Environmental activists caution Shell

A man samples crude oil at the bank of a polluted river in Bidere community in Ogoniland in Nigeria's delta region29 May 2014, Abuja – Environmental activists have warned Shell Petroleum Development Company to stop playing games with the pains and misery of Ogoni people who are suffering due to the non-implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, report on Ogoniland.

The warning came following last week’s surprise announcement by Shell’s new Chief Executive Officer, Ben Van Beurden, that the $1billion dollar take off fund for Ogoni cleanup was waiting in a dedicated account,

Mr. Van Beurden, while responding to a question on UNEP Report from James Marriott of PLATFORM during Shell’s UK Shareholder Meeting in London on 22 May, 2014, claimed that the money to implement the cleanup recommended by the UNEP’S Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland had been set aside in a “verifiable” account.

The Shell boss, however, added that the company had been unable to disburse the funds due to the “lack of structures” ready to receive the money and coordinate the cleanup, stating that: “many people in the Niger Delta would be interested in $1 billion.”

On August 4, 2011, the UNEP released a damning report, which the Ogoni prefer to call “a death sentence,” on the environmental devastation caused by oil exploration activities in Ogoniland.

The report confirmed that the integrity of the Ogoni environment has been heavily damaged and compromised by the oil industry; and that rather than support lives and livelihoods, it was killing the Ogoni people.

UNEP further made several recommendations to the Federal Government of Nigeria, its agencies, and Shell on ways for remedying the environmental situation.

Apart from the federal government setting up a largely dormant Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, nothing has been done.

“Shell has the power to do anything it wants in Nigeria, including having our people killed as it has done in the past,” said Celestine Akpobari, Executive Director of Social Action, a Niger Delta rights advocacy group.

“But are we expected to believe that it does not have the power to arrange for the clean-up of its own mess? This is double standards and lies. How many more years will the Ogoni people have to wait for something to be done about their toxic environment?” Mr. Akpobari added.

Social Action, which had launched both local and international campaign for the clean-up of Ogoni environment, while calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to “urgently” scrap HYPREP, called on Shell to immediately release the money rather than trading blames.

In her reaction, Sarah Shoraka of the London Platform said that although Shell claims it needs to wait for the Nigerian Government to act, everyone knows they are in the driving seat.

“The Petroleum Minister was the former Director of Shell Nigeria for 15 years. Ben Van Beurden says he is travelling to Nigeria in the next 2 weeks. He needs (to) get his head together with the Nigerian Government to set up a Ogoni Environment Restoration Authority if he is serious about delivering the clean-up,” Ms. Shoraka said.

Patrick Kane of War on Want, London, described Shell’s claim on the funds as “frankly offensive.”

“Shell is guilty of over half a century of destruction of the Ogoni environment. They have a duty to make this clean up happen as soon as possible,” he added.

On his part, Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, expressed disappointment over the announcement from the Shell CEO.

“We are surprised that it took Shell so long to indicate readiness to provide first installment towards the cleanup of Ogoni,” said Mr. Bassey, an avid advocate for the scrapping of HYPREP.

“As the polluter, Shell has no right to dictate what sort of account should be created for the cleanup of their massive ecological destruction of Ogoni land. The survivors of the ecological war against the Ogonis must be directly involved in the planning of the cleanup and in the management of the funds assigned for the purpose,” Mr. Bassey added.

Meanwhile, Social Action has extended an invitation to Mr. van Beurden to visit polluted sites in Ogoni during his planned visit to Nigeria in two weeks.

According to the organisation, visiting spill sites will give the new CEO an opportunity to get a first hand information on the actual state of things rather than the “half baked truths” Shell Nigeria constantly sends out to the international community.

The organization also called on the National Assembly to take advantage of their oversight function to compel the Federal Government and Shell to commence Ogoni cleanup.
*Ben Ezeamalu-Premium Times

About the Author