A Dirty Business: Shell’s Crimes in the Niger Delta

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Shell Gas FlareThe Royal Dutch/Shell Group, more commonly known as Shell, is one of the largest and best known corporations in the world.

Their familiar red and yellow logo is everywhere. In fact, if you live in Glen Eyre halls, you can’t even walk to lectures without taking in the (always increasing) price of a litre of unleaded. But how much do we really know about the corporation? They might offer competitive petrol prices and 2 for 1 on Red Bull, but look beneath the shell (so to speak) and a darker picture emerges. This is a company involved in murder, bribery and criminal levels of environmental damage. Even in the morally bankrupt world of multinational oil businesses, there aren’t many with more blood on their hands than Shell.

Oil Spillages and Gas Flaring- To see this picture clearly, the place to look is the Niger Delta in Nigeria, one of the most oil rich areas on the planet and also home to a tribal group called the Ogoni. Shell Nigeria has been extracting the oil from this area since 1958, building pipelines through Ogoni homes and farmland. There have been persistent oil spillages due to Shell’s negligence (between 1976 and 1991 there were almost 3,000) which have smothered farmland, poisoned the water and killed the animals and fish which the Ogoni people rely on to survive. The consequence of this for Ogoni people is unending starvation, poverty and disease; consequences so devastating they have been compared to genocide by some prominent Ogoni leaders.

When drilling for oil, carbon dioxide and methane is produced as a waste product. This can be disposed of efficiently, or even sold on, but in the Niger Delta, Shell ‘flare’ it. In other words, it is burnt in the open air, creating flames so high they are visible from space. The process of gas flaring has been illegal in Nigeria since 1984, but that hasn’t stopped Shell. Apparently, bringing in approximately eighty per cent of the country’s revenue is enough to put them above the law. The fumes, heat and smell caused by this practice has ruined living standards for the Ogoni people. The constant exposure is also linked to serious illnesses such as cancer. Gas flaring is considered a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. In the Niger Delta, Shell flares over 95% of extracted gas, leading to estimates that Nigerian oil fields are responsible for more global warming than the rest of the world’s combined.

The Rivers State Internal Security Task Force (RSISTF)- The Ogoni people have attempted to protest against these atrocities, both through peaceful means and the destruction of pipelines built across their land. However, Shell have their own methods of ensuring these protests do not interfere with profit. They have twice admitted paying the military to go to specific villages, where the participants of peaceful anti-Shell protests were killed. In 1994 the Niger Delta was permanently occupied by military forces (namely the RSISTF, which both Shell and the Nigerian government admit Shell partially funds). Since then the Ogoni people have been subject to constant survelliance, persecution and a suspected 2000 deaths at the hands of the military. A classified memo from the leader of this task force stated that “Shell operations are still impossible (in the Niger Delta) unless ruthless military operations are undertaken”.

Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni 8-
In November 1995, nine leaders of the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (outspoken environmental and human rights activists who declared that Shell were not welcome in their homeland) were hanged by the Nigerian government. This group included popular journalist, academic and comedian, Ken Saro Wiwa. They were convicted of the murder of four other Ogoni activists even though they were nowhere near the town where the murders occurred. The trial was internationally condemned for “a stunning lack of evidence”. Two witnesses called by the prosecution later admitted that they were bribed to testify with the promise of money and jobs at Shell. In June this year Shell paid $15.5 million dollars in compensation to the families of the deceased, but still refused to admit any responsibility for their deaths.

University Investment- The Wessex Scene has learnt that the University of Southampton has investment with Shell. However they have failed to confirm the amount of shares they own in the company. When asked about the ethics of the investment, they replied simply that HSBC are paid to make investment decisions on their behalf.

The Ogoni receive no economic benefit from Shell. The profit from the oil that is stolen from their land is distributed between the government, the military and Shell’s bosses. Only 2% of Shell’s Nigerian employees are Ogoni. Shell to them represents only poverty, starvation, execution, military rule and the destruction of the land that for thousands of years has been their home. It begs the question, what is the use of conferences on global warming and poverty when it is the actions of businesses such as Shell that both created and prolong these problems?

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Discussion1 Comment

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    The Pan- African magazine ‘New African’ (the union shop used to stock it from time to time, but now they’ve stopped and I can’t find it anywhere in Southampton) regularly exposes Shell’s crimes in Nigeria. The day when will multi-nationals realise that expoitatation is not the way forward cannot come soon enough.

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