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Nigeria: Delta Oil & Human Rights

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Nov 13, 2005 (051113)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Ten years after the execution of human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues by the Nigerian government, the issues of human rights and environmental devastation in the oil-producing Niger Delta remain unresolved. Despite the return to civilian rule in 1999 and pledges by oil companies to implement voluntary corporate responsibility standards, new reports by Environmental Rights Action and Amnesty International document only limited action to correct abuses and deliver benefits to the residents of the oil-producing areas.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a report from Amnesty International ("Ten Years On: Injustice and Violence Haunt the Oil Delta") and a press release from Environmental Rights Action (ERA) / Friends of the Earth Nigeria on the release of a new report focused on Shell's operations in particular.

The full Amnesty report is available at

The report from Environmental Rights Action is available on the ERA website at, and at

An earlier ERA report on gas flaring in Nigeria is available at

For an additional reflection on the tenth anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, by his son Ken Wiwa, see

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, on oil and violence in the Delta and other topics, as well as additional links, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Ten years on: Injustice and violence haunt the oil Delta

Amnesty International

[Excerpts only; for full report, including footnotes, see]

November 3, 2005

1. Introduction

Ten years after the executions of writer and human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of the Ogoni ethnic community horrified the world, the exploitation of oil in the Niger Delta continues to result in deprivation, injustice and violence. Despite a return to civilian government in 1999 under President Olusegun Obasanjo, those responsible for human rights violations under military governments have not been brought to justice. The security forces continue to kill people and raze communities with impunity. The environmental harm to health and livelihoods that impelled the Ogoni campaign for economic and social rights remains the reality for many inhabitants of the Delta region.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Baribor Bera, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbokoo, Barinem Kiobel, John Kpuinen, Paul Levura and Felix Nuate were hanged on 10 November 1995, raising a storm of outrage across the globe. Their politically motivated prosecution and unfair trial for the killings of four traditional rulers, before a special tribunal appointed by the military government, came to exemplify the authorities' repression of human rights. In 1993 Shell Nigeria had withdrawn personnel from its facilities in Ogoni in the face of local protests. The executions, carried out in defiance of appeals for clemency from heads of state, intergovernmental bodies and human rights groups worldwide, earned Nigeria international sanctions, suspension from the Commonwealth, and unprecedented scrutiny and denunciation. Shell too faced widespread condemnation for its ambiguous and belated interventions.

Steps undertaken by the Nigerian government to address the long-standing demands of people living in the oil-producing states have been inadequate. Under the 1999 Constitution, the state administrations should receive a higher percentage of national oil revenues - up from 1.5 to 13 per cent - to be used for development purposes. However, in response to a legal challenge by the federal government, in 2002 the Supreme Court ruled that this provision applied to revenues from onshore oil only, slashing payments to states in some cases. In June 2005 delegates from oil-producing states walked out of the National Political Reform Conference after the federal government refused to offer more than 17 per cent. In addition, many federal government payments owed to states, and to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established by the government in 2000, are long overdue. Some oil companies expected to contribute to the funding for the NDDC have also withheld their full contributions. Corruption and mismanagement further deprive the Niger Delta people of the benefits of their region's resources.

The Nigerian government has obligations under international law to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, but it has frequently failed to do so. Given the importance of oil in Nigeria's economy, in Amnesty International's view the government has failed to protect communities in oil producing areas, while providing security to the oil industry. Domestic regulation of companies to ensure protection of human rights is clearly inadequate.

This report is part of Amnesty International's worldwide campaign to demonstrate - by showing how companies avoid their responsibilities - the need to establish universally recognised standards applicable to companies. For oil companies operating in the Niger Delta and for governments to take action to ensure that the human rights of the people of the region are not subordinated to the "law and order" agenda that exploration and extraction of oil demands. Amnesty International is calling for urgent and independent inquiries by the Nigerian Federal government into allegations that its security forces killed and injured civilians in incidents involving the Ugborodo community in Delta State and the town of Odioma in Bayelsa State in February 2005. It is urging the parent oil companies Chevron and Shell to investigate their involvement and responsibility of their local subsidiaries - Chevron Nigeria in relation to the Ugborodo protest, and Shell Nigeria in relation to the attack on Odioma - and the UK and US governments to ensure that the parent companies of subsidiaries operating in the Niger Delta respect the human rights of the communities where they operate.

1.1 Rights still under attack by the state

"The notion that the oil-bearing areas provide the revenue of the country, and yet be denied a proper share of that revenue ... is unjust, immoral, unnatural and ungodly. Why should the people on oil-bearing land be tortured?" - Ken Saro-Wiwa(3)

Niger Delta communities see little of Nigeria's oil revenues. Vast stretches of the region have erratic electricity supplies, poor water quality, and few functioning schools, health care centres, post offices or police stations. The only visible government presence in many parts is a heavily-armed security apparatus. The government provides very little infrastructure, public works or conditions conducive to employment.

The Delta is criss-crossed with pipelines, and dotted with well-heads and flow stations. At night, often the only light visible for miles is from flares burning unwanted gas which is contaminating the environment.(4) Frequent oil spills have affected fish stocks and polluted water holes.(5) To alleviate the frustrations of communities without development or employment, companies offer "ghost" jobs, paying money to people who are not expected to work. In an environment in which company personnel and assets have increasingly become targets of hostage-taking, sabotage and large-scale theft of oil, companies also sometimes employ community members to protect oil pipelines from sabotage. While some acts of sabotage and the resulting oil spills are aimed at seeking compensation or clean-up contracts, pipelines are often in poor condition and, some international experts say, not replaced as frequently as they would be in industrialized countries.

The Delta's marginalized peoples vigorously pursue the campaign for their rights. Yet their ability to claim their economic and social rights is impeded by continued threats to civil and political freedoms. Human rights defenders and journalists, including foreign reporters and television crews, have been harassed, detained and sometimes beaten for investigating oil spills or violations by the security forces. The inhabitants of communities suspected of obstructing oil production or harbouring criminals are sometimes targeted by the security forces. The federal government has in many cases rejected calls for independent and impartial inquiries into abuses by these forces, which operate under its direct control.

The actions of the security forces have resulted in the death and injury of unarmed civilians and the razing of whole communities. In several instances, the use of force has been excessive. Leading these forces has been a Joint Task Force, an army-led unit that includes officers from the navy, military, paramilitary Mobile Police (MOPOL) and regular police force. The Joint Task Force was formed in 2003, with codename "Operation Restore Hope", to protect major oil installations as strategic national assets and to combat increasing kidnappings of oil company personnel, attacks on police stations and military patrols, interruptions to oil production and oil thefts, as well as communal unrest.(6) Amnesty International believes that in 2003 and 2004, over 1,500 people died, most of them in the area around Warri, the commercial capital of Delta State, in intercommunal conflicts over oil and oil revenues as well as in grievances over political boundaries.

Protests put down with excessive force arise from government failures to respect, protect and fulfil economic and social rights. No effective recourse exists for harm resulting from excessive use of force or from the proximity of pipelines, oil spills and gas flaring to homes, farms and waterways. Few of the region's inhabitants have the resources to seek compensation through protracted, prohibitively expensive and uncertain legal action against powerful oil companies, and through a legal system widely perceived as corrupt. In spite of windfall gains for the Nigerian government as global oil prices have more than doubled in the last two years, the inhabitants of the Niger Delta remain among the most deprived oil communities in the world - 70 per cent live on less than US$1 a day, the standard economic measure of absolute poverty.


1.4 Companies fail to live up to human rights principles

International oil companies have operated in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria since 1956, when oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, in what is now Bayelsa State.(7) Over the past half-century, the Nigerian government has earned billions of US dollars from its oil sector. Oil now accounts for over 98 per cent of Nigeria's exports and oil revenues for nearly 80 per cent of the national budget.(8)

As the Nigeria government is failing to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of its people, communities turn for jobs and essential services to oil companies, the most powerful, visible and functioning entities in the Niger Delta. Local politicians encourage such thinking. The relationship between companies and communities is increasingly governed by agreements, called Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs). Under these agreements, companies provide development projects in return for promises by communities to provide a peaceful operating environment. Some company-funded projects have functioned. Others have been poorly run and accessible to a few communities only, or companies have awarded contracts and benefits in an arbitrary manner that perpetuates discrimination, marginalization and inequities. In many cases, companies do not deliver what they have promised, stoking resentment and community protests.

Some of those employed by companies or their subcontractors to ensure security for oil operations have themselves been involved in illegal activities, according to Amnesty International sources. Criminal groups illegally tap oil from pipelines and sell it on the international market. Such groups recruit and arm local men to protect their operations, and this is one of the reasons for the rise in vigilante groups and small arms proliferation. The wealth from oil production has made oil producing areas attractive, and illegal tapping of oil has resulted in attacks on rival communities.

Oil companies are seen to benefit from the repression of protests by local communities or the razing of communities accused of harbouring criminals. The companies' security arrangements, whether involving government forces or private individuals, have a human rights impact for which they are not held to account. Companies have admitted that some of their activities have contributed to the violence.(9) This significantly raises the risk of companies being complicit in abuses committed by the security forces. International standards on complicity of companies and other non-state actors in human rights abuses are developing, and so are the legal implications of complicity of a company's conduct. However, under standards drawn from domestic and even international human rights law and international criminal law a company's actions or failures to take action may risk complicity with human rights violations, for example, if they are close to, have knowledge of, aid and abet, or benefit from a violation.

Following the Ogoni executions, companies came under greater scrutiny and many companies adopted codes of conduct on corporate social responsibility, however to Amnesty International's knowledge only 91 companies have adopted explicit policies on human rights.

Several companies operating in the Niger Delta are signatories of the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights for companies in the extractive sector, including Chevron and Shell. These principles are intended to guide companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within a framework that ensures respect for human rights. They apply wherever the company operates but have no monitoring mechanism, making it difficult to evaluate companies' adherence.


4.2 Impunity reigns, 10 years on

Ten years on, many of the human rights abuses in the Niger Delta that impelled the Ogoni campaign have not been resolved. Frequent oil spills blacken the land and pollute the waterways. Gas flaring from hundreds of wells turns the sky sepulchral by day and ablaze at night. Impunity persists for those responsible for killings and other serious human rights violations against the Ogoni and other Delta communities, and solutions offered by the government and the oil companies are insufficient.

In 2001, in response to a complaint brought by two NGOs against Shell Nigeria and the Nigerian government in 1996, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Commission) recognized some of the claims of the Ogoni community. (84) It found that, inter alia:

"Despite its obligation to protect persons against interferences in the enjoyment of their rights, the Government of Nigeria facilitated the destruction of the Ogoniland... [It] has given the green light to private actors, and the oil Companies in particular, to devastatingly affect the well-being of the Ogonis." ...

The complainants had argued that the company had not paid due regard to the health and environment of local communities when exploiting oil in Ogoniland. They also complained that the government condoned and facilitated violations of international environmental standards by "placing the legal and military powers of the State at the disposal of the oil companies"; withholding information from the communities about the dangers of oil activities; ignoring the concerns of the communities; and responding to protests "with massive violence and execution of Ogoni leaders".

...Yet, despite this landmark decision by the African Commission, local human rights activists are unanimous that the Nigerian government has paid little serious attention to it. Felix Morka of the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre told Amnesty International that "the decision has influenced the work of human rights activists who have used it in their capacity-building and awareness raising on similar issues. However, since the decision is from outside Nigeria, the government places little emphasis on it".

Without recognition of or remedy for the Ogoni complaints, there has been scant progress in reconciling the Ogoni community to Shell Nigeria, which said it would not go back to Ogoni without the agreement of the community. In 1993 the company had withdrawn personnel from its facilities in Ogoni in the face of MOSOP protests. In 2005, the federal government appointed an independent mediator, the Reverend Father Matthew H. Kukah, to assist reconciliation, without which the company cannot return to Ogoni. Both parties have publicly welcomed the initiative. However, Ledum Mitee, MOSOP President and one of the defendants in the 1995 Ogoni trials, said that transparent and genuine negotiations require recognition of the human rights abuses of the past, including the killing and forced displacement of Ogonis; public apologies and compensation for victims and their families; and measures to address environmental degradation.(86) Previous attempts at negotiations have foundered on these issues and on the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for human rights violations.

The Ogoni situation is not unique. No investigations have been conducted into the vast majority of human rights violations in the Niger Delta. Where inquiries have been instituted, their results are rarely made public. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. The victims and their families have received no acknowledgement that they have suffered human rights violations or any form of reparation (restitution, compensation, satisfaction, rehabilitation or guarantees of non-repetition).

The Shell Report: Continuing Abuses-10 Years After Ken Saro-Wiwa

November 08, 2005

Press Release

Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth

As the world marks the 10th anniversary of the state murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) has today published a report that details environmental and social practices of Shell in the Niger Delta.

The report uses case studies from communities in the Niger Delta area to expose continuing abuses by Shell, 10 years after the oil corporation supported Nigerian soldiers to kill and maim the Ogoni.

Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN comments:

This report shows that the Niger Delta environment has not fared any better since those dark, evil days but rather that the forces of oppression have become entrenched and in cases, have become far more brutal than could have been imagined a decade ago. As the world continues to hunger for hydrocarbons, so the oil giants conveniently maintain a strangle hold on the Niger Delta in indifference to the cries of the people. As the IMF, World Bank and the Paris Club scheme on even more ingenious ways to skim off whatever funds trickle into our national treasury, so the fangs or rigs of the oil transnationals sink defiantly into the heartlands and off shores of the oil coasts. The game is this: the richer nation gets, the poorer she must become. In this open faced blind man's game, the grassroots suffer and have been reduced to ghosts of what they ought to be

The report, which is presented from the perspective of the brutalised and impoverished communities show that Shell continues to use obsolete facilities and corrupting community engagement tactics, with the result that oil spills and blowouts have become a matter of routine; social and moral disruptions are more entrenched; toxic gases continue to be released through gas flares.

The chapters of the report cover the following issues:

  • Continuing abuses in Ogoni and conflict in the community as Shell and government agents scheme a return of the company to the devastated area.
  • Continuing reckless environmental practices of Shell including burning of forests and community farmlands as a measure to contain oil spills.
  • Shell's plan to continue gas flaring beyond 2008.
  • Fuelling of communal conflicts and using Nigerian military to abuse human rights.
  • Corruption in Nigeria: Shell is colluding with government officials to defraud the country and its peoples.
  • False solutions: Shell's response to the crisis it creates is to deny responsibility, while the Nigerian government and "international community" promotes voluntary codes for the oil companies and military solutions to deal with communities.

The report concludes with recommendations of ERA/FoEN, which include a demand for legally binding and internationally enforceable laws to protect peoples of the world from the abuses of Shell and other transnational corporations, as against sponsored voluntary codes and mechanisms for corporate self-regulation.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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