. But that reasoning still does not permit foreign nationals to use American courts to sue foreign companies for acts committed on foreign soil.

Extraterritoriality: The Shell game ends, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 34

Shell Nigeria and the Ogoni People

On January 30th, 2013 a Dutch court ruled that Shell, Nigeria’s biggest oil producer, must compensate Friday Akpan, a farmer from the Delta region, for the pollution of his farmland and destruction of his livelihood. The ruling could open a flood-gate to legal complaints against oil companies.In 2008, five Nigerians, including Mr Akpan, filed suits in The Hague where Shell has its headquarters. The other four cases were dismissed; the court said Shell could not have prevented the spills involved. Environmental campaigners insist the company was negligent. Amnesty International says the dismissal highlights how difficult it is for Nigerians whose lives have been affected by oil pollution to get justice.

Court orders and regulatory fines are rarely enforced in Nigeria. According to a 2011 United Nations report on the Ogoniland region in the Niger Delta, restoring the area, much of which is covered in thick, black oil, could take up to 30 years. It would cost $1billion just to start the clean up. Little progress has been made since the report was published. Bad laws, lax regulation and corporate exploitation make environmental degradation even worse in Nigeria.

Shell says that nearly 26,000 barrels of its oil was spilt last year in 200 incidents in the Delta. Some 55 were the result of “operational mishaps,” including poor maintenance of facilities but 144 were caused by sabotage or people siphoning oil from pipelines. Oil theft is increasingly a cause of oil spills in the region. The illegal refining of stolen oil is common in the Niger Delta. But in a region with few jobs, poor health care and dire schools, it is little wonder people resort to refining stolen oil. For some, it is the only way left to make a living.

John Donovan, A mixed verdict, Economist, Feb 3rd, 2013