By Sunny Awhefeada
This article was provoked by a news item in the Independent newspaper of Tuesday 25th April, 2017 in which the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) claimed to have among other things carried out some acts of corporate social responsibility. The headline carrying the news reads: “Shell commits $2.2 billion to funding local contractors.” What irked many readers with whom I interacted was what Shell claimed to have done in the education and human capital development sector.
Thinking they have done something they could crow about, SPDC apparatchiks declared that the company that has made uncountable trillions from the Niger Delta since 1956 not only donated an ultra-modern subsurface research centre to the University of Ibadan in March 2016, but it has also awarded postgraduate scholarships in engineering and related fields with 60 indigenes of the Niger Delta from whose bowels the crude oil, which turned Shell into one of the world’s richest companies ever, is drilled. If the inhumanly exploitative officials of Shell expected kudos, what the publication attracted were knocks and knocks and knocks from the people of the Niger Delta region who have for 60 years bore the consequences of one of history’s most devastating natural resource plunder occasioned by Shell.
The story of how Shell degraded and impoverished the Niger Delta has been told again and again. It began in 1956 when the company discovered crude oil (the black gold) in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. In no time Shell struck more oil in Uzere, Olomoro, Kokori, Afiesere and many other places in the region. Shell in its quest to advance Western capitalism literally set the Niger Delta ablaze with fires that burnt the once variegated ecology. Animal and plant species became extinct just as human beings suffered dreadful mutations. Traditional sources of livelihood were lost and a new social experience conditioned by manacling capitalism ran riot in the Niger Delta. Apart from the assault on the flora and fauna and the wiping out of rivers, unprecedented land, water and air pollution ravaged the region.
Yet, while the Niger Delta and its inhabitants recede into the abyss of abject impoverishment, Shell and its home country in Europe grew exponentially in material, infrastructural and technological advancement. Today, the Niger Delta remained scorched due to Shell’s environmentally unfriendly activities. Shell succeeded largely because the Nigerian ruling elite at the centre collaborated with it. Successive federal governments in Nigeria cavorted with Shell as government functionaries swooned over hitherto unimaginable petro-naira! It is this Federal Government collaborative stance that emboldened Shell in perpetrating ecocide in the Niger Delta.
What has become the conflict experience of the Niger Delta is also one of the consequences of the presence of Shell in the region. Having been born into an edenic ambience which Shell ruptured, a generation that was conscious of the company’s exploitative and destructive tendencies in contrast with the economic boom in Europe, came of age to halt the environmental holocaust. Ken Saro-Wiwa remains the arch representative of that generation. Saro-Wiwa, an acclaimed writer took on the role of an environmentalist struggling to remedy the degraded Niger Delta beginning with his native Ogoniland. The Nigerian state in cahoots with Shell spurn a web of intrigues which led to the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogonis in November 1995. By the time of Saro-Wiwa’s martyrdom, the indigenes of the region had come to a level of awareness that made them to kick.
It was that awareness that made the region to see what happened to Saro-Wiwa as a casus belli. What followed Saro-Wiwa’s execution was the Kaima Declaration of 1998 and the many incendiary movements which sprang up all over the region to safeguard their homeland and control as well as manage their natural resources. Although, officially sanctioned nomenclature labeled the armed groups as militants, they are revolutionaries fighting against decades of economic fascism of the worst form.
Shell quit Warri, one of the famed oil cities in the Niger Delta, four years ago, after many years of siphoning oil from the place and its environs. Shell’s exit from Warri is typical of its tendency of jettisoning a place after exploiting it. Today, Warri is like a ghost town with gigantic infrastructure wasting away. Shell simply took life out of Warri. The once boisterous city now lies economically prostrate. Shell needs to return to Warri and remedy the place as it did to other places where it exploited and till exploits oil in the Western world. The Federal Government recently gave a hint on the imperative of the oil companies moving their headquarters to the Niger Delta. This is a wakeup call for Shell to return to Warri the erstwhile headquarters of its Western operations.
What Shell published as its corporate social responsibility in the Independent newspaper earlier referred to deserved to be pooh-poohed for what it is – a mere sham designed to hoodwink the public. Shell has raked in uncountable trillions in dollars since it struck oil in the Niger Delta six decades ago. The company needs to do more than offering just 60 postgraduate scholarships to indigenes of the region. The subsurface research centre it built at the University of Ibadan is also misplaced. Why would Shell build such a centre in a place where it has never extracted a drop of oil? There are more ten federal and state owned universities in the Niger Delta offering courses in the sciences and engineering where Shell could have justifiably located the centre since the region is where the crude oil, the source of its money is found. Shell should lead the remediation of the Niger Delta environment, build schools and hospitals and roads and provide electricity and give the people all the things that make life worth living as oil producing people as Shell has done in the Western world.
- Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.