Recent protests and implication of relocation order on oil companies


Recent protests and disruption of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria crude oil facility and gas plant in the Niger Delta by youths demanding jobs and infrastructure development has again brought to fore the unrest situation that characterize the presence of these companies in the region and why Shell pulled out from the region in 1993.

It has also raised fresh questions about the recent order by the federal government for the relocation of the headquarters of these oil companies that had earlier moved to Lagos for fear of unrest, to their operational base which is the Niger Delta region.

Last week the protesters which stormed Shell facility, said they were not benefiting from the region’s oil wealth and wanted an end to the oil pollution that has ruined much of the land.

The protest is coming after the elders in the region had promised to calm the youths especially as the elders engage in peace talks with the federal government to bring lasting peace to the brouhaha in the area.

One of the protest leaders, Anthony Bouye, said: “I am a graduate for about eight years without a job. Shell won’t employ me despite us having so much wealth in our backyard.”

Protests against oil companies in the Niger Delta region dates back in time. Among the oil firms in the region, Shell has the largest presence and has been accused by the inhabitants of causing the greatest environmental pollution in the area.

In 2014, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest the noncompliance of Shell to the agreement on social responsibilities made between the community and Shell.

The half-naked women brought work at the various oil platforms owned by Shell to a standstill in the Peremabiri community of Delta state.

The women said the company failed to implement its obligations as contained in a Memorandum of Understanding that bore the signature of Shell representatives and the community leaders.

From investigation Shell had in 2012, made a promise to provide crucial infrastructures such as potable water. The multinational corporation had also made a verbal commitment to renovate the existing community schools as well as replace the community generator which was faulty.

But report said that Shell did not fulfil any of the promise but was employing various tactics aimed at delaying the fulfillment of the agreement.

The women, feeling betrayed, proceeded to block the entrance to the oil platform located within their community with red cloth to register their displeasure with Shell’s perceived ambivalent posture.

After pulling out of the region in 1993, In 2013 Shell said it had launched a review of its oil and gas assets in Nigeria’s massively polluted Ogoniland region, resuming work in the area two decades after unrest forced the company to relocate.

The Anglo-Dutch oil major said the move was not part of an attempt to restart oil production in Ogoniland, describing it instead as a bid to comply with a 2011 United Nations report that called for one of the world’s biggest ever environmental clean-ups.

Shell said the intention was to determine the state of its facilities since it suspended operations in the area in 1993, and determine how best to decommission them.

Spokesman Precious Okolobo said the review was “a key step” in complying with the United Nations Environmental Programme report, which detailed the devastating impact that decades of oil pollution had brought to the southern region.

The report called for the oil industry and the Nigerian government to contribute $1 billion (762 million euros) to a clean-up fund for the region, adding that restoration could take up to 30 years.

The Company had however continued operations since then until last year when it again threatened to pull out.

The Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) the Ogoni people had forced Shell Oil to withdraw from the area after raising substantial international awareness of their situation.

MOSOP, led by its then president late Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well-known environmental activist, author, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, published the Ogoni Bill of Rights in 1990. This symbolically began the nonviolent struggle against the Nigerian government and the oil companies. The bill highlighted the Ogoni people’s lack of social services, their political marginalization, and the maltreatment they faced from the Shell Oil Company. The bill demanded environmental protection for the Ogoni region, self-determination for the Ogoni nation, cultural rights for the Ogoni people, representation in Nigerian institutions, and a fair proportion of the revenue from the sale of the region’s oil.

In the years leading up to the escalation of the nonviolent conflict in 1992 and 1993, Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP attempted to gain the support of international nongovernmental organizations. Early on MOSOP joined with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), which helped MOSOP gain increased international attention, both through the media and through meetings with the United Nations. As the UN’s Year of Indigenous People in 1993 approached, MOSOP planned protest actions to continue to push for the demands that had been laid out in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.

In 1992, the conflict escalated after two years of little progress targeting an unresponsive national government. MOSOP decided instead to focus its energy on the three oil companies operating within the region: Shell, Chevron, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. Of the three, Shell which had the largest share in the area was MOSOP’s primary target. The group (supported by and comprised of many smaller Ogoni organizations) presented the companies with an ultimatum demanding 10 billion dollars in damages and royalties to the Ogoni people, as well as an immediate end to all three companies’ violence against the Ogoni region’s environment. MOSOP threatened that if its demands were not met it would rally the Ogoni people in widespread popular resistance to the companies’ presence.

Apparently in response to this threat, the Nigerian government, which had recently undergone a series of military takeovers and tumultuous elections that the Ogoni had boycotted, announced that all disturbances of oil production were punishable as treason and banned all public meetings and assemblies.

Despite the ban on public assemblies, on January 4, 1993, at the beginning of the Year of Indigenous People, MOSOP organized a massive peaceful protest that over 300,000 Ogonis participated in. As part of the January 4 march and several rallies throughout Ogoniland, the Ogoni protesters and Greenpeace observers held green twigs as a symbol of the environment. With over three-fifths of the Ogonis in Ogoniland assembled together, protest leaders and the protesters demanded their basic rights to the environment and to self-determination.

After the January 4 actions and further protests throughout the month, Shell Oil pulled out of the region. This drastically lowered the amount of petroleum being extracted from the region and cut profits to the oil companies operating in the area by 200 million dollars in 1993.

Analysts believe that as long as these oil companies exist in the area, there will be no end to the unrest.  A public commentator, Obo Iffanga argues that while it is necessary for the headquarters of the oil firms to be within its operational base, some issues need to be addressed to avoid repeat of the confusion of the past as these companies relocate back to the region.

“We must work on the typical entitlement mentality of many people, especially the youths and ‘community leaders’ in the Niger Delta areas who would often look to the oil companies as under a duty to meet all their needs, regular and irrational, rather than look to their governments for service delivery and infrastructure provisions.

He noted that the state and local governments would need to upgrade infrastructure and improve on their service delivery, commensurate with the pressure that would come with such relocation.

“It is for this reason that I advocate that companies be made to pay all appropriate taxes due to the relevant governments and when that happens, they be freed from further unnecessary responsibilities and demands. Too often, members of communities try to not only pressure private companies to provide corporate social responsibilities (CSR) but even decide for them where to channel such efforts, demanding them as entitlements. A balance would need to be struck in that area to ensure harmony,” he declared.

On the other hand, President of Belema Producing Limited, an indigenous oil firm, Mr. Jackrich Tein however called for oil bearing communities to be treated as key stakeholders in the industry, stressing that this will help achieve enduring peace in the region.

According to him, when companies employ youths in the areas of operations, adding that this would help in the fight against unrest, oil theft and related challenges in the sector. He further enjoined people in the region to shun attack on oil assets, saying they should explore the gains in dialogue to resolve differences.

For the chairman of the default Technical Committee on the Niger Delta, Ledum Mitee, irrespective of the recent stakeholder meeting between the presidency and Niger Delta leaders, the attitude of the Federal Government had not shown it was committed to dialogue.

According to Mitee, while government strategy to end the crisis in the Niger Delta is not clear, it is obvious that Niger Delta leaders still need to do some work to get a firm commitment from the government that dialogue is the preferred option in finding lasting solution to the problems of the region.

He said everybody in the country would want a resolution of the problem through dialogue and not military confrontation.

“For me, there is no alternative to dialogue. I don’t see any alternative to dialogue. The point I keep on making is that we will not be tired of dialogue. But it is not just dialogue. What we have asked for this time is not just dialogue but a conversation that is backed with some credible action on the ground,” he said.

While many express hope of return of peace to the Niger Delta, the General Manager, External Relations, Shell said the Niger Delta was no longer attractive for investment. He said that declining interest by investors was partly due to restiveness, damage of facilities and the unpredictable nature of the region’s business environment. “The Niger Delta is no longer attractive to investors, as most businesses have already left with new and potential investors preferring to invest in other places like Lagos,” he noted.