Thirteen years after a case was filed against Shell Oil for being complicit in the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Nigerian social and environmental activists, the oil major earlier this week settled out of court just as the case was set to go to trial. Shell will pay $15.5 million, including $5 million into a trust for the benefit of communities in Nigeria’s Ogoni territory where the activists lived.
Social and environmental justice organizations including Friends of the Earth have been steadfast in their coverage and activism in support of the Nigerian plaintiffs. While they’re hailing the out of court settlement as a success, they continue to seek to raise public awareness, alarm and action to counter ongoing and prevent future human rights and environmental abuses in West Africa as new discoveries and relative political stability have set the stage for a regional “oil rush.”
The Resource Curse
The world’s 12th-largest oil producer, ongoing conflict, corruption, and environmental and socio-economic damage in Nigeria related to oil and gas exploration and production continues to be a focal point of local and international environmental and social justice campaigns.
While celebrating the settlement, Bariara Kpalap, speaking on behalf of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, said that Shell still had to address “environmental pollution, neglect and degradation in Ogoniland.”
“Shell has inflicted much sufferings on the Ogoni people through its operations. As farmers and fishermen we have been deprived of our means of livelihood through the pollution of our lands,” the AFP reported on Tuesday.
“For a lasting peace in the Ogoniland, Shell has to change its attitude towards the people. Shell should treat us as civilized human beings and not those to be exploited because of our oil.”
No Respect for the Niger Delta
The Niger River Delta provides subsistence and livelihoods for millions of people, not only in Nigeria but across the region. Irresponsible oil and gas exploration and development and corruption have led to the devastation of large tracts of the Delta, effectively impoverishing and threatening the health of 75% of the 27 million living in the region, according to international environmental groups.
Having campaigned actively in support of the Ogoni lawsuit against Shell, Friends of the Earth continues to draw attention and call for public and government action to stop the oil major from continuing to flare gas from its Nigerian oil wells.
Calling the Niger Delta one of the 10 most important wetlands and marine ecosystems in the world, an independent team of scientists from Nigeria, the US and the UK–the Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project–characterized its wetlands, coastlines and waters as “one of the world’s most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystems.”
West African Oil Rush
Such socio-economic and environmental threats are only likely to increase, however. A West African “oil rush” is now under way, as new discoveries have been made in Angola, Gabon and Ghana, among others.
“West Africa now offers ‘unparalleled opportunities’ for major and independent oil and gas companies,” CEO of Vancouver-based Gold Star Resources Corp. Patrick Morris stated in the June 10 issue of AFROIL, the African Oil & Gas Monitor.
“Changing geopolitics, reduced security and political risks, the recent 1.8 billion barrel discovery in West Africa’s largest oilfield, the Jubilee in Ghana, and a new African foreign policy by recently elected U.S. President Barack Obama have all helped in making West Africa a ‘desirable destination’ for oil and gas exploration and production,” Morris wrote.