No respite yet for Shell

The prospect of an early resolution of the acrimonious legal battle between the Anglo- Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Bodo Community in Rivers State may have crumbled following the rejection of the N7.5 billion compensation offer which the community described as an “insult, cruel and derisory” offer.

Last Thursday, when news broke that the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), had agreed to enter negations with the Bodo Community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State with an offer of N7.5 billion compensation for the 2008 oil spill, many had thought that the issue, which had generated lots of international debate and legal fi reworks would be resolved after all.

Shell, Business Courage gathered, had made the offer at the settlement negotiations between the company and representatives of the community in Port Harcourt, having accepted responsibility for the oil spill which polluted the waterways of the fi shing community.

Shell’s spokesman, Joseph Obari, said that the company took part in the settlement negotiations with two objectives — “to make a generous offer of compensation to those who have suffered hardship as a result of the two highly regrettable operational spills in 2008, and to make progress in relation to the cleanup.”

He had on Thursday, last week, expressed hope that the offer would meet the expectations of the Bodo community whom he said has, along with Shell, have committed their full support for the cleanup process, currently in progress, with the support of Bert Ronhaar, the former Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria.’’

“We await the community’s response to our compensation proposal, and we’re pleased to have made progress in relation to the cleanup,” said Obari who claimed that Shell had also proposed a series of interim measures to begin the removal of oil from the area. “Of course, the success of any interim measures and fi nal remediation depends on the cessation of oil theft and illegal refi ning in the area,” he said.

He added that oil theft, which usually affected the environment, had remained the major cause of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, even as he insisted that the volume of the spill and number of those who lost their means of livelihood were exaggerated.

However, by weekend, it appears that the negotiation had hit a dead end as reports indicated that the community out rightly rejected the offer, which they allegedly called “an insult, cruel and derisory”.

Martyn Day, a partner with the UK law fi rm of Leigh Day who represented the Bodo communities, said Shell’s offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo. “The amount offered for most claimants equated to two to three years’ net lost earnings whereas the Bodo creek has already been out of action for fi ve years and it may well be another 20- 25 before it is up and running properly again. I was not at all surprised to see the community walk out of the talks once they heard what Shell was offering,” Day said.

Shell, which took a top London negotiating team including a barrister, a QC and other legal experts to the negotiations, had indicated that it wanted to be fair, saying that “We have an interest in sensible and fair compensation being paid quickly to those who have been genuinely impacted by these highly regrettable spills.”

Chairman of the Bodo council, Mene Kogbara, while expressing disgust at the offer made by the oil giant, said that Shell continue to treat the people of Bodo with the same contempt as they did from the start when the company tried in 2009 to buy the community off by offering it the total sum of £4,000 to settle the claims.

“We told them in 2009 the people of Bodo are a proud and fi ercely determined community. Our habitat and income have been destroyed by Shell oil. The claim against Shell will not resolve until they recognise this and pay us fully and fairly for what they have done,” Kogbara said.

Similarly, Tal Kottee, Bodo elected regent, said that the community had been expecting a good settlement from Shell, adding that their livelihoods here have been totally destroyed. “It’s an outrage that it has taken so long for a cleanup and to get compensation,” he said.

Patrick Porobunu, leader of a Bodo fi shing community described Shell’s action as “cruel, very wicked. It has given us nothing again. People here are very angry. All we have is poverty because of Shell. We have no electricity, no health. Our suffering goes on.”

International and regional groups condemned Shell, which is the largest company on the London stock exchange with a market capitalisation of £140.9bn, for what they called its “meanness”. They accused Shell of fi nancial racism and applying different standards to clean-ups in Nigeria compared with the rest of the world.

“Is it because we are Nigerian and poor that they offer so little for the damage they have caused? Crude oil is the same in every country. Does the black man not also have red blood?” said one fi sherman who was also part of the Bodo meeting, stating that “This would be different in the US or London.”

Environmentalist and chair of Oilwatch International, Nnimmo Bassey, said that “It is a big shame on Shell that they are unwilling to pay a fraction of their profi t as compensation after subjecting the people and the environment to such unthinkable harm they would not dare allow in their home country.”

Similarly, Pastor Christian, a former fi sherman and preacher from Bodo, said that “If the money had come, then people would have been able to restart their businesses. I lost everything in the pollution. Now, nothing will change and poverty will only increase. This offer was derisory. We don’t want our children to suffer again like we did.”

As things stand, experts say a London court is now likely to decide how much the giant Anglo-Dutch company should pay the 11,000 fi shermen and others from the Bodo community who lost their income when the 50-year-old Shell-operated Trans Niger pipeline burst twice within a few months in 2008- 09.

Five years after the spills, the creeks and waterways around Bodo have an apocalyptic feel. The air stinks of crude, long slicks of oil drift in and out of the blackened, dying mangrove swamps and a sheen of oil covers the tidal mudfl ats.

“It’s everywhere. The wind blows the oil on our vegetable crops, our food tastes of oil, our children are sick and we get skin rashes. Life here has stopped,” said Barilido, a fi sherman reduced to collecting wood.

Eleven thousand farmers and fi shermen in Bodo who claimed that their land, rivers and wetlands were spoiled by two “massive” spills in the Niger River delta in 2008 had in March last year fi led a suit in a London court against the oil giant after talks failed to produce a deal.

The claimants, through their lawyers, Martyn Day had claimed that “The spills have caused extensive and long-lasting devastation to their lands and fi shing waters and have a profoundly detrimental impact on the life of the community.”

The Shell/Bodo community issue appears to have re-ignited discussions on the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) damning report of the destruction to the ecosystem in Ogoni land by years of unchecked oil spillage through activities of multi-national oil companies operating in the area.

More than two years after the UNEP’s damning report the Federal Government is still foot-dragging with the implementation of the remedial actions contained in the report.

The report released in 2011contained detailed records of oil spills in Ogoni land and also revealed the extent of devastation caused by more than fi fty years of unchecked oil spills on the environment and human lives with little or no effort to clean up the environment.

A Presidential committee set up to effect the immediate implementation of the report, especially on areas of environmental clean- up or remedying the damages done to the ecosystem as well as halt the continued loss of human lives in the region has remained comatose. Apart from the emergency water supplied to some communities by the Presidential committee in the wake of its formation, nothing concrete has been done concerning the UNEP report.

The report had spurred immediate reactions in several quarters, mainly from concerned groups and individuals, which insisted that the Federal Government should make sure all those implicated in the report, especially the multinational oil companies are actively involved in order to guarantee full implementation of the recommendations of the report.

The report categorically revealed that the restoration of the negative impacts on mangrove stands and swamp lands will take up to 30 years, adding that families are suffering due to the loss of means of livelihood, mainly fi shing and agriculture.

Parts of the report, which covered a period of one year, read; “Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and reduce the risks to affected communities should occur without delay”

Again, a major new independent scientifi c assessment, carried out by UNEP indicated that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than it appears on the surface.

For the period of over a 14 months, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings level

Furthermore, detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square meters in Barabeedom- K.dere, Gokana LGA to 79 hectares in Ajeokpori-Akpajo, in Eleme LGA.

Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifi cally for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.

Last year, Amnesty International demanded that oil giant Shell, should pay an initial sum of $1 billion (N154bn) to clean up and remedy the damaged done to the ecosystems in the Delta region due to oil spillage from its facility as recommended by the UNEP.

Aster Van Kregten, Amnesty International Researcher for Nigeria said Shell which posted profi ts of $7.2 billion between July and September should as a sign of seriousness pay the initial amount to set up a fund for the clean-up.

Using the example of Bodo village in Gokana area of Ogoni, she said two consecutive spills were not stopped for about eight weeks thereby devastating the environment and livelihood of the people due to Shell’s inaction, this she said continues to this day.

According to her, the degree of devastation done to the environment and Bodo community of Gokana in Ogoni land is one of many such incidences and the Nigerian government has failed to ensure compliance with its laws by the company.

“Bodo is a disaster that should not have happened, yet it is one that due to Shell’s inaction has continued to this day. The situation in Bodo is symptomic of the wider situation in the Niger Delta oil industry. The authorities simply do not control the oil companies. Shell and other oil companies have the freedom to act or not to act,” she laments.

Dr. Nenibarini Zabby of Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), said the action of shell is unacceptable and they must take responsibility for it.

He added that the report is gradually being forgotten, but people are living in the affected regions, saying this is not only going to affect the region alone, but its impact would tickle down to other parts of the country in terms of mass movement to seek for better conditions of living, destruction of the ecosystem, air pollution and other such negative impacts.

In his article title ‘Two Years After the UNEP Report, Ogoni Still Groans,’ Nnimmo Bassey said that “till this moment, the oil rigs began to puncture holes in the land and crude oil began to be spilled on lands, forests and rivers. The air was clean, but that changed when gas fl ares belched like dragons out for the kill. Today, twenty years after Shell got excommunicated from Ogoni, thick hydrocarbon fumes from sundry pollutions hang in the air.”

Bassey further decried that despite the messy condition as disclosed by the report without exception and pollution of all the water bodies in Ogoni by the activities of oil companies – Shell and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); it is still not given the required attention by the government.

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