The Ogoni people, who are still angry over federal government’s dithering over the cleanup exercise, are equally annoyed over the divide-and-rule tactics, allegedly being employed by the oil giant to frustrate the planned court action.
Efforts to get Shell’s reaction met brick walls as several phone calls and a text message were not responded to.
Already, tension is currently building up in the ancient city following the unconventional ways adopted by Shell to calm fledging nerves. The spill-affected community has been factionalised over a certain amount of money allegedly paid by Shell to frustrate every move for legal action against the company.
One of the community leaders who stood his grounds that the oil giant must be prosecuted for the latest spill has since been arrested and detained after a joint investigation visit, JIV, to verify the authenticity of the spill. This has therefore sparked up an atmosphere of uncertainty as to what may happen next in the community within the coming days.
Sources said the Royal Dutch Company has already coughed out millions of naira to some influential persons to sooth the nerves of other angry community leaders not to embark on litigation over the recent pollution of the Ogoni environment.
Professor Lazarus Tamana, the European coordinator of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP, who flew into the country to have a first-hand assessment of the situation in Ogoni admitted that he was shocked to hear that there was yet another spill from Shell even when the massive pollution it caused Ogoni is yet to be cleaned up.
“I don’t think that the situation in Ogoni will improve for good. The Nigerian authority is not interested in the welfare of the Ogonis. The oil companies are not interested because the oil keeps flowing back to them. On February 17 or 18, 2019, a spill was noticed in the community. Shell has always been playing tricks with the community.
“A highly responsible company like Shell should be worried about this kind of negative development. But it is going to two months now since the spill occurred and the company is not showing any interest of what to do to avert danger in the community. This is a way of exterminating the Ogoni people”, he said.
Tamana confirmed that a section of the affected community has been “bargaining” with Shell over the spill. “I don’t have much information about that. Shell should be held responsible for all these atrocities against the Ogoni people. Shell applies a divide and rule system to perpetually suppress the people”.
When asked how much the petro-dollar company gave out to sooth the nerves of angry community people, he said, “I have heard N300million, N400million. Like I said, I don’t know how true it is. There is a strong possibility that money was paid” by Shell.
The European coordinator of MOSOP made it clear that there is no genuine program to cleanup Ogoni both by Shell and the Nigerian government. He recalled that during a stakeholders meeting with Shell in June, 2014 which held in Geneva, Shell made it clear that “it was not ready to pay any money for cleanup of Ogoni. HYPREP has no presence in Ogoni. It is a system set up to deceive the world”.
With Ogoni currently being militarised, the Ogoni activist said the last resort is to undertake litigation against Shell. “We will take Shell to court. The court can be anywhere. That is the last resort. Government will not listen to us. We will not allow any oil company to enter Ogoni.
“We are ready to collaborate with all genuine international organisations like amnesty international and the rest to fight our case. They are waiting patiently for us. They are ready for us. We will do all that we can legally the moment I return back to Europe”.
Specifically, an investigation by Sunday INDEPENDENT last Thursday, April 4, showed that the spill had impacted on the already heavily polluted Goi River. Goi community was deserted since 2011 due to the effect of the three major spills that occurred there between 2008 and 2009. The effect of that pollution is so promiscuous that all the mangroves associated with a river have been destroyed by excessive heat from the spill.
The Goi River by history is a corridor that leads to Bonny River from where one can access other countries of the world like Equatorial Guinea, Brazil among others. For those whose farmlands are on the other flank of the river, they will need to wait for the water to dry up before they can meander through the greasy mud to harvest their polluted crops.
This is the story of a 67-year old Mrs. Blessing Kova, an indigene of Mogho in Gokana local government area who lost her husband way back in 1995 with six children to provide for. She narrated that she could only access her cassava farm across the other side of the river when the water ebbs. “I struggle through the mud and quickly harvest the cassava so that I can return back before the tide returns”.
Sadly, some of the cassava tubers she already peeled at the bank of the river and washed in the same polluted water smelt petrol as at the time of meeting. An obvious indication of how badly the cash crops within the vicinity of the environment have been polluted by Shell’s spillages over the years.
It was the same bitter story with the family of High Chief Eric Barizaa-Dooh whose fish pond located right beside the river had since been polluted and destroyed out of existence.
“If I harvest the pond from table size fish to fingerlings, I used to make an average of N300,000 to N500,000 per harvest”, he recounted. “The value of this pond today is worth over N10million. The first oil spill of 2008 and 2009 affected our business here adversely. We were asked to vacate this community in 2011 because it was heavily impacted. They told us that if we stay here, we will die.
“This recent spill from Bodo West which occurred in February has completely destroyed everything. We don’t have any other business to do. It is so pathetic. Here in Ogoni generally, we eat polluted food. We drink polluted water. We breathe polluted sir. And we live in a polluted environment”, he sounded lyrically.
Chief Barizaa-Dooh was physically furious that Shell despite the controversy surrounding its operations in Ogoni could still allow its facility to get so bad to the extent of leaking further spill into the environment thereby compounding the already worsened relationship between the company and the people of the Ogoni kingdom.
He regretted the disaster that has been allowed to destroy the beauty of flora and fauna in Ogoni which has now exposed the environment to the worst form of degradation in global history. Most regrettably is the snail pace of the cleanup exercise supervised by the hydrocarbon pollution and remediation project, HYPREP. “It is unfortunate that since the flag off of the cleanup in 2016, we are yet to see any seriousness in the whole exercise.
“Shell and the Nigerian government owe the Ogoni that responsibility of ensuring that Ogoni environment is remediated and returned back to its natural state. We have lost so much already as a people both in human and material resources. How long shall we continue in this!”
While still talking, four kids within the age bracket of thirty and sixteen years, some half-dressed, one stark naked walked down the river and began to swim therein. Unmindful of the fresh spill oil that covered the surface of the water, they were in the world of their own. The danger of that deadly chemical makes no meaning to them today. They are dying by installment.
“Imagine those innocent children swimming there”, Barizaa-Dooh said pointing at the “excited” swimmers. “They are obviously ignorant of the kind of water they are swimming in. They don’t have any idea of how dangerous it is to even touch the water. You can clearly see the oil on the surface of the water”, he lamented.
The latest spill has elicited uncomplimentary responses and evoked violent reactions from the civil society worldwide. The Niger Delta Coalition Against Violence, NDCAV, for instance, has vowed to join forces with the Ogoni people in seeking justice in the court for the affected community.
Coordinator of the group, Christian Lekia said, “We support litigation against Shell. We believe in the rule of law. The only legitimate thing to do is to approach the court of law where justice could be obtained for the weak. And the weak in this case is the entire Ogoni people who have been suppressed, repressed and victimized by the inglorious activities of Shell”.
He argued that as far as this recent spill is anything to go by, “nobody should preach the gospel of compensation as a one off payment for the amelioration of the pains caused the people by Shell negligence. Compensation in terms of money is evil”, he said.
Lekia recalled that when the late environmental activist and erudite poet, Ken Saro Wiwa talked about the extinction of Ogoni environment, “this is exactly what he referred to: the poisoning of the environment and killing of our people by deadly chemicals emanating from systematic pollution of the environment”.
The NDCAV coordinator expressed worry that Shell Nigeria appears to operate differently from Shell international, arguing that the divide and rule tradition of the company should be condemned and discarded. “If Shell continues like this, it means it is not willing to change. At that point, we will not have any other option than to join the affected Ogoni community to carry out the necessary action to effect positive change”.
Shell must show enough and deliberate effort by placing high premium on the lives of Nigerians, especially those of the Niger Delta region where it operates. Moreover, the Nigerian government must take up its responsibility of protecting, securing and preserving the lives and property of its citizens against the activities of the oil majors in the country. What applies in other civilized climes must be replicated here in Nigeria for equity and justice.
Fyneface Dumaneme, executive director, youths and environmental advocacy center, YEAC, said the resistance against Shell’s usual attempt to bribe everybody by the instrumentality of monetary inducement was “commendable”.
He noted that “one would have expected that when such spill occurs in a community that Shell has a pending case in a London Court, it should have quickly moved to dialogue with the affected community to avert any possibility of an outbreak of violence rather than waiting to be dragged to court on the same subject matter again”.
Dumaneme stated that the joint investigative visit has already been used to divide the spill affected community and that is presently causing crisis among the people. “Shell should amend its ways in Ogoniland, especially in Bodo community where it has a lot of pending issues in the court”.
The YEAC ED disclosed that some amount of money at the range of about N50million was alleged to have been given to an individual while a substantial sum running into millions of naira was paid to a faction of the community that signed the JIV thereby pitching the people there against themselves.
To him, “the issue of compensation would have to be discussed and agreed between Shell and the people. No particular amount is perfect but something substantial must be paid for damages”.
Gbogbara Damian is an Ogoni youth activist. He lives in Bodo, hence, knows what it means to live and do business in an environment that has consistently been polluted over the years. The recent February oil spill in his home town brings back the sad memory of what his people passed through in 2008/2009 Shell’s heavy spills in the area.
“As a concerned citizen of Bodo, I condemn the recent oil spill in Bodo with the strongest of terms and call on Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, to urgently do the needful by meeting with community requirements and seal up the spill site to stop further pollution of our already degraded environment”.
The youth activist called on both the federal government and the management of Shell to speed up action for the restoration of the Bodo/Ogoni environment to ensure the safety of the marine environment. He wants to see the return of coastal business and active marine life in Ogoni.
According to Damian, “the recent oil spill in Bodo was caused by equipment failure which was confirmed by the JIV report which Shell refused to make public. In its usual characteristic of divide and rule, Shell has chosen to negotiate with a factional leadership of the community that has been impacted by the spill to subvert the process”.
After years of foot-dragging and out right denials over the 2008 and 2009 heavy spills, Shell in 2015 agreed to pay a compensation package of £55m to some 15,600 people affected by those spills especially fishermen and the affected communities after they were grossly devastated by the pollution.
The payment followed tortuous legal battle in the London court by the law firm known as Leigh Day. It is not certain whether Shell would have respected any judgment if such had emanated from the Nigerian court. This goes to show the preference the company places on the prestige of a nation.
Each member of the community impacted by the oil spill received approximately N600,000, about £2,200) then. Though the money changed the living standard of an average Ogoni person as many young men preferred to buy motor cycle as a means of transportation which was an alternative to farming and fishing, that amount was in no way compared to the poisoned environment.
Shell agreed a compensation package of £55m with £35m given affected individuals while £20m was given to the affected community. This amount of money was known to be the biggest sum ever paid by the oil company as compensation in Nigeria since oil exploration began in the country.
The 2008/2009 spills did a humongous damage to Ogoni environment with no sign of immediate remediation but daily rhetoric. The spills had destroyed thousands of hectares of mangrove, which is known to be the largest man-made disaster of this sort anywhere in the world.
In its harangued tradition of quick in denials but slow in action, Shell only originally offered £4,000 compensation to the entire Bodo community. This prompted the villagers to resort to a foreign legal representation from lawyers in London where it has its headquarters located.
It will be remembered that Shell had offered to clean-up the Bodo creeks to enhance fishing and farming which are the chief occupations of the natives of the ancient city. It was a failed promise which never and has never seen the light of day.
”Bodo is a fishing town. It sits in the midst of 90 sq km of mangroves swamps and channels, which are the perfect breeding ground for fish and shellfish. It is a rural coastal settlement consisting of 31,000 people who live in 35 villages. The majority of its inhabitants are subsistence fishermen and farmers”, an expert on Ogoni matters said.
It is left to be seen how the company will handle the current scenario even as the aggrieved people have vowed to approach the law court for justice since Shell only respect the language of the court especially when such court is in a civilized clime.