NIGER DELTA SPILLS: JONATHAN SHOULD BEAT THE HELL OUT OF SHELL   Leave a comment

In a critique of President Goodluck Jonathan published in the February 2011 issue of New African magazine, I posited that Nigeria needs a leader who can confront the West in the face of bad deals by especially Western oil majors. President Jonathan’s very poor, almost negligent response to the recently published damning United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the massive Shell oil spills in Ogoniland (New African magazine January 2012), as well as his naive handling of the very recent Shell spill in Bonga (said to be the company’s worst spill in a decade) validate that opinion.

If Jonathan can show just a pinch of the passion he showed in opposing Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo or better still, in his obviously mistaken January 1, 2012 removal of the fuel subsidy that has since attracted widespread popular opposition and sorely harmed the Nigerian economy, in marshalling the requisite political will to charge Shell over the Ogoni and Bonga spills and their attendant damaging effects on the ecosystem and human health, he would go a long way to beat the hell out of Shell and find a sustainable solution to the problem.

As the cover story on the subject in New African magazine of January 2012 entitled “The Curse of Oil: How Oil Companies Have left the Niger Delta in the Lurch” explains, a “demonstrable political will on the Federal Government’s part, to force the hand of Shell and other oil companies operating in the region to change their ways, is vital.” My take is that such political will should involve decisively combating corruption which is majorly responsible for the lack of proper government oversight on the oil companies. Nigeria’s controversial Justice Minister, Mohammed Adoke, for instance, has, hanging over his head, a probe of US$26 million which he allegedly collected as bribe to withdraw charges against 10 multinationals under investigation over the Siemens and Halliburton bribery scams.

In the Halliburton bribery case which surfaced in September 2008 and saw the company pay bribes to win a contract to build an LNG export project on Bonny Island, Adoke used plea bargain to negotiate undisclosed settlement terms with some of the accused, including high-profile firms whereas Nigerian investigators discovered that the country lost hundreds of millions of dollars through over-priced contracts and bribes linked to the project. It is fitting to know that the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, has vehemently condemned the use of plea bargain. Speaking at a conference in November 2011, Musdapher said, “[plea bargain] was invented to provide soft landings to high-profile criminals who loot the treasury entrusted to them…[it is] an obstacle to our fight against corruption…and it should never again be mentioned in our jurisprudence”.

Jonathan needs to investigate and prosecute such high profile cases else he would lend credence to the Wikileaks disclosure that Shell has influential elements in the Nigerian government’s top brass safeguarding its interests. For her relative inactivity in pursuing the much-needed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) until recently, and the very fact of her being a former Shell executive, oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, sadly appears to be one of such, and her passionate support for the unpopular and controversial removal of the petrol subsidy has only fuelled this suspicion more.

Jonathan should muster the resolve of Brazilian authorities who fined oil giant Chevron $83 million for an oil spill off the Rio de Janeiro coast in November 2011 which a Brazilian government official said could complicate Chevron’s chances of gaining access to new offshore exploration.

Indeed, Jonathan’s admiration for Obama should make him appreciate the latter’s action that pressurised BP to expedite the 2010 Gulf oil spill clean-up. In fact, in December 2011, it was reported that US prosecutors were readying charges against BP over that spill. In October 2011, the US government issued BP, Transocean – the Swiss owner and operator of the drilling rig – and US oil giant, Halliburton with citations for violating oil industry regulations in what is expected to lead to massive fines. BP – which leased the rig and was ultimately responsible for operations – has spent more than $40 billion on the disaster and could still be liable for billions in fines, compensation and restoration costs. Such is the bold action expected from the Jonathan administration given the obviously worse spill scenario it is faced with.

Thankfully, it helps that Shell admitted its mistakes over its Niger Delta activities in October 2011 at a Rotterdam conference in which Dutch MP, Ms Gesthuizen, berated the Dutch government for not ensuring that Shell met global standards in Nigeria. “Shell is a Dutch company. So the government cannot remain aloof when it is involved in corruption and breaching environmental standards in another country,” she said. Gesthuizen said visiting the Niger Delta for only five days in December 2010 was not enough to understand all the issues but what she saw was mind-boggling. “I have been to the Niger Delta. I flew over the region and I saw illegal refineries and how the environment was being destroyed,” she disclosed. Gesthuizen proffered the way forward for the region, saying the Niger Delta environment must be cleaned up. “That is the first thing for the region,” she said, adding that “Shell must follow strict rules on the Niger Delta environment the way it obeys rules in its home country.” Also speaking, a Dutch citizen and social worker, Marieke vander Bos, equally lambasted the Dutch government for the same reason. In a brief scathing remark, she said: “The Dutch government is guilty over the Niger Delta situation and it is very said indeed.”

More importantly, Jonathan will have ready legislative support if he embarked on such a course as on January 3, 2012, the Senate deferred to give Shell a clean bill of health over its faulty containment of the Bonga spill and two days later, the House of Representatives threatened to sanction Shell over the spill.

Jonathan cannot delay direct decisive government action on this matter any further as that would only worsen the plight of the Ogoni people in particular and the Niger Delta in general. Creating a committee to review the already comprehensive UNEP report as he has done, which is reportedly yet to even meet, is only another wasteful bureaucratic step in the wrong direction. Even so, it is saddening that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has not played a leading role in proffering and coordinating the Federal Government’s action on this vital issue. The idea of creating the Niger Delta Ministry was never a credible one in the first place. It has proven that it is one of those additional ministries that simply balloon recurrent spending with very little or nothing tangible to show for it.

Perhaps, the PIB is the missing link in this whole saga and it is unfortunate that it has faced heavy opposition from the oil majors like Shell whose lobbying may have compromised some of its innovative aspects. That some local companies are showing more innovative drive than before following a recently passed local content law is proof that creative legislation such as which the much-desired PIB represents can significantly boost Nigeria’s fortunes. Clearly, Jonathan and his oil minister must work towards getting this all-important legislation passed for until that happens, several prospective multi-billion dollar investments will remain frozen for lack of the appropriate regulatory environment. It is a good thing though that they have been jolted by the recent popular protests into taking action meant to speed up the process leading to the passage of the PIB. It however remains to be seen whether that will soon translate into the actual passage into law of this vital piece of legislation at the centre of Nigeria’s crucial but hugely mismanaged mainstay.

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Posted January 20, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Aso Villa

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